It Was a Selfish Decision but I Never Regretted It

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It Was a Selfish Decision but I Never Regretted It

Newspaper article

By: Fiona McIntosh

Date: March 17, 2006

Source: McIntosh, Fiona. "It was a Selfish Decision but I Never Regretted It." The Guardian (March 17, 2006).

About the Author: Fiona McIntosh was the editor of Elle magazine, a position she left to launch a British version of the Italian magazine Grazia. As of 2006, McIntosh splits her time between her career and caring for her children.


For most of recorded history, women have been given few choices about how to spend their lives. Before the advent of effective contraception, women had little control over pregnancy and childbirth, consigning many of them to mothering roles whether they chose such work or not.

While equally intelligent, women were frequently prohibited from obtaining advanced education, further limiting their potential advancement in a career. Finally, social and cultural norms commonly dictated specific gender roles, restricting the avenues open to women and forbidding them to hold certain leadership roles in homes, commerce, and government. Together these factors created a presumption that a human being's gender, at least if that person was female, determined that individual's purpose in life.

Many women found these assigned roles fulfilling and eagerly took their places as mothers, wives, and homemakers. But throughout history, a small minority of women have chosen to pursue stereotypically masculine occupations, and during the twentieth century an incrasingly large number of women began seeking the same right that men generally have: the right to choose their own careers.

The study of human beings and why they enjoy working is a relatively young science. In 1975, Hackman and Oldham developed a model which stated in specific terms what most people generally assume: some jobs are simply better than others. More specifically, this model said that any job can be measured on several criteria, and that these criteria will determine the overall satisfaction level of the job. For example, jobs requiring the use of a wide range of skills are generally more satisfying than jobs requiring the use of one single skill repeatedly. In addition, jobs that provide feedback on performance tend to be more satisfying than jobs in which no feedback is received. These findings helped managers and industrial engineers redesign many jobs so that they were more satisfying to workers than before.

Unfortunately, the job satisfaction model also raised new questions. In some cases researchers observed workers who were completely satisfied with their jobs, despite those jobs' abysmally low satisfaction scores. Even more perplexing, they also identified workers whose jobs appeared to be perfectly designed, but who remained unhappy in their work. Such observations prompted further research, leading to the conclusion that while certain tasks are generally more satisfying than others, a more important consideration is actually the congruence or fit between the worker and the job. A close fit between the job's demands and the worker's abilities and interests is actually more important to job satisfaction than the specific characteristics of the job. This finding helps explain why some workers find very repetitive work interesting, while others require a great deal of variety to stay motivated.

The job fit perspective provides a basic understanding of why some women find motherhood a fascinating adventure while others find it frustrating and unfulfilling. When motherhood is viewed as simply one more career option, rather than a woman's preordained destiny, it seems reasonable to expect that not all women will be well-suited to it, just as all men are not well-suited to working as accountants or as landscapers. The feminist movement of the late twentieth century began as an effort to gain for women the same career and life choices which men had always enjoyed.


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As the feminist movement took shape it became somewhat antagonistic. Women who chose to remain at home with children were frequently looked down on by radical feminists, whose rhetoric equated motherhood with second-class citizenship and slavery; as a result women who might have welcomed additional life opportunities chose to remain outside the feminist cause.

As women began seeking greater workplace opportunities, companies began to recognize the vast potential resource women represented. During the 1980s, women were often relegated to the so-called Mommy Track by the assumption that a woman's expected absence from work to have children would prevent her from being a key player in the office. By the 1990s, many employers were launching innovative programs that supported women who chose to have both careers and families, an option long available to working men. On-site daycare, job-sharing, and a general recognition of the value of mothering all created an atmosphere in which a woman's choice to balance family and career was respected and in many cases encouraged. Though many women still chose traditional female roles, those who wished for other choices increasingly found such options open to them.

As of 2006, some of the early leaders in the feminist movement have moderated their once harsh tone; Gloria Steinem, who famously taunted that women need men as much as a fish needs a bicycle, ultimately decided to marry at age sixty-six. Other outspoken opponents of mothering have found that raising children is not the mindless drudgery they once believed it to be. In 2005, CNN reported that China, which has long encouraged mothers to work outside the home, was experiencing a noticeable rise in mothers choosing to remain at home with their children. U.S. Census Bureau statistics also confirm that stay-at-home mothers are far more common in upper-income families, suggesting that staying at home may now be seen as a status symbol.

For many women, the solution to this dilemma appears to be more complex than simply a choice between career and children; in many cases women have found that a blend of the two provides a satisfying mix of career and home life.



Peters, Joan. When Mothers Work: Loving Our Children Without Sacrificing Ourselves. New York: Perseus Books, 1997.

Ramming, Cindy. All Mothers Work: A Guilt-Free Guide for the Stay at Home Mom. New York: Avon Books, 1996.

Venker, Suzanne and Laura Schlessinger. 7 Myths of Working Mothers: Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don't Mix. Dallas, Texas: Spence Publishing, 2004.


Adelman, Rebecca. "Have it All. And Less." Maclean's 119 (2006): 40.

Gottfried, Adele and Allen Gottfried. "A Long-term Investigation of the Role of Maternal and Dual-earner Employment in Children's Development." American Behavioral Scientist 49 (2006): 1310-1327.

Wolf-Wendel, Lisa and Kelly Ward. "Academic Life and Motherhood: Variations by Institutional Type." Higher Education. 52 (2006): 487-521.

Web sites

CNN. "The Stay-at-home Generation." May 25, 2005 〈〉 (accessed July 21, 2006).

Columbia University News Service. "Stay-At-Home Mothers Grow in Number." June 23, 2003. 〈〉 (accessed July 21, 2006). "Dream Job: Stay-At-Home-Mom." 〈〉 (accessed July 21, 2006).

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It Was a Selfish Decision but I Never Regretted It

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