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The Obamas and Work-Life Balance

Could incoming "Mom-in-Chief" first lady Michelle Obama change the way we think of stay-at-home moms and working moms?

That's one idea floated by Ellicott City mom LaShanda Chirunga. Chirunga is a Harvard-educated lawyer turned stay-at-home mom of 1-year-old twins. She and her husband always planned on her staying home with the kids. "The oppportunity to spend time with children in formative years is exciting for me," she says.

As a 37-year-old African-American woman, Chirunga didn't think she'd ever see a black man ascend to the presidency, as we are now. And to see the Obama family represent this country "as the best we have to offer" and to have them live in the White House is extraordinary, she says.

"As a mother and person, it’s good to see Michelle Obama focus on her children. That’s an option that many women of similar age and position aren’t able to choose -- the route to stay home and nurture her children. It may be somewhat of a sacrifice; she may miss her career as I have with mine." For Obama, that career was her position as vice president of community and external affairs at the University of Chicago hospitals.

Mocha Mom co-founder Jolene Ivey wrote in The Root in November that the stay-at-home path "can be both lonely and strangely controversial, especially for African-American women, even among those of us who operate out of public scrutiny. The fact that, historically, black women have rarely had the luxury to choose not to work has helped to enforce an expectation that we must work. Black mothers who choose to stay home sometimes face particularly harsh judgment, as if stepping away from our professional degrees and careers is a thoughtless slap at our ancestors, who endured back-breaking, knuckle-skinning work for us to have the opportunities that we have today."

That's a judgment Chirunga hasn't seen in her own life. "I think it’s looked at as it’s great you have that opportunity and choice," she says. But what has been overlooked, Chirunga points out, is that first ladies in recent history usually have some cause to work on along with a full staff. One issue that Michelle Obama has mentioned is work-life balance, Chirunga says. Even President-elect Barack Obama has gotten into the mix on family and the workplace. In a Thanksgiving interview with Barbara Walters, Obama talked about having to turn the working White House into a more family friendly workplace because so many people coming in have young kids.

"I think with the tension between stay-at-home moms and women at work, it would be good to have someone who’s been there, to see her delve into this issue more, to show folks out there that it’s a choice that women do have," says Chirunga. "It's one of the things that women have struggled with. There are challenges with staying home as well as well as working. If she can show how both decisions are valid and enrich both, that will be great. She’s well-suited to do that given her background."

How would you like the Obamas to impact work-life balance? How about the stay-at-home versus working mom discussion?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  January 5, 2009; 7:30 AM ET  | Category:  Newsmakers , Work/Life Balance
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Comments


Tallies are in for 2008!

3758 different posters submitted a total of 13,417 comments to OnParenting for the year 2008.

Of 241 topics, listed below are the top 10 by comments submitted:
196 public photos and pedophelia
197 thrifty
202 the perfect water bottle
210 i do with kids
212 overscheduled kids
224 to leash or not to leash
233 moving 719 miles
270 the obama children
360 airlines
409 hummer limos

Listed below are our top submitters for year 2008:
40 James
41 Billie_R
42 laura33
43 Jessica
43 RoseG
44 annenh
45 Get Real
45 prarie dog
47 Alex511
47 VaLGaL
51 Cecilia
52 Stacey Garfinkle
52 SueMc
56 moxiemom1
61 atlmom1234
62 Me
64 MN
68 Alex
68 WhackyWeasel
71 Donna
72 Billie
84 DCer
87 Shandra
88 Momof5
89 NewSAHM
89 quark
90 Sue
91 DandyLion
92 jezebel3
105 Moxiemom
113 Emily
121 ArmyBrat1
143 Liz D
153 foamgnome
162 atlmom
163 ArmyBrat
167 Laura
180 atb
226 WorkingMomX
346 anonymous

Posted by: BlogStats | January 5, 2009 8:20 AM | Report abuse

B.O. - PLEASE work on the economy!

I don't give a rat's a$s about your wife or your kids.

Posted by: jezebel3 | January 5, 2009 8:33 AM | Report abuse

"The fact that, historically, black women have rarely had the luxury to choose not to work has helped to enforce an expectation that we must work. Black mothers who choose to stay home sometimes face particularly harsh judgment, as if stepping away from our professional degrees and careers is a thoughtless slap at our ancestors, who endured back-breaking, knuckle-skinning work for us to have the opportunities that we have today."

