Rosen v. Romney: The Mommy Wars Continue

Last night, Democratic political strategist Hilary Rosen referred to Ann Romney, wife of Mitt and mother of five sons, as, "never having worked a day in her life."  For a political strategist, that was an incredibly impolitic thing to say.  I understand what her point was, but because of Rosen's unfortunate language, her point is not really the point anymore, is it?  

I'm going to leave the politics aside, and focus on this decades long debate of the so called "Mommy Wars," the tension, spoken and unspoken, between stay-at-home moms and working moms.  Technically speaking, though, I am already stepping in the Mommy Wars myself by referring to "working moms."  To be clear -- I know that ALL MOMS WORK.  Okay?  For the purposes of this post, Imma keep it simple and refer to these two camps with this language.

And the sad truth is that it does feel like two separate camps much of the time.  Mary Tyler Mom was started as a blog about "working and mothering simultaneously."  It's evolved a bit, but being a woman who works outside the home absolutely influences my perspective of mothering.  Just as being a stay-at-home mom influences others.

I am grateful to have a strong following on facebook (join the fun here, yo), with an active page of 5,300 plus followers, 96% of whom are women.  My facebook community is an anthropologist's dream -- a slice of life of today's woman.  Most are moms, some are not.  Some of us work outside the home, some do not. 

With those demographics, one can glean quite a bit about how the Mommy Wars play out.  The ladies are often ready to rumble.  If I unthinkingly refer to myself as a "working mom," I will quickly be reminded that all moms work.  My bad.  Mea culpa, SAHMS.  If I post about an interesting article I read looking at young Queen Elizabeth II as a working mom, some will quickly point out that QEII, with her army of nannies, was not a working mom. 

It's a tight rope sometimes. 

What seems to be the common denominator is that women closely identify with their employment/mothering status and are quickly ready to defend it.  I often hear, "I wish I could clock out at 5 PM!" Or this one, "When does the stay-at-home mom get a weekend?" 

Really, guys?  Really?  Does anyone actually think that the working mom clocks out at 5 PM and her work is done?  Not a chance in dinner and bedtime hell.  Working moms clock out, race home to reunite with their kids, cook dinner, do laundry, shop for groceries, and clean their homes.  And weekends?  Forget weekends when you're a working mom.  Those are reserved for all the things you were supposed to do after 5 PM, but chose to ignore so that you could read those books, drive to lessons, and snuggle at bed time.  The household duties claim much of the weekend for many a working mom.  It sucks. 

Alternately, there is some confusion from the working mom, too.  A fellow blogger wrote a humorous piece this week about being a "house frau."  She talked about drinking wine in her yoga pants and organizing activities for her kids.  This gal got slammed and labeled a, "princess."  Staying at home with the responsibility for two young kids under 5 is nothing that a princess would engage in.  As the QEII thread established, royals have nannies.  Most SAHMs do not. 

When I read divisive comments like that, flung from one woman to another, I cringe.  There is such a profound lack of empathy towards our fellow moms.  Ultimately, I think it relates to our own feelings about whatever circumstance we find ourself in. 

Who among us that is a SAHM does not fantasize, or at least wonder, what it might be like to leave the little ones with someone else for a bit and go out into the world.  Alone.  Untethered.  Inversely, don't many of us working moms want to live in a wardrobe of yoga pants and enjoy the quiet of a napping child from time to time?  Of course, I generalize, but my point is that its human nature to wonder how green another's grass is.

A better approach would be to understand and empathize that no matter what your responsibilities are and where they play out, a mother's kids are most likely the center of her universe.  Not always, but that's another post entirely.

Stay-at-Home Moms:  I challenge you to think about everything that you do over the course of your day.  It's a lot, right?  You are one freakishly busy gal.  Now think about trying to squeeze that in after a long day outside the home.  Think about that working mom that wants more than anything to help her kid bring homemade cupcakes for the school fundraiser, and will be doing it alone, at midnight, rather than with their kid as a bonding activity, missing those cute patches of flour in one another's hair.  Think about a child falling on their knees and crying for their Daddy when their Mommy is right there.  That working mom is going to feel intense stabbing pangs of guilt, thinking (illogical as it is) that a child is supposed to cry for the mother, not their father when they need comfort.  "Why doesn't my child cry for me?," she wonders, feeling inadequate.   

Working Moms: I challenge you to think about the sisyphean nature of child, child, child all the time.  The unending need to fill their time, keep them safe, teach them well, feed them, comfort them, clothe them, diaper them, entertain them, ALL THE TIME.  No lunch hour (or often even 15 minutes).  No commute home to clear your head for a few minutes as you shift gears.  No shifting gears most of the time.  Think about the 45 minutes it takes to get a toddler dressed, pottied, and out the door.  Now think about doing that 3-5 times daily.  Oy.  Think about not talking to another adult between the hours of 8 AM and 6 PM, and when you do talk, all you talk about are child issues or household issues that the other adult might not be very interested in.  That hurts.

