Friday, April 13, 2012

What The Mommy Wars fails to get.

     You'd have to be living under a rock not to know about the Hilary Rosen/Ann Romney kerfluffle. It's exactly what mothers do NOT need any more of- Mommy way divisiveness.
I'm not just interested in what Ms Rosen and Ms Romney had to say, but also  in how we've responded. It saddens me to see parents taking sides. The parents who think a stay at home parent (usually, but more often, the mother) is the only way versus the employed* mommies. There is one particular thing about the framing of this debate that I'd like to address.
(*I'm going to use the word employed to distinguish mothers who work for pay, as we know ALL parents are working parents)
     In defense of employed mothers, I've been seeing the argument, "What about those mothers who have no choice? " I don't like this argument. First and foremost I just DON'T LIKE the "But I have no choice! " argument, in anything. We almost always have more than one choice. Sometimes all our choices are less than ideal, and we hopefully make the best, or least bad, choice we can in those times. In the times that we are doing the very best we can in the face of not great choices, we shouldn't whine that we have no choice. We should hold our heads even higher for doing so well in the face of adversity.
(I don't even like when people giggle and say "I just couldn't help myself!" when they crack a bad joke or do something else annoying. Really?You couldn't? Maybe you should go work on that character flaw.)
     But that's not the heart of what bothers me. In using the "no choice" argument in defense of employed mothers we really demean the choices every mother makes.  Are there mothers who would like to be at home, but make the choice-CHOICE- to seek employment so their children will have food and shelter, with or without aid? Yes. They are making the BEST choice, but it's still a choice. I know, because my mother *didn't* make that choice, and I shudder to think how my childhood would have been lived if my grandmother has not chosen to take us in.
     What about mothers who simply choose to be employed? There are families who *could* get by on one partners income but both parents choose to be employed. In some cases it's because as parents they place a priority on being able to afford private school, soccer and piano lessons, and family vacations. In other cases, both parents may simply enjoy what they do and choose to pursue that part of their lives along with family. When we use the "no choice" cases in defending employed mothers, we denigrate all those mothers who simply choose outside work.
     I work very part time, and those who know our situation tend to think it's great that I can supplement our income while being mostly at home. But that's not the only reason I work. I LOVE what I do. I think it's important work, and it fulfills me. If my husband suddenly started making 5 times what he does now, I would still work (though I might pass on those Wednesday past 9 pm shifts!).
     On the other side of things, the "lucky you have that choice argument" insults those parents who choose to stay home and have to work very hard to make that feasible. We make considerably less money that 99% of the people who told me that. Anyone who has a working dishwasher, whose cars have no years old body damage, who regularly buy first owner clothes what aren't socks and underwear, or who is in the habit of taking vacations that do not involve visiting the deathbed or graveside of a relative, yet has the AUDACITY to suggest I'm somehow privileged in making this choice, ought to take a step back and consider what they're saying. I wouldn't give up being home  and home schooling my kids for the world, just as I wouldn't give up the joys of my outside work. They both fulfill me. But it's in no way privilege; it's work. It's disrespectful to me and every other family who chooses to have a parent to stay home to suggest it's luck; just as it insults every mother who chooses employment to insinuate that "need" is the only valid reason for her to be employed.
     In the end, we need to recognize that as parents we have all these choices. It's not always easy to wade through them and sometimes it feels safer, more defensible, to fall back on "I'm making the only choice that I can." I feel that if we could just put the Mommy Wars aside and REALLY respect others' choices, we wouldn't need to go there. We could then say to each other, "I am making the very best choice I can- and I know you are to."