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End the War on the Mommy Wars

Yes, you read that right. I want to end the war ON the Mommy Wars. This media darling (some say invention) is back in the news again after Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen infamously stated that Ann Romney, wife of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had "never worked in a day in her life." Ann, the mother of five sons, was more than happy to defend mothering as work. 

With that little exchange, the Mommy Wars was back in the headlines with many mommy bloggers doing their best Rodney King impressions and imploring us all to just. get. along. "End the Mommy Wars!" they plead. "Accept each other's choices!" they shout. "We have to stop fighting amongst ourselves!" they cry.

It all sounds so great. Of course, we should accept each other's choices (or realities since many women don't have a choice). However, the fact that the battle persists might be a sign of something amiss. Despite all our attempts at understanding and acceptance, women continue to judge and be judged for their decision to either stay home or go to work. 

Is it because women are just as critical and bitchy as the worst gender stereotypes would have us believe? It seems that is what many in the media (and blogosphere) would have us believe. However, I don't think that's the issue. The issue isn't that we are women. The issues is that we are human beings. Human beings vulnerable to basic psychological impulses driven by insecurity and fear. 

And I'm here to say there's nothing wrong with that. 

Most of us are not 100% secure with our mothering choices. Those who stay at home wonder if they are sacrificing their livelihoods in the process. The economic impact of staying home is real and it's scary. Believe me, I know. Those who go to work wonder if they are missing out on important milestones and moments. And everyone feels guilty. If a mother (or father) tells you they don't wonder if the grass is greener on the other side occassionally, they are lying to you. And that's assuming you made a choice either way and weren't forced into your circumstances by economics or illness or God knows what. 

So, add personal insecurity to a society which tremendously undervalues mothering to begin with and pour on a media environment that offers up an endless supply of commentary and opinions and it's not surprising things get heated. And I'm not saying we shouldn't try to accept each other or ourselves (or God forbid push politicans and corporations to make it easier for everyone to make a choice that works for them). I'm just saying let's also not beat ourselves up if we fall short of that standard. 

If you work and sometimes get jealous of your friend's sunny Instagrams of park playdates, that's ok. If you stay at home and you occassionally hate your working friend's gorgeous work wardrobe and (adult) conversation skills, that's fine, too. Even if you share those thoughts with your husband or girlfriends or even the Internet, that doesn't mean you are a bad person. And it sure as heck doesn't make you a bad mother. 

Feeling that way doesn't make you a soldier in any kind of war. It just makes you human.

~ Sarah Stewart Holland

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    End the War on the Mommy Wars - The Blog - salt & nectar

Reader Comments (11)

Well said! When I was a SAHM, I felt guilty and pampered and embarrassed when people asked me what I 'did." Now that I'm divorced from my first husband, with no child support, I HAVE to work full-time and I feel guilty for getting home at 7 pm and not being able to take my daughter to ballet or oversee homework (the babysitter does that).

April 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPauline Gaines

Great post! I love spending the days at home with my boys but I would be lying if I said I didn't envy my dual income friends. I also think that staying at home with my boys is much harder work than any job I ever held. So sometimes I think I would get more of a break working (and the added bonus of adult conversation). In the end though I wouldn't trade a thing for the precious moments I spend with my boys. I don't think there is a right or wrong choice.

April 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBridget L.

I do not earn a paycheck, but have an old and very dear friend who earns a substantial one. We decided long ago to have frank, honest discussions about the choices we were making and their consequences. As a result, we both get a realistic account of the flipside from someone who's known us since childhood and loves without judgement. It's done wonders for both of us in building our confidence in our own decisions.

It's true we all have moments of envy. The best way to end the war is empathy, and the best way to accomplish that is to have someone we know intimately, love, and respect make a different choice from us. Then talk about it outside of anger, vitriol, and/or the Internet.

April 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichell M.

I think this is a fantastic post, Sarah. I think it's also important to note that some women choose to work, even when they have children. Some may also choose to work even if they don't need to because they're already wealthy or living within the means of a partner's paycheck. I don't have kids so some may think I'm not qualified to speak on this subject. I cannot fathom the responsibility associated with children or the guilt that comes with putting them in daycare or leaving them with family or friends. I would imagine this is a difficult decision, whether it's a choice or not. But I do benefit from having an amazing mother who is first and foremost an amazing woman. Toward the end of my adolescence and teenage years, she probably didn't need to work as much to keep food on the table and books in front of me. But I think she saw value in me seeing her work. I learned how to be a woman and a hard worker from her. I also think that when I'm a mother, I'll acknowledge fully that I learned to be a mother from her. A good one. But good, or great, is subjective. Mothers and fathers have to make the best decisions for their children and themselves given their circumstances. I think the point is to not use your perspective and circumstances to paint another family. It seems like that's what Hilary Rosen did. She didn't have respect for the work that Ann Romney did for her children and likely still does for her grandchildren. I think this comes down to respecting the decisions of adults. Guilt is normal but you don't have to be swayed by it and acknowledging the merits of "the other side" isn't a bad thing. You don't have to agree. You don't have to make the same decision. But if someone's decision was thought out, safe, and rational, why not respect it?

