Soccer Mom, Slacker Mom, Heartless Working Mom: Enough with the Stereotypes Already.

My entry into the competitive world of daycare and preschools came 10 years ago. It was during my second maternity leave. I was working fulltime for Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey and living in Manhattan . My first child, 20 months old, went to daycare 45 minutes away from my New York apartment, next to J&J’s headquarters in New Brunswick .

Looking for something more convenient as I nursed 10 times a day and tried to care for a toddler and newborn on three hours sleep, I discovered a lovely preschool in the synagogue directly across the street from my apartment building. Could they take my son for the four months of maternity leave?

The admissions director suppressed a smile. “You’ve probably been too busy working to notice,” she explained. “But moms sign up for this school YEARS in advance.”


Her words made me feel like an idiot, a bad mom, and a stereotype: one of those clueless, selfish working moms.


The next time I had to apply my child to preschool, I was prepared: I took the day off from work, dressed in stay-at-home casual clothes, and loitered with a pack of other moms in yoga pants as visibly as possible in front of the school during our children’s admissions visit. I practically held a placard that said “SEE? I’M A DEVOTED STAY-AT-HOME MOM! LET MY SON INTO YOUR SCHOOL!”


There were not any dads in costume there, pretending to be something they weren’t.

That was a decade ago. During the past ten years, I’ve watched the tides turn: now at some schools, particularly in the most competitive preschool markets of DC, Los Angeles and Manhattan, it’s an asset to be a high-powered working mom who can offer behind-the-scenes tours of Nickelodeon, The Discovery Channel, or the set of Hannah Montana (or a big cash donation to the school auction). But the switch in what’s more fashionable – working or at-home motherhood – distresses me just as much as the early bias I encountered as a working mother. It’s the stereotyping of motherhood that’s the problem here, more so than the specific stereotype.

With nearly 83 million moms in America today, why are there so many stereotypes about us? Heartless working mom? Overprivileged stay-at-home mom? Soccer mom? Slacker Mom? Welfare mom? Mommie dearest? We can’t each of us just be the completely individual mom we actually are?


I stayed home for one year and loved it. But the fear of retirement and re-entering the work force after 45 concerened me. So I went back to work in a comletely different field. After two months of working 8-5; waking up at 5:30 to run 6 miles, clean the floors and take my son to school just to do this all over again five days in a row became taxing. I went to my employer and said, "I am foremost a Mom. I love the opportunity you have given me, however, the hours are jeapordizing my parenting and family life". To my surprize, my employer said what will it take to keep you and I replied only to work when my son is in school. So all those mothers out there, working or stay at home moms, who say you can't have it're wrong. I have a great job, retirement, family life and I don't have to wake up at 5:30 to run anymore. I can sleap in until 6:30.


I try to ignore the "poor pitiful working-mom" that is passed on to me. However, it is so hard at times! I especially get mad when I try to do things with my daughter and magically they are not offered during the week. It is though working-moms are assumed not to want to spend time with their all! I too have the infamous stay-at-home relative. Nothing has ever been said outwardly...however, I always have gottent the impression that I am in the wrong for going forth and achieving more. Why is that considered wrong? I want my daughter to grow up and understand that she can be so much. I do not want her to grow up and think there is only one way to go through the forest! I believe that she has a choice. I want to show her that the working choice can be a healthy one...for the mom and for the children.


Oh, how I can relate to this post. Even my own family judges me as a cold, heartless working mom. Not all of them - just my crazy brother and his stay-at-home-and-home-school-our-six-kids wife. The sad thing is, I judge them right back. So they love living the simple life. I love my job just as much. Why can't we all just agree that we're different? We play it off as being about the children and what's good for them. I don't think that's true. I think we're all guilty of assuming our way of life is the best.

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

You have to unpack the knee jerk "women only have ourselves to blame" reaction, though.

Why do we act so cattily sometimes?

In Mommy Wars, Susan Cheever writes about the fact that sometimes, we moms are like rats in a cage without enough food. Except the food is daycare, supportive husbands, flexible employers, positive feedback about how tough a job it is being a mom...etc. Dr. Anna Fels, the author of the landmark book on women and ambition, Necessary Dreams, explores the same territory in her Mommy Wars essay as well.

Plus our society actively discourages women from being competitive, ambitious and powerful -- natural desires that are common to the human species. When we are not allowed to be openly competitive in healthy ways, our natural urges go underground...hence the cattiness. Part of what I see as proof is that for me, business school was the LEAST catty environment I've found. Because women were expected and encouraged to be competitive. And as a result we were all able to be far more supportive of each other.

These are my thoughts. I'm sure you have more and I'd love to hear them.


I think women have only themselves to blame for the stereotyping. Why are so many of us so catty? It's not just in the big cities; the small towns are just as bad if not worse. I say, live and let live. I love that I work and I also love that my neighbor across the street, who has a child two months younger than mine, doesn't, so she can watch my little girl one day a week and the kids can play together (and I can pay her). We all have something to offer.


When I was a working outside the home I was often told how "very sorry" the other Moms on my block felt for me. It made me so angry since I chose to go back to work. Now I work (freelance writing/blogging) from home most days during the week and I've found more of a balance for our family. Yet, I'm constantly butting my head against the 'justs' meaning, "Oh you 'just' stay home." That I don't work at all. It is maddening that I'm always put into these slots no matter what I do.