Last night, Democratic political strategist Hilary Rosen referred to Ann Romney, wife of Mitt and mother of five sons, as, “never having worked a day in her life.” For a political strategist, that was an incredibly impolitic thing to say. I understand what her point was, but because of Rosen’s unfortunate language, her point is not really the point anymore, is it?
I’m going to leave the politics aside, and focus on this decades long debate of the so called “Mommy Wars,” the tension, spoken and unspoken, between stay-at-home moms and working moms. Technically speaking, though, I am already stepping in the Mommy Wars myself by referring to “working moms.” To be clear — I know that ALL MOMS WORK. Okay? For the purposes of this post, Imma keep it simple and refer to these two camps with this language.
And the sad truth is that it does feel like two separate camps much of the time. Mary Tyler Mom was started as a blog about “working and mothering simultaneously.” It’s evolved a bit, but being a woman who works outside the home absolutely influences my perspective of mothering. Just as being a stay-at-home mom influences others.
I am grateful to have a strong following on facebook (join the fun here, yo), with an active page of 5,300 plus followers, 96% of whom are women. My facebook community is an anthropologist’s dream — a slice of life of today’s woman. Most are moms, some are not. Some of us work outside the home, some do not.
With those demographics, one can glean quite a bit about how the Mommy Wars play out. The ladies are often ready to rumble. If I unthinkingly refer to myself as a “working mom,” I will quickly be reminded that all moms work. My bad. Mea culpa, SAHMS. If I post about an interesting article I read looking at young Queen Elizabeth II as a working mom, some will quickly point out that QEII, with her army of nannies, was not a working mom.
It’s a tight rope sometimes.
What seems to be the common denominator is that women closely identify with their employment/mothering status and are quickly ready to defend it. I often hear, “I wish I could clock out at 5 PM!” Or this one, “When does the stay-at-home mom get a weekend?”
Really, guys? Really? Does anyone actually think that the working mom clocks out at 5 PM and her work is done? Not a chance in dinner and bedtime hell. Working moms clock out, race home to reunite with their kids, cook dinner, do laundry, shop for groceries, and clean their homes. And weekends? Forget weekends when you’re a working mom. Those are reserved for all the things you were supposed to do after 5 PM, but chose to ignore so that you could read those books, drive to lessons, and snuggle at bed time. The household duties claim much of the weekend for many a working mom. It sucks.
Alternately, there is some confusion from the working mom, too. A fellow blogger wrote a humorous piece this week about being a “house frau.” She talked about drinking wine in her yoga pants and organizing activities for her kids. This gal got slammed and labeled a, “princess.” Staying at home with the responsibility for two young kids under 5 is nothing that a princess would engage in. As the QEII thread established, royals have nannies. Most SAHMs do not.
When I read divisive comments like that, flung from one woman to another, I cringe. There is such a profound lack of empathy towards our fellow moms. Ultimately, I think it relates to our own feelings about whatever circumstance we find ourself in.
Who among us that is a SAHM does not fantasize, or at least wonder, what it might be like to leave the little ones with someone else for a bit and go out into the world. Alone. Untethered. Inversely, don’t many of us working moms want to live in a wardrobe of yoga pants and enjoy the quiet of a napping child from time to time? Of course, I generalize, but my point is that its human nature to wonder how green another’s grass is.
A better approach would be to understand and empathize that no matter what your responsibilities are and where they play out, a mother’s kids are most likely the center of her universe. Not always, but that’s another post entirely.
Stay-at-Home Moms: I challenge you to think about everything that you do over the course of your day. It’s a lot, right? You are one freakishly busy gal. Now think about trying to squeeze that in after a long day outside the home. Think about that working mom that wants more than anything to help her kid bring homemade cupcakes for the school fundraiser, and will be doing it alone, at midnight, rather than with their kid as a bonding activity, missing those cute patches of flour in one another’s hair. Think about a child falling on their knees and crying for their Daddy when their Mommy is right there. That working mom is going to feel intense stabbing pangs of guilt, thinking (illogical as it is) that a child is supposed to cry for the mother, not their father when they need comfort. “Why doesn’t my child cry for me?,” she wonders, feeling inadequate.
Working Moms: I challenge you to think about the sisyphean nature of child, child, child all the time. The unending need to fill their time, keep them safe, teach them well, feed them, comfort them, clothe them, diaper them, entertain them, ALL THE TIME. No lunch hour (or often even 15 minutes). No commute home to clear your head for a few minutes as you shift gears. No shifting gears most of the time. Think about the 45 minutes it takes to get a toddler dressed, pottied, and out the door. Now think about doing that 3-5 times daily. Oy. Think about not talking to another adult between the hours of 8 AM and 6 PM, and when you do talk, all you talk about are child issues or household issues that the other adult might not be very interested in. That hurts.
We are all mothers. Some of us made choices to stay at home and mother. Some of us made choices to work outside the home in addition to working in the home. For others of us, choice is a luxury reserved for mothers like Gwyneth Paltrow. You work because you have to, not because you want to. You stay-at-home because it is what was expected of you, or what you thought you should do, not what you wanted to do. We are all guilty. We all think we could be doing it better. We are all mothers.