Recently-released Census Bureau statistics indicate that a smaller percentage of women are entering the U.S. labor force.
In 2000, 55% of women with children under a year old held jobs — a decline from 59% in 1998 and the first time the percentage has declined since 1976, when the government started keeping track of women in the workforce.
The sharpest declines were among married women, with numbers dropping from 60% in 1994 to 54% in 2000. Other groups less likely to be in the workforce after the birth of a child were women with at least a year of college education and white women, with no declines among single mothers or those with no education beyond high school.
A number of factors might be behind this change: the booming job market of the 1990s, delayed childbearing until couples are more financially secure or positive media messages about the benefits to children of a stay-at-home mom.
Discussions with three professional women who left full-time jobs after starting a family give offer insight into how Mississippi mothers are managing their careers and balancing home and work responsibilities.
* Vicky Henson of Clinton was a full-time CPA and had already left a national company to work at a less stressful job with a local accounting firm. After four years with the local firm, Henson left when her first child Eric was born in June 1998.
“I had always wanted to be home with my kids; that’s what my mother did,” Henson said.
She had no intention of returning to work, even turning in her CPA license and canceling her certificate.
* Noel Webb of Canton had been weighing whether or not to stay with her state service job in Madison even before the birth of her daughter, Mary Breiten, in April 1999. A finance degree graduate, Webb wanted something more flexible than the eight-hour job routine, even looking into going to nursing school or working towards an interior design degree before abandoning the plans as too expensive. The issue was settled within a week of her daughter’s birth.
“From the minute we drove home from the hospital, I knew I had to find something else. I figured there has got to be something I could do to spend time with her,” Webb said.
* Nora Truhett of Brandon had worked as a nurse with the Mississippi State Department of Health for 13 years before she and her husband adopted their oldest daughter, Carrie.
Truhett left her maternal child health coordinator position in December 1996.
“Because we had waited so long for her, I didn’t want to spend all my days at work [with] her in someone else’s care,” said Truhett.
Having an adult conversation
Henson stayed out of the work force until Eric was 15 months old. She then received a phone call from her former accounting firm, offering her the chance to work from home after the departure of another employee. Henson said “no” to telecommuting.
“I couldn’t get any work done with Eric,” she said.
However, Henson did return to work on two days a week from for four hours, placing her son in a daycare program from August 1999 until the birth of her daughter, Gracie, in March 2000.
“It gave me a break, gave me a chance to have adult conversations,” said Henson.
Henson has continued a part-time schedule, working Saturdays only during the 2001 tax season and returning to a two-day schedule this past September. She’s grateful for the arrangement but says, “If he had not called, I would not have gone looking for it.”
Her lack of a CPA designation limits some of her duties but on the whole, has not been a hindrance.
“CPE (continuing professional education) is so expensive, and I didn’t want to have to worry about it,” Henson said.
Painting a new career picture
Webb’s career took a dramatic turn away from her past work just a week after she returned from the hospital.
Webb’s mother, Joyce Street of Canton, had been doing decorative painting on wood and sold some pieces through Latitudes in Jackson. The first creations were painted on scrap wood left over from new construction on Webb’s house. Webb said her mother encouraged her to help with some special orders while she was home on maternity leave.
“It took me doing the first one and somebody liking it enough to buy it,” Webb said.
With no formal art training, Webb began painting the wood pieces her mother brought, attaching brass handles to some for use as serving trays, framing others for wall hangings.
“It’s fun art,” said Webb. “A real artist might cringe at it; I didn’t go to school for it.”
Much of the painting is to order to match textiles in a room. Webb paints furniture supplied by the client and prepares canvases of abstract art in a workshop she’s enclosed.
“I’ve been working out there where I can see Mary Breiten play in the backyard,” she said.
Working at home has presented challenges for Webb: “When she went from two naps a day to one, it was tough!”
Webb often gives her daughter her own pieces to paint alongside her so they can share the time in the afternoons, as well as spending time at night painting. Mary Breiten just recently began attending a morning-only preschool program at First Presbyterian Church in Canton.
With five outlets for the art in Mississippi and Tennessee and trips to the Canton Flea Market, Webb is wary of expanding too quickly while her daughter is young.
“I don’t want it to just take over, where I can’t be with her,” said Webb, explaining why she won’t go to other fairs that OK Gallery has been invited to. Webb’s creations are sold at InDoors at GardenWorks in Ridgeland, Cissy George’s in Memphis, Latitudes in Jackson, Market Gallery in Canton and The Courtyard in Southaven.
Full-time satisfaction with part-time hours
Truhett stayed home with her daughter Carrie for three months before working two days a week as a staff nurse in the Hinds County Health Department while a family friend kept Carrie in her home.
However, Truhett left work again after their second adopted child, Stephen, was found to have gastroesophageal reflux disease, repeated ear infections and early childhood asthma.
“Anytime we took him anywhere, he came back sick,” Truhett said.
So Truhett returned to full-time mothering until March 1999, when a friend of hers recommended her for work four to eight hours at week at Children’s Medical Group performing telephone triage for children and assisting the pediatricians.
“I like this job better than any I’ve ever had,” said Truhett. “Since I’ve learned so much about children from my own children, I can help other parents just starting out.”
Her husband keeps the children on nights she works.
Truhett has kept her nursing license by continuing work at intervals; continuing professional education is not yet a requirement for nurses in Mississippi.
“Nursing is like anything — everything changes so fast that unless you’re planning on retiring, you need to stay up with it,” Truhett said.
‘Your children always need you…’
All three women can count circumstances that favor their particular situation. Henson said her husband was unsure about his ability early on to be the sole breadwinner and supports her part-time work.
Webb said her husband moved to a “better” job in April 2000 that helped their financial picture. Truhett said since she and her husband were in their 40s before their children arrived in their home, they had done all their “scrimping and saving” while they were young, affording her the ability to stay home.
Henson anticipates possibly returning to full-time work once her children get in school, but her priorities are clear: R
our children always need you more than your boss.”
Webb plans to soon buy a digital camera to help retailers see the wares she has available and thinks a lot about establishing an online presence for OK Gallery — she’s undecided about tha