I haven’t been blogging here for a while, because I’ve been stuck on a topic and unsure of how to write about it. Or frankly, a little bit scared of writing about it.
I don’t think anyone could have missed the incident a couple of weeks ago where someone named Hilary Rosen — poor Hilary Rosen — made a comment that Ann Romney had never worked a day in her life. Clearly, this was an incredibly impolitic thing to say. And if I understand it correctly, she wasn’t even trying to get into some “Mommy Wars” debate about whether or not mothers who stay at home with their kids work hard. She was trying to make a comment on whether or not the Romneys can relate to people in extremely different financial circumstances. But of course, the debate she sparked, at least in some circles, gets right back to stay-at-home vs. work-outside-the-home mothering.
I wanted to write a post that said this: all parents (not just women) make difficult decisions about whether to get jobs outside the home, and we shouldn’t judge. But when I started writing, time and time again, that’s not what came out. So here’s what I really think.
> I get tired of using the constantly correct language about this issue. I feel like we should be allowed to say “working mother” without the assumed implication that stay-at-home mothers don’t work. Staying at home with your tiny kids is tough work. No doubt about it. But the use of the phrase “working mom” is generally accepted to mean “mothers who have jobs outside the home.” I feel like that’s fair and honest, so I’m using it for the rest of this post. [And to at least try to give credit where its due: I read something similar to this on Slate recently, but when I went back to find it, I couldn’t find the article.]
> I don’t think women should judge each other when it comes to choices about how to raise their kids, but I have a hard time believing that we don’t all do it to some extent. It’s really impossible not to. I’ve had stay at home moms tell me that they would never outsource the raising of their children to someone else. (FYI, this is incredibly offensive to someone with a child in daycare.) At the same time, I’m sure I’ve said to a stay at home mother that being at home with a toddler all day every day would drive me to drink and despair. So I’m not really any better.
> Having said that, for me and for many of my friends, parenting decisions are central to our lives right now. Not talking about these core issues means giving up the opportunity to get feedback and support from others who are in similar positions. And of course we can’t have only friends who are making the same decisions that we are. That would be limiting, boring, and uninspiring. I guess we just have to try to be tactful. And not point out the bad decisions we secretly think other people might be making.
> I find it frustrating when people assume that because I’m a working mother, I’ve taken on only the responsibilities that traditionally fall on the male side of the gender lines. I work, so I must be Ward Cleaver. But that would mean that someone else was getting the house tidied up and fixing me a cocktail at the end of the day. In fact, I’m June and Ward. I work, but I’m still the one tidying, doing laundry, fixing dinner, and reading stories before bed. I still want to be the same kind of mom that my mom is. That is to say: I have a job, but I don’t want to give up being mommy. I just need to do all the June stuff before 8:00 and after 5:30 at night. I don’t go around venting about this all day, but I appreciate it when there’s some recognition.
> When it comes to mothers who stay at home, I see that there’s an amazing range in how women and families see that option. Some see it as a right, some as a privilege, some as a blessing, some as an opportunity, some as a chore. My favorite moms who stay home (you know who you are) do so much with their time: gardens, home improvement, volunteering, homemade everything. I like to pretend that I’d be that kind of stay at home mom. In reality, I’ll never know. But it’s a pleasure to see those great examples.
> I don’t think it’s fair that this conversation revolves around only women. I hear people saying “children should be raised by a parent,” but I don’t see a big push for more men to stay home and hang out with the kids. Which probably launches me on a completely different argument about gender equality in the workplace. Another time.
I’m prickly on this issue and that’s the truth. Maybe we’re all prickly on this issue. It’s sensitive, it’s personal, it’s fraught with landmines in even the friendliest conversation. I don’t have answers or solutions. But at least I’ve written this and gotten it over with. Now I can get back to writing about books I like and harmless funny five-year-old anecdotes.
Great post! As a stay-at-home mom, I was not at all offended by the comment Hilary Rosen made. I understood what she was trying to say. However, the reason I didn’t like her comment was because it implied that unless you have been in a certain situation, you can not relate to or be sympathetic to someone who is in that situation. Am I to assume that because Pres. Obama is a black man, he can not relate to me or my family because we are not black (or partially black)? Of course it is impossible to have walked in everyone else’s footsteps and I think it’s just as wrong to judge people because they come from a privileged life as it is to judge someone for any other reason.
As for the working mom vs. stay at home mom issue. I agree, people know what is best for themselves and their families! We all work hard and should cut each other some slack!
One piece that is often missing from this topic is the role of the dad in helping out around the house. If the woman is out working all day just like him, he should be helping out at home (I’m looking at you Buckethead). While Ginny and I haven’t totally broken out of the traditional gender roles (she still usually cooks dinner), we’re pretty far along…we share the laundry, dishwashing, etc.
One funny example: my brother visited a couple years ago while we were installing new curtains. He happened to walk in as Ginny was drilling holes into the wall with a power drill while I was ironing the curtains. Maybe that has more to do with me being worthless with power tools, but still, it makes the point.
I’m amazed how with many of our friends who both work full time, the man still doesn’t help out with day-to-day chores.
Kyle, I agree that this is a big piece of the puzzle. Matt/Buckethead does do things that traditionally dads didn’t do, and I think we’re very lucky that we can both count on being home by 5:30 or 6:00 and can share those “witching hour” responsibilities. So in that respect, we’re both June and we’re both Ward. But I know that’s not true for all families. Hopefully it will become a more recognized necessity over time.
Loved every word, Katie! 🙂 Elaine
The question of gender equity in the workplace is one which has plagued J and I. He is the parent in our family that is naturally predisposed to staying at home. Yet, my workplace (comprised of all women) has exceptionally good accommodations for families and life in general (rare I think). Though J has spent a substantial amount of time looking for employment that could be more flexible, it hasn’t materialized. My field does not pay enough to support a family. Instead we both work two jobs each, and struggle to always put our children in the center of our choices while sleeping less than feels humanly possible. I feel that the climate our culture has built around families is hostile right now, and creates false choices and huge inequities. Then again, in a twisted iteration of market economics, we probably will not see an improvement in this until, like some countries in Europe, we develop the need to grow our population. That’s my $.02. 🙂
Kerri, I think you and Jason are fantastic at finding balance and joyful participation in all sorts of family fun. It doesn’t seem fair that it takes four jobs between you to make that work!
Thank you Katie. Though I was kvetching above, I do feel like we are really lucky. We live in such a great place, surrounded by wonderful people, and we can get our needs met. There are a whole lot of gifts in the mix!
Nice post Katie, and well said. I know of a few stay-at-home dads, although as their kids have gotten older, they’ve gone back to work at least part time. As for traditional roles around the house, my thoughts are that if you wear the clothes, you ought to help clean them. We’ve even “empowered” our 9 year old to feel free to separate his clothes and bring them to the laundry room when he notices that he’s getting low on any particular type of clean clothing. If he doesn’t do it, he winds up with nothing to wear but dirty clothes. My wife still does all the cooking, even on nights when she works, but that speaks more to her abilities, and my lack thereof, than to gender roles.
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