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  • Writer's pictureSusan Howell

The Workaholic Mom?

by Susan Harris Howell

“What pushes someone toward becoming a workaholic?” “What do we get out of spending too much time at work at the expense of our families?” These are the questions we pondered recently in a Sunday School class I attend.

Answers ranged from the desire to provide for a family to employment insecurities to a desire to contribute to creative, meaningful work. What stood out to me, however, was even though the group was comprised of equal numbers of men and women, each person who offered a personal anecdote was male.

The females of the group turned our heads in sync with each other toward the various commentators, occasionally making appropriate sympathy noises. But otherwise we were uninvolved in the discussion. The topic eventually shifted and the class moved on.

But of course I couldn’t.

Where are the female voices?, I wondered.

Granted, some of the older women in this group had been employed outside the home only briefly or after their children were grown. But does being a workaholic only apply to those who are employed? Couldn’t an unemployed mother be a workaholic too if she focused on child- and house-care to the exclusion of other interests? Maybe we just don’t call these women workaholics. Maybe we call them "supermoms" and applaud their self-sacrifice.

However, some of these women, like me for instance, were employed while raising children. So why didn’t one of us speak up? Were none of us workaholics?

I can only speak for myself in saying that while I have always enjoyed my work outside the home I enjoyed my work as a mom too, which helped maintain balance. My desire to work longer days was kept in check by my desire to spend time with my children after school. My excitement over completing a project at work was countered by my enthusiasm to see my son’s high school band competition or my daughter’s performance in the school play.

In addition, I grew up in both a secular and a church culture which directed my attention much more toward being a mother than toward having a career. A workaholic mother certainly would have been criticized more harshly by either culture than would a workaholic father.

While I haven’t completely bought in to either culture’s view, I would be naïve to think they haven’t influenced me in my interests and in the standard by which I judge myself a good mom. So maybe any tendency toward workaholism I might have was curbed by a culture that said “first and foremost, take care of your family.”

So, what am I saying – that women are better than men at balancing work and home? I don’t know. As a social scientist, I need a reliable study in hand to make such a definitive statement.

But I do wonder. Does our culture’s emphasis on women being good mothers offer us a kind of buffer against becoming workaholics in either arena? And, by the way, can the term workaholic be accurately applied to women who focus on their families to the exclusion of self-care and other interests?

What are your thoughts? What are your experiences?

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