When my girls grew up I decided it was finally my time to go back to school and get a PhD. I was ready and excited, and was certain that the outside world was as excited to have me back.
Once I started the program I came across an announcement about a special scholarship for women. In my naiveté I believed that it had my name written all over it. After all who wouldn’t appreciate the determination of a mother who decides to go back to school after a long break? The answer is that no one did. There were no scholarships or any other type of awards for someone like me.
Shortly after I finished my PhD, I gave a paper at an international conference abroad. I got to talk to one of the other Israeli participants, a university professor. He said that in his department, for entry level positions, no one would even look at candidates over forty. Although he had drunk several glasses of wine, and probably would not have repeated it in public, it was clear that it was women, especially mothers, who paid the price.
So women who interrupt their career to have a family, and are ready to go back several years later, risk losing their career.
But perhaps there are other kind of awards for mothers? Today I saw on Facebook that “the city of Beer Sheva is seeking to nominate exceptional mothers for Mother of the Year Award.”
Then it transpired that one of the requirements was that the nominee would have achieved self-fulfillment. The definition of the term is “feeling of happiness and satisfaction as a result of doing something that fully uses one’s abilities and talents.” But in today’s world, and in the context of the competition, the term self-fulfillment is a code word for a career.
Most of my female friends who stayed home with the children in the 1980s never got to have a career. Back then we were told that self-fulfillment is to be found in motherhood, especially if it was done full-time. We were a group of educated and capable women, but when we went back to work, it was too late to “fully use our abilities and talents.” We found jobs, but those, usually, were not the self-fulfilling kind.
In the past it always surprised me to hear about young mothers who purposely chose to stay close to their parents once they had children of their own. However, now I think that they were practical, and knew something which I hadn’t realized: in order to have a career a mother must utilize all the resources available to her, and to make sure she receives all the help she can get.
In spite of the competition in Beer Sheva, society does not give awards to outstanding mothers. Their success is recognized privately within the family. But whether you are a young mother balancing work and children, or an older mother attempting to get back in, the workplace in general is not a friendly environment for mothers of all ages.