Soldiering on Through “The Mommy Wars”


Recently I’ve been troubled by the resurgence of the “Mommy War” (as Lisa Endlich Heffernan refers to it) conversation. So have others. I have read many thoughtful essays by people that I have come to admire and respect, Lisa being one of them. Her, our, counterparts in other parts of the blogosphere have provided their own thoughtful insight into this always volatile topic — people like Sharon Hodor Greenthal, Jennifer Comet Wagner, Karen and Wendy Irving, to name a few. These are all women with whom I feel a kinship. I have, outside of the virtual world, had the opportunity to spend time with a couple of them — we’ve enjoyed each other’s company at lunches, dinners, and conferences. They are, in many ways, very much like me.

Still, I don’t fully agree with any of them.

I struggled with whether or not to add to this conversation — not because I don’t want to disagree with friends or because I have nothing valid to contribute, but because I would really prefer the whole “Mommy Wars” topic to go away. And then I thought about it. I concluded that most things, when ignored, don’t actually go away. Often they simply go underground — where, much like, fungi, they fester and they multiply.

Also, there seems to be a gaping hole in both sides of the argument. When I first read Lisa’s piece on “The Mommy War Within” several months back, what struck me was that she was addressing what I would consider to be a very elite group of women — women who were in a financial position to make the choice to either stay at home with their children or to remain in their high-powered jobs. They were fortunate — and I think they know it. Most women, myself included, didn’t have their choices.

I’m not saying that their choices came without consequences. Those that left the corporate world took a financial hit, both immediate and long-term. What they, and many others like them, are discovering now that their children are grown, is that it’s difficult, impossible even, to return to the workforce after a twenty-year absence to any job even resembling the one they left.

Women who chose to remain in the workforce — the ones who took advantage of the child care options that were available to them — sacrificed time spent with their children. For many, what they made in dollars they paid in guilt.

I didn’t know it then, but I was probably one of the lucky ones, as well — though I didn’t feel so lucky at the time. What I felt was exhausted — both physically and mentally. You see, I got to do both — I got to stay at home during the day and I had the pleasure of working at night. I was never able to “have it all”, though. I sacrificed sleep and, for many years, my mental health. It was hard. I didn’t have any other choice, though — not because I lacked education, but because I couldn’t use my degree in history for any type of work that would allow me to stay at home during the day. And no job that I was qualified for paid anything near what I would need to make to keep body and soul together. As a result, I remained underemployed in the service industry.

My husband was lucky, too. He had the opportunity to truly “parent” his child — while I was off slinging hash or mixing up martinis, he was responsible for all of the activities that I wasn’t home to coordinate — things like meals, bedtime rituals, and sports as she got older. He, too, held two jobs — and he was a better parent for having had these opportunities. I daresay that he was tired, too.

I, too, have regrets about the choices I made. I wish that my daughter had seen a woman who held a job that she loved — not just a job that held a paycheck. What I hope she did notice was that I spent a lot of years and a great deal of energy volunteering in organizations that had an impact on her community — and I did so with gusto, vigor, and, I hope, a fair amount of competence. In these years I also made lifelong friends — friendships that have sustained me and that continue to nurture me.

I don’t know whether or not the “Mommy Wars” will ever enjoy a cease fire, but I hope that the folks who are having the conversation will take into consideration the large percentage of women who never had the choices that were available to them. Some of us, for better or for worse, just soldiered on — we didn’t have the luxury of wondering whether or not we were doing the “right” thing. We were too busy doing “all” the things.

40 thoughts on “Soldiering on Through “The Mommy Wars”

  1. wedelmom says:

    Great post my friend! I’m applauding you. I too “tag team parented” for years and soldiered through it.

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  2. What seems to be lacking here is the idea that men might also regret holding down a job that keeps them from enjoying their children. The arguments cut both ways. Doesn’t matter if you have two x chromosomes or an x and a y.

