Women balance family, professional lives

Super mom Sherry Ficklin of Grand Junction makes reindeer candy canes with three of her children, from left, Jonathan, 10, Sidney, 8, and Cami, 3, at their home. Her son, Connor, 14, is not in the picture.

It’s days before Christmas, and Sherry Ficklin’s home is a blur of activity.

Cookies, swathed in green and red icing, sit on the counter, ready for a school party. The family is gathered around the kitchen table creating reindeer candy canes, pressing on googly eyes and twisting brown pipe cleaner for antlers.

With four children, ages 3 to 14, Ficklin refuses to miss out on the fun stuff of child rearing and watching her children grow. But some time ago she realized she needed more of an outlet than being a parent only. Always good with words, she began writing professionally, carving out an hour of quiet time here and there to churn out a chapter or two.

Now Ficklin’s line of young-adult books is proving popular, with two more books in the queue to be published in 2011. “Foresight,” a book she wrote last year, is in the running for two prestigious awards, the Colorado Book Award and a Whitney Award.

“I love being a wife and a mom, but I didn’t want it to be all that I was,” Ficklin said. “My kids love it. They think it’s way cool that mom wrote a book.”

Like Ficklin, mothers over the years increasingly either are working while rearing children or jumping back into the work force more quickly after having children. In 1950, one in three mothers worked outside of the home. Between 1975 and 2000, the number of working moms edged upward from 47 percent to its peak of nearly 73 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. From 2005 to 2009, those percentages retreated a bit, to almost 72 percent.

Mothers with older children, between ages 6 and 17, generally are more likely to hold down jobs than moms with younger ones.

A 2001 representative study of all the nation’s births in that year, which was detailed in an article titled “Mother’s Employment after Childbirth” and published in the June 2008 issue of the Monthly Labor Review, says the timing of when a woman goes back to work after having children varies according to a woman’s number of children, ethnicity, education level and family composition. While it’s become the norm that most women go back to work during their child’s first year, women who went back to work the fastest after giving birth had been working prior to having a child.

According to the study, 41 percent of all mothers had returned to work three months after giving birth, and nearly 60 percent of women had returned to work after six months of giving birth. In any given year, female employees miss work 5.1 percent of the time, while male employees miss work 2.7 percent of the time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

Attitudes have changed toward mothers who do go back to work after having children, said Laurel Ann Jones, a licensed clinical social worker at Psych’d On Main, 951 Main St. in Grand Junction. Jones, who primarily sees working women, said she hears few complaints anymore by working mothers about employers concerned about missed work time.

Because women have become more independent, they are choosing to have fewer children. That’s also creating a shift in the role of the father.

“In modern marriages we can support our kids, and they realize they need to step up and be more useful,” Jones said of men’s roles.

While wages for women have increased, parity in salaries among the sexes has not been reached. Women’s wages are about 80 percent of those earned by men.

In Jones’ experience, her husband more quickly earned a master’s degree, catapulting his career, while she went to school part-time “because I had to take care of the kids.”

“They don’t get the education as quickly,” she said. “No matter how good the guys are, moms still want to hover.”

Unmarried mothers are working more than their married-mother counterparts, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Of unmarried mothers, almost 76 percent are in the work force, compared to 70 percent of married mothers.

In most of America’s families, it is no longer questioned that mom will work, as most households rely on two incomes. To shoehorn in the extra duties, some women are at least addressing the guilt factor and learning to lower the bar that comes with an onslaught of chores and realizing that they can’t, or shouldn’t, always try to do it all.

It’s not always that easy to juggle family life and a full workload, agreed Christy Whitney, president and chief executive officer of Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado.

“If you have a family and you’re trying to be Martha Stewart and a CEO, it can be a little rough,” she said.

Whitney raised three children, and while the children’s father did most of the “heavy lifting,” erasing any semblance of guilt was impossible.

“It seems no matter what roles you have as a woman, there is never enough time. We are wired for guilt: guilty I didn’t bake for the PTA; guilty I didn’t say yes to teaching Sunday school; or guilty for being at work too much,” she said. “We have to consistently work at eliminating guilt. A friend told me once it’s a useless emotion unless you truly would go back and do something different. That’s a good way to look at it.”

Indeed, banishing guilt that working moms feel is one of the rules of the “10 Commandments for Working Motherhood,” according to the website about.com.

“Guilt is an emotion that you feel when you’ve done something wrong. There’s nothing wrong with contributing to the financial support and stability of your family— the college fund,” the site says.

Not having a work focus can be frustrating for mothers. Ficklin said anxiety sets in when she’s not writing, and during those times, she tends to launch into elaborate but mostly unnecessary home projects. Writing has paved a way for her to feel fulfilled in her work and probably makes her a better parent. Though juggling the motherhood and author gig can get hectic, she has learned to prioritize those things most dear in family life.

“When things are important, you make the time,” she said.

The feeling of hard-won, personal accomplishments is thrilling.

“When you get that phone call from a publisher that they’re going to sell a book, it’s just golden,” Ficklin said. “The first time they told me I would be published, I just held my book and cried.”


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