Monday, February 8, 2010

Choices vs. Fait Accompli

A recent article in the New York Times captured my attention, not only for its subject matter, but also for the comments that it drew.  In "How to Speak Nanny", Hilary Stout explored the uneasy relationships that exist between many working mothers and the women they hire to care for their children.

According to Stout:
Many mothers who employ nannies are actually overstretched working women, a number of whom (contrary to their professional personas) suffer from an inability to clearly express their expectations and demands to the people they pay to care for their children. The result is a peculiar passive-aggressive form of communication, a less-than-ideal dynamic between worker and boss.
The headline of the article initially drew me in, just as most things related to child-rearing and childcare do these days.  And it was not without a touch of envy that I embarked on the article, wishing that I could have a Mary Poppins of my very own to lend me a hand every once in awhile.

But it was the comments on the article that really got me.

An unedited sampling:
1. Why don't you raise your own kids ??..... Or maybe you should have thought about birth control if you really don't want children. Obviously the message is you can't or don't want to spend time with them.

2. The first paragraph sums up why our kids are so screwy, what was so important that the mother couldn't spend time with HER children? Why did she have children if she was going to hand them off to someone else?
The majority of the comments criticized or praised substantive parts of the article.  (For instance, many readers were disturbed by the fact that, although most of the women in the article were married, their partners were almost never mentioned; the childcare decision-making seemed to fall on them alone.)

But I was surprised by the number of people who used the occasion of this article to fire venom at the working mothers featured.  Granted, the professional women in the article did not always come off looking too impressive, but many responses used these women's moments of admitted weakness to suggest that they should not have had children in the first place.


Before I had kids, I thought I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.  And I am one.  I acknowledge the tremendous rewards I reap every day.  And I recognize how lucky I am to be in a financial situation in which my being at home works for my family. 


There are ways in which my choice wasn't exactly a choice: A move precipitated by Husband's job to an isolated location that makes my working outside the home in my chosen profession a virtual impossibility.  The fact that - even if there were a job to be had - we would pay almost the same in childcare as I would earn as a high school teacher.

And I have to wonder whether some of those angry commenters might feel their own lack of choices so viscerally that they lashed out at women who they perceive to have more or truer flexibility.  Commenters who don't acknowledge the ways in which the demands and realities of life can turn some alleged choices into fait accompli.

In dissecting these so-called "Mommy Wars" in her book Perfect Madness, Judith Warner writes:
I have by now talked to hundreds of women.  And what I see is that working and stay-at-home moms do what they do not so much by choice - by choosing from a series of options arrayed before them like cereals on a supermarket shelf - but out of a very immediate and pressing sense of personal necessity.  There are many aspects to that sense of necessity - money, status, ambition, the needs of the children and of the family as a whole - all of which play themselves out, in various ways, in individual women's lives.  And all of those aspects of personal necessity are part and parcel of the condition of motherhood - not external to it, not accessory to it, not a "selfish" deviation from it.  They grow naturally out of what women have done - and who they have been - throughout their lives.  So their paths as mothers are not so much "chosen" as devolved from who they are, who they've been, and what the material conditions of their families require.
I, for one, would like to move to a metaphysical place in which we stop wasting time on the divisions between stay-at-home mothers and working mothers and start focusing on the conditions that unite us.  On the language that connects us.  (Motherese, perhaps?)  On the ways in which all of our choices are limited.  On strategies to expand all of our options.

Elizabeth at Boy Crazy recently summarized this idea quite eloquently in a post about her first week back at work:
It's not often black and white.
We are more complicated than our choices.
More complex than our labels.
Here's to Elizabeth and to mothers everywhere.  Here's to arriving at a place in which we can acknowledge and honor complexity.  Where we call a truce in the "Mommy Wars."

If you are a parent, how did you arrive at your "choice" to or not to work outside of the home?  Does your reality match what you had planned before you had kids?  If you are not a parent, but hope to be, do you plan to work outside of the home?

Image: Christmas Party: 12/05/09 by Nathan Branch via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.


  1. This is an important piece of writing, Kristen. Not ony because I agree, as I believe few parenting "choices" are what they seem; they are often compromises at best, and sacrifices as we move along the spectrum toward circumstances that allow no maneuvering whatsoever. But because this should open dialog around the many ways there are to parent, and the need to help each other do so rather than judge.

