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For Women at Home

This article by Diane Young Uniman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 3, 1999. All rights reserved.

As I entered the small room in the back of the Day Care

Center I was told to take off my shoes. The first thing that crossed

my mind was the Japanese custom of removing one’s shoes upon entering

a home, a rather foreign custom for Westerners. But when I thought

about it later, the association was rather appropriate. Most of the

women who were about to enter this room were going through an experience

that indeed seemed like a foreign custom to them. For some it was

as disorienting as a foreign world; the transition to stay-at-home

motherhood. As it turns out the shoe thing was to keep the meeting

room as germ-free as possible because by day it was used for infant

care. The meeting, however, was far from sterile.

The organization is called F.E.M.A.L.E., an acronym for Formerly Employed

Mothers at the Leading Edge, a non-profit group for women who have

left the full-time workplace in favor of raising children at home.

The meeting was led by Catherine Kushner, formerly employed

as a test developer at Educational Testing Service on Rosedale Road,

a 1991 graduate of McGill University with a master’s from the University

of Toronto. She has one child at home. She whipped out a three-color

agenda, which prominently featured the words "Princeton Area Chapter."

If F.E.M.A.L.E. has chapters, just how big is this organization? It’s

big, pretty big. An information packet handed out to new members shows

that the organization has grown to 130 plus chapters in 30 states

with over 4,600 national members. According to my calculations, that’s

a whole lotta bare feet!

With agenda in hand, we went around the room introducing ourselves.

After Catherine cleaned up housekeeping business, a member led a discussion

about birth order and sibling rivalry. It became clear that the meat

and potatoes of the issue was not the issue; the issue was these women

wanted to talk about their lives, how they felt, how they were trying

to cope. And that’s when the eight women sitting around in a circle

on the germ-reduced floor, really came alive.

I had been on the lookout to see if this was a meeting of substance

or a "mere" coffee klatch. As a stay home with two school

age children, I wanted to find out how this group stacked up against

a "real" professional organization like the Business Marketing

Association, and whether this group would be a useful job-finding

network for women like me who wanted to "get back on the horse."

A Penn graduate, I had been an attorney for 15 years (I teach law

part-time at Mercer County College) and my husband and I are building

a home-based business. I wanted to see how women are faring when they

are not working at nine-to-five jobs.

I learned more about what this group was by what was NOT going on:

chitchat about where to find the next job. There was no "who ya

knowing," no female version of the all-boys club. Although the

profile of an average FEMALE member is that 96 percent plan to return

to work in some capacity, that’s certainly not the kind of networking

these women were doing. What was NOT going on was any discussion about

how to fudge the mommy resume, how to handle the deadline crazy boss,

or how to fake-it-til-ya-make-it.

So what is it all about? The women themselves answered the question.

Lisa Ruffman-Weiss, Hofstra University, Class of 1985, formerly

graphic design supervisor at Rhone-Poulenc on Prospect Road in Cranbury,

with one child at home: "for lasting friendships, friends for

my daughter, resources for other things like babysitters, information,

etc."

Kushner said, "for adult conversation on a variety of topics,

not just baby issues, although these are very valuable."

Susan Vanderkam, University of North Carolina, Class of 1994,

master’s from Princeton, doctoral candidate in chemistry, with one

child at home: "a network of other mothers and resources of motherhood."

And Nancy Gottlieb, State University of New York at New Paltz,

former account manager at ATT with two children at home and a third

on the way, said "Family life is very important so I feel this

group has been so influential in my role as a parent. It is my JOB

for now so I consider this my association where I can take part to

give and receive. We are all moms and we need to stick together to

help each other out."

Consider this: If the purpose of a coffee klatch is to break through

a sense of isolation that many women feel when they are sequestered

without any human stimulation other than the mail carrier, then we

could call this a coffee klatch. If this organization helps women

who feel that their sense of self worth and identity has been compromised

either because they once worked and they no longer do, or whether

they never worked and never even had a whiff of what it feels like

to define themselves through independent achievement outside the home,

then there is a similarity in purpose to the coffee and crumbcake

crowd of yesteryear. Creating connections to dislocate human isolation

is a significant purpose, then and now.

But F.E.M.A.L.E. expands on that purpose. The organization also encourages

community programs, such as this chapter’s C.A.R.E. (Concerned in

Aid of Reduced Energy) which helps out with childcare or cooking where

a member has a birth or illness in the family, and food bank donations.

And the chapters are involved in national and local issues of concern

to women and children. In fact, in 1991 the meaning of the acronym

F.E.M.A.L.E. was modified to Formerly Employed Mothers on the Leading

Edge; it started out as Formerly Employed Mothers at Loose Ends! The

organization has evolved to include a commitment to motivate businesses

and the government to become more responsive to the needs of families,

such as encouraging options in work scheduling, child care, and incentives

to allow time off for family care.

It is a great service to have this organization available for women

transitioning to stay-at-home life. Imagine for a moment that a Mount

Rushmore of laundry is piled high in the comer, with all four presidents

scoffing at your ineffectiveness. "You inept fool" they say,

"You can’t even handle the laundry!" The baby has been up

for hours crying, and your three-year-old is banging on pots.

The lure of the old office is silently calling like the Sirens, and

the boss (whom you recalled just yesterday as decidedly tyrannical,

short, and pimply) is now remembered wistfully as sweet and considerate,

with Clark Gable-like good looks. You are beginning to realize that

your unfinished analysis on the walking pattern of Siberian mugwumps

that your co-worker continues to work on in your absence could very

well have been your ticket to the Nobel Peace Prize. You are convinced

she is going to get it. Your self-esteem as a productive member of

society rated from one to ten? Minus 150. You’ve been tying to have

a cup of coffee for three hours but it’s impossible with the baby

squirming in your arms.

You glance at the paper that your husband left open (at the sports

page). You are grateful there is no news of your co-worker and mugwumps.

Your eyes fall upon the following "Do you feel the stress associated

with the transition from full-time employment to at-home motherhood?

Call and found out how we can help." What do you think; would

you go?

Well, I can tell you one thing. If you were looking for a way to go

back to Clark Gable, this organization would not be for you. But if

you were looking to get back on the Richter Scale of self-esteem,

at least not on the minus side, then F.E.M.A.L.E. may be just what

you need.

— Diane Young Uniman

F.E.M.A.L.E. meets first and third Thursdays at the Carnegie

Family Center. 609-936-8377.


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