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Sunday, 13 December 2015

The Mom Wars Revisited: The Choices We Make

A conversation in a group of working moms from a recent party:

One mom says, "Oh, Gosh, those housewives. I swear, they have nothing better to do. They love creating more unnecessary work for working moms. They always want to organize more volunteer events at school, more class parties, more social events, more playdates. I can't stand it!"
The other working moms in the group laughed and commiserated about how they have so much to do at work and so little time or patience for stay-at-home moms. I found myself laughing at this mom's outrage, despite my own appreciation for all the volunteer work that so many class moms do. Truth be told, I often find myself scrambling to keep up with the moms who are very involved at school, and my kids keep complaining that I don't volunteer in their classrooms.

And another conversation with a friend of mine, a stay-at-home-mom with two kids.

My friend says, "I love having time with my own kids. This time when they're young is so precious, and it's so fulfilling to be able to be there for them and raise them well. I really don't know how XXX, (a working mom with long hours and a job that includes travel) does it. I would find it so difficult if I had so little time with my kids." I nodded - honestly, I would also find a job with really long hours and lots of travel very challenging. In fact, I often find it challenging to balance parenting with my own job, which has decent hours and no travel.

I've thought a lot about the dilemmas that mothers in busy urban centers contend with. If they stay-at-home with their kids, they risk feeling undervalued, dependent, and marginalized by their peers  and their spouses who work. They may feel as though they lack intellectual stimulation, and they may begin to lose confidence in their own abilities. Their world may shrink, in some sense of the word.

On the other hand, if they work full-time, they spend much less time with their own children, and they risk feeling guilty about the costs to their kids. Particularly if the kids are struggling in some way -- either emotionally, behaviorally, or academically. The fact of the matter is that kids do benefit from time with their parents, and whether we want to admit it or not, children -- infants, toddlers, young kids and even teens -- need large chunks of time with their mothers.

So what's a mom to do?

The fact of the matter is that there are very real costs to whatever decision a woman makes when she has kids. And at present, society exacerbates and intensifies these dilemmas in the following ways:

- It undervalues caregiving roles, which tend to be private and non self-promotional -- so women (and men) who spend their lives caring for others are devalued and exploited.

- It overvalues "public" roles -- so men (and women) who work in the public realm get far more credit, praise, and positive reinforcement from society than those who don't.

- It doesn't expect dads to pull their weight on the home front, so overwhelmingly, working women still have to contend with the second shift, where they come home and immediately move into the mom role. Most of the working women I know, even the ones who are super successful, still end up being the primary parent-in-charge of things such as supervising homework and putting kids to bed. If the mom can't do it, then it's left to the nanny.

- It promotes the myth that the woman can do it all and no one will suffer - not the mom herself, not her kids, not her family. This just isn't true. Women who work full-time and take care of their kids feel chronically overwhelmed and exhausted, particularly when the kids are young. Furthermore, infants and toddlers and even older kids often suffer when their moms aren't around enough. They need "quantity time" together, not just occasional "quality time."

So can a mom do it all without any costs? Not really. Here's Anne-Marie Slaughter's wonderful essay on the myth of moms having it all.

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