Web Original: Suburban Mom Roundtable

We invited five women, all in different stages of their lives, to come together for a conversation that no five men would ever need to have — what’s a girl to do when kids come along?

Meet the ladies:

[sidebar]Sandy Hingston, 51, lives in Montgomery County, is an editor at Philadelphia magazine, and has been married for 25 years, with two kids, 19 and 15.

Vicki Glembocki, 37, is a writer for Philadelphia and lives in South Jersey with her husband and two daughters, ages three and 17 months.

Renee Stojek, 30, an art director who just got marrried last year, lives in Bucks County.

Jess Thompson, 27, grew up on the Main Line and now lives in Center City, where she’s single and working at an ad agency.

Katie Motyka, 22, just graduated from Penn in the spring with a degree in psychology and fine art, and is working part-time at the university, trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

I. THE OLD STAY-AT-HOME VS. WORK DEBATE

VICKI: So, what’s your vision for balancing a career and having kids?

RENEE: I’m struggling a lot with this issue right now because we want to have kids — not right this second, but in the next year. And basically, I bring in most of our income. My ultimate vision would be to move everything home and start a freelance business.

VICKI: So you would work at home while taking care of the kids at home?

RENEE: No, I imagine that my husband Sebastian would be home, too, and take care of the kids. He’s much better at that stuff than I am.

VICKI: Does he agree?

RENEE: Yeah. He’d rather just be a stay-at-home dad. He might end up staying at home and I might end up at work. I’m not sure we’re ready to deal with that.

VICKI: So you like the idea of a parent being home with the child?

RENEE: Yes. My mom was home with us. She worked wherever she could get jobs at night.
JESS: My mom was home full-time. It was normal for me. Since my dad had his own company, he would drive us to school and help out with rides. I have an older brother and a younger sister, but I had a lot of time with my mom. Her way of mothering was like teaching. My friends say that I know how to sew on buttons and I know how to sew a seam and I know what the name of certain flowers are and how to cook random things, all because my mom was always there. I learned how to knit when I was seven.

VICKI: Does your brother know how to knit?

JESS: My brother does not know how to knit.

VICKI: Sew buttons?

JESS: Maybe, but probably not.

SANDY: So, your mom felt these were important things to know?

JESS: Yeah. In college, I was the person all the boys brought their button problems to. The guys came to my dorm room, knocked on the door, and were like, "I heard you know how to sew a button." But I’m definitely thankful for knowing all those things and I agree with it, which is why now, as a very career oriented person, I’m thinking about what will happen when I do eventually meet somebody and get married and have kids. What will I do? I don’t know if I want to give up my career 100 percent, and I don’t know that I’ll be able to be there with my kids to teach them the same things my mom taught me. I struggle with it.

VICKI: Can you see yourself not working at all?

JESS: I can see myself not working for a period of time. But I don’t think I could just be a mom for 20 years.
VICKI: What does your mom think you should do?

JESS: She would be devastated if I had children and went back to work a month later. Because it would be a rejection of what she has done.

SANDY: That’s what so much of this is about.

II. MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

VICKI: For most people I know, the decision comes down to what you can afford. Is that on your minds?

JESS: I can’t imagine raising a family and having more than one child and only having one income. Unless your husband does really well and is really successful.

KATIE: My mom — she works in real estate — said she worked strictly for financial reasons. I don’t know if I believe that. I think we would’ve had enough with my dad’s salary, but she said it was for the money.

RENEE: My mom worked for the money, too. When my parents first got married, they were both unemployed. They had just graduated, and neither of them had jobs. She worked full-time so he could go to school full-time He got his master’s, and then she worked part-time and he worked full-time. They were back and forth a lot, but they don’t talk about it like it was hard. They’re just like, “Oh yeah, it was fine.”

VICKI: My friend who stays at home with her kids and left a career says, in a bit of an accusatory way, that you can manage. You spend the money you make. So you choose. You cut coupons and you move to a smaller house and you do other things to make it work.

SANDY: We’ve been living for a long time on not very much money. We make $70,000 a year, maybe … in a good year. My husband was a musician. He’s not a musician anymore; he’s been training to be a physical therapist. But I’ve always told my daughter, “Make sure you have something of your own, because you can’t always count on the guy.”
VICKI: I was just talking to a woman the other day who is a stay-at-home mom and said her mother keeps telling her, “Hide money! What if he leaves you? You’ll have no money!”

RENEE: I just started a “girl’s” account at the bank. And it’s not for “what if he leaves me.” It’s because if I want to buy a $500 handbag, I don’t want to hear it.

JESS: I know a lot of married couples who do that—have separate accounts.

VICKI: We totally have separate accounts.

SANDY: We do, too. I wouldn’t let him have my money!

III. THE LATCH-KEY KID TELLS ALL

KATIE: I always was in daycare. Sometimes we had nannies. It depended. I remember we had a Chinese nanny when my brother was two, and he only knew Chinese. When she would leave, he would only talk to us in Chinese. I had my own key when I was in second grade, and I would just let myself in and chill on the couch. But every Tuesday afternoon, my mom would take us to the Zoo. That was our day. We loved it. But other than that, daycare.

VICKI: Are you even thinking yet about what you’ll do when you have kids?

KATIE: Every woman who works with me says, “Have your kids now. Get it done.” They have kids who are in high school and college, and they’re in their early 50s and they want to travel and they want to do things, and they can’t because they’re still running kids back and forth to soccer. All of them say they wish they had done it earlier.

SANDY: That’s a sin, because we were told 30 or 40—have your kids then. And now you’re having kids in your 20s. That would have terrified me if I did that. There was no way I was ready to be a mother.
KATIE: A lot of my friends are having babies now — in their early 20s — which is really scary to me. I don’t even know where I’m going to work next month or whatever, so I have no idea what I would do with kids. I guess I’d like it if one of us would stay home.

