I met Betty Friedan some 30 yearsafter she published her ground-breaking book The Feminine Mystique (1963), which challenged the long-held notion that “a mother’s place is in the home.” I asked her what she thought of my being an at-home mother. Three times she did not hear my question but when she finally did, retorted, “Oh, I thought you said you were an asshole mother!” After clarifying my mothering competence and question, she suggested that “perhaps in time I would want to rejoin the workforce.” Employment, in Freidan’s eyes, afforded fulfillment. I wasn’t so sure. Did she really mean fulfillment for all mothers?
Friedan’s answer astonished and perplexed me. At the same time, I was immensely pleased because it confirmed to me that my dissertation topic—employed and at-home mothers—was indeed a subject worthy of study.
On the day my first child was born I became an at-home mother. I loved being at home with my children. But all was not bliss. When I was at social gatherings with my husband when someone would ask me what I did—meaning what important employment I had— they completely lost interest—they dismissed me. Some literally turned their backs on me! I was hurt. I was furious. Why did I suddenly not count? Were at-home mothers different from employed mothers?
Striving to find an answer, I wrote my dissertation ” Employed and At-Home Mothers: A Comparison of Gender-Related Character Traits and Psychological Rewards Derived from Work.” Fourteen years later (2008) I went back to these same mothers. More than 60% of them (123) participated in my follow-up study about their experiences and perceptions regarding employment decisions and efforts to grow their children, marriage and themselves as independent adults. Their responses and heart felt comments drive “The Roads Taken.”