The Crisis of the Working Mother

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Today’s working woman tries to fill many roles simultaneously: worker, wife or lover, mother, and individual. These different roles create demands which are in violent conflict with each other: leaving the children for a few days to go on a necessary business trip, missing days from work to care for a sick child, needing to vacation with only the spouse.

Many of these women have been led to believe that they can “have it all” and should be able to orchestrate these conflicting demands and roles in order to lead a fulfilling life.

Berg, a historian by training, has based her conclusions on a mail questionnaire sent to hundreds of working mothers, on personal interviews with many others, and on interviews with professionals in psychology and psychotherapy. The respondents come from a variety of job backgrounds: professional and clerical, blue collar and white collar. Many anecdotes and comments from the women interviewed are liberally sprinkled throughout the book; they paint a uniformly glum picture of the working mother’s dilemma. They could, however, serve to let the reader know that she is not alone in the conflict she feels.

The anecdotes are focused around four centers of conflict: the need to take care of the children, the needs of the job, the needs of the spouse and of the marriage relationship, and the woman’s own needs.

In all cases, Berg suggests, these conflicts can be traced to guilt feelings arising from the women’s separation from their own mothers and their awareness of the gulf between their life-style and that of the traditional homemakers of the 1950’s.

No instant answers are offered for eliminating such guilt feelings. Rather, women must learn to live with them, recognizing that their own needs for fulfillment are legitimate. Berg’s conclusion is optimistic and even upbeat. Women who understand how and why these guilt feelings arise can go on to have both successful careers and successful personal and family lives. With a little more effort, it may indeed be possible to have it all.