    I worked full-time throughout my parenting because I wanted financial independence (should anything happen - ironic, now), and, because it took two incomes to pay for two boys. I "downgraded" my opportunities so that I could work and parent from home, but those opportunities are rare, and when mine disappeared in a corporate reorg, it was no longer something I could recreate except occasionally, as a contractor or freelancer.

    Were parenting truly the stuff of community, if we were a less mobile society and we all had large families ("the village") then some of animosity and frustration might be lessened. But we are not that society. So perhaps we might at least support each other, including dads who find themselves in the main parenting role. And we should do so regarding whatever choices or non-choices we are left with, in the best interest of our children and each other.ildren, and each other.

  2. The "mommy wars" annoy me to know end. I have done both - worked while my children were little and been a stay at home mom. Add to that the fact that I now am a work at home mom. I know the pros and cons to all three options and there are both to all three.

    I went back to work when my first child was 3 months old. We were buying a house. We were young. We needed the little income a retail manager made in 1985. I found a wonderful woman who watched my son at her home. She was a blessing to me.

    Because I had twins next and was on disability from week 26, I went back to work when the twins were eight weeks old. I was trying to breastfeed twins. I had a three year old at home also. I found a nanny, not a very good one as she took the baby monitor and went to the store leaving one of the twins napping. I traveled a lot with the job I had at that time. I went to Atlanta for a week for a training seminar with my breast pump in hand. It was not my favorite parenting experience. There was no choice, though, as I was the major bread winner at this point in time.

    What I will say is that a lot of emphasis is put on being home with your young children. I think, as a society, we need to realize that teenagers need their parents at home also. I discovered early on that if I was not there when the teens got off the school bus, I never got anything out of them that happened at school. I wanted to know about the bully and to know about the good times. Hence, I chose to pursue freelancing.

  3. I read (devoured, really) Judith Warner's Perfect Madness while I was on maternity leave with my first child. I walked away feeling like I knew all about the obstacles, the "problems", if you will, but had no ideas about possible solution. And for me personally, it seemed like there was no solution. I was in an all or nothing environment. If I didn't give every piece of myself to career (read--NO pumping at work, NO leaving by 6 to make the daycare pickup, NOTHING less than 80 hours, NO qualms about traveling two weeks out of every month), then I would lose all momentum and "success" as it had been defined. I felt like I HAD to choose between work and my child. Even though I kept working full time for a full year after returning to that job, I made my choice. It was my child. And my career suffered like I knew it would.
    I've heard so many women say, "You can have it all--just not all at the same time." And to some degree, I think that's true.
    But I like what Elizabeth said even better..."we are more complicated than our choices, more complex than our labels."
    I've always despised the Mommy Wars. There are horrible mothers who stay home (and should never have had children) and there are wonderful mothers who work full time (my OB, Pediatrician & Primary Care doctors are all mothers, WONDERFUL mothers, and I'd be so sad if they chose to abandon their careers!)
    Yikes. Longest. Comment. Ever. Apparently I could talk forever about this topic. Thanks for the forum to do so, Kristen!

  4. Kristen,
    I am also surprised at the anger and tension around this issue. I never really expected to be a stay-at-home mom, and I worked at a very conservative girls' private school for years. I broached this topic with them often, and most of them got very angry at the idea of the working mother. (Most of them had stay-at-hom moms well into college, and probably beyond.) One student asked, "Why have kids if you're not going to raise them?" At the time, I thought that seemed silly, because surely you're still raising your kids if you work. But during the months of isolation with my first child, I remember watching a working mother come home late each day, and I took comfort that at least I was "there" for my child, at least I wasn't missing anything. Now, I realize that I was just jealous and trying to make myself feel better.

    You can't have it all either way, unfortunately, but I think every family has to strike the right balance. That balance may be different depending on the day. Have you read Mommy Wars? It's a great book of essays that helped me a lot when I was trying to figure out whether I wanted to work or not. (And some degree of work is necessary for my family to stay afloat.) The only problem with that collection, though, is that all of the women seem to be "freelance writers." (Hey, can we bloggers use that term for ourselves?) Nice, isn't it, to work from home and choose your hours? But most of us who have to make this decision are not as lucky.

