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Mothers in Their 'Supermom' Roles

November 20, 1986|ROSELLE M. LEWIS

The Crisis of the Working Mother: Reshaping the Conflict Between Family and Work by Barbara J. Berg (Summit Books: $16.95).

Like the rest of the 52% of American working women with preschool children, Barbara J. Berg discovered that she had come that proverbial "long way." But for all her education and accomplishments--a Ph.D. in history, a TV consultant and author of several books--she felt guilt and more than a touch of sorrow in leaving her children for the job.

The role of Supermom wasn't for her. So-called "quality time" turned out to be "fiction," and the crisis she experienced--shared by many working mothers responding to her questionnaire--resulted in feeling "ripped in two" and "torn apart."

Working mothers act out their sense of guilt and loss in not being prime caretakers for their children at a critical time. Some spoil their children outrageously; others turn into workaholics, burning the professional and domestic candle at both ends, and some become jealous of their children's caretakers. Berg was more than perturbed at having to explain to her daughter that the family housekeeper was not the "other mommy."

But this is far more than a kvetchy (complaining) feminist tract. Berg has written a richly textured book, skillfully combining anecdotal reporting and current research in several disciplines. Her chapter on the history of women in America's work force--centering on those mustered out of the aircraft industry after World War II, who were told by a popular magazine to have "three babies apiece"--is masterful.

However, Berg's insistence on the word "crisis" to describe the autonomous choice of the generally well-paid professional woman to either work or remain at home stretches matters a bit. Agreed: It's no fun at the supermarket to get "stuck with the whole list," but neither is it a tragedy.

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