To be honest I don’t know too much about the “Mommy Wars,” at least not in the context of the sociocultural phenomenon. What I do know is that well-respected authors have written essays and books about the Mommy Wars, and in some of them they claim they’ve witnessed working mothers turn and walk away upon discovering that their conversation partners at a social event are stay-at-home mothers. According to these writers, many working mothers believe that stay-at-home mothers have nothing interesting to say beyond topics of breastfeeding, sleep and potty training, and summer reading (hee hee, I do enjoy talking about summer reading!). I’m not calling these authors liars, truly I’m not, but I can’t imagine these kinds of snubs happening here in Austin. In my opinion, the Austin culture is very family-friendly and isn’t inclined to judge, much less belittle women for their personal choices in how they raise their families. Perhaps if I lived in Washington D.C. or New York City as these authors do, I’d experience working mothers walk away from me regardless of the high caliber of my conversation. :) Even still, I’m doubtful, and I just can’t fathom why mothers, working or stay-at-home, would feel such an aversion towards one another for their choices. Working mothers are still mothers that feed and bathe their children and put them to sleep at the end of the day, and stay-at-home mothers are still people that have personalities and interests and opinions that transcend their roles as mothers.
Now I’m going to be candid about my own choices. I worked full-time before my kids came along, but when I was pregnant with my first I knew, I just knew, that I wanted to stay home with him, and with whoever came after him. I loved being a high school teacher but I felt that I belonged with my kids, and I have never regretted my choice. Anyone who has read my post The Days of Motherhood: Wanting to Feel Less Drained and More Joy knows that I do not romanticize the experience of being a stay-at-home mom. It is hard for me, but I believe that it is right for me and for my family. The truth is, sometimes I do wonder how full-time working mothers, especially those that work long hours, can stand to spend so much time away from their young children before their days are usurped by grade school, extra-curriculars, friends, and, well, everything else that eventually becomes more interesting than Mom and Dad. I wonder, but I make sure that I don’t judge, and if I slip up and start crossing that hazy line, well, I give myself a swift kick in the you-know-what. :) I know that I am not entitled to judge what is right or best for other mothers and their families; for goodness sake's, I can barely figure this out for my own! I really enjoy having both working and stay-at-home mom friends, and I love hearing and learning from all of their different perspectives and experiences. So I really can’t understand why other mothers would devalue relationships with moms that are doing it differently from them. Why are so many moms perfectly happy to keep on fighting the Mommy Wars? Why is this even a thing? You know, the more I think about it, and the more I think about my own experience, the more I believe that we’re not really fighting these wars with each other. Well, maybe we are on the surface, but I think the real war behind the Mommy Wars, the war that we can never withdraw from or win, is the one that all of us mothers are fighting with ourselves.
I think that one of the main reasons that we judge and criticize each other so harshly is because we judge and criticize ourselves so harshly. Are there actually working mothers out there who believe that stay-at-home mothers have absolutely nothing interesting to say? I suppose there are, but that’s probably accounted for by their own severe personality flaws. :) I for one have never doubted that a working mom can offer valuable insight about parenting or a stay-at-home mom can challenge my perspectives on gun control, global warming, and the presidential election. I have, however, at times felt that I don’t get to be anything or anyone but “Mommy,” at least while my kids are still young. I have felt frustrated that some evenings I don’t have the will or energy to read a novel, watch the news, or pick up the phone and call a long-distance friend. And then I’m tempted to envy my working mom friends who, in my overtired imagination, get to listen to NPR during their commutes and discuss world events over the water cooler and maybe even sneak in some online shopping under the cover of their cubicles. The reality for many of them, however, is that in actuality they’re frantically trying to plan dinner during their evening commutes, comparing childcare options over the water cooler, and anxiously researching developmental milestones between conference calls.
I think for many of us, judging other mothers’ choices is a means, however misguided, to defending our own choices, sometimes to ourselves and sometimes to others. At least that’s why I’m tempted to judge sometimes. As I’ve reiterated, I certainly struggle with certain aspects of being a stay-at-home mom, and sometimes I do wonder if I would be more content if I didn’t spend all of my time with my children and instead pursued professional goals. This wondering sometimes leads to self-doubt and twinges of envy of mothers who have chosen to be both mothers and professionals. Well, do you all remember what we girls did back in high school when we felt twinges of envy? That’s right, we talked smack! Not all of us, of course, but I’m sure we all knew girls who tore down other girls because they were jealous of them, and insecure about themselves. One of the aspects of motherhood that startled me the most was how it made me feel so insecure again. All of a sudden it was like I was in high school again and I was worrying intensely about everything I did and said, but this time it wasn’t my reputation that was at stake, but merely the mental, emotional, and physical condition of my children! Yeah, no biggie! Often I feel as if I’m not doing anything right as a mother, and I worry about the long-term repercussions of every little decision I make, including the frozen waffles I sometimes feed them for breakfast, however organic and non-GMO they may be. :) And while I’m serving my kids their organic, non-GMO frozen waffles I think about my neighbor, also a stay-at-home mom, who stove-cooks steel cut oats for her kids every morning and serves it with a dazzling array of fresh berries and homemade granola. And then I feel guilty, so guilty, after which I feel immense pressure to serve those same darned oats with that same darned berry buffet! This self-imposed pressure makes me resent my neighbor for making me feel like a lesser mom, and there you have it: I have taken up arms in the Mommy Wars! I consider myself open-minded and respectfully accepting of all choices and walks of life, yet I have just become another soldier in these battles when the truth, unbeknownst to me, is that my neighbor has nothing against frozen waffles. In fact she serves them on Sundays. :) I’m not fighting these battles with her and her choices, or with the working mom farther down the street and her choices. I’m fighting them with myself and my choices, my perfectionism (an unfortunately common condition in mothers), and my fear of screwing up my kids. These are all battles I can’t win. I can only surrender.
So let me wave my white flag. Let us all wave our white flags and surrender our fears of not being good enough and not doing enough as mothers. We are working hard and we are doing so much for our children. We are loving them and caring for them and cuddling them and educating them; all of us are supermoms and none of us is a supermom. We make every effort to provide our children with healthy mental and emotional lives; can’t we do the same for ourselves? If we stop judging and criticizing ourselves I bet that we’ll stop judging and criticizing each other, and then we can truly support each other in our motherhood journeys. After all, they don’t say “it takes a village” for nothing! Is this all much easier said than done? Oh heck yes; yes yes yes. Now that I’ve said it, I don’t even know where to begin! I guess I’ll begin with compassion, for myself and for every mother I see today, whether she’s in Starbucks, impeccably dressed, coiffed and manicured, or in the public library, unkempt and being trampled by her brood of hoodlums. :) I will not let myself look down at my own ragged fingernails and feel inferior to the Starbucks mom or glance at my well-behaved (for this second!) children and feel superior to the library mom. Instead I’ll offer smiles and waves and sincere help when called for. Well, it’s not a gigantic step forward, but I've got to start somewhere!