    Another really interesting and provocative piece about this issue is Linda Hirshman's article, "Homeward Bound," written in 2005 ( She basically says that by staying home, we're hurting women's place in society. While I don't agree with her totally, she has some valid points.

    A lot of us bloggers are talking about categories lately. Just because we're "grown-ups" doesn't mean we've figured it all out, huh? It was nice as a kid to think adults knew all the answers. Sometimes I wish for that innocence back. But one thing I have learned through being a parent is that there is no one right choice for any parent, couple, or kid. The judgment that we see so often on comment boards doesn't get us anywhere.

  5. I have always stayed at home, even when we lived below the poverty line whie my husband was in school and it was a choice we made. We were perfectly happy with that choice, too, despite any sacrafices we made. In fact I was a little bothered by the above quote because if you follow it through it seems nothing in life is an actual choice, but are devolved from who we are and who we've been. I beleive there are more choices in our life than that.

    That being said, I know there are people who cannot make the choices I have. It is not my place to judge what other people have chosen for I am not privy to their thought processes, circumstances, or paradigms, and I try not to judge other people's decisions (although I meet people from time to time that make that hard).

    I had always wanted to have a large family and being home was always important to me. I married a man who felt the same way so we made the choice long before we had children. We have always had a contingency plan, in case something happens, that would help ease me into the work force.

    I am reminded of a funny story I saw on some TV show. A supermodel mother was talking about her young children and said that, contrary to what she'd been told, motherhood hadn't changed her life much at all. "Just ask my nanny," she said in all seriousness.

  6. As I read this, particularly the comments that you quoted, my blood pressure started going through the roof. WHY ARE WOMEN SO EVIL TOWARD ONE ANOTHER?

    Women are critical enough of themselves--must we exacerbate things by turning on one another? It is the basest form of behavior.

    I agree with BLW. This is an important post. Thanks, Kristen.

  7. I agree, I agree ... hard to add to these eloquent comments and the even more impressive post. But: yes. I find the distinction that the press and media draw arbitrary and artificially black and white. Even so, there is, as you say, pure venom between women. I wonder if you are right about those who perceive no choice being angry at those who seem to have a "real" one. I do not know. In my professional life I have felt frequently looked down on for being part-time and for being a mother as equally as I am a Principal. In my personal life, I have not experienced anger and meanness, but I often feel like my friends (mostly stay-at-home moms) find me odd, inscrutable, hard to categorize.
    This lack of understanding is not malicious, honestly, but it does make me feel lonely and "other," and coupled with a lack of feeling like I belong in the professional world, leads to a sense of free floating in some kind of between place.
    Blabbing on and saying nothing. I'm sorry. But thank you for writing this.

  8. For years there has seemed to be a judgemental war going on between the stay at home and working moms. I know that while I stayed home, I often wanted to have a career, and with a career I was jealous of SAHM's. I think we all want what we can't have. As a current provider of young children, I find the biggest mistake (maybe not a mistake but an annoyance with me!) are parents who won't step up to their responsibities such as in teaching children boundaries or providing them with structure. It could be they are tired or guilty for being away from them. But I have a hard time when a parent says something like "oh I can't cut her toenails. She doesn't like it. Will you do it?" (Or "I can't tell him no, he'll hate me.") Seriously, I've had that request from different parents, and that's only one example. I want to tell them that if a child totally rules the house (I'm talking NO boundaries or corrections, and those parents do exist because they fear their children hating them!) at age two, they have no idea what this will lead them to be at sixteen.

  9. This was very thoughtfully written Kristen. I don't know what I can add to the comments above, really. I think we do have choices, but what is the correct choice for one isn't necessary what is right for the other.

    Although personally I think that it is worth pulling back and going without some things in order to stay home, it's not the same with everyone. I think that's what's best for kids. That said, though, I have no idea what is going on privately in the lives of other families, how they grew up, what the expectations are, and the struggles they face and the sacrifices required they may or may not be able to make.

