Mommy Wars

Dixie’s got an interesting post over on her blog, regarding the first 2 minutes of this clip from the film Mona Lisa Smile:

According to IMDB, here’s the dialogue:

Katherine Watson: There are seven law schools within 45 minutes of Philadelphia. You can study and get dinner on the table by 5:00.
Joan Brandwyn: It’s too late.
Katherine Watson: No, some of them accept late admissions! Now, I was upset at first, I can tell you that. When Tommy came to me at the dance and told me he was accepted to Penn, I thought, ‘Oh God, her fate is sealed! She’s worked so hard, how can she throw it all away?’ But then I realized you won’t have to! You can bake your cake and eat it too! It’s just wonderful!
Joan Brandwyn: We’re married. We eloped over the weekend. Turned out he was petrified of a big ceremony, so we did a sort of spur-of-the-moment thing. Very romantic.
[Katherine is stunned]
Joan Brandwyn: It was my choice, not to go. He would have supported it.
Katherine Watson: But you don’t have to choose!
Joan Brandwyn: No, I have to. I want a home, I want a family! That’s not something I’ll sacrifice.
Katherine Watson: No one’s asking you to sacrifice that, Joan. I just want you to understand that you can do both.
Joan Brandwyn: Do you think I’ll wake up one morning and regret not being a lawyer?
Katherine Watson: Yes, I’m afraid that you will.
Joan Brandwyn: Not as much as I’d regret not having a family, not being there to raise them. I know exactly what I’m doing and it doesn’t make me any less smart. This must seem terrible to you.
Katherine Watson: I didn’t say that.
Joan Brandwyn: Sure you did. You always do. You stand in class and tell us to look beyond the image, but you don’t. To you a housewife is someone who sold her soul for a center hall colonial. She has no depth, no intellect, no interests. You’re the one who said I could do anything I wanted. This is what I want.

I haven’t seen the movie in ages, but after watching the clip above, I re-watched it tonight.

Dixie‘s take on the scene above got me thinking — here’s part of what she wrote:

I just felt like Julia Robert’s line “You can do both” was too simple — it made it sound too easy. I tried talking about it with Marc before bed last night, but all I really got from him (he was trying to read a book at the time) was that she may not be saying it’s easy, just that it’s possible to do both.

A couple things to say, I guess. First of all, it depends on what your definition of “both” is. To some people “both” is having a job/career and having your children in daycare until they are school-aged (and possibly even then in those work hours before and after school as well). “Both” may be working part-time and being home when your children are home. […]

When I think of what “both” is: having a career and raising kids, I just don’t see how you can really do both fully. And that’s simply a matter of the logistics of time. Both take time.

After watching the film again, I disagree with Dixie’s “easy-peasy” characterization of the line of “you can do both.”  For one, the theme “you can do both” doesn’t just appear in that one scene — there’s at least 2 or 3 other places in the film where that line is used, and I don’t think it’s ever said thoughtlessly.

But beyond the film’s reiterated theme of “you can do both,” in the scene excerpted above, it’s the married student who was more flippant and arrogant about the roles of women.  Did you catch how quick she was to make a woman fit into a prescribed dichotomy?  As if the only options then (and now?) are to be either to be a career woman OR family woman.  Oy, I wanted to hurl things at the screen when she said that as a career woman she would “regret not having a family, not being there to raise them” — especially when it does NOT have to be a choice of one or the other!

My original comment I left on Dixie’s post was about how difficult it is to juggle two careers — one outside the home and the other within.  And y’know, it is difficult. Exhausting. Frustrating. Lonely. Exasperating. Many other negative adjectives could be used here to describe the struggles we working mamas face, negotiating two very different worlds.

But you know what’s even more frustrating?  Reading comments from other mamas that imply that working outside the home forces you to sacrifice your abilities to be fully present as a parent — because, after all, how can you work full time and be a full time parent?

Granted, over at Dixie’s blog, the discussion is still quite civil in tone — but within most of the comments, you can’t help but notice the unavoidable inference that the better mom is the one who’s there 24/7 for her kids.

And when I think of it, it’s easier to take the sanctimonious route when you are on the stay-at-home side of this issue.   Of course it sounds noble (and to some, ideal) to be the one who makes sacrifices and chooses to have your life revolve solely around your family responsibilities.  That said, I’m a little wary of women who complain that stay-at-home-mothering doesn’t get the credit it deserves — when for most of humankind, mothering was the ONLY career available to women.

So, now it’s my turn to be sanctimonious when it comes to this issue.

While the stay-at-home moms can brag that they never miss a moment of their child’s life, I can brag that I’m showing my daughter the importance of being self-reliant.  When Emma is an adult, I never want her to be in a place where she feels vulnerable and indebted to someone else’s income.  When she’s older, I hope she sees my choice of working outside the home as one where I was able to use my talents in spheres beyond domestic ones, and I hope she’ll also appreciate that I gave her the opportunities to learn from  adults other than me.

Because that’s the trick when you’re a working mama — you have to find the right people to help you in your parenting journey.  I don’t have extended family to call upon to play a major role in Emma’s life — but I do have great people/friends/and services that have filled that familial void quite well.

For instance, the daycare worker that Emma saw three days a week, Carol.  Carol is the mama to 2 boys, and she loved Emma as one of her own, too.  I never had to worry about Emma when she was in Carol’s care, and in fact, I think Emma is a better girl because of the time she spent with Carol.