My understanding was that the reason black mothers don't stay home more is because there is often not a spouse in the picture. Wasn't there a WSJ article last year that stated that 70% of black babies are now born out of wedlock?

As to what my hopes are for the Obama administration, they are so sky-high that I will surely be let down.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 5, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, BlogStats. I'll have to work harder to make the next list (said with humor).

As for the Obamas and family balance, I would like to see more balance and less sniping (e.g. working parents/moms are selfish slackers and stay-at-homes are lazy martyrs).

Posted by: ishgebibble | January 5, 2009 9:21 AM | Report abuse

As for the Obamas and family balance, I would like to see more balance and less sniping (e.g. working parents/moms are selfish slackers and stay-at-homes are lazy martyrs).

Posted by: ishgebibble | January 5, 2009 9:21 AM | Report abuse


The "martyr" thingy is soooo true.

Posted by: jezebel3 | January 5, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Yes, I'm sure she'll be a wonderful role model for all those families that can afford two private school tuitions while also choosing to have one parent stay at home full time and not generate any income. Anyone want to guesstimate exactly how many families in America fit into that model? I work full time and STILL can't afford private school for my kids. I can't imagine what Michelle Obama can teach me.

Posted by: JustMe17 | January 5, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

BlogStats, nice work. However, some of the posters are the same people - that is, ArmyBrat and ArmyBrat1 are both me; atlmom and atlmom1234 are the same person; Laura and laura33 are the same, Billie and Billie_R are the same, etc.

So combining numbers I get:

me - 163 + 121 = 284
WorkingMomX 226
atlmom - 162 + 61 = 223
Laura - 42 + 167 = 209
atb 180
moxiemom - 105 + 56 = 161
Sue - 90 + 54 = 144
Alex - 68 + 47 = 115
Billie - 41 + 72 = 113

I win! (Or at least until my boss figures this out. :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | January 5, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

BlogStats,

Dandylion & Whacky Weasel are the same people....

Posted by: jezebel3 | January 5, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

The Obama's are two intelligent people who have made an informed/intelligent decission concerning THEIR family.

We elected their service not their souls.

Posted by: alvin12 | January 5, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Anyone who thinks Michelle Obama will be a "stay at home Mom" has no idea about the responsibilities of First Ladies. She will be working her a$$ off trying to balance those responsibilities with taking care of her children.

I have no doubt that she will do it with grace and resourcefulness.

Posted by: oldbam | January 5, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

"BlogStats,

Dandylion & Whacky Weasel are the same people....

Posted by: jezebel3 | January 5, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse "

And I've always wondered if jezebel isn't also the same person. Probably not, but given the history (Fo4, LilHusky, DandyLion, WhackyWeasel, plus a few others) it's not beyond the realm of possibility.

And to JustMe17: see, your problem is that you don't have a spouse who makes $400,000 per year, plus gets several expense allowances for entertainment, etc. Plus gets free housing (both primary residence and a weekend retreat) and free travel. If you had those things, sending your kids to private school would be easy.

(And yes, I'm well aware that in her previous life Michelle Obama made over $300,000 per year as VP of a non-profit hospital. Added to Barack's Senate salary, they're taking a cut in pay, except for the expense allowances/housing/travel bits.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | January 5, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

BlogStats,

Dandylion & Whacky Weasel are the same people....

Posted by: jezebel3 | January 5, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse "

And I've always wondered if jezebel isn't also the same person. Probably not, but given the history (Fo4, LilHusky, DandyLion, WhackyWeasel, plus a few others) it's not beyond the realm of possibility.

So I'm not the only one who wonders the same thing.

I second the hope that the Obamas' efforts at balance will bring more discussion and less sniping among the working and SAH moms -- and dads. We all have something to offer.

Also, given that Jolene Ivey is now a state delegate and not a SAH mom anymore, I'm curious to know how she made that transition. Especially since one of her children is an actor. In fact, she'd make a good On Parenting topic.

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | January 5, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

I, too, am a working-mom-attorney - and would of course like to stay home with my kids. But I have no idea how people do it without two incomes. Find an employer who is willing to let me find better balance, and I'm there. But good luck.

