by Mary Ann Romans
Originally appeared in Parents Express Magazine January 2006
Have you heard that working mothers neglect their children, raise children who are overly aggressive thanks to daycare, and contribute to global warming by driving to work when they should be home? Or really, stay-at-home mothers are lazy and uneducated, raise children who are not socialized, and negatively affect the economy by not working?
From television to the Internet, these are just some of the statements that can be heard in our modern society, uttered by self-proclaimed experts and moms alike. Although motherhood is fraught with cliques and camps based on parenting decisions: breast versus bottle, spanking or not, public, private or homeschooling, nothing seems to be more controversial that a mother’s decision to work or not to work. Welcome to the mommy wars.
Feeding the mommy wars
“I think there is a lot of hype [about the mommy wars] in the media, because it is easier for many reporters to report the same old story rather than promote what is good for mothers,” says Miraim Pesokwitz, a mother from Philadelphia who works outside the home, and the author of the best-selling book, The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, an examination of the topic based on research data and interviews with many mothers. “Instead of wondering why there are so many mothers are struggling with work issues, instead of looking at the reasons behind how hard it is, the media focuses on creating a controversy. It is so hard to get at the real problem and solve the real issues.”
Take for example, the recent Dr Phil show which divided the audience into two warring factions, working and non working mothers. Titled “Mom vs. Mom,” the show’s guests hurled inflammatory statements against each other with encouragement of the host who called it a “cat fight.” Mothers who earn money working at home or working part time were not represented in the episode. The show earned the first ever “Apple Pie in the Face Award” from Mothers and More, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of mothers through support, education and advocacy.
Anjali Enjeti-Sydow, co-leader, Mothers & More of Delaware County, Pa, also believes that media hype about the mommy wars is intended to divide mothers. “The media, in my opinion, has to shock, anger, or divide in order to attract attention. Motherhood has become a prime target recently.” Although Enjeti-Sydow has been a working mother, currently she does not work outside the home. When it comes to mothers being pitted against each other, she says, “It doesn’t help that every few minutes the media flashes a study that concludes that the way mothers currently do X, will negatively affect their children for the rest of their lives!”
Jen Singer, is an “at-home” from New Jersey. She is also the creator of http://www.MommaSaid.net, a website for stay at home mothers and the author of “14 Hours ‘Til Bedtime,” a humorous look at the life of a stay at home mom. She says, “The media hype is just that: hype. When mothers fight, it makes for good TV, and print and radio. When you get down to the grassroots level, you’ll find that all mothers are darn busy.”
What moms are really saying
“The only places where I have seen true “Mommy Wars” — battles between two factions of women – ‘working moms’ vs ‘stay at home moms,’ with each side flinging judgmental statements at one another, are forums which initiate and foster such ridiculous cat fights – internet message boards, and talk shows,” says Enjeti-Sydow.
“However, there are, and will always be, mothers who judge one another for their choices. I believe that the root of all mother judgment is the lack of support that women receive as mothers, particularly new mothers,” Enjeti-Sydow says. If mothers had supportive social systems, whether that be family, friends, moms groups, understanding employers, and/or excellent child care, mothers would feel confident and secure in their decisions regarding their families, and would not feel the need to judge others.”
“I don’t think that the Mommy Wars are as black and white as the media make them out to be,” Singer says. “While I’ve certainly heard criticism of working moms by at-home moms (and vice versa), I think most mothers these days are struggling to find a balance of work and home — and they’re helping each other find it. In my neighborhood, many mothers consider themselves at- home moms, but work part-time. We often cover for each other, watching each other’s kids or carpooling to let one another get to work.”
Singer comments on her experience with the mommy wars. “A mother once said to me, ‘I wish I could stay home and do nothing all day.’ Yeah? Me, too. Some working mothers assume that we at-home moms sit around and watch Oprah and get our nails done all day. But we’re volunteering in the schools and more. Conversely, I’ve heard at-home moms criticize working moms for not being at school for various events. I think these kinds of comments feed from our own insecurities. Maybe in some ways, we’re jealous of the perks of each other’s situation. I know I would have loved to have a lunch hour when my kids were little and I was home with them 14 hours a day. And I’m sure many working moms would love to have lunch with their kids.”
“Women in general judge each other very harshly,” Peskowitz says. “Mothers tend to be defensive about their choices; we feel vulnerable. We often blame each other because it is harder to figure out how to make those changes and make a difference for mothers.” Peskowitz says that the real issue for mothers is changing society to improve the lives of mothers and offer them positive choices.
The real issue: employers
The real issue, Pesokwitz says, is getting employers to accommodate mothers and recognize their value. “I think we are in danger of losing a whole cohort of women,” she says. “Women who are highly educated. As a nation, we are losing them. We are losing all of this knowledge, skill and creativity, because our family policies are short-sighted.
“How do employers treat caregivers? What are our traditions for paying women? I don’t think anyone wants to solve these issues,” Pesokwitz says. “There is maternal wall discrimination.” Pesokwitz says there is a wage gap wherein mothers tend to make 15 percent less than childless women, or 40 percent less than men regardless of male parental status. “There is also a general discrimination,” Peskowitz says. “mothers are seen as less competent and are passed over for less interesting work.” Those who choose to work part-time, according to Peskowitz, are given an even lower status with a depressed wage and no benefits. “All of these things wear on mothers and they wind up quitting or being squeezed out,” she says.
“I think employers have failed to accommodate the needs of mothers and fathers, and that as a result, mothers, who are more often than not the primary caregiver, feel that they must leave the work force completely,” Enjeti-Sydow says. “I was surprised that my supervisor automatically assumed that I wasn’t capable of doing the same type of work, or the same type of workload, as I did before I had children.”
“The mommy wars make it out to seem that most mothers have a choice when they don’t,” Singer says. “For many at-home moms, they’ve made drastic changes to their lifestyles in order to be home with the kids. Meanwhile, they’re putting themselves at risk by not working in an age when the divorce rate hovers at 50 percent. It’s not an easy decision to stay home with your kids.”
“People don’t realize the economic effects of a mother’s decisions,” Peskowitz says. “We talk about it as lifestyle, but we rarely link it to the economics. It can be really hard to find an onramp [back into work] when you are ready.”
What we can do
“One thing we can do to solve this is to stop judging each other and ourselves,” Peskowitz says. “Be more empathetic,” Peskowitz advises. “We tend to divide from each other. Banding together to make a change is a good step. We tend to think of motherhood as a solitary issue, but to the extent in which we can talk together and act together, well that will help all of us.”
“Peskowitz says it is important to raise these work-related issue to the public, such as writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper. “We need to make more of a fuss,” she says. “We’re letting [society] get away with old fashioned discrimination.”
Enjeti-Sydow says, “Women can support each other, for one. Women can demand what they need from those in charge. And women can act on their anger, instead of suppress it, by becoming activists in their local communities.”
Singer adds, “Have you ever wondered why there are no Father Wars? Because they don’t need each other as much as mothers do. They have wives to back them up. We have each other.”