Everyone seems to be talking about these so-called Mommy Wars -- the battle between stay-at-home moms and working moms. Two books have been written on the subject in the last year, "The Truth About the Mommy Wars " by Miriam Peskowitz and the new "Mommy Wars: Stay at Home and Career Moms Face off on their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families ," by Leslie Morgan Steiner. There was even a two-day special on Good Morning America in March 2006 titled “The Mommy Wars: To Work or Stay at Home .” What is the source of this conflict?
We believe the media has tapped into the very human, never-ending quest for greener grass. All moms have a hot button. The stay-at-home moms want the status, the recognition, the stimulation and the money that the workplace can bring. Working moms want to be there for the big development milestones and the details of daily life. And of course they want the luxury of devoting themselves to one fulltime job instead of two.
Any resentment these two groups may feel for one another is simply an outward display of the internal conflict every mother feels about her own choices and/or circumstances. As Leslie Morgan Steiner points out in her new book, "the mommy wars are not really between different cliques of women over what kind of motherhood is superior. The real battles rage inside each mother's head as she struggles to make peace with her choices."
Moms that do not work outside the home are told by people like law professor Linda Hirshman that “an educated, competent adult’s place is in the office.” She reminds women that the divorce rate is 41%, that it’s difficult to re-enter the workplace after staying home, and that full time mothering is not “particularly interesting or fulfilling for a complicated, educated person.” She also believes that stay at home moms are letting down all women because hard won gains in the workplace will be eroded by women who earn advanced degrees and then fail to use them. She concludes that women should have only one child in order to keep up in their chosen careers, advice she herself has followed.
Working moms, on the other hand, fear their children will suffer as a result of their choice to pursue their careers. Writing in Newsweek, Sandy Hingston, who returned to work when her two children were school age, found a job as a magazine editor that allowed her to work two weeks of every month at home. Despite these desirable circumstances, she blames herself for her son’s explosive temper and her daughter’s anorexia. She believes that if she were a full time mom, “a real mom,” her children wouldn’t have these problems.
Feminists tell mothers to stay in the office, mothers’ guilt tells them to stay home, and circumstances such as the need to pay the rent, leave so many mothers no choice but to earn an income. So the internal conflict many mothers experience over the choices they have made translates into external conflict with mothers who have made a different choice. Of course both groups know that either path entails compromise and sacrifice and that each woman is making the best choice for her family, her circumstances, herself.
Both groups need to recognize that they are all working on making the world a good place for their children, stay at home moms by volunteering in the schools and other community organizations, working moms by maintaining gains made in the workplace and by contributing the female perspective to traditionally male dominated fields.
And besides, why should these women be at odds with one another when in all likelihood they will change places in their lifetimes—a working mom today will become a stay at home mom after the birth of her third child. A stay at home mom will go back to work when her youngest child begins first grade. These categories are hardly fixed.
This so-called war is silly. There is no one size fits all way to raise a family. All the reasearch shows that the children of stay at home moms and working moms are equally well adjusted. What matters, the research shows, is whether the mom is happy. There is no right way to do this -- just a right way for you and your family. Indeed, as one essayist so clearly stated in Steiner's Mommy Wars , "anyone who thinks she can judge what's best for other people's kids is either arrogant, psychic or high."