My Facebook feed has baby fever. One quick scroll reveals: a friend’s adorable daughter dressed as Dorothy for Halloween, a newborn strapped into her car seat for the ride home from the hospital, a toddler sporting a fake mustache, twins in bumbo seats preparing to eat their first solid foods. And the pregnancy announcements, one after the other, coming so quickly now that I can’t keep the due dates straight. Who’s having a baby in March? And who in December?
The very people who once sang screechy 3 a.m. alcohol-fueled renditions of “Baby Got Back” by my side are suddenly moms of two and dads-to-be. All of these tiny faces and shower themes and bump pics are enough to make a childless person run screaming or, conversely, start planning a nursery of her very own.
I don’t have children. I stave off the obligatory, “So, when are you having kids?” question which began the day my husband and I married with, “I don’t know. Not yet.”
I’ve considered the mental, emotional, and monetary issues implicit in parenthood. And, year by year, I find myself wading a little further out into the sea of impending sleeplessness, testing the waters.
But I still struggle to wrap my mind around what kind of parent I’ll be. Will I be a working mom or a stay-at-home mom? And if I choose one over the other, how often and how loudly will I have to defend that choice?
If you read USA Today, Forbes, Macleans, The New York Times or any number of news sources, blogs and opinion pieces, you are no doubt familiar with the term, “Mommy Wars.” Many trace the now fully fledged conflict back to a controversial comment Hillary Clinton made in 1992 when questioned about her choice to continue her career in law: “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life,” a statement deemed elitist and offensive by many stay-at-home moms.
More recently, Hilary Rosen’s assertion that Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life” (she was a stay-at-home mom to five children) was met with a similar backlash.
Despite the uproar, popular opinion tends to support the two Hil(l)arys. In an increasingly “equal” society, the expectation seems to be this: A woman should want it all–the family and the career–and be willing to work her butt off to keep everything balanced. After centuries of pushing for equal rights, women are expected, as a collective, to make good on our hard-won freedom to earn money and hold powerful positions by not dropping out of the game. And somehow, the expectation continues, we should fit child rearing neatly into that equation.
As if we all want the same thing. As if we should.
Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer is famous for sleeping under her desk and working longer and harder than everyone around her. Now pregnant, she’s stated that she will continue to work throughout her three week maternity leave while juggling the new (and unforeseen) challenges of motherhood. Mayer has been deemed the unofficial symbol of the modern woman, the one who can do it all. And she hasn’t even given birth yet. In the media, she’s been simultaneously placed on a pedestal and torn to shreds. A recent Forbes article asks, “The Pregnant CEO: Should You Hate Marissa Mayer?”
Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg presented a popular Ted Talk about not leaving before you leave, “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders,” in which she urged women to stay in the workforce longer and take on more challenging roles in order to have something worthwhile to return to after giving birth. Despite her well-intentioned, logical argument, her one-size-fits-all prescription left me feeling cold.
Every time I listen to or read a bossy opinion about how women should navigate the challenging role of motherhood, I get a little bristly.
Why has the issue of parenting become so politicized?
I have friends who vocally look down upon women who don’t work full-time. I have family members who firmly believe a mother’s place is in the home, raising her children. Both of these opinions bother me. Because they are just that: opinions.
I was raised by a single mother who worked tirelessly to support me financially. Was I any less adored or educated or looked after as a result? Not at all. Does that mean I want to work forty hour weeks when I have a child? Not necessarily.
Studies show that there is very little academic and behavioral difference between a child with a working mother versus one with a stay-at-home mom. In fact, it seems that total household income plays more of a role. If a household is struggling financially, the increased income a working mother brings home is more beneficial than the time she would spend with the child otherwise.
But if a family has the resources to support a stay-at-home parent, it really boils down to one thing: choice.
Every rallying cry for mothers to work longer and harder outside of the home is stomping on someone else’s choice. Every reproach that a woman is not caring for her child properly because she is working too many hours is an unwelcome dose of judginess.
Can we stop with all of the “shoulds” and instead spend more time analyzing what will make us, as individuals and families, happy and proud and whole?
If we want to have a real conversation about better work/life balance, then let’s talk about maternity/paternity leave, flex time, on-site daycare, the tangible components that could make the choice to work or not work more feasible for everyone.
There are an endless array of pieces to choose from when composing the puzzle of family life. Why can’t we muster up a deeper appreciation for the unique and messy nature of all of the pictures out there? They don’t all look alike. Who says that’s a bad thing?
Parent or not, what are your thoughts on the “Mommy Wars”? If you have children, do you work or stay at home? What is that like for you? Do you ever feel judged for your decision?