Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Mommy Wars

A singleton friend of mine from DC just asked for my thoughts on the disunity ("bad blood") between stay-at-home moms (SHM) and working moms (WM). Since my writing time is strictly limited by the fact that, at the moment, I am SHM (will that change at all when I become a part-time WM?), I'll just share my response with y'all.

First, it's hard to quantify such a thing as "bad blood." I would say there's certainly tension, and where it shows up for me is... The Park. I'm usually at the park on weekday mornings with my girls, other little humanoids, and nannies. Endless streams of nannies. Life in the affluent suburbs is very 19th-century in that way.

But once in a while we go on a Saturday, when the park is filled with parents spending Quality Time with the same children I have seen all week with Nanny Jane. Then the tensions flare: "So, what do you do?" "I stay at home with the kids." "Oh." I can interpret the "Oh" either charitably or irritably, but in the end it always says, "Not much to talk about. "

There are circumstances when the mom must work, and here I see only sympathy from stay-at-home moms (SHM). The mother who must work is living our worst fear: that we won't be able to afford daily life with our own family.

Of course, when I hear a working mom (WM) regretfully informing me that she can't afford to stay home, when I just saw her park her BMW SUV... well, then my sympathy is strained. We make huge financial sacrifices in order to keep me at home--sometimes this is frustrating, sometimes is is a source of sinful pride, but in the end the sacrifice is made joyfully and with gratitude that God has given us fleshly hearts in place of stony hearts. There are a lot of stony hearts at The Park. (Lord, give me a heart of flesh!)

I think women in particular tend to live a sort of bi-polar existence, feeling intense superiority and intense inferiority at the same time. The SHM feels intensely superior that she has made the sacrifice to stay home; she feels inferior that she isn't "contributing" or can't show any awards, good grades, or financial pluses. And she often doesn't get to shower or get a haircut in a timely manner. Devastating at The Park.

The WM feels superior that she does contribute to society and her family's wealth; she feels inferior that she's not the one raising her kids on a day-to-day basis. My very presencea t the park passes a judgment on her: I believe it is worth living on financial pins and needles and giving up my career to be with my children. What does my lifestyle say about hers? And Americans hate even implicit judgment. (As my friend pointed out, add homeschooling to the mix and the tensions and polarity increase astronomically.)

Those are some observations. Clarity of thought is very difficult in these matters: our deepest convictions, prejudices, and all our burdens and gifts from our own childhoods come to the fore. Bad blood and polarization in the "mommy wars" arise, of course, only because of our dear old friend: original sin. We place ourselves on the defensive instead of listening to criticisms or the wounds of the "other side." All the mommies at The Park must find a way to desire true self-knowledge: why am I making the choices I make? From where do my resentments come? How can I be a better mother and--dare I say it--die more to myself so my children may truly live?


Christine said...

I'd say the "bad blood" happens because Americans are more fond of taking sides than of making distinctions...we're a people of action, not of philosophy. And so we want to divide all families into "families where both parents work" and "families where one parent stays at home," and say that one is always the Right Way To Do Things and the other is always the Wrong Way To Do Things. As usual, it's not that simple.

e said...

Ah, I love reading your junk. Maybe God took our one soul and divided up into two bodies?? mc=e[squared]
Although, after I'm done reading, I tend to feel like my brain is full of "molten hops and bong resin," compared to yours, even though I don't drink or smoke, (nor endorse those activities for anyone else!)
As quasi-SHM, I think we have desired and achieved a nice balance. I may only get my haircut twice a year, but I am quite proud of my children when I see their moral development at work and know that it's linked to a secure attachment to their mother.
I prefer the Greek Orthodox model of, from your own birth, your life being directed at raising your family. Once the children have left the home, you now direct your life towards a professional endeavor, contemplation, pilgrimage, or whatever floats your boat, including a shiny SUV that will actually STAY CLEAN.

Lola said...

Just wait until the Homeschooling vs Private School vs Public School debate rears it's ugly head in your life. Mommy wars are just a taste of what you will see...

As Christine stated, you will meet the most fabulous people, all who will have very definate ideas not only on the stay at home vs working mom, but how to raise your family.

TV or no TV. Catachism class vs home education for religious education.

But, right now in my life it's the school vs the homeschool crowd. And, I see much more sinful PRIDE in the homeschooling movement. MOST seem to be in the upper income socio-economic class. (And don't laugh, but many people the governement would deem rich in the black and white facts and figures will deny that they are rich. If you can have a large enough home, support, clothe and feed a family of four or more, and have a stay at home parent, by most standard you're rich.)

Now, I've opened a whole bunch of worms... And having said that, I do think the world of Homeschoolers and homeschooling. But, I have noticed a peculiar awful judgemental aspect to the movement.

And now that I've said my humble opinion, with no advice whatsovever, I have to compliment your fine blog. It was a nice visit.