Have you been enlisted? Take up arms! (Well, put down the groceries and your laptop bag first first.)
The term “mommy wars” refers to the supposed animosity between mothers who work and mothers who stay home. You might think: Really? Don’t we all have enough drama? And yet some of us have encountered people on either side with strong opinions, people who have tried to convince us to take up verbal and emotional arms against the other group.
Until this point, I have remained a conscientious objector in the mommy wars. But now I’m a mommy war protestor, rallying with a poster that asserts: “We’re all in this together.”
Where does the bitterness come from? From what root does all the comparing stem?
As I see it, there is just one possible source: insecurity. I almost wrote that there were two possible causes: insecurity and pride. But if someone is really, genuinely proud of her life, she doesn’t need to brag or play games of comparing. So then pride is off the table as an option. The fact is, motherhood is a minefield of possible insecurities that we must resist.
All I want to say is this: If you are a stay-at-home mother, thank you for your sacrifice. If you are a working mother, thank you for your sacrifice. If you are a mother staying home with your kids and also working, thank you for your sacrifice. Our society doesn’t often thank us. That’s part of why we feel so alone.
Just for a moment, let’s talk about “alone.”
Though the generations that came before us had no online community, they had actual community, with larger extended families and neighbors who could lend support, taking turns watching the kids. In those comparatively anxiety-free days, children were sent outside to play and told, “See you at supper!” Karate class followed by soccer practice followed by violin lessons? Our foremothers would have laughed. Making sure labels read “organic,” “gluten-free” and “non-GMO”? It wasn’t even an option. But these days, for a thousand good reasons and a thousand bad ones, we are juggling more and working harder and worrying more than ever. The good news: We approach motherhood intelligently, shaping a personal philosophy that would make the women who came before us proud. But they would be concerned about us, too, about our extra stress and the harsh ways we judge ourselves... and others.
Whoever said mothers can have it all was wrong. No one has it all, and if they claim to, they are lacking either honesty or humility (which means they don’t have it all). After all, motherhood is not a delicate crepe or a crème brulêe eaten slowly with pinkies raised. It is more like a stew, or a paella, a delicious rustic blending of flavors that is both sloppy and savory. Sometimes rice falls on the floor.
It happens to everyone. So stop thinking anyone else has a rice-free floor, so to speak.
It may be that stay-at-home moms sometimes envy the working mom (there are awesome things about being a working mom!) and that the working mom at times envies the stay-at-home mom (there are awesome things about being a stay-at-home mom!). The problem comes when we try to deny those feelings and protect ourselves from vulnerability by hardening that envy into bravado, bragging that our camp has it better or worse, or that we’re superior mothers.
If there is a war, who is the enemy?
It’s the boss not granting enough maternity or paternity leave. It’s the person who just slammed a door in your face, even though he or she saw you struggling with your double stroller. It’s the well-meaning loved ones who criticize your choices without offering genuine help in the form of babysitting, a visit or even a supportive text message.
Other moms, no matter their differences, are on our team. Or at least they have the potential to be with some gentle guidance. They may not know it. They may be accustomed to a culture that is all too comfortable criticizing women.
But we can teach them.
Let’s refuse to engage in one-upmanship or fighting over who has it harder or who is more dedicated as a mother. We are all crazy about our kids, and we are all on this adventure, doing the best we can one day at a time. We have all tried to make the best choices for our families. We have all had moments of genuine pride, and moments of profound worry. Let’s stop the judgment.
Above is a picture of Harvey, my baby’s beloved stuffed cat. Harvey was being rinsed in the sink after being compromised by an exploded diaper. I believe this is an image that working moms and stay-at-home moms can both relate to. We’ve all seen this scene before. On some level, we can even relate to Harvey, smiling bravely even as he’s up to his ears in a deluge. We work to get him clean and dry before our child misses him. We spend time (that could be spent in a hundred other ways) washing and drying an inanimate pet, merely because our little one loves him.