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`STAY-AT-HOME WOMAN' IS ENDANGERED SPECIES

"Here's a quiz," says a woman author. "What do we call the woman who does no child care but who cleans the house? A cleaning woman. What do we call the person who straightens the house and `supervises' the children? A housekeeper. And what do we call the woman who does child care but no housework? A nanny.

"And what do we call the one who does it all? A non-working mother."The label, of course, is a misnomer. Every woman - whether she's at home or in the workplace - works most of her waking hours.

"That's for sure," agrees a homemaker. "I'm a working woman. I work hard. I cook, I clean, I pick up toys, I wash diapers, I wash and fold clothes, I plan menus, I shop, I pay bills, I vacuum, I dust, I chauffeur, I make appointments with doctors and lawyers and insurance salesmen, I play with my child (and it is work), I dress, feed, bathe, nurse and comfort my child - is that enough? I have a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job."

Now who would like a job like that? "I would," say many homemakers, but the going is tough in today's world, which offers so many diverse choices to women. "Twenty years ago there was a bias against women going into the workplace," says one. "Today, the bias is against women staying home!"

"Tell me about it," says another homemaker. "I like staying home, doing my job, but every time I read another article about a successful heroine juggling family and career, I feel pangs of inadequacy."

"When someone asks me what I do," says still another, "I find myself saying, `I'm just a homemaker.' It doesn't feel like it's enough to say."

"Child-raising has gotten bad press," contributes still another. "Instead of `How are the kids,' I hear, `What's a smart woman like you doing at home?' "

Homemakers are in a tough position and aren't getting any support, adds another woman: "Absolutely no woman's magazine is addressing our needs. The articles on stress and beauty makeovers are for women in the office. The sexy, glamorous lady is the lady on the job. The housewife looks harassed and dowdy. The mother at home has been edited out - abandoned."

"I feel like one of an endangered species," declares another stay-at-home woman.

What does today's homemaker do about this disconcerting state of affairs? She can start by recognizing that whether a woman is a "work-at-home" or a "work-at-work/work-at-home" woman - all women in today's society are experiencing immense role changes. Under these new, and nontraditional conditions, each woman must make choices that work for her - choices as individual as her own fingerprints.

The pressing question for any woman in today's world seems to be this: "How can I achieve a healthy balance in the mix of three aspects of my life: parenting (if I have children), my own personal care and development (whether or not this includes paid work), and my relationships with others (including a possible one with a spouse)?"

Once the question of where a woman is going to work is posed in terms of needs, a host of creative possibilities and solutions that suit a woman's unique circumstances, interests, talents, convictions and family needs are available. Choosing what fits best for her and her family puts a woman in the actor role. When she actively moves to create conditions that conform to her needs and those of her family, she is in charge of the course of her life and will feel more content with any decision she makes.

Believing that whatever you are doing is by choice will enhance your self-esteem, says Mary Howell, a physician and author of the article, "The Best Kind of Mother." After extensive review of research regarding women and work choices, she stresses: "It is clear that mothers who want to hold paid jobs and do so - and mothers who want to stay home with their children and do so - are, comparatively speaking, happier with themselves and function better as mothers than those who wish they were at home but feel they must hold a paid job, and those who wish they were working at a paid job, but can't for whatever reason."

For many women, the decision of whether or not to "work" in the workplace in today's hectic world is one that may require constant re-evaluation. "Over the years, my employment status has changed to meet family needs," says one woman. Says another: "I've come to realize that I'm not a piece of elastic that can stretch and stretch to fit the demands of any situation - I have to make choices that maintain my well-being." Says still another: "I feel much calmer, more focused, and less resentful, when I accept my own emotional parameters."

One woman sums it up: "When push comes to shove, each of us has to `do what we gotta do' for our families. We are multidimensional women, not statistics. It's time - whether we're out in the workplace or not - to answer the question `What do you do?' honestly and with pride: `I'm a working woman.' "