Posted by: mickiwg | January 5, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

I have confidence Michelle Obama can sort out her role and family responsibilities. I am far more concerned measures Barack is proposing to stimulate the ailing economy seem to have little to offer single moms and working women: too few are likely to be getting work in all those construction and infrastructure projects proposed... which leads us back to gender issues in the workforce. To choose how to balance would be a luxury for too many.

Posted by: esthermiriam | January 5, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Nice article. Would have been nice if it had noted in passing that some men wish they, too, had the choice and could exercise it without negatives.

Posted by: 33rdStreet | January 5, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm a stay-at-home mom, and the amount of abuse and insults I've gotten for choosing to do so is incredible sometimes. I've had people ask me when I'm going to get a "real job," and my response is the same: "What do you call what I'm doing now?" We stay-at-home moms are like that Army commercial: we do more before 9 AM than most people do all day! And I had to laugh at that stereotype of SAHMs doing nothing but lying around watching soaps and eating bonbons all day. Forget that...I don't have time for TV because when my older daughter is in school is the only chance I have of getting the housework done. Bonbons? HAH! By the time I even get BREAKFAST, it's pushing lunchtime! (Sorry about the caps, but I can't use italics on this website.) After the kids are in bed is the only "me time" I get, and by that point, I'm usually too tired to care. Housework, child raising, homeschooling to supplement the public school educations (during summer vacation, school breaks, and when my younger daughter is old enough for preschool), raising our huge vegetable garden, and even somehow managing to squeeze in the occasional fire call are what makes up my day.

That having been said, my hat goes off to working moms, who hold down a job and do all of the above as well! That is a true balancing act, and whether it's because they want to stay in their job or out of economic necessity, they do it well!

I just wish this society would be more family-friendly (i.e. paid time off for family care, maternity leave, more flexible hours, etc.) Six weeks of maternity leave is not enough; most babies are just getting into a sleep pattern then; not to mention it's often unpaid leave, which does absolutely no good whatsoever!

Here's hoping Michelle Obama helps us out with all of these issues! This society is long overdue for that!

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | January 5, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

First of all, why is it a woman's choice? When do men get to make this same choice?

The following article is a great explanation of how the "choice" to stay home is just a myth.

http://www.cjr.org/essay/the_optout_myth.php

Posted by: EAR0614 | January 5, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

"I, too, am a working-mom-attorney - and would of course like to stay home with my kids. But I have no idea how people do it without two incomes. Find an employer who is willing to let me find better balance, and I'm there. But good luck."

FWIW, I'm a non-working attorney (planning on being a SAHM for one more year). To get by one one income, We moved away from DC altogether to a much cheaper state. But I'll admit there was a fair lot of luck involved - DH works in a field that isn't dependent on staying in DC and where he can make enough to support us. Meantime, we both bought and sold our house in the DC area at exactly the right time, which gave us a nice nest egg to fill in any income gaps. That we can do the one-income thing for a few years is mostly a matter of sheer dumb luck, and I try not to forget that.

But I'm right there with you on one thing: If I found a job that offered a good balance, I'd go back tomorrow (well, ok, in about four months, given that I'm just a few weeks from giving birth to my second right now).

As for the Obamas, I don't really look to them as inspiration or example for a lifestyle. I admire both of them, but frankly, the only thing I care about is how Obama will help our country out of its current mess. I can't say as I've ever contemplated Michelle's role as "Mom-in-Chief."

Posted by: newsahm | January 5, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

When I was a kid, I mentioned to a friend's mom who stayed at home that a lot of families needed two incomes to get by. She said, "it's always a question of how much you need one thing as opposed to another." I'm a working mom and I like it that way, but I'm always amazed that so many people make it sound like it is impossible for any family to make it on one salary. While it's not possible for everyone, especially blue collar and other non-professional workers, even in expensive places like the DC area, many families can and do make do on a 5-figure income that is not opulent. If you decide having mom at home is more important than new cars, private schools, big houses (or prime locations), exotic vacations, etc., it certainly can be done -- and it can be done in decent neighborhoods with good public schools.

Posted by: kackidee | January 5, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse


If you decide having mom at home is more important than new cars, private schools, big houses (or prime locations), exotic vacations, etc., it certainly can be done -- and it can be done in decent neighborhoods with good public schools.

