Mommy WarsAnne Tergesen
Fellow blogger Lauren Young
just handed me Mommy Wars a collection of essays by writers including Jane Smiley and Susan Cheever. It’s about the clash between moms who work and moms who stay at home. This is a topic I find fascinating: After all, how are we to make good on the feminist revolution when we’re too busy fighting amongst ourselves?
As a part-timer, I straddle both worlds. Like any mom who works full-time, I’m constantly juggling—answering email while I cook dinner and pack lunches. And like any mom who stays at home full-time, I spend a lot of time arranging playdates, playing baseball, and shuttling kids to and from schools and activities.
With a foot in each camp, I can report that working and stay-at-home moms have much more in common than those intent on tearing each other down might think. We all care deeply about our children. And we all work incredibly hard. Why the factional hostility? Perhaps we never outgrow the desire to paint each other into high school-like cliques.
But I think there’s more to the story: Working moms often feel guilty about not being there when a child has a hard day or a question about a tough topic. And stay-at-home moms fret about sacrificing the financial independence, intellectual stimulation, and recognition a job can provide. “There’s a lot of anger involved in motherhood because of the choices you make, or the ones that are made for you,” says Leslie Morgan Steiner, an advertising executive at the Washington Post and mother of three, who edited “Mommy Wars.” (This quote is from Lauren's interview with Steiner, which will appear in the forthcoming issue of BusinessWeek. You can check it out after 5 p.m. on March 2 at www.businessweek.com. Also look for an extended write-up in Lauren’s next blog on March 3.) Of course, when moms turn that anger against one another, well, things can get ugly.
I once lived in a community where the moms achieved detente. In fact, we managed to do more than that. We went running and drinking together. And we relied on one another in emergencies. Why the lack of sniping? Here’s my theory: The mix of working and stay-at-home moms was pretty equal. Plus, while some moms were die-hard career types and others were content to stay home for the foreseeable future, most of us fell somewhere in between, juggling part-time and temporary gigs with stretches of uninterrupted time with the kids. Each of us knew what it was like to be in the others’ shoes.
Since then, I’ve moved to a community dominated by stay-at-home moms (many clad in fur coats – snipe, snipe). I’ve come to rely more on the informal support groups of women I’ve known for years, all of whom struggle to balance work and family. These include my college roommates and my colleagues at BusinessWeek. I’ve also made some friends in my new neighborhood—many of them stay-at-home moms who make me laugh and give me invaluable intelligence about life without cubicles, performance evaluations, and the constant pressure of deadlines. It would be nice if we could all live in communities that break down the barriers for us: Short of that, I guess we have to do it ourselves—one friend at a time.
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