    It's too easy to sit back and point fingers at other moms because they make a different decision than our own. Each family is unique, and as long as decisions are based within the context of the family's needs and not a selfish desire of an individual, we have no right to judge and every responsibility to be supportive. Once you make the decision to have children and be a family, the person you were before has to expand and change and make room for the family's needs, and sometimes the individual's own desires have to be put on hold. Sometimes it means leaving careers and becoming full-time moms, or working from home, and sometimes it is necessary to work. Any of those decisions can lead to well-adjusted kids, as long as it's done with a great deal of thought to the family as a whole.

    It's easy to stereotype: The stay at home mom, poor but loving and involved, scraping pennies together but managing for the children's sake and being a bit holier than thou because SHE made the choice to stay at home and make do for the kids while others don't, versus working the mom in a power suit and stilettos, leaving the kids in the care of another so she can keep her high powered career and enable exotic family vacations. In reality, of course, it's not like that. OK, maybe on television and in Hollywood, but in general? Nope. It's a lot more complex, and we had best erase the lines drawn and get down to supporting each other in our common goal of raising bright, happy children, or families, communities, and individuals will bear the consequences.

  10. HA! Just noticed the typos and unclear bits. Whaat? Ah well--my brain was going faster than my hands were typing, obviously.

  11. Tremendously important and topical piece, Kristen. In these wars - which, in my estimation, are going nowhere sadly - the vitriol and venom comes from our own resident uncertainties and regrets. We make our own decisions within the confines of our own idiosyncratic lives and then we question them and from the place of our own questioning, I think we tend to cast stones. At women who have made different decisions, ones which secretly seem attractive to us, or make us question our own parental paths.

    I am amazed and alarmed at the character and level of judgment between mothers. We are all just fumbling and stumbling through, doing the best we can, building imperfect lives on ever-imperfect decisions.

  12. Well, I'm sorry to say that the comments don't actually surprise me that much at all. Motherhood (and how to raise children) is possibly one of the most PERSONAL decisions any woman will make. The choice to have children or not. Then the choice how to arrange childcare. I think it comes from the fact that there is no one "right" or "perfect" decision, but in our efforts to rationalize our own decisions and make them feel "right", we degrade our fellow sisters. Unfortunate reality. Thanks for this piece.

  13. I always wanted to be a SAHM. Motherhood was my first choice of professions. Originally being married to the military facilitated that choice. Moving too often to establish a work history or living in the middle of no where made it an easy choice to be a SAHM.

    But then circumstances changed. We were in the civilian world. Then I was a single mom. I HAD to have a career. I HAD to be aggressive in a field dominated by men. I HAD to be economical.

    I was blessed to live within 2 miles of my parents. They provided before and after school care for my boys while I went through a divorce and worked 60 hrs/wk. The fortune they saved me in child care is minscule compared to the benefit we received. My parents and children have such a close relationship... even now as teenagers.

    I can't judge another mother's choices. She is the only one who knows what's best for her situation.

  14. I thank the gods this morning for this amazing group of wonderful and supportive women. With the snow falling outside and my life in a complicated rut its so good to check in here and find out there are lots of smart, creative women, just like me, who are questioning their choices every day and working towards whats best.

    I just know that we can't all be the same and that we need to show our children how to be happy and fulfilled in all aspects of our life. That is going to look very different for each woman. And on top of that, we have to parse the difficulties of reality and compromise while still maintaining balance. It is hard, but little by little I think we are all doing the right thing for our own families. Thank you for a very important and well written post.

