‘Mommy Wars’ Drag On And On
It’s 2013 and the so-called ‘Mommy Wars’ are still on like Donkey Kong.
The stay-at-home moms versus the income-earning moms have been duking it out recently in The Globe and Mail, The Guardian and Salon. Though the arguments come from different sides they are essentially the same, un-changed over the decades: ‘We work really hard’ — ‘We’re good parents’ — ‘Stop judging us.’
We’re supposed to be past this nonsense, right?
When I pick up my kids after school I’m there waiting with a crowd of moms, some dads, a few daycare providers. Aside from the odd parent wearing ‘work clothes’ most of us look like we haven’t been out in the world earning an income during the day.
But if I’m as immune to the ‘Mommy Wars’ as I like to think I am, if I’m part of a circle of women who support each other regardless of choices we’re able to make, why do I slip “I work from home” into convos with other parents in the schoolyard? What do I need to prove?
Mostly, who am I proving it to?
Is it so I can meet others who might do similar work and thus make important work-at-home connections? Is it to justify my absence to the better-volunteers-than-me parents who make it out to school council meetings? Or is to distinguish myself from the SAHMs as if to say, “I’m not one of you.” As if to say, “I’m better.”
Truth be told, it’s a bit of all of the above.
If part of me feels an urgency to distinguish myself from a SAHM, others seem to think mothers who stay at home are ideal visions of what motherhood is. In the The Guardian recently, Catherine Deveny writes:
‘Working career mums’ are at the lower end of the spectrum, and stay at home mothers are at the highest echelons, with ascending increments for each child you have. The more hours of drudgery you endure the more of a mother you are and, therefore, the more important your job is.
Stay-at-home motherhood has played some tricks on my identity, fading away the one I was working on before I had children and blurring the one I try to envision as my kids are getting older and need some amount less of me. And the time goes quickly. Always easily filled. But the cracks remain, and while others may have started them, I have taken to them with a crowbar, aware that while I continue to spend my days working for my family and our household, and do not wish to have anyone else do it in my place, this work is now sharing space with a feeling of not enough.
My gut reaction, the not-so-honourable part of me that needs to tell the world I’m not a SAHM (why? really, who cares?) tends to agree with Stolzberg. I think, on the spectrum of mommy judgment, SAHM-ers fall on the lower end. Of course, staying home in a property you own, living off a wage your partner brings in, is judged a lot less than being a single mom who depends on welfare.
At my younger daughter’s school most SAHM-ers live in subsidized housing. Many cover their hair and faces to varying degrees in observance of their Muslim faith. They talk mostly with their own neighbours, and often not in English. I dare any mother who earns a high enough income to own her home and pay someone else to clean it to ask these mothers what they do with their day. In particular, I dare Marina Adshade, who writes:
We are able to “do it” because many of the quality goods and services you provide your family, we can easily purchase on the market and because machines have replaced much of the work traditionally done women in the home. If you don’t want us to tell you that, please do not ask.
I’m not sure what “quality goods and services” are available to parents who work, say, two minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet, but I know these parents have just as little time as any high-income earner. Very likely less. I also don’t know which machines have truly replaced housework, though I suppose having a washing machine in your home is easier than trekking to a laundry room.
Also in Salon, Mikki Kendall writes from her perspective of having parented while being military wife, then as a single mother on social assistance, putting herself through school, to later having the privilege of earning a decent income again. She writes about feeling like she was the ‘target’ of the war on mothers, particularly as a black woman:
We need a conversation about the war on poor mothers, on disabled mothers, on indigenous mothers, on trans mothers, on mothers who are not in heterosexual relationships, on mothers who are migrant workers, on mothers doing the most with the least. Feminism is supposed to be about making it possible for all to achieve equality, not about playing games of one-upmanship. … I’m fortunate enough to have gotten past the place where I need public assistance, but I will never forget feeling like a target in the war on mothers.
Back in the schoolyard the rest of us — the minority — are a mash-up of upper-middle class home owners and co-op dwellers. Mostly we speak English though few of us talk to each other. But as the year progresses and we see each other every day, and see our four- and five-year-olds not give a care which side of the street they live on, all of us parents, homeowners and renters, Muslim and non-Muslim, are getting to know each other.
Perhaps we’re inspired by our children who, still in the protected bubble of kindergarten, don’t even think about what their parents do during the day. Just as long as they can come home to them at night. Because the ‘Mommy Wars’ won’t do them any good, or anyone any good, regardless if you’re an instigator or a target.
Meri Perra lives in Toronto with her partner, two daughters, tiny cat and massive cargo bike.