| Although the media keeps hammering away at the idea --- and some
may enjoy imagining a catfight --- there aren't any Mommy Wars.
Sorry to disappoint you. The news from the reproductive front is
that there are no bonbon-flinging, manicured, stay-at-home mothers
screeching "neglectful bitch" at briefcase-wielding full-time
working mothers who are, in turn, slashing soccer moms' minivan
The term Mommy Wars, coined in the 80's, has resurfaced once
again, this time as the unfortunate title of a book of thoughtful
essays about the challenges of motherhood. Even the author of
the book, Leslie Morgan Steiner, admitted recently in Salon.com
that the title was chosen for the punch it packs rather than
as a reflection of the book's contents.
If there is a mommy war anywhere, it is inside each one of us.
Though I've heard very few snide comments from either side of
the so-called Mommy Wars, I've heard enough mothers beating themselves
up about the choices they've made to launch a thousand therapy
Mothers typically have so much internal conflict that discussions
about the topic are often sotto voce. Heads tipped toward each
other over a stolen moment at a coffee shop, they look like terrorists
furtively plotting the next move.
"I'd rather be at work than at home. Am I a bad mother?" You
may hear a full-time working mother whisper furtively.
"I want a job," some at-home mothers confess. "The
kids are older now, and it's time I get my life back!"
Or: "I actually love being at home. I used to have a big
job, but now I'm happy. Is there something wrong with me?"
Society's bizarre mythification of motherhood doesn't make it
any easier to take care of your kids and get your work done.
The phrase Mommy Wars is just the tip of the iceberg. The newest
moniker, Mommy Party, is not, as I had hoped, an event at a Plato's
Retreat kind of place where dozens of scantily clad young men
--- and, okay, throw in a few young women, too, since it's just
a fantasy --- serve at the pleasure of mothers.
Mommy Party is a term used to sum up a small trend among Democratic
women who are fed up with the status quo and are running in the
midterm elections. Weirdly, this denigrating term invokes a kind
of socially responsible slate of issues that any civilized society
should embrace. How did we get to the point where violence, health
care, and the environment are topics relegated only to women
with reproductive capabilities?
It's not just cutesy phrases using "Mommy" as the
operative word that obfuscate the real issues surrounding parenthood.
(And God help me, don't get me started on the updated MILF term "Yummy
Mommy." This Americanization of the British "Yummy
Mummy" denotes a mother who is --- gasp! --- actually attractive.)
Also annoying are the reams of studies that show conflicting
data about women's work habits and the media's inevitably shrill
For example, the study finds: more mothers are staying home
than ever. The media trumpets: a return to the oppressive 1950's!
The study finds: more women are returning to work than ever.
The media barks: babies left by the side of the road!
My favorites are the perennial studies posing the question:
how much time do men spend helping at home? Any child, dirty
pair of socks, or houseplant can tell you the answer to this.
Those university grants would be better diverted from stupid
studies and divvied up among researchers with children to pay
for housekeepers and take-out.
Recently I heard an analysis of work/life trends among female
workers that actually rings true. After four decades of growth
of women entering the workforce --- hitting its peak of 77 percent
in 2000 --- the rate seems to have hit a plateau, a recent New
York Times article reports. In part, this may be due to a slowdown
in hiring nationally and the falling off of women's wages during
the past five years.
But significantly, researchers say, it seems that women may
have hit the limit in terms of the time that they can squeeze
out of the day. Suzanne Bianchi, a sociologist at the University
of Maryland quoted in the NYT, says for decades women have been
paring down their household tasks with time-saving devices, ingenuity,
and, yes, even a bit of help from hubby.
There's only so much compressing, though, before something has
to give. What'll it be? Day care drop-off and pick-up? Housework?
Doctor's visits? Taking care of elderly parents or a special-needs
child? Commuting? Or the freakin' endless round of sports, music,
and religion carpools?
Some working women steal precious sleep hours to get it all
done: full-time working mothers get 3.6 fewer hours of sleep
a week than mothers who don't work full time. This crunch explains
why, though not working now, a lot of mothers express the desire
to return to work but can't manage to do so.
No wonder so many mothers are at war with themselves. Because
there are no easy answers, nearly every solution comes at a price:
guilt, exhaustion, worry. Even moments of pleasure are examined
--- is it okay to put my job before my family? Am I weird for
enjoying being a stay-at-home mom?
You can be sure most working dads and at-home dads don't beat
themselves up about the choices they've made. This raises key
questions. Why do mothers feel ambivalent? What's the deal with
all the self-reproach? And, most importantly, where can I find
that rockin' Mommy Party I've heard so much about?