Working mother's book offers anecdotal comfort

May 24, 1993|By Boston Globe

Just as Katherine Wyse Goldman was getting into the car that would take her to the airport from her suburban Philadelphia home, her 5-year-old daughter, Molly, ran up to her, sobbing. The girl had fallen in the mud, and her clothes were dirty, and she needed Mommy, no one else, just Mommy, to help her change.

So Ms. Goldman ran inside, the baby sitter beside her, and picked out a clean outfit for her daughter, stayed long enough to soothe the tears and elicit a smile, then ran downstairs to catch the ride to the airport, where a jet would take her to Boston to promote her new book, her first book, entitled "My Mother Worked and I Turned Out Okay."

Unlike the typical message about the frenzied no-win life of working mothers, Ms. Goldman's book is a feel-good book with a bite, a slim, breezy, unscientific, anecdotal volume, the kind TC busy working mother might find time to read, unabashedly designed to reassure at a time when reassurance is scarce. Working moms can't have it all, she concedes, but they can make it work.

"I'm writing for young working mothers because I don't think anybody's giving them good news," Ms. Goldman says. "You see these magazines, and they talk about quality time. They tell them not to make macaroni out of the box, to make penne with four cheeses. It's not fair. You don't have to be doing all that stuff. Mothers need to hear it. There were women who were not doing it all the time. The older women were not supermoms."

Yes, Ms. Goldman writes, you can be a good mother if you work outside the home, and your children will turn out fine, maybe better than if you had stayed at home.

But the reassurance is bittersweet, the message tinged with loss as older mothers talk, too, about the joys of being grandmothers, joys they missed with their own children, much as grandfathers, their breadwinning days behind them, recapture their children's childhood through their children's children.

Indeed, it was her own guilt about working, the same guilt shared by many working mothers, that prompted her to write the book, she tells an interviewer a few hours after leaving Pennsylvania.

Ms. Goldman's insights come from her personal experience as the child of a working mother when none of her friends had moms who worked outside the home. She is the daughter of Lois Wyse, author and advertising executive.

Now Ms. Goldman is 41, free-lancing part time in the advertising business she learned from her mother, the wife of a journalist and mother of two children.

If she turned out OK, then other adult children of working mothers must have turned out OK, so Ms. Goldman set out to find them. She wanted to find older women who had careers, not just jobs. She wanted to know how they managed and to talk to their grown children. She wanted to focus on the positive, to combine what she learned from talking to those women and their adult children with stories from her own childhood.

Yet for all the very nice things between working mothers and their children that Ms. Goldman chronicles in quick, bite-size snatches, she is not telling women they can have it all, only that their children will be all right.

A closing chapter on the resentments adult children still nurse, as well as the chapter on grandmothers, are poignant reminders that life, after all, is a trade-off.

One woman's mother was so tired when she was raising her own children that she'd just come home from work and flick on the television. Now that she's retired, the adult daughter says, "It's like having a mother for the first time. It's the most amazing transformation."

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