The other day I was channel surfing as my grandson was sleeping and Anderson Cooper had a show on about the “mommy wars.” Yet another spotlight on this very tired topic, based on a recent study from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, which claimed that women who worked outside of the home were “happier and healthier” than full time stay-at-home moms. The panel consisted of three women in each camp and an “expert.”
OY! Not again! Forty years of this conversation is more than enough already!
(In case you’re wondering, nobody talked about the “health and happiness” of the kids. Now that may be a conversation worth having. Although the level of vitriol directed at people who take a non-PC approach, especially on the internet, would certainly be abusive.)
Anyway, on Anderson’s show, it was the same old, same old. Again, I felt the contempt that the working-outside-the-home moms had for the others, calling them lazy (yes, lazy!) and selfish (yes, selfish!) because they are “not showing their kids that there is more to living than staying home” (Huh?!) The at-home moms seemed, yet again, on the defensive, saying that they felt fulfilled at home and wanted to be the main caregivers for their kids. Of course, there was a tip of the hat to “everyone has to make their own decision, doing what’s best for them and their children,” but you didn’t really feel that the panelists actually believed that about anyone’s decision but their own.
I was seriously offended by the women who said it was “selfish” to stay home and, even more, that it was “lazy.” As anyone who takes care of children knows, you cannot be lazy and get through the day with a child. You often feel like you can’t get through the day anyway. As far as selfishness, I still don’t understand what they were getting at. The aggression and smugness with which those words were hurled at the other moms was just awful. And the defensive posture of the stay-at-home moms was upsetting, too. Aren’t we yet at a point where child-rearing choices can be embraced with equanimity if not pride?
When I had my first child, despite indoctrination from the very feminist Seven Sister college I attended, as well as a graduate degree and career plans, I decided to stay home. (Thankfully we could afford it, although we didn’t have much money for “extras”.) Fortunately, I loved being at home. For adult company and intellectual stimulation, I got together with other moms doing volunteer work, I always managed to read good books, and I took adult ed classes when I could.
Although all my friends made the same choice I did, which also involved working outside the home once the kids were in school, I did meet women, particularly through my husband’s job at a large firm, who would say, “And what do you do?” and then politely (or not so politely) turn away when I replied that I was home with my young children. It was assumed that I was stupid, boring, and not worth talking to–but that they were fascinating.
I wanted to be with my kids as their primary caregiver for many reasons, some of which derive from my own childhood. I also loved my job as a stay-at-home mom. I felt happy and fulfilled. And I must say that I was never bored, and never, ever, thought of myself as lazy or selfish.
I also never think of working-outside-the home moms as lazy and selfish. People work because they have to, or want to, for a different balance in their lives than I chose. Most women think long and hard about what will make them the best mom and what kind of child care is best. And, for sure, a mother who is unhappy at home is not the best child care choice.
The bottom line is that you will never know if you joined the right camp in the mommy wars, if you chose to stay at home or work outside the home while raising children, unless and until your children tell you as adults how they experienced your choice. And even with that information, positive or negative, you may still conclude that you did the right thing (or possibly, the wrong thing). But since you’ve got about 40 years until then, when it’s too late to change anyway, you have to do what we all do–the best you can, given your values and current economic and familial situation.
Meanwhile–a truce is in order, ladies! Mind your own business! Enough already with the mommy wars! Regardless of the survey’s conclusions (and certainly yet another survey will come along and refute this one which will in turn be refuted) you’ll be “happier and healthier” if you follow your gut, do what you have to do and relax a little about it. And your kids will be healthier and happier, too.
Two generations and four decades of this discussion is more than enough!
I just pray that my granddaughters won’t still be debating this when they become moms. But if there still is a debate, it seems to me that, rather than discuss the “mommy wars,” my grandsons should be discussing the “daddy wars.” Now that’s a long overdue topic.