We (All) Need More Support

Lately, I’ve been reading posts about the “Mommy Wars” that were inspired by (as far as I can tell) an episode of Anderson Cooper and Dr. Laura and perhaps a few less-well-known people as well.  It’s familiar territory by now.  Lots of people have very strong feelings about whether a mother should also have a paying job and some of these people have large audiences.  I’ve also seen some thoughtful commentary on the subject.  And it always begs the question of why do we have to fight about this?  Why is this an issue?  Who benefits from the controversy?  OK, when people like Mr. Cooper and Dr. Laura get in on it, it’s obvious, but what’s in it for those of us who don’t have a nationwide audience and don’t benefit from ratings numbers?  The Happiest Mom said that we want to feel like we’re doing the right thing, and I think that’s a good point.

I don’t want to suggest that I have THE answer here, because I don’t think there is one answer.   This motherhood gig is really, really tough and we moms get judged all the time.  Working full-time outside the home is hard.  Working part-time outside the home is hard.  Staying at home full-time, whether you have a sideline to earn money or not, is hard.   We don’t get much respect from society, and many of us don’t have the support we need to really be successful at this motherhood thing.  In short, we’re hurting, and we think to ourselves that if everyone were doing the same thing, instead of everyone getting their own plate at the buffet, there would be more support available to women like me.

Think about it: What was your ideal vision of this motherhood gig?  Was it staying at home while your physician husband healed the sick and earned a six-figure income so that you could have a big house, nice cars, stylish clothes and everything else that you wished you had had growing up?  Or was it doctoring or lawyering yourself (or whatever you’d like to do), all the while earning enough money to outsource your household chores so that you can spend the time that you’re off doing really cool things with the people who mean the most to you in the world?  And some folks do get to live those dreams.  And the rest of us?  We have to sacrifice something.  For many of us, those sacrifices are a lot larger than we’d ever foreseen.  If you stay at home, you know that your family will have less money.  You plan what is important to you all and what will be given up.  And then life happens, and you give up more and more until you are giving up things that aren’t really luxuries at all.  Or you reconcile yourself to the career/daycare track, but you must work long hours, or travel for your job, or you have a really long commute (maybe all three) and you feel like you never see your children.  They feel like they never see you and they let you know.  It breaks your heart, but working does not feel like an option to you.  Maybe it just really and truly is not optional.  And then you come home and put your feet up to watch a little soothing TV and it’s one more talking head criticizing your lifestyle, as though they know you, as though they have something to say about it.

Some of us wish the women’s movement had never happened, because if it hadn’t, there wouldn’t be the expectation that women ought to earn an income.  Also, if women did not work, men would make more money (or else stuff would cost less) and so more women could afford to stay home.  Some others think that if all women worked, the expectation that women should be responsible for all the housework and childcare would go away.  If all mothers worked, maternity leave policies would be better and the government would have to do away with the income-tax-marriage-penalty thing.

So my point is that we’re all hurting, because we have to make sacrifices to do whatever it is we’re doing, and we may not really have a choice (or the choices we made in the past insure that we don’t have one now).  When someone calls a working mom uninvolved or says that she’s not really raising her children, that hurts.  When someone calls a stay-home mom lazy, that hurts.  When we hear someone talk about how mothers working outside the home are what’s responsible for the decline of our society in the past 50 years, and you work outside the home yourself, that hurts.  When people assume you don’t have anything interesting to talk about because you “don’t work” that’s painful as well.

But it’s not easy to say that it hurts, is it?  It’s easier to react to the pain angrily, with accusations and belittling.  And I think we do fall prey to thinking it’s the other woman’s fault that this is so tough.  We want our sacrifices to mean something.  If we forgo the new cars and the bigger house and all the little luxuries that two incomes can afford us, we want to feel like we unambiguously did something that was better for our family.  And if we make the other choice and sacrifice time with our children so that they can have better and more stuff (and experiences), we want to feel like there was honor in that as well.  And then there are those many, many women who just want to know they aren’t hurting their families by doing what they must do.

I wish I could tell you what I think we should do.  But I don’t write a political blog.   Maybe what we all need to do is boycott all the talking heads (and I am using that term as loosely as possible) who want to stoke the flames of this nonsense.  If we stop paying attention to them, en masse, they will find something else to talk about.  And on an individual level, we just need to be honest.  With ourselves and with others.

What is your take on it?  Where do you believe the one-size-fits-all approach to parenting is coming from?  Are you happy with the decisions you have made?  Do you think the choice is mostly just an illusion?

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