There are more than 19 million working mothers in the United States today, more than in any other period in the nation's history. The effects of this development on the mothers, their children, their husbands and the country are conscientiously explored in a one-hour "NBC News White Paper," "Women, Work and Babies: Can America Cope?" at 10 tonight on Channel 4.
Working mother and "Today" cohost Jane Pauley anchors the report, which focuses on the effects of women's careers on their marriages and children. The program is best when it allows the working parents to speak for themselves. A Pennsylvania policeman says the added pressures have made him and his therapist wife "intimate strangers"; she admits their marriage is "on hold." The husband, who now works the night shift so he and his wife can take turns attending to their newborn, says that leaves little time for the couple to spend with each other.
"Marriage is two people being together," he says, "and when you're not together, then what?"
A Baltimore woman -- faced with the tasks of mother, wife, housekeeper and lawyer -- realized that "something had to go, and in my case it was the marriage." A California mother worries that the long hours and travel required by her job are hurting her 3-year-old son, who has developed sleeping difficulties and a stutter. She feels guilty for not wanting to give up her professional achievements, but she puts much of the blame on "the insensitivity of the system to this kind of problem."
In suggesting that employers and husbands could solve the woes of the working mother, the program risks oversimplifying the issue. It can be argued that most employers and husbands are not so uncaring as the company that was hit with a $100,000 judgment for discriminating against a pregnant woman or the California businessman who, after failing in his own attempt to run the family household, persists in demanding "more focus on the house and family" from his spouse.
The examples are illustrative and compelling, but the program doesn't want to admit that the working mother can have plenty of adjustment and survival problems even without a big bad employer intimidating her or a particularly obstreperous or reactionary husband. Can any person give 100 percent to spouse, children, home and career? It may be as relevant a question as "Can America Cope?" -- but the program doesn't really ask it.
Aside from a contrived opening, which includes a group of tots parading in a circle while the narrator speaks of "the armies of American children on the march to day-care centers," NBC's report effectively evokes concern for the plight of the working mother. Pauley concludes with the hope that "this program has at least made a start toward bringing this new reality into focus," and the admonishment that "it's time for all of us to decide what we're going to do about it."