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    • javaj240 says:

      You are right, men have been virtually ignored in this conversation. I did mention my husband’s role in raising our daughter — but I don’t blame the others who didn’t mention their husbands roles in childrearing — I don’t necessarily think that it was because they didn’t have a role, I just think that the conversation was more about motherhood than it was about fatherhood.

      I know for sure how my husband felt about the time he got to spend parenting our daughter —- I really can’t speak for other men. I will tell you this, though — we had discussed his staying at home if I could find a job that would pay me more than he was making — the odds were good that I could, as I have a degree and he does not, but, as much as he enjoyed spending time with and parenting his child, he didn’t want to do it on a daily, full-time basis. Again, though, this was just him — I know other fathers who did stay home while their wives worked — one was a neighbor — he and I whiled away many an afternoon together — he relished his role. His being at home while his wife worked full-time was the right decision for their family —- I don’t think it would have been the right decision for my family.

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      • I wasn’t intending any sort of reprimand or criticism, honest. It was just an observation. One I’m not in a position to hold, really, since I’m childless.
        But as ever I didn’t let ignorance get in the way of having an opinion. I’m not going to start that at my time of life.
        😉

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  3. D. A. Wolf says:

    There’s so much here to comment on, but maybe in part we should reconsider the term ‘mommy wars’ – though I suppose if the shoe fits… To some degree, I’m glad these discussions continue as long as they don’t deteriorate into in- fighting that helps no one.

    You raise a very important point- finances. These choices are only applicable to a select segment, and its also all too easy to forget the larger infrastructure issues that have to do with employment relationships (or lack of them), social safety net (or its absence), affordable adequate child care/early childhood education, etc. we- mothers – are part of a much larger and complex system in which women and children still pay a dear price too often.

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    • javaj240 says:

      I certainly hope that my post doesn’t cause anything even resembling “in-fighting”! I began the post by stating that I admire and respect these women — and I meant it. We all come from different places, though, and I felt compelled to point that out.

      Personally, I don’t think either staying at home or choosing to work is anyone’s else’s business — what occurred to me, why I chose to label myself as “lucky” is that NO ONE chastised me for my choices — they knew I had no choice but to work. It is a shame that some of us had to endure the criticism of others for our choices.

      Until such a time as ALL women have better choices, the “Mommy Wars” will continue — and, yes, I agree that I wish there were a better name for them! Someone ought to get on that, LOL!

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  4. peachyteachy says:

    These struggles, in all their forms, are so deep and profound. I have had my share of resentment over the financial chains that bind me. I am reminded of the quote (some say from Plato, some say Ian Maclaren): “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Sometimes I prefer to forget this.

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  5. I loved this article because you speak for those who have to work and raise their children at the same time, without a choice to say no.

    I applaud you for your honesty and I equally applaud you for setting an extraordinary example for your daughter. She WILL know that her mother is a strong, responsible and loving woman who did all she could in her power to be a wonderful mom and bring home the bacon.

    I stand tall and clap my hands together shouting, “Good for you, Jackie. I am proud to know you.”

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    • javaj240 says:

      Thanks, Cathy. It is a prickly subject and one that can be polarizing — and, really, there’s no need for that! We all make the choices that feel right for us, for our families. It’s not easy.

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  6. It has occurred to me that the “mommy wars” have been going on seriously for about 40 years. I was the only woman on the block that stayed at home with my children. I did it because I wanted to and those that worked did so because they needed the money. I did work at home teaching piano and baby sitting.

    However, in most cases we were all about short term employment to pick up the slack when a emergency came up. It never occurred to us that we were lacking in things. Our standard of living was very simple in many cases verging on frugal.

    My husband and I were both educators. We would have qualified for food stamps at one time. But we just did what was needed to get by.

    However, looking at what is available in the way of child care options today, I would have worked at least part time. It would have been mentally healthy and I think I would have been a good role model.

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    • javaj240 says:

      I think that whatever choices we made regarding where to be when our children were younger came at a price — whether through sacrificing “things, both large and small, or sacrificing time with them — motherhood, it seems, is not free!

