The New Mommy Wars: I Work. You Stay at Home. And Why We Should Care.

We're In This Together
We’re In This Together

Before I launch into this, I want to say that I think both camps- the Working Mom camp and the Stay-at-Home Mom camp- get defensive because we love our kids, and there is nothing more outrageous than someone suggesting we are doing this, our most treasured and important task, the wrong way. This back-and-forth between us brings out a tribal fury, even though I honestly think neither party actually cares or thinks the other is doing it wrong. With that said…

We need to care and think about what the other is doing.

Not to judge, not to be mean, but because it matters for our daughters, and if it matters for our daughters, it also matters for our sons.

I’m not going to distill this down to “everyone gets to choose what’s right for them”, because while true, it’s deeper than that. This “I’m okay, you’re okay” or “I don’t care what you do” passive aggression has to stop, and these conversations need to be about what kind of climate we are creating for our daughters. Are we creating one where they can freely choose their own path? Or will we pass our wars onto them?

I always knew I wanted to work because I’ve always found a lot of meaning in the work I do. Through all of my history of working, my choosing a career, pursuing that career and my degrees- I never, ever considered wanting to work as a bad thing, and I certainly never thought these ambitions would exclude me from motherhood.

I don’t know where I missed the memo: but apparently some people think working and loving your children are mutually exclusive. And some publications think these thoughts need to be shared.

But, we know that’s not true. I know it’s not true, you know it’s not true. And there’s been a big backlash, all around – and an even stronger push to end the “Mommy Wars.”

But I don’t think we should. I think “Mommy Wars” needs to mean something different. Not a war against each other, but for each other. Before I go on, I want to clear up what I think are some misconceptions in the current discourse:

On the Stay-at-Home Privilege

When I hear about Stay-at-Home Moms being “privileged”, I think about the social construct of privilege that allows you to stay home – not that having a mother is a non-essential, but that having a job is a non-essential. Not every family is able to survive on one income, no matter how much they cut back. I think the term “privilege” refers to the fact that if staying at home is an option, it’s a largely middle-class one.

So. With that said, staying at home with your children is NOT a privilege someone is granting you. These are YOUR KIDS, this is your right, and how dare anyone make any kind of claim that this is something society/someone/anyone lets you do.

Also remember that sometimes being a Stay-at-Home mom is not a choice at all. Sometimes you have a Masters degree, have worked to build a career for ten years, still don’t get paid as much as men in your field, can’t justify childcare, and have to quit your job.

And this is where I need to bring up feminism.

On Feminism and Motherhood

I just came across this beautiful post in which the author is wishing that her daughter have the choice to stay at home or work, among a couple other really important things. I find it tragic when women denounce feminism because it’s still really relevant to us, and here’s why:

(I apologize for the simplicity here, but to really dive into this would take forever)

  • There have been multiple waves of feminism. The first got us the right to vote. The second gave us the right to work. Third-wave feminism focused on LGBTQ issues and women who belong to minority groups.
  • Before second-wave feminism, women had a role. And that was it. Forget any other ambitions (see: “What We Can Learn From Betty Draper“.)
  • If you chose to be a Stay-at-Home Mom, second wave feminism is what made that a choice. Before that, it wasn’t a choice. It was simply our role. Feminism is what gave us the option to leave the kitchen and enter the workforce, and is still fighting for us, women, to get equal wages to our male counterparts.
  • If you chose to be a Working Mom, you know how hard it is to balance working and childcare and marriage and quality time – what it feels likes to downplay your kids at your job so you don’t seem too distracted or emotional, and then downplaying your job to other moms so you don’t seem to overwhelmed (I’ve never accomplished this) or… selfish. We need feminism because we need laws that will protect our jobs should we have to take extended leave because one of the babies is sick. We need protected leave to have those babies in the first place. We need laws protecting us from pregnancy discrimination, and within our jobs so we aren’t considered “maternal risks” (see: “The Unofficial Rules of Job Hunting While You’re Pregnant.”)

We need feminism to continue to fight for equal pay so we don’t have to quit our jobs because we can’t afford childcare.

On the Legacy We Are Leaving Our Children

We need to care what the other side is doing. We need to keep talking to each other, about each other, and examining where we stand as women. I hope this post fires you up because this is so much bigger than what the “Mommy Wars” have been made out to be. There are some serious issues that affect not only us, but our kids, that have been dwindled down to make us look like a bunch of catty, stupid women arguing over who has it harder (or easier, or better, or is doing it right or wrong) in the modern-day-Colliseum of the internet.

We look like fools, y’all.

At the end of the day, we need to be fighting against THAT, not each other. We need to keep fighting for a better world where this public bickering doesn’t exist because we won for our daughters the actual right to choose their own paths, without being shamed for it.

So the next time you want to get angry at the other side (whatever that means in our world of motherhood…natural birth vs. epidural, home birth vs. hospital, breastfeeding vs. formula, nanny vs. daycare, staying-at-home vs. working, whatever…) think of your baby girl growing up wanting to be on the other side. I work because I love it. But Ivy? What if she wants to stay home and is privileged enough to do so (I hope she is). Then I want that for her, and I’ll be damned if anyone – looking at you, Huffington Post editorials – will shame her for that.

If she wants to have passions outside of the home, she gets to pursue them without getting the message that she’s selfish. If she wants to stay at home (and is able to do so) she gets to without feeling stigmatized. She gets to grow up believing that she can be whatever she wants to be, and then she gets to be that thing without feeling guilty.

Whatever this is – a new kind of Mommy War or whatever – it isn’t just about me telling the social media-sphere to back off and let me work and parent, and telling you to live-and-let-live. It’s me telling you, Stay-at-Home-Mom, that your choice to stay home is IMPORTANT to me because maybe my daughter wants stay home someday, and you’re fighting to keep that dignity alive. It’s me applauding my fellow working moms because we are fighting to keep our place in the working world, and in motherhood.

And also I care because you’re moms, and I am a mom, and it’s hard no matter what we do because these are things we face because we’re women. We’re all women who are mothers, and what affects one of us affects all of us.

The world is yours, brave girl.
The world is yours, brave girl.

So I don’t think we need to end the Mommy Wars. I think we just need to change the definition. It’s a different war we are waging, against a new opponent. We have to stop being made the subject of this demeaning, public mockery of our choices. We have to keep this conversation alive and real, and focused on the rights we want for our little girls who have their own ambitions, ones that may be separate from the lives we lead ourselves.

And even if you don’t have daughters: this matters to you because you have sons who will also live in the society we are trying to shape.

And our babies… they will need help, like we all have. And I will vote and post and blog and do whatever it is I have to do to help be a part of the voice that ensures the protections that first, second, and third wave feminism have won for us do not fade away… not legally, and not socially.

We have to keep fighting, Mamas. Not against each other, for each other.