  15. These New York Times' features often annoy me because they always focus on the white, upper-middle class (I have not read this one, but I can guess that they did not talk to any women who leave their kids with a neighbor or at daycare or at home alone in order to go work at the 7-11 or as a janitor or maid or nanny). But in any case, the comments quoted above make me nauseated. Really? We can sit on our perches of privilege and judge whether or not someone else should even have children based on their decision to work outside the home? As if the hours in the morning feeding them and preparing them for the day, the heart-wrench of dropping them off where/when they don't want to go (or, almost worse, when they run off without a backward glance), the struggle of squeezing homework and dinner and baths and pajamas into the too-few hours between the commute and a decent bedtime, lying in bed at night with them, reading or telling stories when you are too tired to keep your eyes open, but still need to wash dishes, prepare for tomorrow, do yoga or just have a minute to yourself, the weekends spent squeezing seven days' worth of housework into two, plus playdates and family obligations and getting outside and lying on the floor cutting out Valentine's or building Lego structures, or sledding on the hill outside, the middles-of-the night holding sick kids over the toilet, nursing hungry babies, letting four-year-olds who are cold or scared into your bed, the school concerts and parent-teacher conferences, the long hours sitting in a school gym, trying (again!) to get a budget passed so your kids' school can stay a school and not be turned into a work camp. None of this counts for anything? And should men also stay home full time or be considered unfit parents? Are the people who believe everyone should stay home 24/7 with their kids out there fighting for health insurance for all? For living wages so both partners don't need to work? For paid maternity leave? For good schools, after school programs and early learning opportunities?

  16. Oh, and as if my first comment wasn't long enough, I forgot to answer your questions. I took a year off when my first son was born (VERY lucky, I know, to have a job that allows one year of unpaid leave, and you keep your health insurance), then went back to work 3 days/week (at the time my husband was an underpaid employee of a non-profit with no benefits; he has since gone on to start his own business--with no benefits; I can't imagine living without health insurance...just being pregnant with twins--which I was--would have bankrupted us several times over); took another year off when the twins were born; went back 3 days/week and just recently started working full-time (twins are now 4.5 years old). Despite the fact that our weeks are so much longer, and we're all so much more exhausted at the end of the week, we're all a lot happier because Mama is happier in her work (as the saying goes, when Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy). So to evaluate the relative merits of working outside the home or staying home (on top of the practical realities of survival--and to suggest that people who need to work to live should not have kids is just a little too much social Darwinism for me to stomach), you have to measure how much satisfaction Mom takes from each and how happy that makes her (and thus the rest of the family). Choices? Perhaps. But those choices are driven by economic realities and the fact that this country provides nothing in terms of health care, social security or any other safety net to its citizens.

  17. Wonderful Post! I agree with you 100% with your statement, "I, for one, would like to move to a metaphysical place in which we stop wasting time on the divisions between stay-at-home mothers and working mothers and start focusing on the conditions that unite us."

    I spent years working as a nanny before I was married and most of the mothers I worked for adored their children and spent every second they were not working with them, but there were the mothers who didn't spend anytime with their children but that was the exception, not the rule.

    For me I am so incredibly blessed to have the choice to stay home and so I do but in all honesty even with my husband's job if I had been in a career/job I loved when my daughter was born I may not have made the same choice.

  18. As I read the comments on the Times article, I immediately wondered: would they makes such comments about working fathers?

  19. Kristen, people who comment on hot topics such as this are generally those who wish to lash out. B often looks at the comments for our local news source and is outraged by the blatant prejudice and bigotry.

    I am sad about extreme opinions such as these expressed. It seems more important, to me, that we support each other in our decisions. I could name many mothers who find nannies to watch their children while they are home watching TV. Working moms are not the only utilizers of baby-sitters.

    Those comments, as B often states, just show ignorance.

  20. I could write an entire post on the whys and hows of my "choice" to be a SAHM. Suffice it to say I thought I wanted to be a working mom, my kids pointed me in another direction - and I'm so glad they did.

  21. I completely agree with you on this: "I, for one, would like to move to a metaphysical place in which we stop wasting time on the divisions between stay-at-home mothers and working mothers and start focusing on the conditions that unite us. On the language that connects us. (Motherese, perhaps?) On the ways in which all of our choices are limited. On strategies to expand all of our options."

    I've been extremely lucky in that I truly enjoy my work; the same one I've had since I wasn't a mommy yet. I have flexibility and get the fulfillment I crave. And I'd like to think that a miniscule part of my work is geared toward fighting for more choices and more opportunities for moms who work or don't; for women who are moms or not. Because one size doesn't fit all; any woman should know this, right?

  22. When I was pregnant with my son (now just over a year) I recorded an episode of Oprah. I'm not an Oprah watcher, but the ad for this one caught my attention. She interviewed a panel of mothers about their decisions regarding whether or not to continue working.

