Jewish World Review Feb. 28, 2006 / 30 Shevat 5766
Ah, the Mommy Wars
Why is it that arguments between women are always relegated to some kind of "catfight"?
So it was on ABC's "Good Morning America" this week when law professor Linda Hirshman said that "privileged, educated women who choose to stay at home to raise their children are hurting themselves and others." Census data shows that fully 54 percent of mothers with professional or graduate degrees do not work full time, and this drives women like Hirschman nuts.
Not so Debbie Klett who, with a master's degree in nursing, started a magazine called "Total 180" for educated moms who head home. She now works from home herself. "For me, I feel it is vital to be there for my children every day ... to be a loving, caring mom every minute of the day," Klett said.
But can we just look at things a little differently here?
I cringe when I hear women like Hirshman declare that moms caring full time for their kids is a degrading choice. On the other hand I wince, a little, when I hear women like Klett argue that her job is "to be a loving, caring mom every minute of the day." I'm not sure what that means to her, but if it connotes total attention on the child all the time, I'm not sure that's a great idea either.
There seems to be this mythology that moms have been spending three hours of creative, educational "floor-time" with junior every day since the beginning of time. And yet that is nothing but a post-WW II myth. Previously, while wealthy moms might have handed junior off to a nanny, the middle class and on down was hustling to keep the household running and that was hard work, even when there was household help. Mom was home and working. (And junior was not getting her undivided attention for lots of extended time.)
That, it seems to me, can be a good thing. The"Proverbs 31" woman, a model of womanhood many of us cheer, was apparently raising children and yet, after rising early, she "considers a field and buys it, and from her profits she plants a vineyard." She was busy all day long not much "floor time" there.
Now don't get me wrong. Time with my four kids is precious to me, and they are my highest priority right now. But it may be that some level of work also helps keep us moms from following what is often our natural inclination to be "helicopter parents" utterly absorbed in our kids, making both of our worlds "all about them" in a way that's not wholesome for anyone.
Certainly when amazing modern conveniences and affluence meant that many middle-class moms on down didn't have to spend the whole day on household work of some sort any more, something was destined to fill that vacuum. I just wonder if we can move beyond the "Mommy Wars" and be a little more deliberate about what that is.
Here's a principle that makes some sense to me: start with the premise that work in and of itself is a good and wholesome thing. While choosing choosing to pursue a full-time career outside of the home while children are young seems to be a choice ever fewer women are willing to make since gasp! most of us want to be at home with our young kids and that's where they want and need us to be, I also think it's wise to find ways to deliberately use our time productively, and isn't "all about our kids." So that there are times we can say, "honey I'm focusing on something that is work, that doesn't involve you (or even your school!) and that brings me satisfaction." In other words, work is good, even a gift. That is not a premise with which our modern-day culture seems very comfortable.
For some of us that that might mean part-time work, often from home. For others that may mean volunteer work, ministry, all sorts of things that are not child-related. (Sometimes the kids can help!) Some moms are way too busy for any of that for a season. Some moms have no choice but to do more "non-family" work than they would like.
Whatever the case, it seems to me that while there may not be an imminent cease-fire in the Mommy Wars, stepping back and agreeing on the principle that work in and of itself is a good thing for people to engage in, wholesomely possible in many different contexts, could at least minimize the cat-fights.
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