VICKI: Your ideal, then, would be to have a parent at home?

KATIE: I feel like my mom and I are not as close as we should be because she was never there when I was growing up. She worked too much. She still works too much. She was very career-driven, she was building a business, which is very important. My dad would come home and do all the cooking, all of the cleaning.

SANDY: Did she come to special events?

KATIE: Well, the Tuesdays at the zoo.

SANDY: Sports?

KATIE: Yeah, she made me do all sports.

SANDY: Did she come?

KATIE: My dad did. She didn’t attend so much, but she wasn’t absent. We always had dinner together as a family. That was good. I want to do that with my family. My friends didn’t do that.

IV. CAN YOU DO BOTH … AND NOT IMPLODE?

SANDY: Vicki, you’ve worked out a schedule that seems to be pretty ideal.

VICKI: Well, it’s important to note that I never intended to stay at home with my kids.

JESS: Was it because you didn’t want to?

VICKI: I enjoyed what I was doing to the point where I just never thought that I would. And when I got pregnant, I asked to work a four-day-a-week schedule only because my friends were asking to work four-day-a-week schedules, and I thought, “Oh, maybe that’s what I should do.” And that worked. But when I got pregnant again, I ended up being able to just quit working in the office. I write out of my basement, on contract, but my kids still go to daycare Monday through Thursday.
SANDY: How does that work better?

VICKI: Well, the difference is that I can take them at nine, I pick them up at five. If there’s a parade at school, I go. They’re going to see Disney on Ice, and I’m going. And I kind of feel, through no effort of my own, I have created the perfect situation. I am doing exactly what all the people are telling women now to do: “Keep your foot in, don’t completely get out. Work, but have the ability to be at home.”

JESS: But not everyone has a job that flexible.

VICKI: No, absolutely not.

SANDY: What if your daughter decides to stay at home? Would you view that as a slight?

VICKI: I don’t think so. I don’t think my mom thinks the fact that I work is a slight to her because she stayed home.

SANDY: What I’ve done for the past 10 years now is work two weeks from home and two in the office, and it just makes me crazy. You’re never where you want to be. You’re never wholly in either place.

VICKI: I know. I don’t feel like I’m doing 100 percent of my job at anyplace. Like, I’m kind of an okay mom and I’m kind of an okay employee.

SANDY: Will my kids be better people because they get to see that I work and that I value work and that I enjoy work? I don’t know. But I’ll be curious to see what they do. My daughter decided to study women’s studies in college. And I think it’s because she has been watching her whole life this strange dance that my husband and I do. She knows I have anger and resentment about having to do all of the cleaning and earning money and doing it all, because we grew up being told that we could have it all. And we believed it.
VICKI: I certainly did. But you can’t do it all. And you can’t know you can’t do it all until you’re doing it all.

SANDY: And we believed we were not going to be our mother. Except we’re wrong. We’re kind of our mothers.

RENEE: I want to be my mom so bad.

SANDY: Really?

RENEE: She had this great job being a teacher, and so she was at work while we were in school and she was off all summer. I mean, seriously, if I could go back again … and my mom told me this while I was in college. “Maybe you should consider being a teacher.”

JESS: My mom told me that, too: “Be a teacher. Stay home with your kids.”

KATIE: My mom said that, too. Those were the two occupations my mom told me to do: nurse and teacher. She told me every day I should teach. Every day.

VICKI: That’s crazy, because those were basically the only options women had when Betty Freidan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963. And that’s how this whole thing started, with Friedan saying you don’t have to be a nurse, you don’t have to be a teacher.

V. FEMINISM: “WHAT WAS THAT ALL ABOUT?”

SANDY: When my daughter went to interview at her college, she met the women studies department chair. And the women studies department chair was talking up the program to her and told her, “We study the role of women in culture — we’re not feminists.” And my daughter says, “You’re not? I am!” And I’m thinking, “All right, good for her.”

RENEE: I give her a lot of credit. I would never say, “Oh, I’m a feminist.” I think the term “feminist” has a negative connotation.

JESS: I feel the same way.

VICKI: You think being “a feminist” is a bad thing?
SANDY: With all the bra-burning and not changing your name and stuff?

VICKI: I don’t have my husband’s last name.

SANDY: Yeah, me neither.

RENEE: My husband said, “I’ll change my name to yours.” And I was like, “That’s too complicated.” But as far as feminism goes … for me, having a career of your own was a given. It was a non-issue. So when I think of being a feminist, I don’t think of pro-choice or pro-life. I think of Ani DiFranco. I think “creative angry girl.”

JESS: I think that it’s extremist. “I’m a woman, I’ll stomp on men.” I don’t want to put myself in that category. I’m a woman and I want to work, but someday I want to be a mom too. So it’s not choosing some extremist path to go down. It’s about living my life the way that I think that I should live it.

RENEE: I don’t feel like it got us anywhere, because I still have to cater to the guys at my job asking me right after I got married, “When are you going to have kids?” “When are you going to start a family?” I shut down and think, “You just need to go away.” It’s like they immediately assume you’re going to quit to raise kids.

JESS: Can we discuss natural motherly instincts that we as women feel? That you have to have some type of connection with your children? So we can be as feminist as we want to be, but I think I’ll always have that pull back to my kids when I have kids. I’ll always want that, too.

VICKI: And men don’t have that?

JESS: I don’t think they have it the same way that we have it. I think they have a “That’s our baby and we made that,” but I don’t think they have that same pull.

KATIE: When I think of a feminist, I think of my mom. She is hard-core. Everything is her way. She’s the boss. She wears the pants in that house. My dad knows it. Everybody knows it.

JESS: I don’t think I’d want that life.

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