I have something to say about these so-called “Mommy Wars”. I’m not even sure there is such a thing. My friends who stay at home to work and my friends who work outside the home aren’t battling one another over this supposed issue. I know it’s been pushed to the front of the conversation about Hilary Rosen’s comments regarding Ann Romney, but I listened to the entire thing she said and I’m fairly certain that any intelligent person who listened to her message wasn’t hearing her say that raising children at home without having to work outside of it isn’t doing a tough job. Framing the narrative created around it and distorting her message, however, has been pushing women to duke it out in public and has brought up some age-old stereotypes about women and their work.
In my life, I haven’t been privileged enough to stay home. There was a time when my eldest was in high school that I wanted to stay home so badly that I quit my job for 2 years to manage that, but I had a husband at the time who wasn’t fully supportive of this (emotionally and financially) so I was forced to tutor homeschooled students during the day to help make ends meet. Previous to that I was a full-time teacher who had the luxury of being off work when my children were home but who also had to contend with the low wages that teachers are paid so I made up for that by taking on extra work to make more money. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a husband who was willing to do the same and our marriage was on the brink of disaster anyway so I made the tough decision to work harder to make enough money to attend grad school while I continued to work full-time.
It wasn’t a pleasant time and he wasn’t fully supportive of that. Whatever money I made while tutoring or freelance writing paid for my tuition as well as a grant from my school district to help make up the difference. By the time I graduated with a master’s degree our marriage was entirely over and when I left him I did so with a larger salary than he had. This didn’t bode well in our divorce as he sued me to maintain the house and the belongings so, again, here I was working even harder to start my life all over again.
With him, it wasn’t a Mommy War. It was a Personal War that didn’t end well for us but allowed me to make my choices fully cognizant of just how hard I was going to have to continue to work if I wanted to be a working mother with benefits who could support her children independently if it called for it. This was made even more difficult when my husband drained our savings account of several thousand dollars that would have helped me begin again. But, there was nothing I could do about that, either. Choice? What choice?
When mothers are supposedly battling one another and bashing our choices I can’t help but thank feminism for allowing such a choice. Even when millions of single-mothers around the globe are fighting hard for equal pay and taking care of children left in their care by an absent father. I have experienced this more than I care to think about and nothing has been more frustrating nor more rewarding than providing for my children when I’m left to do this on my own. Moms who stay at home have envied those of us out in the workforce and vice versa. But, to me, that’s all it is. Envy and guilt and remorse for the difficult job of parenting. When will the narrative become the forefront of our discussions when men are the parent in question?
Yet, how much of a choice did I actually have in the matter? When I chose to stay home it was with the caveat that I must continue to bring in finances to the family. I suppose, then, that my only choice was to actually work harder and attend school again to secure a higher paid position in education. Naturally, that led to more hours outside the home. As an administrator, I am required to attend all sports functions and holiday music programs and contests in which my students participate. If my children want to spend time with me now (albeit as teenagers) they have to attend these functions with me. Sometimes they do, other times they choose to stay home or hang out with their friends.
Time is a major factor in the battle I have against myself with regard to raising children. I am certainly too tired to fight the manufactured “mommy wars” that society and the media want me to fight. My time is better spent on my work and my child-rearing to comfort the insecurities of those who happen to disagree with my choices; men and women alike. The values that I hold dear are ones in which I’d rather fight the institutionalization of unfair policies and sexist attitudes toward women whether they work outside the home or not. Liz Gumbinner said that best in her article on The Myth of the Rich, Selfish Working Mom. What I learned about myself throughout my life and marriage and divorce and raising children and things I wanted for myself and my kids is that I had fewer choices than I realized. But also that the choices I was making weren’t making me happy because of things I wanted (and not anything silly like a sports car, because I’d much rather spend my money on a family vacation) and wasn’t able to get until I disciplined myself to set certain goals and meet them.
I don’t think Hilary Rosen owes an apology at all for what she was actually saying. Rosen was speaking for a larger group of women with whom both Romneys have no experience within their privileged lives and the policies and special interests that Mitt supports.
This war? It’s entirely misplaced in blame. It isn’t a war between moms. It’s a political fight against those who would devalue mothers as well as against those who’d see us play the blame game and take our eyes off the real prize of gender equality whether a woman is a mother or not.
Read my most recent Babble Voices post, “Walking the Long Gay Line” here.