QUESTION: You've talked about being a full-time mother vs. having a full-time career. Give us your view of a woman handling both responsibilities simultaneously. Is it doable, and is it smart?
JAMES DOBSON: Some women are able to maintain a busy career and a bustling family at the same time, and they do it beautifully. I admire them for their discipline and dedication.
It has been my observation, however, that this dual responsibility is a formula for exhaustion and frustration for many others. It can be a never-ending struggle for survival. Why? Because there is only so much energy within the human body, and when it is invested in one place it is not available for use in another.
Consider what it is like to be a mother of young children who must arise early in the morning, get her kids dressed, fed and located for the day, then drive to work, labor from 9 to 5, go by the grocery store to pick up something for dinner, retrieve the kids at the child-care center and then drive home. She is dog-tired by that point and needs to put her feet up for a few minutes. But she can't rest. The kids are hungry, and they've been waiting to see her all day. "Read me a story, Mom," says the most needy.
This beleaguered woman then begins another four to six hours of very demanding "mothering" that will extend into the evening. She must fix dinner, wash the dishes, bathe the baby, help with homework and give each child some "quality time." Then comes the task of getting the tribe in bed, saying prayers, and bringing six glasses of water to giggling kids who want to stall. I get tired just thinking of a schedule like this.
You might ask the married woman, "Where is your husband and father in all this exertion? Why isn't he carrying his share of the homework?" Well, he may be working a 15-hour day at his own job. Getting started in a business or a profession often demands that kind of commitment. Or he may simply not choose to help his wife. That is a common complaint among working mothers. "Not fair," you say. I agree, but that's the way the system often works.
The most difficult aspect of this lifestyle is the constancy of the load. Most of us could maintain such a schedule for a week or two, but the working mother must do it month after month for years on end. On weekends there's housecleaning to do and clothes to be ironed and pants to be mended. And this is the pace she maintains when things are going right. She has no reserve of time or energy when a member of the family gets sick or the car breaks down or marital problems develop. A little push in any direction and she could go over the edge.
Admittedly, I have painted a more stressful scenario than most families have to endure. But not by much. Overcommitted and frazzled families are commonplace in our culture. Husbands and wives have little time for each other. Life is nothing but work, work, work. They are continually frustrated, irritable and harried. They don't take walks, read the Scriptures together or do anything that is "fun." Their sex life suffers because exhausted people don't even make love meaningfully. They begin to drift apart and eventually find themselves with "irreconcilable differences." It is a tragic pattern I have been observing for the past 25 years.
The issue, then, is not whether a woman should choose a career and be a mother, too. Of course she has that right, and it is nobody's business but hers and her husband's. I would simply plead that you not allow your family to get sucked into that black hole of exhaustion. However you choose to divide the responsibilities of working and family management, reserve some time and energy for yourselves -- and for each other. Your children deserve the best that you can give them, too.
(James Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903; or www.family.org. Questions and answers are excerpted from books written by Dobson and published by Tyndale House.)
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