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Women struggle with decisions regarding balance of family, career

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(U-WIRE) SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The choice between being a stay-at-home mother or a working woman may be a far more complex decision for middle-class college women than recent surveys of graduates and current students seem to make it.

Surveys of past and current Yale University women show nearly half of women name mothering as their primary occupation by age 40. Subsequent surveys of current students showed that nearly 30 percent plan to stop working to raise their children.

The same decision for Syracuse University women is not as black and white, reflecting constantly changing attitudes about a woman's role at home and the workplace, as well as economic differences.

"There's still kind of a judgment on both sides," said sophomore business major Elizabeth Swanson. "Some women in business look down on women who stay home, but then there's also that guilt about leaving the kids home with a stranger."

Interviews with 18 current female students showed a desire to experience both the hearth and the board room and a realization that most marriages do not end in white picket fences and happily ever after.

Fifteen said they would consider being stay-at-home mothers only after working for a few years, many adding they would stay at home only if it was financially easy to do so and only until their children were ready for school.

None said they want to have children right after college. Many hoped to work for a few years, gaining experience in their fields and enjoying their youth before taking a few years off to raise their children. Most said they plan on returning to work part time after

their children start school.

This is the option mathematics professor Kari Shaw took after her sons Connor, 12, and Tiernen, 8, were in preschool. Shaw chose to return to teaching part time. Though it was hard to leave things such as tenure and research behind, Shaw said she has no regrets.

"Even if I didn't have to, I still would have gone back," Shaw said. "It's nice to be around adults, and to just get out of the house to do what you're trained to do."

Though her husband, Declan Quinn, also a mathematics professor, would love to be home with the children more often, differences in pay and benefits made it better for the family for her to be part time, she said.

Several of the SU women said having professional or work skills was an important backup in case a marriage failed.

Having an escape plan and realizing most marriages are not perfect is an important part of making the decision to be a full-time mother, said Linda Alcoff, director of women's studies.

"There's still so much naivet?" Alcoff said. "You make all these plans, and then the world intervenes."

Of the three SU women who said they would not want to be a full time mother at any point, one based her decision on a personal understanding of the risks.

Sophomore political science major Jessalyn Mastrianni's parents divorced when she was young, leaving her stay-at-home mother bankrupt.

"It's all about your personal experiences," Mastrianni said. "But I just wouldn't want that to happen to me."

Alcoff was able attend school by putting her children in government-subsidized day care, paying $1 per week. However, affordable day care and more rights for mothers on maternity leave are constant losing battles, Alcoff said.

According to a spring 1999 Census survey, the most recent on the topic, mothers ages 25 to 38 pay an average of $90 per week for childcare.

"Not everybody has the option to be a stay-at-home mom," Alcoff said. "The Ivy League kids probably can. One of the theories is that parents send their children to Ivy League schools so they can marry someone in the right class."

Surveys of SU alumni comparable to the ones done at Yale do not exist; however, according to Career Services data, only 0.2 percent of graduates from 2001 to 2004 are seeking neither employment nor graduate school.

Students at all-female Wells College in Aurora rarely express interest in full-time parenting, said Career Services Director Nancy Karpinski.

"We certainly have students who are leaving and getting married, but they're also looking for jobs and graduate school," she said. "When I was in school, so many women got married right away. Now, you have so many opportunities we didn't have."

This generation faces a different set of choices and questions, as gender roles continue to shift and women constantly take on different positions, Alcoff said. Though pressure is less now, there are still stereotypes that career women are selfish, she said.

"We're in a period of cultural transition that will probably last for another 100 years," Alcoff said. "The settled-on gender roles are in flex. Men don't know what to do and women don't know what to do."

(C) 2005 Daily Orange via U-WIRE

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