For working moms, a new Web site shows how to stay at home and still manage a career
After Lisa Otto’s second child was born, she decided she had to cut back her hours at the Barron, Wis., hospital where she works as an emergency technician. Otto’s first son, then 4, had been diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, and her husband, a carpenter, worked long and unpredictable hours. Though her mother-in-law often-babysat, Otto’s “juggling act” had become unmanageable with the new baby.
“After my son started failing in school,” said Otto, 34, “we decided that someone needed to be home with him.”
Having his mother home during the day helped Otto’s son focus, and he started doing better. But Otto missed working.
“A year later,” she said, “I needed something to do.”
Today, Otto, now a mother of three, still works weekends as an EMT. During the week, she runs a small copy-writing business out of her home, putting in long hours after her children have gone to bed. Though she began working from home to fulfill her own ambitions, with gas and food prices going up, Otto now finds her income to be essential.
“It’s an absolute must,” she said. “In the last year, with the way things are going, you really feel the pinch.”
Ever since women began entering the workforce, mothers of young children have felt pulled between work and home. Today, U.S. Census data show that more than 5 million mothers are taking time out from their careers to stay home with their children. But many families find they need two incomes just to get by. At the same time, many highly educated women want to find a way use their degrees. Now, as telecommuting and outsourcing become more common, many mothers find themselves closer to being able have it both ways.
One innovation aimed at helping mothers who freelance is a new Web site called HireMyMom.com. Since it went online last year, more than 1,200 mothers have signed on. The site connects workers—from administrative assistants to attorneys—with companies seeking their services. Members, who must have references and at least one year’s experience, pay $29.95 per quarter for access to the site, where businesses advertise jobs for free.
Lesley Spencer Pyle, a 42-year-old stay-at-home mother in Houston, got the idea to launch HireMyMom.com after noticing how many companies were outsourcing work. An online matchmaking service, she thought, could connect other freelancing mothers with clients and help them avoid the work-from-home scams that flood the Internet.
Pyle had never wanted to stay home. Pregnant with her first child after finishing a master’s degree in public relations at the University of Stirling in Scotland, she fully intended to go back to work shortly after her baby was born.
“I hadn’t gone through all this college, planning to just stay at home,” Pyle said.
After her daughter was born, Pyle’s feelings changed—she couldn’t bring herself to put her daughter in day care. But she didn’t want to give up on a career, either. So Pyle, who has since had two more children and is also raising a stepdaughter, started a home-based public relations business. In 1995, she founded Home-Based Working Moms, a professional association and online community of mothers in similar situations. Its motto: “The Freedom to Choose When and Where We Work … Priceless!”
The freedom to work from home is what drew Marla Murasko, of Plymouth, Ind., to HireMyMom.com. Murasko, 41, works as a “virtual assistant,” handling administrative tasks like travel arrangements and data entry through the Internet and the mail. Murasko, whose 2-year-old son has Down syndrome, appreciates the flexibility of working from home.
“The clients know they’re working with stay-at-home moms,” she said. With other career Web sites, she said, “they’re looking for someone who can be on site.”
Freelancing and telecommuting are becoming more common, as companies look to cut down on the cost of benefit plans, and the Internet makes it easier for people to work off-site. But the option to work from home is not exactly a panacea to the longstanding struggle to balance motherhood with a sense of independence and value outside of the home. Mothers who do freelance work can find themselves dependent on their husbands for health insurance, and often their income is a supplement to their husbands’ rather than a living. Murasko makes $25 an hour for between 6 and 10 hours of work a week. The money helps with her son’s medical expenses and the cost of gas, she said, but the difference is not substantial.
Women who do not work outside the home are giving up too much, said feminist writer Linda Hirshman. Her 2006 book, “Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World,” argued that opting out of the workforce makes women too dependent on their husbands and perpetuates stereotypes about gender roles. Working from home is “better than nothing,” she said, but there is a big difference between freelancing and “having a full time job where you can actually support yourself.”
Giving the majority of earning power to one parent and childcare duties to the other also does not bode well for equality in the marriage, Hirshman said.
“If you become dependent on another adult for your healthcare, it gives them an enormous amount of bargaining power,” she said. “Think about how that would affect financial and nonfinancial decisions.”
Many women who work from home continue to find themselves doing most of the housework and childcare. Otto sometimes works long hours on little sleep.
“A lot of times I would put the kids to bed and work from 9:00 to 2:00,” she said. “I think it’s a big misconception that it’s easier to work from home.”
Pyle said she does not like to think of a married couple as “two separate individuals only looking out for ourselves.” Though Pyle’s first marriage ended in divorce, she did not lose faith in the institution, and she has since remarried. “I’m not afraid to be dependent on my husband,” she said, “because I know he, like myself, honors our marriage covenant.”
In any case, Pyle said, “Parenting my children is more important than health insurance. I feel women should be at home if that is where they want to be—and so many of us do. Working from home enables women to continue working but not at the expense of having someone else raise their children.”
Though mothers are still the ones expected to stay home with the kids, they are not entirely alone. U.S. Census figures from 2006 showed that 159,000 men were staying home with their children while their wives worked. What if these men need extra income, or want to keep exercising skills for when they return to the workforce?
“Occasionally men ask if they can join Hire My Mom,” said Pyle, “but there are so many freelance sites out there, and this is our niche.”
She has been asked whether she’s planning to start HireMyDad.com, Pyle said, and when she checked she found the domain name had been registered.
“Somebody has that idea,” Pyle said.