A post from the trenches

Leslie Morgan Steiner, you are part of the problem. You just couldn’t resist that jab at the end, exposing yourself, for all your innocent questions, as one of the catty women who create the tension between SAHMS and working moms.

I’ve been thinking about the Mommy Wars since I found out I was pregnant the first time. I’ve written posts in my head since before I knew what blogging was. But the current dialogue is so insipid, so shallow, so lacking in any real analysis of the circumstances beyond the authors’ predictable diagnosis of the inherent cattiness of women, that it’s time to rant.

Maybe I haven’t been a mom long enough to have felt the tension, for the rage and resentment to calcify. The women I interact with all share the naked pain in our struggle: to work or not to work, to feel expert and successful whichever we choose, or have thrust upon us by circumstances. We sympathize with each other, knowing that the perfect balance is almost impossible to find, and that we don’t really, can’t totally understand what the other is going through.

(As far as I know) I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t want both, who wouldn’t love a challenging part-time gig that isn’t really 35+ hours for no benefits, or the wrong benefits, that really allows us to participate in a full day or two of weekday parenting plus an engaging and validating career. [And let's be real, the Mommy Wars are about those women who have the luxury of choosing a career over a job in the first place. The so-called war is as economically myopic as the former yuppies who coined the term.]

But for those of us fortunate to have established a career, the devil is in the details between the rewarding 50+ hour week and the often-numbing boredom of being at home with a child. Between the career track that can’t be interrupted (there are still industries and circumstances where a few years off can make an impossible difference in future opportunity) and the desire to see that first step, hear that first word. Between the gritty reality of paying the mortgage or not.

But most of us can’t will the perfect part-time gig that the women writing about the Mommy Wars seem able to achieve. Our modern economy doesn’t work that way.

And who ever said we were leaving the workforce, we SAHM’s? For many of us, this is a couple-year break, a negotiation with ourselves, and our partners, about how long makes sense, for our babies, for us and our professional and personal development, for us as a family. For us, it’s a giant leap of faith that in at least one way, the American job market is more flexible, that our break won’t force us to start over at Level 1, as many of our moms and aunts and cousins had to.

So what in Ms. Morgan Steiner’s article infuriated me enough to finally compose this rant?

"...in spite of the fact that I've crafted a pretty ideal work/family situation, at times I'm still envious of the trust stay-at-home moms seem to have in their husbands and in life, a breezy Carol Brady confidence that they will always be taken care of."

The woman’s a journalist, did she actually talk to any SAHM’s before she wrote this piece? Does she really believe that we don’t worry about this at least a billion times a week, usually in the middle of the night? And where does she see this breezy Carol Brady confidence? In our perfectly coifed hair, crumbs are the perfect product? In our cutting-edge fashions, raspberry stains are the new Prada? In the bags beneath our eyes that could hold diapering supplies? Because our kids wake at night, too, and since we’ve given up our jobs, we no longer have the luxury of the corner wash-and-fold, the nightly take-out.

This was my biggest concern by far when I thought about staying home with MZ. For almost a decade, R. and I have been partners, running alternating positions on the same turf. I have supported us while he followed a dream to start a company, he supported me while I struggled to find a job post-travel. But mostly we have both been 50+ hours/week professionals, driven to achieve in our respective fields, classic
DINKs who enjoyed skiing and travel and wine in our down time. Suddenly, all the pressure was going to be on R. He would have less flexibility than in the past, because there was no longer the two-income cushion we had enjoyed. I hated that and I still do. And I worry about the what-ifs. All the time.

I also worry about the effect of staying home on my psyche. I had worked long enough to develop expertise that was validated and rewarded nearly every day. Now I wonder what I’m an expert in. Certainly not parenting. I’d have to do this several more times to be an expert and that’s not in the cards for a variety of reasons. Right now I’m dithering through my days, certain I’m doing a fabulous job every time MZ utters a new word or takes a new challenge, convinced I’m f*king her up every time she screams incoherently on the changing table while I pin her down in an effort to diaper her, every time I hear another parent or caregiver turn every moment into a learning moment. I am so not at an expert at this.

And over the weekend, R’s cousin asked me what I was doing, when I plan to go back to work. His opinion was abundantly clear when he shared that he told his wife to go back to work weeks after their daughter was born, because she was becoming boring. On the one hand I think he never gave her a chance to find herself as a full-time mom, on the other I recognize my own social awkwardness in scenarios that used to be standard, and wonder if this lack of sophistication is perceived or actual, and how long it will last. Do not under pain of death answer that question.

I chose to stay at home, for a variety of complicated reasons. And once I got used to it, once I stopped trying to manage R. every time he was in the house, and stopped needing to put every freakin’ activity on a To Do list, from showers to naps 1, 2 and 3, so that I would feel I’d accomplished something that day, I found I enjoy it. I can’t see myself doing this for ever, heck, MZ won’t want me here 24/7 for ever, and she will benefit from a more structured environment with other kids, and from seeing me go to work, but right now, when I am there to see it the first time she pulls herself up on the bridge at the rec center and walks real steps, I wouldn’t trade this for the world.

And I have faith that when it’s time to return to work, someone will take me. That I took it for the team when I worked those 50+ hours, and will take it for the team again when I come back a step or two lower although a little less flexible about my hours, but still smart, professional, an asset. And a noncombatant in the Mommy Wars, because who would that help, anyway?


At 15.3.06, Blogger Roasted Squid said...

Love, love, LOVE this post. You go girl! I'll see what I can write on my blog from the other side... I just hope I can be as thoughtful and as well well written as yours!

At 17.3.06, Blogger The Big Pugawug said...

Well-put, BernalGirl. There were times, reading her article, where I thought she made some reasonable observations. But the superficial, catty sniping and stereotyping turned me off ... and then there was the "Carol Brady" remark. WTF?

You're not the only one who was put off by her generally offensive, shallow characterization of the Mommy Wars; see this excellent post from a GTWD (Go-to-Work-Dad):

At 20.3.06, Blogger Becky said...

For the record, Steiner is NOT a journalist. She's an ad exec. Shame on the Washington Post.


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