    For all their differences, the one thing they had in common was that they had each made the decision they felt was best for their family. They all put the children first. But what's best for the kids doesn't look the same in all situations.

    We all love our kids. Spending time and energy trying to prove it to each other is time and energy wasted. We should spend it proving it to the kids themselves.

  23. Kristen, thank you for bringing this up! This is something I feel very strongly about - these so-called Mommy wars. I hate how awful women can be to each other and I've always refused to be the judgmental bitch on the playground.

    **I make an exception for orange food. I think any mom who feeds her kid orange food needs to check herself (i.e. Doritos, Cheetos, orange pop)

    But back to business...I'm not proud of all my child care choices. Some were made by necessity. Instead of selecting a choice from several options, I chose what was left after so many options were removed.

    I'm very lucky now that I have a husband who is able to hold the home line of defense while I work at a job I love, while he goes to school to get a degree in a field he loves.

    Maybe when we have #5 it will be my turn to stay home :)

  24. I've never understood the alleged "mommy wars." I've been a working mother, I've been a part-time working mother and I've been a stay-at-home mother. At different times of my life, there were different possibilities open to me and sometimes, different things I was able to consider.

    Having been divorced before, I have to say that it was hard for me to let go of my job. I was used to thinking of it as one of my most valuable assets. The idea of entrusting my economic well-being to a husband - when I had been divorced before! - just didn't sit well. I felt that I needed to be self-supporting. After 11 years of marriage, and when my daughter was a year old, I was ready to go part-time, and then 3 years later, to quit.

    I know that I would've had to have loved my job a lot more than I did, and have needed that part-time pay more than we did, to make me willing to keep juggling all the things competing for my limited attention. That's not what worked then, but my life is fluid and changing - it may not be what works later on.

  25. Obviously quite a hot topic! I agree, we all have to come to what works in our lives, and it may not be a choice. I hate the judging part. Someone who loves their work should not have to give it up completely. And those who can and wish to stay home should have other things in their lives. Does motherhood require surrendering everything else significant in our lives? I sure hope not.
    Great post.

  26. The most frustrating thing to me is that no matter the article, the angle, those who chose differently always come flying out with torches. I so agree that we make the choices that work for our families, not the neighbors, not your inlaws, not even your sister. We make the choices that work for us.
    That should be the end of it. But it's the insecurities in our choices that seep out of our fingers into the comments of articles like you posted. We all second guess ourselves, who has time to second guess others at every chance they get?
    (I haven't read through all the comments, so I'm sorry if I'm being repetitive ;))

  27. I read that article, and I was almost too afraid to read the comments. I'm glad your post today, and the many responses to it, are a safe place to share thoughts.
    I'm a go-to-work mom because right now I need to be, but I'm also proud to work in education. I've always wanted to be at home with my children, but I never intended never to work. Our son was a delightful surprise, born so early in my career that I wasn't yet comfortable leaving work behind.
    I'm not happy leaving my boy behind every morning, but I am comfortable leaving him with my mother, whose parenting I trust and admire. They have a lovely time playing and learning together.
    I'm happy knowing that we've made the most of a situation that was difficult for us. I'm confident that it wouldn't have been smarter to make our young household a hardship.
    Truce it is!

  28. Your post, and the articles you reference, highlight to me another form of girl on girl or woman on woman crime. It starts with badmouthing each other to our friends, then stealing one another's boyfriends, than not supporting each other at work and calling the female boss a bitch. When are we going to start supporting each other?

  29. This post really has me thinking. I made a really important decision when my children were born--I made the decision to hire someone to help me with my babies. I still worked but I had my own hours so I really could have elected to do without. But I pulled my pennies together and hired a young woman. We were living in New York at the time and I had to care for a mother with Alzheimer's and I decided that I would be a better MOM if I had some help. We moved to California soon after and this wonderful young lady moved with us. Just today, she picked up my 13-year-old son from school with her own 7-year-old son because Tom and I were taking care of our sick 16-year-old. She did me a big favor. I would do the same for her.

    And the best part of this is that my two boys adore her. She doesn't work for us anymore BUT she will always be in our lives. I am so lucky I had her to help me with my boys. I am convinced it made me a better mother. Together with my hands on husband we raised our family. They say it takes a village and I believe it does!

