Thursday, October 20, 2005

Mothers of the world, unite!

I submit that it's time to do away with all the negativity that, intentionally or not, appears to characterize many of this blog’s posts and comments regarding women who stay at home with their children. Let’s stop hinting that stay-at-home moms are, perhaps, a little less intelligent than the rest of us and, hence, able to handle the brain-numbing monotony some believe characterize day-to-day child-rearing. Enough of the claims that folks who eschew disposable diapers in favor of infant potty training as neo-luddites (come on!). Just as the conversation on this blog is often characterized by skepticism and even hostility when it comes “staying at home,” discussions in my “new moms’ group” - attended primarily by those who do not work outside the home at all- tend to be openly critical of those who leave their children with others so that they can go to work. Perhaps we should pause to identify the underlying cause of all this hostility.

In contemporary American society there is little space for women with children to live up to all the role requirements of motherhood while remaining active in the world of work. Whatever choice we make when it comes to raising our children, be it staying at home, opting for daycare so we can work full-time or something in between, there is someone out there standing in judgment of us. Worse still, we ourselves feel keenly that we have given up something in choosing which brand of motherhood to adopt. It is not surprising, although it is still a travesty, that mothers are defensively critical of others who made the choice forgone.

I would like to have it all. I find caring for my child immensely challenging and rewarding work. I don’t want to hand my baby off to anyone else despite what Bazelon suggests in her Slate article. In fact, it actually hurts when I leave her with my partner so I can spend a few hours at the office. Why is it that I cannot bring her with me? Why is a baby’s occasional fussing inappropriate for the workplace while the ringing of phones, clicking of keyboards, constant conversations and other assorted workplace noises are tolerated without a thought? My office even makes it difficult for me to pump as there is no private space available short of sitting on one of the many toilets in the ladies’ room.

Instead of casting critical glances at one another, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers should recognize that we are all working desperately to do right by our children and ourselves. Our criticism should be directed toward the social order that places us in such a difficult position.


Blogger Jessica said...

You make a good point about my tone and my (unintentional) suggestion that people who stay at home are less intelligent. In part, I guess I didn't realize "neo-luddite" was so inflammatory - "back to nature" types or something, that's really all I meant.

I'm very glad you offered your perspective that you'd like to be with your kids even when you're working. I didn't realize that, and I often fail to think of that perspective, because I have trouble understanding it. I love Gus immensely, and I love to spend time with him, and I wish that I had less work to do so that I could focus on him more. But I really like my work too, and it's nearly impossible for me to do much of it - commenting on papers, for example - when I'm with him. Maybe it's a function of age - he's still very much a toddler, in diapers, not yet two. But frankly, even if it were possible, I have to admit that sometimes I genuinely enjoy focusing solely on my work, and I lose sight of the fact that some other mothers don't feel that way.

I wonder if you grasped the real point I was trying to make in my post, since I guess I didn't express myself very well, and instead criticized people who feel differently from me. I wish that mothers - everybody, actually - talked more about the assumption that seems to underlie the diaper-free-baby site, that it's somehow "natural" for moms to want to be handling childcare 24/7. Two parts of that assumption trouble me. One, it makes me feel like I'm somehow unnatural or bad because I truly enjoy being able to totally focus and concentrate on my work. (I am not happy with the work/family balance in my life right now, but the right balance for me would still include a fair amount of Gus-free work time.) Two, I don't agree that it's necessarily more natural for women than for men to want to spend time with their kids, nor the seemingly unspoken flipside that it's somehow more natural for men than for women to spend lots of time at work without their kids. That seems to be true on average, so maybe I'm some kind of outlier. But still, here I am, so it's at least not true when you're talking about individuals.

So, sorry if my tone was too negative, but I am still interested in the question I was trying to raise. I am all for unity and ordinarily avoid conflict. But when I think there's a genuine difference in opinion worth exploring, I'd like to do that. I agree very much that criticism should be directed at the social order that places "us" in this position. But I'd like the "us" to be reframed as "parents" rather than "moms," and doing that requires some sort of discussion of the issue I was trying to raise (obviously, a less negative one, because causing offense is counterproductive!)

9:23 AM  
Blogger think-knitter said...

I think that the reason both sides of the divide (stay-at-home and working moms) are defensive about their choices is because they both feel guilty about their choices. The working mom will talk about how beneficial daycare is (my baby is learning social skills! she won't be a social misfit when she grows up!). Why? Because she feels guilty leaving her child with someone else.

The stay-at-home moms talk about the importance of being there for your child early in her life (Those mothers have others raise their children for them, and then we wonder why there is so much hostility - all those people were neglected as babies - that's why!).

However, I have to admit that I feel awful when I leave my crying child at daycare. That's why I only drop her off when Scott is out of town, which so far, has been only two days; otherwise, he drops her off, and I pick her up - I'm the good cop. But I like my job, and I have to work. I envy mothers who find fulfillment in taking care of their baby full-time. I am not saying they're less intelligent (I think, Jessica, that Andrea meant me, not you, when she said that); I'm saying I'm less intelligent, because I can't entertain my child and myself at the same time. I've had this discussion with another member of this blog, and she told me, basically, that my brain is lacking the creativity neurons.