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  7. Thank you for writing this thoughtful and honest post. I would agree that for most women, this discussion is a non-issue, because they never had the choice in the first place. For those of us who did have the choice, whether or not we were privileged enough to do so or made sacrifices to do so, this is a big, huge decision that has impacted our lives in so many ways.

    During a conversation about this on HuffPost Live I made sure to point out that this discussion is NOT about women who must work to support their families, or are single parents, or suffer financial hardships that push them back into the workforce under duress. There is an enormous difference between those situations and those of women who are able to stay home without too much financial upheaval.

    If I had worked while raising my children, my family’s lives would have been different in many ways – especially mine.

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    • javaj240 says:

      These decisions NEVER come easy — and maybe they shouldn’t — maybe that’s part of the whole process. I don’t know.

      It’s funny, if you’d asked me when I was doing it whether or not I considered myself “lucky”, I would have asked you if you had rocks in your head, but now, I know that I was extremely fortunate to NOT have to make the choice — hard as my life was back then, I’m glad that I was able to have it both ways — it really was the closest thing to “having it all” that there is.

      Most of my friends were in the same boat as I was, so we supported each other — watched each other’s children, shared the burden, so to speak — I could not have made it through my daughter’s childhood without them. It saddens me to know that there are still women out there who are catty enough to judge other people for what are, ultimately, incredibly personal decisions.

      Honestly, sometimes I just have to shake my head in wonder that we are still having this same conversation that we were engaging in fifty years ago. We’ve come a long way in many areas, but clearly, we still have a ways to go. 🙂

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  8. beverlydiehl says:

    The problem is that in American society, we did not or do not support child-rearing. Oh, the pols wave the flag of motherhood and apple pie, but as far as actual, tangible help for families seeking to raise children? Not so much.

    Raising kids is hard, exhausting work.

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  9. rodalena says:

    Thanks for this. I think part of the passion that fuels the fires in the Mommy Wars is that most women, way down deep, really want others to have a good life. Opinions differ on the logistics, and our own choices feed those opinions, because we often have a societal and personal needs to defend our own actions.

    In my opinion, there is a misconception in the conversation, though: not all women who made the choice to stay home did so because they had the benefit of financial security. Many women, especially those in deeply religious environs, stayed home despite the fact that that would mean a life of popping tags at thrift shops, scrounging for furniture at garage sales, clipping coupons, and eating beans and cornbread on a regular basis. For such women, their decision to exchange financial security for what they believed to be “the will of God” is harder to defend, and harder for others to understand. It is also often hidden, as they are often lumped in with other financially secure stay-at-home moms.

    Every caring mother has her reasons for raising her kids in the whatever way she has. I think the evidence lies in the children: every conceivable parental option made based on love and the needs and personal convictions of their own family seems to produce children of amazing grace, talent, and confidence. It’s a mother’s love that matters, not her W-2.

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    • I think this is such s good point and so little understood by those outside of those religious circles. But to deny or ignore the impact that “God” has had on the lives of billions of women is to deny reality for those same women.

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    • javaj240 says:

      I actually never knew that there was any population that felt that staying home with your children was “the will of God”. (I’m not being snarky here — I’ve rewritten this several times and it just won’t seem to come out with the proper amount of sincerity — it seriously NEVER occurred to me that this was a demographic.)

      Thank you for pointing this out — I’m sure there are untold numbers of women for whom religion dictated their choice.

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      • rodalena says:

        Java, you’ve not been offensive at all. I was simply hoping to further illustrate the complexity involved in choosing how to best raise a family. There are so many powerful influences that pressure women, both good and bad, in this regard.

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        • javaj240 says:

          I’m so glad you were not offended — I really would hate to offend anyone — I’m also happy that you pointed out that there was a demographic whose existence never would have occurred to me!