  30. I worked part-time for 5 years in between being pregnant 3 times and having 4 children (2 of them are twins, hence the 3 pregnancies). I quit after baby #4 when I was physically exhausted from non-stop dashing.

    Now I'm still dashing, just putting that same energy back into the home and my own creative endeavors.

    But while I was a working mama, I found part-time employment a great middle land between full-time working mama friends and SAHM's. I never felt allegiance to either camp, but felt comfortable there all the same.

    I love my profession (Librarianship) and will return to it some day. In the mean time, I am a SAHM and savor it as much as I can. Late night chocolate dosing helps.

  31. I never planned to be a SAHM, I have an MBA and had a good career in a field very important to me. I managed an environmental laboratory staffed with many working mothers, and watched them struggle with patchwork childcare for sick days, school holidays. Until I birthed my first child, I had NO idea what parental guilt entailed, and realized that I had a bitchy, judgemental streak as a boss. I got better once I realized how difficult working mom's jobs really are, but I also struggled as a manager to keep my business staffed and productivity up. Working moms were my best employees, by far, with the exception of unplanned absensed due to sick kids.
    My husband left his job to start his own company, we lived half a country away from family who could help with childcare, and my maternity leave lasted 8 weeks, so I turned to franchised day care for my son. I nearly went insane, as he contracted every illness imaginable, sported bite marks from the older children and became increasingly introverted as he got older. It was a nightmare, and I went through 3 childcare places before I found one that made us both feel safe. Add in an emotional miscarriage, the corporate choice to close my division and another successful pregnancy, and I said farewell to my career. I was certain I would be a great mom, and would be infinitely happier than a career mom with guilt. Well, yes, and no.
    I wouldn't trade my time with my kids for anything, and I wish I had the baby years back with my son, who now 15, still bears scarred ear tubes from constant illness and chronic ear infections. I turned my energy toward educational adventures, creative play, reading, play dates and healthy cooking. When both kids were in public school, I turned that energy toward compulsive PTO volunteering and charity work. And now, the proud parent of two teenagers, I find myself floundering, able to do my tedious chores in my sleep, struggling to fight off brain atrophy, and wondering what I will ever do with myself again, besides blog too much. I can't return to my old career, as I am obsolete now, and it's just as well, since it is a male dominated cutthroat industry and I can no longer play politics or hold my tongue.
    To answer your question, this is not what I had planned, to stay at home and walk away from my career. But parenthood is not what I had planned either. I had no idea how fiercely I would love them, how much I would worry about them and their safety and their health, and no idea at all how hard it is to lose yourself to your family. I'm not complaining, I know how lucky I am to have a husband support us, a loving family and the gift of time with my kids. But. There is a part of me that wonders what if, and what next. I'm grateful I found A Perfect Madness a few years ago, I read and celebrated every word, and took pages of notes to remind myself not to go crazy trying to be perfect in this perfectly crazy world. The working mom vs. SAHM mom debate does not make sense to me, as so many women have little or no choice in the matter, thanks to our lack of social services or support for mothers. When I was a working mom, it was a financial necessity, as I carried the insurance benefits and supported us through my husband's building years. Those years of leaving my baby with other people were emotional torture, and I dreamed of idyllic days at home, being the best mommy ever. I had no idea how much harder this job is - the relentless hours, the loss of financial independence, the withering sense of self worth, the struggle to hold on to a piece of myself. I would not trade my choice, but I wish I had thought ahead to a back up career, something part time, that lets me have all school holidays off and be here when the bus gets home. They may be teenagers, but they still need a mom to talk to at the end of the day. I'm still working on that plan, I'll let you know if I figure anything out. Thanks for letting me babble.
    Thanks for such a thought provoking, timely post.

  32. Late (as usual these days) but wanted to say two things that may not seem to make sense when put together (but oh well):

    Thanks for writing this


    I am so very exhausted by this subject matter. It is a personal choice. Sometimes a choice, sometimes NOT a choice. Defined by our past and our vision of the future. Defined by our values and morals and dedication to one thing or another, our comfortatbility with sacrifice--and what we choose to sacrifice.

