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.