The Student News Site of Westfield High School

Hi's Eye

The Student News Site of Westfield High School

Hi's Eye

The Student News Site of Westfield High School

Hi's Eye

Career vs. Family: Why Mothers Shouldn’t Feel Like They Have to Choose

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Mothers often play a vital role in the family unit. They are the selfless part who will do just about anything for their children and offer endless love and support. Many of them cook, clean, drive their kids to after school activities and plan full family activities. However, they are also expected to work. And, more often than not, women are forced to choose between their careers or their kids.

This stems from traditional stereotyping of women, a centuries old practice. Women have been expected to take on domestic roles, such as housekeeping, cooking and raising the children. Society often associates women with child rearing, assuming that all women are meant to be mothers and fill those nurturing responsibilities.

While we’d like to believe that these stereotypes are shrinking as more women take on important roles in the workplace, they just aren’t.

A study done in 2016 found that gender roles and stereotyping are “just as strong today as they were over 30 years ago” and “there was actually an increase in female gender role stereotyping” according to When these stereotypes extend to mothers in the workplace, this affects them and their careers in profound ways. A study done by found that “mothers with children under age 18 were about 3 times as likely as fathers to say that being a working parent made it harder for them to advance in their job or career.”

This means that mothers feel like they cannot grow in their career due to their responsibilities as a mother, which makes many women feel like they have to choose between their job and their family.

To continue to fuel this inequality, there is a wide wage gap between mothers and childless women. A study done by sociology professors Shelley Correll, Stephen Benard and In Paik asked college students to rate different job applicants based on resumes, fact sheets and notes from interviews. The applicants were equally qualified but the researchers altered some applications to show that some applicants were parents.

As a result, the mothers were “significantly less likely to be recommended for hire” and when they were recommended, “they were offered $11,000 less in starting salary, on average, than childless women” according to Fathers in this study were not penalized.

While there is obvious unequal treatment between men and women shown here, this study also shows why women feel like they have to choose between their children or their career. Either you have children and settle for a lesser paycheck, or you don’t have any children and advance your career. It’s an either/or option, which is not how it should be.

This series of forced choices also relates to America’s limited paid maternity leave, which is yet another indicator of the failed policies we have in place when it comes to taking care of working mothers. Maternity leave is a critical postpartum period for establishing newborn bonds and family dynamics, and in the United States, it is both too short and forces mothers to lose large portions of their salary. For an issue not unique to the United States, we certainly have uniquely unjust maternity leave policies in comparison to foreign countries.

Federally, the Family and Medical Leave Act is the only standard-setting piece of legislation we have in place, which provides a pathetic baseline of 12 weeks of unpaid leave for mothers with a new-born child if and only if they “they have worked for their employer at least 12 months, at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles,” according to

Otherwise, the Department of Labor leaves it in the hands of the states to make further legislation regarding parental leave. Here in New Jersey, there are slightly improved standards compared to the federal minimum.

According to, New Jersey working mothers can receive paid leave through the state’s temporary disability insurance program, and can receive an additional 12 weeks after birth or adoption in addition to 12 taken during or after pregnancy. The paid leave granted by the temporary disability program can amass up to two thirds of one’s original salary. Even this expansion of the FMLA may seem unfair to many working mothers, but in comparison to a state like Alabama, with no increased provisions other than the federal act and where paid leave is unheard of, our policies seem more than accommodating.

In a 2022 study conducted by, it was found that only 13 of 141 countries who offer maternity leave do so by matching the 100 percent paid rate of a mother’s salary. Additionally, 29 countries offer over two months of leave, but not all can match a payment that is representative of a mother’s original salary.

Depending on the factors that are most important to a mother in her own specific situation, whether that be time off with less concern about amount paid or vice versa, different countries could be seen as the best option for paid leave.

That said, even global statistics demonstrate that mothers outside of the United States are forced into making a choice between essential parts of maternity leave that should be included altogether in the first place.

Still, the United States is among one of the worst developed countries to live for just maternity leave. For example, in Greece, where 43 weeks of paid maternity leave is offered with a 61.8 percent average payment rate, mothers only endure 14 weeks of unpaid leave. Conversely, in countries like Estonia, Poland and Luxembourg, mothers receive less paid leave at 20 weeks, but are compensated 100 percent of their salary in that time frame.

Compared to these other powerhouse countries, the United States fosters unjust, outdated maternity leave policies that do not properly address a mother’s demonstrated need to maintain a presence with her child in the weeks after giving birth, while also needing to maintain economic stability.

According to Columbia University Obstetrics and Gynecology Professor Uma M. Reddy, longer maternity leave periods lead to “improved maternal mental health with less depression and longer duration of breastfeeding which is beneficial for both infant and maternal health and facilitates family bonding.” Additionally, these benefits are proven to lead to healthier children with a “lower likelihood of developmental delay,” she said in an interview with Optic. “American families deserve better.”

Altogether, maternity leave serves as a first-rate example of America’s incessant need to corner mothers, and women in general, into difficult decisions that most frequently force women out of the workplace. The most apparent need that American mothers require is change, both in policy and breaking the stigma surrounding working women and mothers.

Not only do we need to take better care of new mothers physically who receive zero mandates of paid maternity leave, but we must start breaking barriers that strongarm women into having to choose between maintaining a career or the basic function of their family.

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