Home > motherhood > The Mommy Wars, yet another installment

The Mommy Wars, yet another installment

I belong to a mailing list for moms in my town. It’s interesting because the group is based on only three factors — motherhood, internet access, and geography. And since we’re in a town that’s in what the city planners call “transition,” we get all kinds. Blue collar, white collar, pink collar, rich, poor, white, black, brown, biracial, multiracial, republican (well, not so many, it is Camberville, after all), socialist, all religions, etc. etc.

So I was interested when a woman posted last week about the fact that she keeps getting gruff from people now that she’s back to work. She listed her reasons for working and her tone was somewhat desperatly frantic for everyone to reassure her.

The post has PILES of responses, way more than the usual post. It’s more interesting, certainly, than the usual “my baby’s poop is a funny color, help!” post, but I think it’s also tapped a deep-seated vein of anxiety. Certain, if the column inches expended on the issue are any indication, the “mommy wars” are something that’s really affecting all of us.

My response was as reassuring as everyone elses post, even though I’m a stay at home mom. I did, however, include a note about the amount of gruff that SAHM’s get. I did that partially to let her know that there is no one right decision, that she’s going to get shit no matter what she does. I also did it because, as a SAHM, I’m a little sick of the fact that working moms seem to think that they have the market on hair rending.

Clearly, since I’m a SAHM, I think it’s the right decision. Certainly the right decision for me and my family. I understadn taht for others it’s not as much a decision as it is a necessity. I also think that the people who are doing ti because they “need the money” could often live on a lot less, if they just let themselves. If I hear one more person say she needs to go on vacation to California, and then complain about being broke, I may scream. Ditto people who have fifteen cashmere sweaters or a brand-new car every three years or eat those prepackaged meals from Trader Joe’s or 25 pairs of shoes or a big-screen TV or those hugely expensive Ugg boots or….

You get my point, I hope. But I digress. 

I got a note from one of the playground moms I know — just a nodding, “hi, how are you?” kind of acquaintence — saying taht she appreciated my words and that she too gets crap about being a SAHM and how those of us doing piddly little joblets on the side get no respect. How we’re either ignored or held up as a paragon of virtue without actually anyone thinking about us.

I’ve been thinking about the outpouring of response on both side. (A dad even weighed in, which was interesting because he complained aobut all those thing Betty Friedman complained about back in the day, though he seemed to think they were some major revelation!) And I’ve been thinking about the studies that say that women in conservative households where they grow up with no expectation of being anything other than a SAHM are the ones who are happiest as a SAHM. Orthodox Jews, for instance, or devout Christians, or Japanese women of a certain age.

And I think, “Wow, that’s depressing. Education and independent thought really do spoil women for motherhood.”

And then I slap myself silly because I’m making the wrong assumptions.

I’ve thought a lot about it and I think that those women are happiest because they have the support of their community! Conservative women tend to live in conservative and homogeneous communities. That means that the women have an expectation and so do the members of the community. The community supports them with innate infrastructure and assumptions, reassures them, teaches them how to be SAHMs, offers advice and a welcoming atmosphere.

And any woman who feels that this is restrictive leaves.

And I realize that this may be obvious as hell to everyone else, but it’s sort of amazing to me that we have this collective motherload of mother guilt and anxiety simply because we don’t have any support networks, no social infrastructure, for working moms or for stay-at-home moms or for any kind of mom, really. We’re all out here, alone, reinventing the wheel with each kid.

And we’re DESPERATE for help, connection, communication. Look at the plethora of mommy blogs (this one included), books about motherhood, parenthood. Fuck a duck, look at “SuperNanny.” Which, as it turns out, is a real show and not a joke my sister-in-law was playing on me. Look at places like “Isis Maternity”. Look at the proliferation of playgroups, new moms groups, etc. And, of course, those are useful. We’re creating our own ad-hoc motherhood support network. But really, most of us need that support, that education, before we have kids. 

And, while we’re all bonding with each other, we need to remember that frankly, we’re all rank amatuers. We’re also all busy as hell, exhausted, emotional, overwrought, and swimming against a tide. We need more than that. We need older women (and men!) to help. We need societal support. We need understanding from others, and gracious help. 

The mom I know who is the absolute happiest as a mother is the only mom I know who has a really tight relationship with her mom, who was, in turn, a good mom. She learned a lot about how to be a parent from her mom, her mom helps out when she needs it. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s got tons of money. 

Alas, we don’t all have that. In fact, most of us don’t have that. And … here’s what kills me … I don’t know how to MAKE that. Clearly the governmental programs and medical groups aren’t what we need. I think some church groups may have that, but I’m not a member of an organized church. Most people I know aren’t. (That’s Camberville for you.)

This is kinda ranty and not at all sensible. I’m sorry. But it’s frustrating as hell.

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Categories: motherhood
  1. elcynae
    November 3, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    I know that this is a problem, and I don’t know what to do about it… but here’s a random thought:

    Your daughter could have that support. The daughters of all these women trying to find support groups… they could all have the support of their moms, and the support of the other children who grew up with this as a real option.

    It may not help you much, but I think it’s a reason for hope. 🙂

  2. November 4, 2008 at 5:57 am

    many women i know work for that wonderful peripheral of employment: medical insurance. my ex and i are BOTH self-employed. our medical insurance runs $9,000 a year PLUS a $3,000 deductible, only part of this is tax deductible.
    as for the assumption that orthodox jewish women don’t work, well, every orthodox woman i’ve ever known has worked either outside the home or from the home. and yes, i am talking women UNDER the age of 30, with 3 or 4 or 5 kids. yes they have community support. yes they have family support. but that is child care and helping out, these women still have to pay the mortgage and buy food, and one income does NOT do it.
    all the devout christian women i know are avid volunteers in their kids’ schools (work in lieu of tuition) or at their church.
    i don’t know anyone who works so they can afford trips to the bahamas or wherever. as for living on less-well, i’ve been food-stamp eligible but was denied because in nyc if you own a home you are automatically disqualified. even if the home is in foreclosure, even if you’ve filed for bankruptcy.
    as a matter of fact, the only persons i know who could have lived on less were the SAHM moms married to dentists, doctors, and investment counselors, but they didn’t have to.
    i’ve been a SAHM mom and i’ve been a working outside the home mom and i’ve been a SAHM with a home practice. so i’ve seen EVERY side of it. they all suck. and every group seems to think they know it all and are righteous. puh-leze.
    every person does what they need to do.
    nobody has enough time or enough money or enough support.

    face it: no matter what you do, someone will tell you that you are wrong. forget it and move on with your life. and stop thinking it is greener on the other side of the fence.

  3. K
    November 4, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    I liked your rant. I don’t know if I have a lot useful comments to add, but I just wanted to say that I have had a lot of the same thougths. Without a doubt, it’s damned if you, damned if you don’t for moms in our society. There is no cultural blueprint of how to “be a good mom” for us to follow. I try to think of it as a good thing – we aren’t forced down any one path, so we get to make it up for ourselves. As an aside – I love my mommy friends and would go absolutely insane without them.

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