April 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTara

I think what stings the most is when people say being a stay at home parent is harder than any job ever help or the extra money would be nice or the fashionable clothes. Trust me, I don't work a 60 hour week with pressure and deadlines because I enjoy the clothes and money. I wish I could spend more time at home, running laundry while my daughter takes a nap or go to the park when the weather is nice or the grocery store during daylight hours or check my personal email. I have to work and it's hard. It's hard juggling a personal life along with a working life, fighting for time to take your child to the doctor or begging people to cover for you because you need to pick up your sick child from school or finding someone to watch your child because school is closed for the day and you can't get that time off much less do anything for yourself. Going to work is not fabulous. It's getting everyone ready and out the door by 7:00 so everyone can be where they need to be on time.

It's hard to take advice from those who work from home or are a stay at home parent because they talk about play dates and yoga and coffee or book clubs. They do have time to incorporate those things during the day. Yes, you do have to deal with screaming and diapers all day but if you can take a yoga class or have time for crafting then I don't think you really know how hard it really is to be a working parent. I can't tell you the last time I did laundry during daylight hours or got to bed before midnight because of dishes and paperwork much less go to yoga. I'm actually writing this while waiting for a meeting to start. It's the first time today I had a minute to just relax and do something non work related. Paying job or parenting job.

It's hard for everyone no matter what. We all wish we had more time, money and help.

April 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMandy M.

Mandy you won't ever hear me say that...unless I'm emotionally blackmailing my husband that is! ;) growing I had not a single friend whose mom stayed home. My mom and every mom I knew worked. Most were teachers which CAN be a more forgiving schedule but I know they all struggled to do it all and I know it was hard. My friend Amy at Freaky Perfect arguing that working moms have it harder. Period. You should check it out. - ssh

April 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterSalt & Nectar

You are so right Tara and I'm one of them! So much do I want to work I do it for free most of the time! ;) - ssh

April 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterSalt & Nectar

I'm grateful every day that I'm at home with my daughter. I hated the job I left and there's no way I would go back to it, kids or no. And I can't imagine how I would feel if I had to leave every day, all day. I feel guilty when I leave her for a few hours with my mom or her (extremely wonderful) babysitter. But that doesn't mean that I don't resent picking up the books and tupperware for the 6th time before noon and that I don't really wish I could occasionally run a meeting where something important would be decided. And I really, really wish I still got to call in sick sometimes. It is all hard. Parenting is hard. We do what we have to to take care of our families and that looks different for everyone.

I think you hit on something so important in your post: mothering is undervalued in this society. Because what I hear in all of the commentary on this topic is each of us wanting to be acknowledged for the very hard work we are doing. Whether it is trying to keep some shred of creativity or intelligence alive when your only companion all day is a toddler, or trying to balance all of your responsibilities while holding down two full-time jobs (because mothering is full-time, whether your are present all day or not), it is all hard. And I think if we each got a little bit more recognition for that - from each other, from the media, from our culture generally - I think we could stop fighting with each other about who is working harder or has given up more.

April 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonaB

Sad thing is about sick days, you can't call in for yourself, you have to save them for when the little one gets sick. You still have to go to work and power through your day and then come home and power through your second job. It's rough.

April 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

What doesn't help are posts like your "Week in the Life" showing yoga, quiet time while reading and having coffee and all smiles with everyone. It's giving the visual that being a stay at home parent is fantastic and enjoyable and not as difficult as you want it to appear.

Stay at home parents try to hard to justify that being a stay at home parent is an actual job. Parenting is not a job. A job is something you can quit or walk away from. Parenting is not. Parenting is a lifelong responsibility and obligation. I think stay at home parents should stop trying to prove what they do all day as an actual job because you can't compare the two. I think that's what fires up working parents. Instead, focus on letting people know you're okay with your choice because there is nothing wrong with the choice you made. Yes, diapers, crying, tantrums and running around is tiring but EVERY mother and father has to go through it all day and night whether it's with a toddler or a full grown adult. Appreciate the gift of time with your child because not everyone is as fortunate. You're no better and no worse than a working parent. What it boils down to is what works for the entire family unit. No matter what goes on everyday, it's a struggle for all but the end results are always worth it.

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGigi

Gigi, Make no bones about it. I love my life. I actually try to capture the uglier portions of it for A Week in the Life but pics of dirty diapers and tantrums don't seem blog appropriate. ;)

But listen my point isn't that you should think my "job" is just as hard as yours. In fact, just the opposite. My point is that if you want to resent my yoga classes and I want to bitch about toddlers and their poor conversation skills we should be able to! On top of everything, I just don't think moms need to worry about feeling 100% confident about our life choices all the time or even occasionally being jealous or judgey of others.

We've got enough on our plates.

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Stewart Holland

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