Working moms feel the tug of home

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Working mothers demon-strated that they are their own best resources at a lively panel discussion where it was sometimes hard to distinguish the three panelists from the vocal attendees.

"Moms Returning to the Workforce: a panel of Jewish working moms," was sponsored by K'shareem, Jewish Vocational Service's career networking and information program.

Seventeen mothers, some already working outside the home, some interested in working, attended the recent gathering at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco to talk about issues like time management, child care and guilt over having to leave their children for outside jobs.

Panelist Lee Ann Slaton began the discussion by addressing the term "working mother."

"I don't like it when they say 'working mom.' You're working all the time," said Slaton, who is education coordinator for Jewish Family and Children's Services' Parents Place and the mother of an 18-year-old.

This led to a recurring theme of the evening about the many skills possessed by unpaid mothers.

Deborah Louria, another panelist and a mother of two, pointed out that good parents have the skills it takes to be a good employee.

"Multitasking, you know how to do it because you run your household. You run many people's lives."

In the audience, a mother of a preschooler agreed, saying "I look back at some challenging times and I think, if I can do this with a person I can handle jobs. So much of what you do on a job is time management. It's the same with being a mom. You always have to anticipate their needs."

Louria, who is director of Jewish programs at Jewish Vocational Service, said employers are taking a different approach now to evaluating applicants.

"Employers are not so much looking at what you've done as what your skills are. Employers are more into job sharing, telecommuting because they have to be."

She said there is no longer a stigma to the "missing years" — the years spent raising kids full-time — on an application.

The key is in how you package yourself, the panelists said.

"You have to present yourself from strength," said Slaton. "Yes, I might have to take some time off, but I'm worth it."

Said Louria: "Always trust your instincts. You need to be your own advocate."

Several audience members expressed anxiety about returning to the workplace after long absences, shifting from the mommy mindset to a worker one.

"Sometimes you need to take little steps, take a class," Slaton suggested.

There is no right answer to when to go back to work, the panelists said. "The best time is what's right for you," said Slaton.

"I grew up in the '40s and '50s. I really thought I was going to bake cookies and sew all her clothes, even though I'd never sewed. I realized that I need some stimulation for myself."

Louria felt that she had gone back to work too soon, three months after her second child's birth.

Judy Penso, a single mother of a 16-month-old and the third panelist, felt that her child had not suffered from her day care experience — even though Penso started her in day care quite early.

"Sometimes I think the later you start kids in day care, the more it impacts them," said Penso, director of the Marin and Sonoma regions for the Jewish Community Relations Council.

"It's enriching in maybe the way extended families used to be," she said.

A mother and therapist in the audience disagreed. She asserted that "I think there's a lot of guilt alleviation saying 'My child is not affected,' because they are. No one's like Mom."

Penso responded, "Of course anything that happens affects them. But it's not always negative. I found a family day care. They are family. They come over for dinner. We're friends. I don't think the mother has to give the child everything. There's quality day care out there."

Slaton stressed that though many working mothers feel that time not at work must be spent with their families, it is crucial to take time for yourself.

"You cannot give and give and give and expect to go on. You have to have time for yourself. And that doesn't mean grocery shopping. It's very hard to feel OK about what you're doing. I don't know if that's a female thing. I know it's a Jewish thing."

Louria said a friend once told her there were two kinds of mothers.

"There are those moms who stay at home and can't wait to go back to work and moms who go to work and can't wait to get home."