WANTED: Full-time manager to take over complete running of local organization. Duties include listing functions to be performed, prioritizing list, purchasing and maintaining equipment, and carrying out all jobs personally. Position averages 14-18 hours daily, with additional 6-8 hours on-call. Need person with flexibility, patience, efficiency, organization, creativity and sense of humor; no experience necessary. Pay token at best, status lowly, but rewards sometimes great if organization survives.
You would expect few takers for an ad like this, though the job is one of the world's oldest professions and is currently held by millions of people.
We're talking about motherhood.
And despite the statistics and media emphasis on "working mothers" -- what mother doesn't work? -- there seems to be an underground movement of professional women opting solely for the job described above. Often in the middle of another career.
Such women are finding what Sue Horowitz, a 17-year professional in the healthcare field, found: "There is more to life than a top-grade government job and the benefits of a two-salary family."
The answer to Horowitz' search for supracareer satisfaction is Catherine, a late-in-life baby who leaves her fatigued, screaming -- and strangely content.
Out there, amid sofas stacked with unsorted laundry and cereal-crunchy kitchen floors, we found a number of women thus contented.
More than one admits, however, that staying home is a kind of luxury, that they are aware of the many women who have to work outside of their homes. But for those who can and have made the choice to be at home with their children, talk of the realities of their job is at once tough and tender. t
"Being a lawyer was much easier; much easier -- for one thing, I could do it sitting down," says Sue Perry, who worked in law fulltime with her first (Scott, 4), parttime with her second (Ryan, 2) and quit the field with the appearance of her third, a 1-year-old of considerable charm named Samantha.
Why is Perry hauling in children instead of a lawyer's salary?
"With children, you get to see the world through fresh eyes, and notice all the little things you used to take for granted . . . I have become a connoisseur of backhoes, an expert in finger-paint. And I love it."
Marilyn Robinson Ringell, a former NBC-TV reporter who "left work on Sept. 1, 1978, got married Sept. 2 and started working on children Sept. 3," calls 7-month-old Kassia "the top story of the day."
In her work in both radio and TV, she covered "189 demonstrations -- I was the riot lady -- but this is definitely the heaviest thing I've done."
Says Joy Baxt, full-time mother and psychiatric nurse formerly on the Howard University faculty: "I don't want to make anyone feel guilty about being a working mother, but I'm completely sold on the idea that a child needs one full-time, consistent caretaker. And because no one else could teach my children my own values, I've chosen to do the job."
Ringell agrees, but adds, "in the black community, so many women have circumstances where they can't afford to give up their jobs and raise children. If they stop working, the whole game is over. I really feel for these women."
Staying home is "luxurious, in a certain sense," as Perry puts it. "But it's still not an easy choice. It requires deep commitment."
Such commitment carries these women home, primarily for what they see as a long-range reward in their children.
Another long-range benefit is the freedom to organize their own day.
"I feel sorry for the person who has to be at work at 9," says Debbie Rucci, a former bank vice president, now 10 months into her parenting career, "and I'm not in any hurry to get back to the 40-hour grind. I may do my laundry at 9 at night and my sewing at 5 a.m., but I can read a book at 2 in the afternoon when the kids are napping -- and I prefer it that way."
Career mothers also point to their on-the-job training in:
Stamina. "Even weight-lifters don't get the practice I get," says the caretaker of an infant/tot combination. "Their barbells don't wriggle and squirm, or grab for the cookies in the grocery store. Boy, am I strong!"
Endurance. "No one worshipped more lavishly at the altar of the eight-hour sleep than I," says the mother of a newborn, "and I praise God each day for the miracle that gets me through on four hours or less."
Personnel relations. "You can't imagine the strain of living with a 2-year-old unless you're the mother of a 2-year-old," claims a former Peace Corps director. "I'm beginning to understand the causes of child-abuse -- but I'm determined to work this out.
Communications. "I can tell what my children need just by the way they're standing or wriggling," says an ex-computer analyst raising a boy-and-girl team. "As a result, I'm that much more sensitive to the body language of others."
Resourcefulness. Seat a pack of full-time caretakers anywhere, in a restaurant, a shop, a park, a Metrocar, and you'll see geniuses of diversion: mothers working with as little as a piece of lint to create whole universes for their children's attention.
Creativity. Scratch a mother and you have a storyteller, painter, sculptor, game master, math whiz and singer.
Cost-cutting. "Going from two professional salaries to one is a vivid lesson in economy," says Horowitz, "and I've become a pro at cutting corners, doing it myself and doing without." Another mother speaks of her weekly coffees with friends as "committee meetings on cost-cutting analyses."
Managing fine details. Many at-home mothers see themselves as the glue that holds the family together: the one who can tell the difference between a pre-nap fuss and a genuine problem, notice the tear in the jacket and get it mended, keep track of what kind of cereal everyone eats, what size shoe everyone wears and how much ketchup is left in the refrigerator. "I'm the anchor of this home," states one mother. "That's my job."
The training for these skills -- and the mental attitude that goes with them -- takes a good year to develop, claims Baxt. As ready as she was for her mid-career job switch, it still took her a year to adjust mentally to the idea of being a full-time mother.
It also took her friends that long to make the adjustment. "I keep telling them, look -- even if I don't go back to work until I'm 40, I'll still have 25 career years left."
Some of her friends are genuinely puzzled that Baxt, she says, would want to "stay home all day and do nothing."
This image of a vacuous at-home mother can deter women from the full-time plunge.
"I always thought I'd be a working mother," says former banker Rucci. "I thought that if you are intelligent and educated, you stay at work. I had this picture of housewives as people who stayed home, ate bonbons and watched the soaps all day -- and I have a proclivity for neither."
Just how the common housewife gained this reputation in unclear. One possibility has been suggested by economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who long ago observed an intriguing inverse relationship between the amount of work a person actually performs and the status that job receives. A relationship that puts grueling, essential tasks like farming and mothering on the bottom of the heap, while the relatively toil-free chore of being a constitutional monarch -- or a Harvard economist -- reaps glories at the top.
Whatever the reason, such social disparity irks many mothers.
"I would go to parties with my husband and talk to women my age (30s)," says Vicki Schultz, who went from teaching special-education classes in Arlington, to full-time mothering when she discovered an urgent need for minority couples to adopt. "These women already had their families, but now they were concentrating on building their careers and all these glamorous things. I felt very unimportant."
The easiest way for many full-time mothers to deal with this stereotype of the "unimportant, menial mother" is to reject it. Some fight back -- perhaps unfairly -- with their own stereotyping of "the woman who warehouses her kid all day in some day-care center and then says she's raising her children," as Horowitz puts it.
Many of these mid-career professionals, however, are former working mothers themselves. They are, as an ex-researcher and mother of two describes it, "pro-choice -- I want the freedom to choose to stay home without some woman telling me that I'm not fulfilling myself."
Joan Eyster (mother of Cyrus, 3, and Eleanor, 1), a hydrogeologist who has worked in an "all-male engineering office -- what a different atmosphere!" -- speaks of the need for making choices that allow self-respect.
"I think more people are finding that what the world respects -- the high salary, high-status jobs -- are just not what they want. I know women and men who are giving up the glamorous careers and getting into crafts, homesteading, or just a slower-paced life."
Eyster sees full-time mothering as one career that lends "self-respect -- even if the world doesn't respect it." But this philosophy, she cautions, does not make the job any easier.
"But it's worth it," she beams. "Just look at these kids!"