Posted by: kackidee | January 5, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse


There's that martyr thingy again. With a good dose of sexism.

Posted by: jezebel3 | January 5, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Stacey, congrats and happy new year to you! Brilliant success with your blog and subsequent comments on the parenting topic. As a fellow blogger in the parenting niche (www.ThinkingForwardTV.com) I love the interaction with my community on topics of interest. I'm curious, do you have the link to your post on overscheduled kids? My niche is middle school parents, so you can imagine the energy and focus given to this topic. I would love to share a conversation with you at some point in the new year. Stop by the site when you have 2 minutes or shoot me an email directly (joe@thinking-forward.com)

Posted by: joebruzzese | January 5, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

A couple of good friends of mine chose to be stay-at-home dads. In one case, the mother had a shot at a big promotion and my friend's job paid the bills, but nothing more. [It was for a financial services company, so his decision may have proven prescient.] He'd always been active in sports, web work, theatre, etc., so his life balance meant leaving the paid work force and he's never been happier.

In the other case, a job had gone sour and he quit just in time for the financial crisis. They don't have much margin for error financially, but he loves being home with his daughter. He'll probably return to the work force in a year or so, but likes the career break.

Not representative cases, but goes to show that it is an "alternate lifestyle" that is gaining acceptance. [Oooh, I'm gonna get it for saying that.]

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | January 5, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

"Dandylion & Whacky Weasel are the same people...."

Well, Jezebel, aren't you going to either confirm or deny that you are another personality of this whack-job schizo? Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by: BlogStats | January 5, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

The reality is that unless one is incredibly wealthy (and this used to mean - inheriting wealth and a job) - there were ALWAYS two people working.
The woman typically would be doing stuff we don't realize today is real work - but women would typically grow some of the food the family ate - would make EVERYTHING (even bread) from scratch - made all the family's clothes, took in odd jobs (washing, cleaning, watching other people's kids). Whatever. Most women have always worked - the 'ideal' of women 'staying home' was the 50s, which was unrealistic long term. And what happened then? Women were so completely bored and unhappy they started some revolutions (which led to women becoming more educated, and led to things like Title IX, etc).
(my 98 YO grandmother ALWAYS worked full time til she retired at 62 - from when she was 8, she worked).

So, we are looking to the ideal of 'one income' and seriously - it's a fairy tale. Look at history.

As to the Obama's - seriously - Mrs. Obama will be working, doing a lot of stuff - if she so chooses. She could choose or not to work hard as first lady (given history, I'm sure she will choose to work hard). But she is given the choice. And she should - I don't want the first lady working for a check for anyone - it is SUCH a huge conflict of interest. But, most here are correct, they have many choices in their lives, because they have made many choices in their lives (it's not like Obama just woke up one day and was Prez - together, I presume, they chose this, and knew what was ahead, sort of, when they did).

And also - I don't think that the Obama's CAN seriously know much about work life balance. The Prez is a more than full time job - it IS a 24/7 job, there is NO way around that. There are no vacations. But one signs up for it, one knows it, it is only very temporary.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 5, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

I welcome whatever attention the Obamas bring to the work-life balance issue. His daughters are an important responsibility along with running the country and I expect him to multi-task along with the best of us! And I think we've already recognized the Michele Obama has skills that go beyond kissing boo-boos and tucking kids into bed (not to belittle either task!). To the extent we can help both the Obamas find work-life balance, the country benefits.

Posted by: annenh | January 5, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

First of all, why is it a woman's choice? When do men get to make this same choice?

The following article is a great explanation of how the "choice" to stay home is just a myth.

http://www.cjr.org/essay/the_optout_myth.php

Posted by: EAR0614 | January 5, 2009 12:31 PM

My DH made that choice on Jan. 24, 1992. He's been the SAHP in our family for 17 years.

I didn't read the article in your link, yet, but our sons would be happy that I've informed everyone their dad is no myth.

Posted by: SueMc | January 5, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

I know several SAHDs. It is a choice. Everything's a choice. Who you marry is a choice. Having kids is a choice, deciding to work or not is a choice. If you marry someone who decides you don't have choices, you still have choices. You may not LIKE the choices (divorce, stay with someone who you don't like - to be extreme about it) - but it's all choices.

