The Mommy Wars

Reposting this from Nov. 3, 2004 in the interest of defining some things about SAHM’s and some of the cultural myths that are *still* with us.

While keeping track of the election results and discovering new blogs I came across a set of things that caught my interest and have the common thread of comments on parenting, and being a mommy in particular.

The first was a book,Home Alone America, which the webpage headlined as reopening “The Mommy Wars”. I suppose that is related to the “Cultural Wars”, or a subset of sorts. I read the interview with the author, Mary Eberstadt , and she basically uses research to point up the problem of parental absenteeism, which includes the role of Mom, though it doesn’t restrict the problem to that. ( According to reviews).

The second thing was an article from the Wall Street Journal, which you can access in pdf form, here or look up on the Wall Street Journal site, it is called, “The Carriage Trade: Stay At Home Moms Get Entrepreneurial”.

The third, also a book review article, is

The all-too-female cluelessness of “I Don’t Know How She Does It”

Those were the inspiration, here are my thoughts-

…. but first, know that I am not wading into the mommy wars. If you are going to read my thoughts, get ready for a realistic look at what it is to be a SAHM in our culture, and not a blow by blow dissection of working women’s choices.

Where to start? How about this: a picture that I long ago snipped from a magazine article captioned “THE SUPER WOMAN: Where does she come from? Why doesn’t she go back there?” The picture is architypal me…. from long ago. I weigh more now and I don’t have a baby on my hip anymore, but the rest is fairly true to form.

In some ways I am contemporary with some of the thirty something mommies, even though I have a good twenty years on some of them. It is those twenty odd years that hold my experience of what it is to struggle against my culture in choosing to be a SAHM, and what it meant. And some of the illusions that have dropped off along the way.

I’d like to quote a few of the articles to give you a view of what I was seeing:

“At a certain point, I realized the job was incompatible with child-rearing,” she says. So she quit in November 2001,…. “I thought I would be 100% satisfied staying home with my kids,” she says. “I wasn’t.” – Laine Caspi

Writer Hilary Illick — whose play, “Eve-olution,” which she co-wrote with another mom, explores the dark side of motherhood — says there are certainly some stay-at-home moms who “feel like going to mommy-and-me gymnastics class and doing potato-print drawings are fulfilling ways to spend their day.” But many others need something more tangible and are constantly worrying, “what did I do today that was worthwhile?”
-from ‘Entrepreneurial Moms’, Wall Street Journal

Yes, girls, you can have it all — or as much of it as the supermotivated, bright and lucky boys can have. And the key is a word you don’t see very much in “feminist” novels or tirades: money. Lots of money. Hewlett’s numbers don’t match Fortune’s because there’s a huge difference between life on $100,000 a year and the $500,000 to $1,000,000 or more per year that the Fortune women make. Nannies and home staff start to be affordable long before you get to the middle number and are easy to manage at the highest. So is a nonworking spouse, and 30 percent of the Fortune Top 50 have househusbands.
….Pearson won’t even give us any characters who choose not to have kids, because if you take away the rationale that women must do most of the childcare, she wouldn’t be left with any reason for women not to pursue conventional success.
~Salon article

First observation:

There are no cooky-cutter Mothers.

This ought to be obvious, but the idea that only those who are busy “going to mommy-and-me gymnastics class and doing potato-print drawings” are fulfilled in motherhood is too common and too unfair. It is just easier for the women who have that disposition -and that is all it is- to be fulfilled in mothering, while other types of women would have more adjustments. There isn’t just one sort of good mother.

The problem is in the expectations and some of the myths we hold onto. For one, mothering is not all about what is most fulfilling for you. That should have been obvious during pregnancy, but the mythos is strong. And I don’t suppose any of those women are reading ‘Death of a Salesman’, right? I will didactically explain that later.

Second observation:

the vast majority of women are going to be in the “moderate income, middle manager” ordinary type life category.

The upper echelons of entitlement are fantasy for all but a few. It is where most of us live and are going to live. We ought to put the promises of the gold ring in that perspective. You might obtain it, but if not, do you have an alternative plan and will it retain your obligations to the children you bring into the world?

