You know the “working mom” vs. “stay at home mom” debate? If not please tell me where you hang out, so I can hang out there too because, holy hell, am I sick of seeing this thing rehashed.
On the one hand there’s folks that advocate for Traditional Values, capital T, capital V. Women, being women, are meant to get married and have children. Moreover they’re meant to take on the role of nurturer and homemaker because God. Or science. Or nature. Or whatever. It’s way, way better for the kids if mom is the primary caregiver, so men: bring home the bacon and women: cook it. If only everyone wouldn’t insist on ruining things with their progressive nonsense.
Then there are the folks who are hell bent on the progressive nonsense. Not only *can* mothers work outside the home, but they *should* because being a stay at home mom is too limiting. You’re smart. You’re talented. You’re not just defined by your lady parts. Go forth into the world! Make your mark outside of your spouse and children! You are better than the drudgery of housework and isolation of constantly being around small children with no intellectual stimulation. Plus? Not being financially dependent on your spouse is key, given the divorce rate. So all of these Traditional Values folks need to wake up and smell the new millenium.
These are just opposite poles of a continuum; most folks define themselves as somewhere in the middle. But, as with most internet debates, it degenerates towards extremism rapidly.
It’s all very reasonable and civil until somebody says something like, “Kids do way worse when mom works outside the home. Why even have kids if you aren’t going to raise them yourself?” Then working moms (rightfully) get ticked.
Or somebody says, “Being a working mom means that you do everything a stay at home mom does, only you also have a job” and stay at home moms (rightfully) get ticked.
I don’t know how long that particular back and forth has been happening, but it’s definitely been in full swing throughout my time as a mom. The repetitiveness is annoying, but after a while it becomes white noise.
It’s the next part that is still capable of really irking me:
In swoops The Voice of Reason loudly calling for group hugs and respect for individual agency: “Now, now… Everybody’s different. Traditional Values may work for you Traditional Values folks, and more power to you. A more egalitarian set up may work for you more progressively minded folks and more power to you as well. We all make the choices that work best for our families.”
This is annoying for two reasons:
First, somebody always co-opts the “choice that works best for our family” sentiment to say something douchey like, “I choose to stay home with my children because I love them and want what’s best for them. But that’s just what works best for our family, so I’m not being judgmental jerk at all.” or “I work because I see myself as an adult who’s capable of something other than breeding and servitude. But that’s just what works best for our family, so I’m totally not shitting all over the value of caregiving.”
Ugh. No. If the rest of the stuff that you’re saying doesn’t match up with the “respecting” bit of the “respecting personal choice” rhetoric, then please don’t co-opt the rhetoric for cover. I believe the scientific term for that is “pulling a dick move.”
Second, and perhaps most, “we all make the choices that work best for our families” traps the conversation into a realm where it’s automatically assumed that all women have lots of choices. As if it’s a given that a woman can choose when and how to have children and then choose the circumstances under which she raises them. That statement may be true for some women, but I suspect for most it isn’t.
Some children are very much planned, some very much aren’t, and if you throw a baby into the mix unexpectedly, no one gets to pick exactly how that shakes out. A stable marriage and a white picket fence don’t magically show up. Neither does a rewarding career that allows you to return after maternity leave.
Even when the child, itself, is planned, only the very lucky get to pick and choose the circumstances in which they raise it. Supporting a family on only one income is tough. One parent staying home may never be an option in the first place. Equally, in a rough economy or a field where policies are distinctly un-parent friendly, having a full time job, much less a rewarding career, might be out of the question.
Throw in the enormous cost of quality childcare and life’s general unpredictability and you’re looking at some serious constraints.
It’s out of touch to say, “Good choice!” to a woman who wishes she could be a stay at home mom, but works two jobs because her husband is underemployed and there are bills to pay. It’s insulting to say, “I respect your right to do what works for your family!” to a woman who is a stay at home mom because she lost her job since it didn’t have maternity leave.
The “Stay at home mom” vs. “Working mom” debate needs a rest, sure. But so does the idea that that resolution to that debate involves patting each other on the head and saying we pick and choose how we want our lives as mothers to unfold.
I look at my friends and contemporaries and don’t see women opting out or leaning in. I see women who are doing the best they can with the options they’ve got.