Be that as it may, I love taking care of Piper after work. I love being with her all day when her dad is also around. Every day I wish I could spend more time with her. And I'm so happy about it, because before I went to work, I was bored (it's true, why deny it?). I like it this way. If I could change my schedule, I'd definitely have less work and more Piper in it. Unfortunately, it's an all or nothing proposition. Either work full-time, or have Piper full-time, at least for now. And I hate to admit it, because some would consider me a bad mother because of this (not you, Andrea, I know that), but I prefer this arrangement, because this way, I enjoy my daughter and want to see more of her, not the other way around.

Obviously, childcare arrangements, like breastfeeding, are deeply personal for everyone. Because of that, we feel that people who made the other choice are wrong. Think about it: if you think that only one option is right, then of course you will feel that the person who chose the other option is wrong. Otherwise, YOU're wrong! And just like "no one wants to be uncool" (see my previous post), no one wants to be wrong.

I want to make another point: let's not apologize for our thoughts and opinions. I tryly feel that the discussion will be less interesting and frank if we start censoring our thoughts. We're all friends here. If this blog gets a broader readership, we presume good will on everyone's part. For that reason, we should speak our minds, and the others will keep us honest. I wouldn't have it any other way.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

Thank you both for your comments. It is only natural that there are as many different types of mothering (and mother-child relationships) as there are mothers. I want to make a couple of points:
1. First, I think that some folks (I'm not one of them but feel the point deserves consideration) would take issue with Jessica's skepticism on the "naturalness" of mothers' having primary responsibility for childrearing. The existing division of labor in the family, they would claim, has evolved because it is the most efficient and sensical system.
2. I believe that what I am suggesting regarding the untenable situation in which women with children are placed in contemporary society goes beyond individual preferences and competence as a mother. The fact of the matter is, I think you would be hard pressed to find a mother (working or not) who doesn't believe that they had to make a painful sacrifice in choosing to live the way they do. Mothers working outside the home give up time with their children and feel judged by others and maybe even guilty about leaving their children in the care of others. Mothers who choose to stay home sacrifice their economic independence, the opportunity to be defined by anything other than their motherhood status, and feel judged and even guilty because they are engaging in typical "women's work."
SO, assuming this is the case, the question is what would we have to change in order to stop feeling this way? If you could design your work and family life any way you wanted, what would they look like? Imagine we all were required to bring our children to work with us. What would our workplaces look like?
Innovations like on-site daycare, spouses sharing positions, and felx-time are just the beginning when you start to really think about what we could change to make it possible for us to be satisfied with the balance between employment and motherhood.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I find most interesting is that women are hard (i.e., judgemental) on other women. What I mean by this is that when another women goes to work instead of staying home, stay-at-home mothers will point fingers of disappointment. Yet, working mothers will tend to do the same thing; they will joke about how "difficult "it must be to stay home, as if it isn't a full-time job in itself.

If we really want to get ahead, women have to be more supportive of eachother. Take Oprah or Martha Stewart for example. Although there are moments when I think television would be a better forum without their imput, I feel this duty to support them (as long as they aren't doing something illegal).

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that women unnecessarily try to pull other women down in fear that the other woman might be able to juggle life's struggles more easily. This is really too bad.

Just a thought.

10:36 PM  
Blogger think-knitter said...

I think it's a very valid point that women should support each other. Men (as a group) certainly haven't been great at supporting women. If they had, we wouldn't be here blogging about our lives.

However, while we have to give moral and other kind of support to our friends and family, some women go far beyond that. Some women (I think it's safe to say I'm not one of them) do too much for others at their own expense. This isn't just about giving time or money to others; it's about emotions too. Some women are so busy thinking of others that they leave nothing for themselves and they go emotionally bankrupt and, in some cases (my mom) begin resenting those to whom they give.

So, I think that if we take better care of ourselves, we'll be more useful to our friends and family. I think sometimes it's ok to say I want to be supportive and understanding of all points of view, but I don't have that kind of time. Why is it that in addition to having responsibilities for our homes, careers (inside the home or outside), and children, we have to be supportive of people we don't know?

11:04 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I feel sad that I unintentionally put myself in the "attacking stay-at-home moms" position with my comment. I was really trying to make a point about the point #1 that Andrea nicely articulated, and that I completely agree is a real issue - that's the one that I don't think parents are really in agreement about and that gets too easily glossed over.

I also want to announce that I do not AT ALL think that stay at home moms are less intelligent or are cave women !! So sorry if that was one way to take my earlier post. I'm new to this blogging thing and will try to express myself more carefully.

I want to say a lot more but I'm having a nice day with my family today, so not right now - happy weekend everybody, all of us working parents (i.e., every single parent!)

10:05 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

Your post really wasn't terrible so you shouldn't feel awful. I was responding to your criticism of folks you chose to go diaper-free, but also to some of the other posts that have appeared here. Furthermore, I think the whole issue resonates with me because I am tired of people telling me I can't have what a I want mother and an academic - keeping my child out of daycare whie finishing my Ph.D. and landing a faculty position.

3:25 PM  
Blogger think-knitter said...


I think that your posts aren't only not terrible, but they're great. I still feel that we shouldn't sacrifice honesty to both sides' sensitivities. We are friends, and good will is presumed on all parts. For example, I think that when one of us said she is trying to "keep her child out of daycare" she does NOT mean that she equates daycare with drug dens that our children must be "kept out" of, and she does NOT mean that those who don't keep their children out of daycare are bad mothers. I know that she simply meant she wants to have her baby at home with her. But it is possible to interpret it in the negative way without the presumption of the good will.

So, I call again for a presumption of good will and an honest discussion, without worrying about hurting others' feelings and without apologies. It'll be a more substantive, open and interesting discussion.

4:44 AM  

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