Third observation:

what do we consider “worthwhile” in terms of spending our lives? Where do we get our views of what worthwhile means?

Think carefully about this last one. This is the major abyss we are all going to arrive at and look into. Everyone has to sacrifice something in their quest for their “worthwhile”. Counting your cost only seems reasonable. And then pay your way…. exchanges and refunds are going to be very costly for more than just you.


what all this means

As people in differing situations, as mothers, we have varying amounts of resources. Some of us have physical strength and energy, some have dependable relationship supports, some have more emotional stability and strength, it is as varied as there are women.

Some women might have alot more of the “have it all” than others, not through ambition or will power, but because they have more with which to accomplish those things. They can work, and be wonderful mothers, I don’t doubt. And some of us struggle to be the best mothers we can and feel we are not very successful. And most of us feel guilty.

Because let’s face it, there is not much cultural recompense and approval rating for the SAHM, or even “My Kid’s Mom”. There are financial strains as well. Many culturally induced, for sure, but it doesn’t relieve the pressure just knowing that.

There are things that could assuage this problem, but they are in the “should be realm”, so those who are convinced that their children both need and deserve their full time availability as a SAHM will need to face the fact that their satisfaction comes from fulfiilling their own goals. That is why it is important to figure out what a worthwhile life should look like.

I think women should have a sense of themselves, and those who stand in contrast to their culture especially must have this. It saves surprise that not everyone values what you do, or understands the value of your motivations.

Not even your own children.

Work and SAHM are not mutually exclusive all the time, as the enterpreneurial examples illustrate. It is just a matter of balance… which is every woman’s lot, I’m guessing. That seems to be the best advice I can glean from all the more honest articles on the subject. And dispense with a one size fits all judgement on the type of mother to idealize.

Encouragement to be the best mother possible, and support for that goal is the sorority to belong to. It would help if the condescending comments would be dispensed with: “…doing potato-print drawings are fulfilling ways to spend their day. But many others need something more …” I mean, really. Like pasting up graphics for copy is so much more? Less pedestal for divas and goddesses and more grounded reality that there are many ways to find worth and fulfillment, and that too often we let a faddish outside source define that for us.

It can work both ways; I plucked this comment from the message board inviting discussion on the subject of whether entrepreneurial moms were spending too much time working:”If the children are not the #1 are not a stay at home mom!!!!!!”

I am not sure where that comes from, but I surmise it is a pendulum reaction. Since when were children considered the #1 priority in a historical context? Only in our own . And I think it is a guilt driven view. The same one that engines innumerable obligations for mommies to be ‘good enough’. How burdensome! Is that good for children? Let alone women.

The balance is in what is good for people. What contributes to their growth and goodness. A family in its different roles has different demands as the members grow together. I do personally think that babies and new mothers need time and nurturing. A mother needs things that contribute to her regaining strength and being successful in breastfeeding as well as bonding with her chld. A baby just obviously has many needs, but there are physical things going on that require that baby to have its mother. This is something that is not often discussed in working mother articles.

A child is not simply a nice addition to rounding out the accomplishments of your life, this is a human being that is dependent at the beginning for much of what is necessary to develop into a compassionate, skillful, and humane person. And there will be few better than the mother to initiate that. That’s the challenge.

So one last shot from the Salon article:

“Pearson, laughing all the way to the bank, might have given a thought to the implicit politics of her work and how most of the joke is on young, confused women who will take her book as yet another bit of “proof” that their place is not the workplace or the executive suite, and that capitalism is designed to keep women down. It’s not. History suggests that financial success is the only way women will finally achieve not just legal equality with men but also power and respect.”

I beg to differ. If that were true, it would be well nigh hopeless for the majority of women to achieve power and respect. I submit that success comes in many guises and respect can be achieved in living a full life in the richness of ones humanity.

And that includes all forms of SAHM-ness. So here’s to the death of the mythos, and to life’s fullness in whatever walk you find yourself.

I might continue this in another post… taking up the topic of “Children need time”, and related thoughts. And the relevance of the “Death of a Salesman” remark. Perhaps some thoughts on “A Man’s Place”… let’s see where it goes.

2 thoughts on “The Mommy Wars”

Comments are closed.