Friday, May 2, 2008

Fighting Mamas

As a part-time work at home mom, I feel that I kind of get the best of both worlds. When I want to claim stay at home mom status, I do. When I want to claim working mom status I can do that, too.

I feel lucky to have a husband whose salary allows us to make that decision in a city this expensive, but also to have a job that allows me such flexibility and such a wide variety of interesting projects I can work on at home.

I work very hard, but sometimes on projects that I am not getting paid to do. I work on my novel, my essays, etc. And while I do plan on selling all these things eventually, I get a lot just from the ability to be creative. On the other hand, I do a lot of work that is less creative and stimulating just to keep my career going because as much as I would like to think I just want to write to be creative, I also feel strongly that I want to make my own money.

For me (and I speak only for myself), making money is a crucial part of being part of a family. Yes, I could only work on my creative pursuits and not get paid. Yes, I could focus most of my energy on my child. Both of those are worthy pursuits. But I want to make money.

Do I need to make money? Well, not exactly. The money is an awfully nice cushion, but it is hardly as if we would be homeless or destitute without it. The fact is, I just want it. Sometimes I feel guilty about my divided focus, but I also feel better about myself because I am contributing and because I have something in my life that I love outside of my family and working out. I feel very lucky that my sacrifices--2.5 days of childcare a week--have been minimal to get there.

I believe the preceding paragraphs place me firmly on the fence when it comes to the infamous Mommy Wars.This newsweek article
renews some of the vigor around the fight and I was surprised to find myself angry at BOTH sides while reading. I was even angry at myself. I am certainly guilty of saying some of the zingy things referenced in the piece regarding full-time daycare and stay at home moms. I know I am guilty of saying I could not do either. But it's true. I couldn't.

Just this week I had a very interesting run-in with a childless person. From her emails about how "busy" she was, I got the distinct impression that she imagined me sitting around my home eating bon-bons all day. It was insulting. And while this person is not indicative of the many wonderful childless women I know and love, I was also struck by how little regard she had for the fact that I run a household, take care of a toddler, am 6.5 months pregnant, still workout AND somehow manage to have steady work for a few clients while doing my own creative projects. Nope. To her, I was just lounging about waiting for my next great social engagement. Or, as she said, "Wow, I wish I had all your free time."

I will refrain from mentioning the rude awakening this woman is in for if and when she ever marries and has children.. . Just like that. See how I refrained? Moving on....

I read this article with that conversation fresh in my mind and was disheartened to find that it is not just the SAHMs versus the working moms. It is every woman. The other day, in the park, my friend and I were astounded by a woman who first cut me friend down by telling her that she was too young to have a child and then cut Sam down by saying how "big she is for her age." And then finally wheeled her own puny kids out of the park while saying "I am so glad your daughter is crying, not mine."

I am not sure how this cycle of guilt and judgment got started among women. And I am not going to say that men do not deal with similar pressures, because they do. For men, it is the opposite, though. Taking an active interest in one's child, taking time off work, actually using paternity leave can be seen as career disinterest. A "family man" might not be as apt to climb the corporate ladder. I do not take my husband's interest in my daughter for granted for a second. But it is not a novelty. I hate the way he is treated when he comes to my prenatal appointments or sometimes even her appointments or takes her to the park/museum alone. It is almost as if it is a novelty. But isn't parenting a shared venture? I would not have bothered having children if I thought I was going to be doing it on my own. Further, he is still very career focused, perhaps even more so because of our family. We are just lucky that he has a job with pretty standard hours.

All of this parenthood stuff is incredibly hard. And balancing it with career and financial goals is even harder. But I think our society is changing and even though this article was relatively recent, I do believe that the Mommy Wars are starting to die down. There will always be guilt and hyper-competition among women who make different choices. I feel lucky that I can be friends with both the SAHM moms and the working moms because of my own ambivalence. I see both sides.

It seems the war will only end when we can all feel secure in our own choices and respectful of others' as well. Wouldn't that be nice?


Lis Garrett said...

I didn't go back and read the article, mainly because I feel angry enough this morning without adding more to it. But I do understand what you are saying.

I have been a working mom with a toddler in full-time daycare, a full-time student with two kids in daycare, a full-time stay-at-home-mom of three, and a part-time work-from-home mom. You can't win no matter which side of the fence you are on.

But I am guilty of making judgements, too. My older sister is VERY career driven. Her three children have been in daycare full time since they each were six weeks old. While I can't understand why she would want that for her kids, she can't understand why I would rely on my husband for financial security. While my family "gets by," we are far from feeling financially stable. And yet we made the decision long ago that I would stay home, and I am happy to do it.

There's just no right answer, though, and we each have to do what feels right for us and our families. My sister's kids are extremely social and well-adjusted, and I do not doubt her deep love and devotion to them.

About husbands - I have seen some families in which the husband does NOTHING but work outside the home. I don't give my husband a choice. He went to most of my prenatal appts, and I expect him to share in childcare responsibilities when he comes home from work and spend quality time with our kids, too.

beagle said...

It would be nice. And it would be nice if society in general would support that freedom of choice instead of pitting one "side" against the other and calling it a "war".

Brigid said...

Lisa Kogan wrote a really nice piece about this topic for O Magazine back in January of 2007. I think we as women are FAR too hard on ourselves and other women. I loved Lisa's message at the end, that we need to get past the judging and "snarkiness" (one of my new favorite words)and realize that every Mom is trying her best to do the best for her family.

Kristi said...

Mothers do altogether too much sniping at other mothers' life choices, and not nearly enough supporting of choices not their own. I especially find it galling when women who claim to be so "non-judgemental" are those who issue the most condemnation of women who make different choices for their families. As you said, we're all just trying to do the best we can with our very individualistic lives.

g&c boyarko family said...

I too tire of all the judgment, although I don't hold out a lot of hope that it will end any time soon. So many feel the grass is greener...yadda yadda yadda. Everyone should just stop to smell the roses and appreciate what they have rather than worry about what others have/don't have or do/don't do. Whenever I get frustrated by it, I think about my brother, who is a stay-at-home Dad in a very small mountain town. The challenges, frustrations and judgments he faces make me realize my own are actually fairly easy to deal with.