We are all mothers.  Some of us made choices to stay at home and mother.  Some of us made choices to work outside the home in addition to working in the home.  For others of us, choice is a luxury reserved for mothers like Gwyneth Paltrow.  You work because you have to, not because you want to.  You stay-at-home because it is what was expected of you, or what you thought you should do, not what you wanted to do.  We are all guilty.  We all think we could be doing it better.  We are all mothers.


Leave a comment
  • Well put. The bottom line is, each of us are unique in personality and situation and make our choices based on those combined forces. It behooves us as women to respect every one of those choices.

    My current beef involves tackling a widespread assumption based on my lifestyle: a SAHM who has a home law office (my husband suggested I use "home law office" instead of "working from home" so that, maybe, it better sinks in that I am doing work related to my profession). Nobody in the neighborhood seems to appreciate that the time when my son is at preschool are my "working hours" and no, you cannot drop in for an afternoon chat. They assume it can't be "serious" work because "there she is, in her jammies, hanging out while her son is at school - and she is busy and can't be disturbed?!!" Yes folks, the dishwasher and laundry machines are set to run, the crock pot is making turkey chili, and I am analyzing a potential licensor's patents!

    Oh, and I practice law because I want to, not because I have to (I missed it intensely, albeit not as intensely as I love my son, when I did not work for 3 months) - and that's OK too.

  • In reply to jiyer:

    Hey, jiyer!

    You make a FANTASTIC point about women working because they want to instead of because they have to. I often cringe as well when another woman says to me, "I'm so grateful I can stay at home." It almost makes me want to compare tax brackets!

    My point is, there is not a lot of room to discuss the wish to work when the need to work is not an issue. Or, the assumptions are that that woman is selfish for wanting to be away from her children. Another post for another day. As always, thanks for keeping me company. MTM.

  • In reply to Mary Tyler Mom:

    Yes, please write a piece about the Stay-at-Home-Working-Mother. I will be more than happy to provide some material for that post. Some people think working from home is not considered having a "real job" and of course, I am neglecting my children while I check my email and go on Skype calls with a client. I have seen a lot of dialog lately from women who berate stay-at-home-working-parents as not being good caretakers. I hate judgment.

    What a lot of people do not realize is that some parents who work from home do most of their working at night or on the weekends. I do not mind working when the kids go to bed b/c I love what I do and I am not ashamed that I have interests that are not my children! :)

  • In reply to Beth Rago:

    I am with you in this, Beth. I once had an hour long teleconference with my client while running and keeping a healthy distance from my screaming tantrum-throwing then-2 year old at the same time! We spend so much quality time together, my son and I, that these instances are a non-issue as far as I'm concerned. And now my 3 year old gets it when I say "teleconference for work." Him realizing that he doesn't command my undivided attention all of the time, just because I am at home with him, is good life training for him and for me :) And as you say, at least for some of us, having interests that do not involve our children makes us better, or at least more refreshed, parents.

  • fb_avatar

    Thinking of making a transition to the other side and I was right - I can't win either way! :) I love this and I will be sharing it with all of my girlfriends. Motherhood is hard no matter how you do it!

  • In reply to Rachael Kimbler:

    THIS JUST IN: Mothers will never win. We are our own worst enemies. Thank you for sharing, Rachael, and for commenting. MTM.

  • fb_avatar

    Very well said, MTM! Having been on both sides of this particular fence throughout my 17 years of mothering, I will say that both sides are rough. Even when you compromise, and just work outside of the home part time, then it's hard to find career opportunities, because careers are full time. Jobs are part time. Anyway, the truth is, none of the grass is greener! And yet, it's all green. Isn't that wonderfully vague?!

  • In reply to Wendy Burr:

    The both sides of the fence is something I know well, too, Wendy. I think that is what informs this post. I have worked part-time, was home for four years, and chose to return to my profession after Donna died. For a few months in there, I worked full time while my boss was on medical leave. That was so hard.

    I love when you keep me company. Oh, and thanks for the post you shared yesterday on my wall. I loved it and will share it today. Have a great one. MTM.

  • Yes, yes...and yes. High five on this post! I have been both a working mom and am currently an accidental SAHM and I think you wonderfully represented both viewpoints. At the end of the day, we are all in this together and need to support the shared experiences that we have as mothers. That sounds pretty corny, but its true.

  • In reply to Kay S:

    I was an accidental SAHM, too. For four years. I liked it alright, but am happy to be back to my part-time career employment. For me, it strikes the best balance.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Kay. MTM.