          You are so correct in stating that this is a complex issue — it certainly is that. I am also of the opinion that it is a private matter — we all have to choose what works best for us. Further, I think that no matter where any of us fall on the spectrum (SAHM/WM/combination), we are bound to regret something — but, as long as we’ve done the best we could have done and we made our choices in the best interests of our children, well, hopefully we rest easily at night!

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  10. Jackie, I think this is spot on. You’ve picked up on something I should have addressed: that this alleged war is completely irrelevant to those of us who’ve had our choices constrained by economics or circumstance.

    And when I wrote my piece, I wasn’t trying to add fuel to the fire by pitting anyone against anyone else. I genuinely think that families come in so many shapes and sizes and configurations, with mothers or fathers working inside the home or out, and kids staying home or going to daycare or being cared for by extended family…and each family is doing its best.

    Of course some of us will regret that in making one choice we forfeited another–that’s life. We are richer when we share our experiences and viewpoints, and try to truly understand others’ choices.

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    • javaj240 says:

      As I said in my post, I respect and admire ALL of you. My intention was not to add fuel to any fire or pit us against each other either — it was to point out that for the majority of us, our choices were limited. I would never go so far as to say that I “envy” someone who had the luxury of staying home — because I don’t know what they gave up to do it. The fact that they had to give up anything is a shame, but all things come at a cost.

      What I wanted to do was ADD to the conversation AND make it clear that from where I sit now, I think that I had the best of both worlds — regardless of the mental and physical exhaustion that I battled back then. No one gets through life unscathed and our lives are certainly far richer when we bounce ideas/opinions off of each other. I think this is particularly important for women (I don’t know why I think that, but I do — I don’t think that men NEED other men’s approval the way that women seek the same from other women.)

      I think that when all is said and done, we are far more alike than we are different, regardless of how we chose to raise our children. 🙂

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  11. Ginger Kay says:

    I wholeheartedly agree that the mommy wars are a creation of the elite. The rest of us just seem to do what seems best for our families and hope that others are doing the same.

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    • javaj240 says:

      To be fair, I think that “the elite” often have the time and the resources to push certain agendas forward — and then the rest of us get to enjoy the fruits of their labors. It doesn’t always work that way, but it often works that way. 🙂

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  12. Jo Heroux says:

    I feel your pain and your satisfaction throughout this piece. I also had no choice and I had a brief stint of SAHM with my little ones. Working to put food on the table, roof over our heads and all the rest is the life of any single parent and began that life when my kids were 5 and 6. I chose to work in our small town to be nearby. It cut down travel time, expense and also allowed me to run home when needed. I chose a job where my boss understood my kids only had me and my sitter and now and then it HAD to be me. I could have had a better paying job, perhaps. I could have had benefits, perhaps. What I couldn’t do was take or seek a job where being a mom wa second on the priority list.

    I have no regrets. I did the best I could with what choices I had.

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    • beverlydiehl says:

      Yep, the so-called “mommy track” job. I had one of those, too.

      Most of us did the best we could, and are still doing it.

      Like

    • javaj240 says:

      For those of you who were single parents, I say, “Congratulations for making it through!” I could never have done it without my husband. Never!

      You were very lucky, indeed, to have an understanding workplace. I’m sure there are lots of folks who never had that.

      I think that people often look at women, particularly those with high-powered jobs, as failing to put their children first. I don’t think that’s true. I think that they love their children just as much as anyone else does. 🙂

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  13. Jen says:

    I really don’t think I would consider this a stirring up of the mommy wars. This isn’t about what young women should or shouldn’t do. It is about women who stayed at home to raise their kids who are now fully grown and whether or not they regret that decision. There is no right or wrong. I am not telling Lisa that she shouldn’t regret her decision. After I read her article, I (Jennifer Wagner) felt compelled to write mine because my experience was so different that I just wanted to show the point of view of someone that did not regret her decision one bit.

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    • javaj240 says:

      I think it was Karen Irving who discussed the posts in this way. I think that we all have something to add to the conversation. Not for a minute do I think that any of us are trying to tell anyone else what to do 🙂 I loved all the posts that I referenced!

      Like

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