    I don't need to attack another woman for the roles she chooses to play. I don't have the time or the energy to judge another mother. I can barely manage my own life playing all the roles and wearing all the hats.

    I think it's an oxymoron to have Mommy and Wars in the same sentence, let lone the same phrase. Doesn't it go against everything that "mother" represents.

    That said, you write so clear and thoughtfully, Kristen. As always.

  33. Wow, Kristen, judging by the number of comments you received on this post, I'd say you hit a nerve! And, I think you hit on a really brilliant idea; one of speaking the common language of "motherese." Hmm, new organizing theme for your blog?! As a non-mom, I'm not sure how much I have to offer to this discussion, although I can say that I've seen this play out between friends. And if sociology has taught us anything, it's that there's always more within-group than between-group differences, whether we're talking about race relations or mothering. Well done!

  34. Love the way you bring "Motherese" into the vocab of this post!

    This is such a convoluted issue, there is no black and white, only gray. I am a SAHM and have been since my oldest was born. It wasn't what I had planned, I was hoping to at least work part time. That dream ended when I announced my pregnancy to my boss, who said "Congratulations, but don't think you can work part time, we've tried that with other moms and it didn't work." Because I knew I didn't want to work full time, from that day I became an all-out SAHM. I was sad, because I knew part of my identity was taken from me. I suppose I could have just found a different career, but this was the one I had worked so hard for. If I couldn't have it, then I wanted nothing else.

    Eight years later, I can't imagine what it would be like to go back to work just yet. I had assumed that once my kids were in school full-time, it would be easy to go back to my career. Except now my kids are busy and I am more involved in their daily activities now than I had ever expected. I now see that being here for them at this age has an even bigger impact than when they were babies. Even though I see this, I still struggle with the Mommywars. I have a hard enough time deciding for myself what is right, let alone getting involved in other moms deciding things for each other.

    Love reading posts like this!

  35. I came through They Call Me Jane.
    This is a great post. It makes me so upset that women are so judgemental of one another. I've read hateful comments from SAHMs about working moms, and I've read hateful comments of working moms about SAHMs. It's horrible. We're all trying to do what is right for ourselves and our familes. We should work together to see that there are great daycares for all children, great education for all children, great healthcare for all children, ect. Instead we are forced into this "war." It's nice to hear other people aren't apart of it too.

    Oh, I guess I should mention I'm a stay-at-home mom for now. But when my boys are in school, I would like to get my own career. Which leads me to a forgotten point, I read in an article somewhere, that most moms usually do both stay-at-home and work during their motherhoods. Mine did.

  36. Came here via Jane's post as well. Thank you for this well-thought-out and even-handed article on the "mommy war". I was on iVillage in 1998 when my first child was born, and I soon retreated because of the periodical breakout of mommy wars in which both camps attacked each other maliciously. I appreciate your looking from both perspectives and esp. the effort to try and recast the question from "SAHM vs Working mom" to How sometimes the choices we made are not really choices at all. Based on the length of the comments already here, this is an asking that resonates with many of us.

    The name of my blog is called "The Absence of Alternatives" I think that about summed up how I feel the path I have taken... I am a working mom that commutes downtown every day and I also travel a lot since my company is headquartered on the East Coast. My husband travels 50% of the time... I hate my job. I wanted to "do theatre". I actually have a PhD in theatre/performance studies which I have never had the chance to captalize on. But once you have kids, you have something called "responsibilities". Since my job provides financial stabilities including health insurance, I feel "trapped". I feel my soul slowly dying inside me to the point sometimes I wish I were hit by a bus so I could "legimately" quit my job. Sorry for the long comment. I don't know why I can't bring myself to talk about these things on my own blog yet I am here blabbering about it... Anyway, once again, thank you.

  37. Very well put! I treasure every moment I have with my daughter, but I do enjoy my other job as well. I am in awe of those moms (and dads) who wake up every morning ready to take on the day and their kids and I'm in awe of those parents who are confident in their decisions to maintain a professional life. I'm not sure which camp I belong in, but I'd like to believe I have a foot strongly placed in both. I actually wrote a post about the struggles of leaving my daughter in daycare, but never posted it. This inspires me to dig it out of the archives and publish. Thank you for sharing this!


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