A lot of what our society has accomplished the last 30-40 years is to increase choices of what people are capable of. Of trying to eliminate discrimination so that people have more choices. We all have choices - and a zillion of them - every day. So no one is saying anything about 'no choices for the men.' It appears that the Obama's CHOSE that Mr. Obama would run for the presidency - so in keeping with that choice - Michelle was going to have to decide what to do - but her choices became limited once he ran and one. But it's not like there were no choices there.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 5, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

And another fallacy - that a 'family' should and can exist with ONLY a mother and father. That is completely absurd and a very recent and new idea.

Years ago, people would work together helping to raise kids, generations lived in the same house or nearby - grandparents would watch the kids while the parents were working, etc. Now, we seem to believe that it's so grand that only mom and dad are taking care of the kids. There are plenty of people out there who are so proud of themselves that they have never left the kids with a sitter - who think that not working on their marriage is somehow a good thing. It was appalling watching when Gwyneth Paltrow was on Oprah and was talking about how great she was cause she didn't have a nanny after her first kid was born - and she got claps from the audience. She has the means, why was it so horrible for her to have a nanny? Seriously? If I could afford it - YES - I would most definitely have a part time nanny, full time - why not? Who's to say that's not okay if that's what I want?

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 5, 2009 5:07 PM | Report abuse

It's interesting that Stacey frames this post as purely an issue for Michelle Obama, and acts like it's somehow extraordinary that "Even ... Barack Obama has gotten into the mix on family and the workplace."

They're his kids too, and even as President he's going to have to make work-life balancing choices if he wants to be part of their upbringing. The idea that child-rearing is only an issue for the mother just seems so retrograde.

Posted by: tomtildrum | January 5, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

I was a stay at home mom. I felt I was missing something. I think that it is not necessary to stay home with the daycares and preschools. In my opinion it no need to stay home. I work and took care of home. Some to think about, Mrs.O have a degree, she has back up. But as for these woman that stay home to take care of the family. That is a bunch of crock I have seen for myself how many are really doing work at home. Our first lady will have help but she can afford it. For they both at educated people and with education come money. I know she will be there for her girls because she need to be there for the big change. But for these woman with excuses to sit on the couch and watch tv. Go to school of something and Tivo your show. I made a routine for myself when my children were young. I prepared meals all in the morning. That would be breakfast and lunch for them to take to school and start dinning so that it would be done when they got home. That would be before I left for work. Then while I was to school I know that their meals were ready and as for the other work meaning house work it gets done. It call time managing. Try it, it works. There isn't that much house work in this world. Remember Mrs.O is in the the White House that is some work.

Posted by: eboddy2823 | January 6, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

For me, a professional woman who has chosen not to stay at home with the kids (knowing that either choice would be difficult), I think it's great that Michelle Obama is making working moms a priority. I have to say, though, as First Lady there is no way she will be a stay-at-home Mom! Love the blog. http://lipstickdaily.com

Posted by: ElaineatLipstickdaily | January 6, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

As a company that places women into mid to senior level positions and has a growing network of 5,000+ women, we know that work-life balance means very different things to different people. Although we are advocates of work-life balance in general, we know realistically that it can wreak havoc for employers who need to accommodate many different schedules and work arrangements. What the Obamas could best do is to urge employers to find ways to institutionalize flexibility--just like any other employee benefit. Then there will be a real give and take: employers will have to bend on traditional work structures and provide some uniform type of flexibility--and employees (both women AND men) will realize that they can have reasonable flexibility that is more democratic and not totally on their own terms.

Kathryn Sollmann
Co-Founder
Women@Work Network, LLC
Wilton, CT
ksollmann@womenatworknetwork.com
www.womenatworknetwork.com

Posted by: ksollmann | January 6, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

This is really more an economic issue than a social one. Michelle Obama made plenty of money in her former position and so can afford to stay at home if she chooses. Also, the First Lady has many responsibilities (though unpaid); so it is a joke to even consider her working another job for pay. Her current situation is not representative of other mothers in our country. Most women in the workforce don't have the luxury of a choice at all.

The old discussion about whether women with school-age children belong in the workforce is effectively dead. The ones that have to, work out of the home. The ones that don't have to, but want to, also work out of the home, but with way better childcare options. It may once have been a question of women's rights; but now, it all comes down to money.

Posted by: coreyfam | January 9, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

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