  • Absolutely loved this! I am both a SAHM and a working mom with a home office. Let's just say there are pros and cons to my current status. When I worked outside the home I didn't have to break for poop or snack or lost lego heads. On the flip side I couldn't break for poop or snack or lost lego heads. I have found I use more fuel now since I have been sanctioned the family bus driver and run carpool not only for my own children but my sisters as well. My wardrobe is definitely comfort clothes, the downside there is little else in my closet. We each are dealt a hand in life. My status was not originally by choice rather by circumstance. I chose to embrace it and definitely relate to my friends who have managed this life much longer than I and probably have cleaners homes to show for it. Bravo to all the moms who are keeping their heads above the ever rising waters called Mommyland!

  • Brava, MTM!

  • fb_avatar

    Yes. Exactly this.

    We've enough battles to fight in our daily lives without fighting each other!

  • Thank you for linking to my Haus Frau post.

    It was an off-the-cuff thing I wrote that excluded many things I do, such as putting in hours at the co-op preschool where I sweep, clean and deal with classroom shenanigans. I also sit on the board of a non-profit, run an Etsy business, run a play group once a week (PAID!) and write my blog. Plus all the family and home stuff.

    Am I putting in 60 hours a week at a corporation? No. But drinking wine in my yoga pants happens at 10:00 when the day is behind me and my husband is sitting right next to me on his computer.

    I'm not saying I work harder or as hard than career-oriented mothers or deserve some special kudos, I'm just saying that what I wrote isn't a realistic picture of what I personally do. And yet it was reason to lash out at me for being a princess. Me. A person who started a life on her own at 17 without so much as a ham sandwich from her parents and managed to graduate college. Horn? Tooting it!

    I guess people can't be psychic and know my "back story" but it may be why I'm less conscious of coming across as privileged. From my perspective, it seems ludicrous that anyone could think I lived a privileged life. Dude, I used to use t-shirts as pillow cases because I couldn't afford linens. I wore a pair of $10 shoes every day FOR A YEAR. I once went to Taco Bell and did not have the sixty nine cents for a burrito. I'm lucky as hell I'm not still waiting tables a diner in my home town.

    Thank you for your balanced post and wise words. Back to my internet break . . .

  • Toot that horn, girl. MTM.

  • Great comments, one and all! Ultimately, ALL of a mother's work, in it's oh-so-diverse forms and multi-tasked commitments, is work that commands respect. As MTM rightly says, let's not be our own worst enemies.

  • Well said, Mama. xoxo

  • Thank you for posting this!! I work because I have to. I then guilt myself for everything that I miss. I do however work from home quite a bit so I see a little bit of both worlds.
    I don't hate on SAHM but dislike when I get the stink eye for saying that I work. It's the truth and I can't make Gymboree play time on Wednesdays because it is from 1 - 3 PM. : )

  • I love this post and the wonderful points you touch on about both working and SAHM! I particuarly love the end when you said: "We are all guilty. We all think we could be doing it better. We are all mothers." I find myself forever feeling guilty no matter what I do. I always ask myself if I'm the only one that feels this way! And this is such a touchy subject that even amongst my friends (my good friends), battle lines have been drawn at times, and the subject becomes off limits! It is so sad, what BETTER mothers would we be if we could just shed the guilt... Well off to work some more before running home to the kids and pack everyone for a family road trip!

    And one more thing...why do the Dads never feel the guilt? Or is that one just me??

  • In reply to jen smitty:

    We do, trust me. I went out of town for a week once when my son was two, and on about the sixth day he turned to my wife and said, "No more daddy?"

    We joke about it now but I was in a lot of pain when I heard that.

    Maybe this is never discussed because dad's have different societal expectations. Men who are SAHD's are the ones who I think have to face upturned looks and snide smirks as if they're not pulling their weight or are doing "women's" work. It's bullshit, of course.

  • I am a 48 year old mother of two young men. I am also a wife, a special education teacher and an artist who longs to spend more time in my painting studio. This argument needs to end. I honestly don't understand why we women still insist on engaging in it. Our mothers and grandmothers wanted desperately for their daughters to have options, not dictates. They wanted us to be able to live life as we saw fit, whether that included working, not working, being a mother or not, being single or not. Feminism is not a dirty word. It is our right to exercise the power we have inherent in our sex; the power to create, nurture, organize, cooperate and change the world. When we choose to engage this archaic argument we allow politicians to believe that "money is more important to men" because women can't decide what they want to do. It allows our society to engage in wage discrimination and attempts to strip away our rights and ability to actively determine our futures and well being based on our individual needs, desires and dreams. Whenever I feel the pangs of jealousy because I think another woman has it easier than I, I take a deep breath and focus on my sons, my husband, the love in my life and my good fortune to make the choices I have made. Then I move forward along the path I have made for myself and embrace the joy in this day---whatever that is. When we honor the choices of all women, we honor our selves as agents of change---in this conversation and others.

