To me, the title really turned me off. I hate discussions of working moms vs. stay-at-home moms, like it’s some sort of competition where there should be a clear winner. I strongly believe that combining work & motherhood can be done extremely poorly, but it can also be done extremely well. Likewise I believe the same to be true of stay-at-home moms. I’m very passionate about the fact that this is not a “war” and there is no right or wrong answer.
So, with that passion seething from my ears, I put on my battle gear and got ready to attack this book. I fully expected to rage in anger at sweeping generalizations of working moms by stay-at-home moms, and to cringe in embarrassment at some of the judgemental, awful jabs that were sure to come from the mouths of the working moms. Remarkably, I took off my armor somewhere around page 2 of the Introduction:
I’ve perplexedly watched working women transmogrify into happy (and not so happy) stay-at-home moms, and seen others continue doggedly working, some happily and others with deepening resentment and anger over the drudgery and missed opportunities both at home and at work… I don’t understand moms who find happiness staying home all the time, without work and their own incomes (however large or small). I can’t fathom why some working moms stay stuck in too-demanding jobs or careers that they openly resent because of the quality (and quantity) time they miss with their kids. But what I know for certain, because I see it almost every day from each side of the battlefield, is that the two groups misunderstand and envy each other in the corrosive, fake-smiling way we women have perfected over the eons.
Mommy Wars by Leslie Morgan Steiner is a collection of essays by 26 women who have chosen various paths of motherhood: full-time or part-time work, work-from-home, high-travel, stay-at-home, self-employment, volunteer. The authors’ reflections also vary wildly: blissful contentment, postpartum depression, children who excel & children who are troubled, crumbling marriages, supportive husbands, one child’s diagnosis with autism. The essays were refreshing & heartbreaking. The reader gets glimpses into real, flawed families who are willing to acknowledge that they are not perfect but have still found perfection in some form.
My chief complaint about this book is that the demographics are a bit skewed. Most of the writers are fairly affluent (I don’t know any stay-at-home moms who hire a full-time babysitter or nanny!), and those who do work seem to have a great deal of flexibility in their jobs (most of them are in writing, editing, or publishing).
Still, I found I could relate to elements in nearly every essay. Sure, there were some moms who felt quite passionate about their personal pathway. In fact, everyone was pretty certain that their way was best. Common throughout nearly all of them, though, was an eventual realization that they might not have all the answers. Perhaps all mommies are just doing their best, and what works best for their own family won’t work for the family next door.
I did want to specifically mention the most challenging essay for me to read. It caused me to put on my battle gear again for a brief moment. “On Being a Radical Feminist Stay-at-Home Mom” by Inda Schaenen was exactly what I expected the whole of this book to be. And, of course, since I tend to be overly ready to defend my working status, my blood pressure raised immediately upon reading the title. Even so, as I read through her point of view I remember specificially thinking, “Gee, even if I was a stay-at-home mom I still think I would feel pretty crummy about my parenting skills while reading this article.” One point that I take from her article is that while we often spend so much time contemplating what is best for the family, we are actually asking the wrong question. We should instead be asking what is best for the child.
I could go on…there were a million quotes I wanted to pull from this book. Instead of quoting the whole book here I’ll just recommend other mommies (both working and stay-at-home!) read it. I thought it was a great look at the realities of motherhood, the joy & frustration, and an eye-opening glimpse into how the other half lives. Since it’s a collection of essays, it’s easy to read one, put down the book, and come back to it later. The title is incredibly misleading and off-putting, but I guess a boring title like “Musings on Motherhood” wouldn’t have caught my attention, either.
I’ll indulge myself by concluding with a paraphrased passage from “Sharks and Jets” by Page Evans:
“You must feel guilty,” the stay-at-home mom sneers… “You must be so bored,” the working mom says. Bored. Guilty. Bored. Guilty. Pushing their strollers single file in the opposite direction, the stay-at-home moms and working moms pretend not to notice each other. Then, slowly, longingly, they look back. Because we all do, no matter what our choices. We question our decisions, our roles, our lives. Are we doing the right thing? Are we happy? Are our children happy?
Happy children. Isn’t this what we want, whether we’re working or not?