Monday, January 19, 2009

"Mommy Wars" is not the answer

Ignore the date, above. The following essay is from my archives.

"Mommy Wars" is not the answer

by Melissa Stanton

Looking at my own decade-long work-family juggling act, I realize that each side in the so-called Mommy Wars could, at some point, claim me as one of its own.

When my first child was born I worked for a company that allowed employees to take a full year of unpaid parental leave, so I became a stay-at-home mom (albeit one who had a lucrative job waiting for her). During my child’s next two years of life I was an employed mother, putting in what was officially a four-day week but in reality had me at the office, commuting and/or working from home some 12-plus hours a day. Then, due to a confluence of events (including my husband accepting a job that had him living weekdays in another state), I walked away from my high-pressure career. In order to be with my son by day but also provide health insurance for my family, I worked evenings and weekends at a business close to my home. When I became pregnant with twins, I left the workforce entirely due to medical complications and then becoming a weekday single mother of three. As my kids got older, I resumed my freelance work and became a "work-from-home" mom.

Having seen the battlefield from differing vantage points, I know that the Mommy Wars between employed and stay-at-home moms are a destructive waste of time and energy. But, often, depending on which way the wind is blowing, a woman will be praised or pilloried for whatever work-family route she takes. When motherhood is treated as a spectator sport, with women on the field as its fiercest competitors, all women are hurt when either side takes a hit.

Which is the right work-family path for a woman to take? I think each and every path available.

Some of us will stay in the workforce after becoming mothers and some won’t. Some of us will go back and forth between the two worlds, or seek out opportunities so we can earn an income while also being available during the day to care for young children. All mothers are “working mothers.” Some work at paid jobs and as mothers. Others put in the same number of hours working as at-home moms.

We all need to stop justifying our own choices, lives and situations by demeaning our neighbor’s. If we work together to improve upon the traditional male model of balancing work and family (i.e. parent works, someone else cares for the kids), and if we support rather than snipe at our varying arrangements and juggling techniques, we’ll all thrive. More importantly, we’ll prove that “war” is not the answer.

Why “employed” and “stay-at-home” moms need one another
The friends you have as a woman who happens to also be a mother shouldn’t fall into a she’s-either-with-me-or-against-me sorter. For so many reasons, ranging from each of us individually to collectively, it’s important that friendships exist between stay-at-home moms and employed moms. Here’s why:

• A stay-at-home mom can be an employed mom’s eyes and ears while she’s at work. In case of an emergency, a stay-at-home neighbor may be able to relieve a babysitter (or be the babysitter), or retrieve a sick child from a daycare center before an employed mom can arrive home.

• Employed mothers prove to employers and society-at-large that women, like men, can participate in the paid workforce and thrive in careers regardless of their parental status.

• The volunteer efforts of stay-at-home mothers greatly benefit schools, children’s sports programs, and community activities.

• Employed mothers can assist stay-at-home mothers when professional services are needed (e.g. medical, financial, legal).

• If the time ever comes when a stay-at-home mom wants or needs to return to the workforce, it’s her working friends who will be a network for job leads and a source of recommendations.

• Likewise, if an employed mom needs to leave the workforce, due to a job loss or medical matter, for instance, her stay-at-home friends will likely become her biggest source of daily support.

• It’s important for children to understand that some moms work outside the home, some work at home (as moms) and others work from home. “I have a very good friend who works an insane schedule yet still does a very good job parenting her three boys,” says Lyn, an attorney turned stay-at-home mother of three. “My kids benefit from knowing hers and being in her home, where the values are the same but the procedures are different. And her kids benefit from being in my home and experiencing our environment.”

Regardless of the shared positives and examples of differently engaged moms playing nice, the most important reason for women to support each other’s choices—to work, to have children, to not have children, to stay home with their children, to be employed mothers—is so women can continue to have choices.

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