  • In reply to lizz622:

    Hallelujah, lizz! I could not have said it any better. Your comment honors this post. Thank you. MTM.

  • fb_avatar

    Love this post! Regardless of the situation we are all mothers who love our children and want the best for them. I have been a SAHM for the past 4 years and I am longing to go back to work. Not because I want away from my children, but because I want to feel satisfied as an adult. When I'm happy, my family will be happy. Some mothers are happiest being at home and caring for the every need of their children. That is their satisfaction. Others, like myself, find great satisfaction working in a career and in turn spread that satisfaction to their children upon returning home. As mothers we all have the same goal at heart, but it is not for each of us to judge the other on the path in which we take to achieve it.

  • I think you explained it well, and this is from the perspective of a mother who has done it both ways. And I have done it single, and with help. Being a mother is one hell of a job, but each and everyone of us chose to do it our way, and should never begrudge someone for the way they choose to do it!

  • fb_avatar

    Beautifully written. I think this goes beyond SAHM and working mom but also into what methods we choose to raise our children etc. When can we all just do the best job we can do and everyone give everyone else credit for the excellent work being done by all?

  • fb_avatar

    I want to steer clear of the politics surrounding the statement. However, it has certainly unleashed the age old mommy war of whose job is the hardest. It's the working moms versus the stay at home moms. I think we need to change our thinking a bit in regard to this debate. It’s a classist problem. What do I mean by this? I go into detail here:

    Feel free to check it out if interested.

  • fb_avatar

    I am new to this blog. I loved this post as well as your Easter post! Thanks for both!

    I am a daughter of a single mother and an early feminist who fought for all of us to have these choices. Sadly, I think many women have lost these choices (or at least the women I know). The choice to stay home with the kids went down the drain when the economy tanked along with lots of other hopes and dreams.

    I like my job and I am good at it - but ultimately I work because I have to. I have no idea what I would do if staying at home with my daughter were an option - seriously, no idea. Maybe I would continue to work, maybe I would stay at home (which of course is still work!). But this isn't my realty and it's not the realty of most women I know. I certainly support those women who do have this choice and I hope that more of us have this choice in the future.

  • fb_avatar

    P.S.: Sorry for the typos in the above post - reality not realty!

  • I am a retired teacher who worked for 33 years. I was fortunate that I could stay at home when ever I wanted due to wonderful benefits. My child is adopted but I was ready to go back to work after 6 months at home!
    I was happy to work, happy to take a personal day to join a field trip, go to school for a special day, or to take care of my child when he was sick. I worked a long time before my so arrived and I thought it foolish to give up my benefits.
    This story is not Camelot!
    Mysore is a great young adult but his life became so difficult when he went to high school.
    He simply unraveled He was a fellow with a long history of many success. I honestly thought those successes would keep him
    away from poor choices.
    When I realized how deep into drugs my son had become he was on his third high school and things were not going well.
    As a mother who worked - let me tell you how fortunate I was to go to work. The break from him at that time was live saving. Probably life saving for us both.
    I was so grateful to have a job to go to.
    Luckily I had a boss who supported me and many sick days which I worked hard at not abusing.
    I could have stayed home. My husband made enough. Not hundreds of thousands but enough.
    I never wanted to ask someone for something. I wanted my own income so if things between me and my husband went South I had a way to support myself and my son.
    I had friends who became widowed at 38 and 39 years old. Come on ladies - shit happens!
    But my son - what to do- the first night after facing what he was doing- I couldn't sleep because I could hear him in the next room lighting his marijuana stick. I was beside myself. I was certain he would set the house on fire.
    What have I learned through this 10 year living hell is it is so important to take care of oneself. It is ridiculous to judge another.
    I do not know what they may be going through.
    I may attempt to write more about what happened.
    I am tired now!
    To Mary Tyler Mom your courage and tenacity is so compelling! You are a goddess in my book. I agree so very strongly with your choices during such an incredibly cruel time in your life.
    You have inspired anyone that has read your story.
    Keep writing,

  • fb_avatar

    So is it okay to make fun of Gwyneth Paltrow, or not? (Because you know I seek your permission before all mockings. Lady.)

  • In reply to mary w:

    Okay. I am a changed woman. It is no longer okay for me to poke fun at Gwynnie simply for the sake at poking fun at Gwynnie.

    It is though, however, okay to recognize and comment when she defies logic and advocates that the world would be better if we were all more like her and did everything just like her, especially when it relates to mothering issues.

    Fair? Oh. Are you done forsaking me, yet? Lady.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Mary Tyler Mom:

    That's fair. And I've only forsaken FB. Never you.

    I wish I could quit you. Lady.

Leave a comment