Starting next week, Emma will be in the CASA program at Allegro Montessori School.  Jerry and I deliberately chose this style of schooling because we wanted Emma to have the best.  As harassed as I am by others (hi Mom!) about my choice of only having one child, I take pride that my choice means that I can afford to give Emma options that I would not be able to if we had more children in our lives.

So I know I’ve ended this post a bit snarky (and maybe even a little nasty), and it’s not necessarily directed to anyone (not you, Dixie) — but I’m just tired of having to feel lesser-than when it comes to the choices I’ve made as a parent.  I’m also tired of the presumption that the better parent is the stay-at-home parent.

10 thoughts on “Mommy Wars”

  1. Becky, it’s so interesting the many different ways that scene has been perceived by different people. I can definitely see your point of view. I think mothers do themselves a disservice when we try to play the “better than” game. In my humble opinion, the best mother (or father for that matter), is a happy one.

    I think it is unfair for me to say that my choice to stay at home is the “best” thing for my children because I agree that you are providing a wonderful example for your daughter by showing her that a woman can make an important contribution to her community through her career, just as a man can. I have sometimes worried that perhaps I am missing out on teaching my kids that very thing by choosing to stay home. But ultimately, I feel it is best for me personally. There are benefits and drawbacks to both staying and home and working and somehow it’s still mostly women that feel the pressure to make that choice.

    Ultimately what I took from that particular scene was that Joan had learned that she could make a choice and she understood the consequences of her choice. She was not right or wrong, but simply making the choice she felt was right for her. I don’t think that the message was that “no woman can fully commit to a career and a family”. I think the message was more that it is ok if a woman makes the decision to sacrifice one or the other or to do both at the same time. All those choices are valid and are right for different kinds of women. It wasn’t wrong that for most of history women stayed home to take care of their children. It was wrong that women had NO CHOICE but to stay home and take care of their children.

    For me to be the best mother I can be, I don’t feel I should be working. I don’t want to work, in fact. I have always wanted to be a stay at home mother and luckily I am able to make the choice to do so. That doesn’t make me better, or more righteous. That’s just how I want to be a mother. But I want to teach my kids that my choices were right for me personally, and not for all women. I love and respect my friends who enjoy their careers and can’t wait to get back to them. I think they are making the best choices for them and that’s fantastic and I think they are wonderful mothers. I am so glad that my children are exposed to friends, relatives and other women who work so that they can see the many different kinds of moms there are out in the world. We need all different kinds of mothers in the world to teach girls that there are all kinds of ways to be a mother.

    Like I said, the point is the ability to choose, not the choice itself. But I know there are many working mothers who have felt very judged for their choice and that is really very sad.

  2. I think anyone can “do” both. And to judge whether any of us are doing it “well” is almost impossible, but we moms are continually doing it. We are always looking for the yardstick. The working mom might say, “I may not have as much time, but what I do have is quality time”. The stay at home mom can always play the martyr and can present herself as almost blameless sheerly for the fact that she has made this sacrifice in giving up a career.

    I think it is what it is. We should all try (easier said than done) to not ever compare ourselves to others, but try to do the best at whatever scenario we have adopted. I have a friend who never saw her mom because she worked so much as a hospital administrator. She ended up being close to her dad, which was a great thing during those teenage years. Shrug. Life’s funny. She’s still not close to her mom, but she’s a fully functioning happy member of society. I have many friends who felt they had to stay home to raise their kids for whatever reasons, and yet resent their children for taking away their opportunities. You wanna bet those kids don’t feel that? Not only the resentment but the model that the mom is giving, not honoring her own passions? And yet there are flip sides of both of those coins. Working moms who have great relationships with their kids and stay at home moms who do, as well. I think of the book “Hold On To Your Kids”, by Gordon Neufeld. If you can maintain an attachment with your kids so that they don’t feel the need to attach unhealthily to peers instead, it doesn’t matter whether you spend ten hours a day with them or two. Give them a safe, loving world and forget the mommy wars. Only you know what’s best for you and your family. And that’s the truth. Phhhhttt.

  3. My opinion comes from being a kid when my both of my parents worked for a portion of my growing up, and then my mom decided to stay at home. So as a kid I have experienced both worlds.

    I agree with Dixie in that something has to give, that one can not fully be a parent and fully be a career driven person. Both have priorities but at some point in a time line or the other has to give, in order for the other to succeed. It’s just a fact. For there to even be a disagreement about that I have had hard fathoming. Because when you have a career – whatever it may be – there will be times when life events, people, circumstances will conflict with your career and job. Even a stay at home mom that has two kids at times, will have to choose between the two, which one do I go to what event if they both have events at the same time. Which one needs my attention?

    I disagree with your thought that working moms are showing their daughters to be more self reliant than stay at home moms. For me it’s entirely that sort of propaganda that gets under my skin (I was already tucked into bed, just doing my final check of my social media when I came across this and had to get up to reply lol). I think that has relatively little to showing children to be self reliant. I was taught to be independent by the nature and personalities of my parents. Not by what my parents did as careers. By that reasoning those that are raised by parents on welfare, will grow up to be on welfare because they will never be exposed to different ideas or thoughts to be something more. (Yeah faulty example but my brain is refusing to give me a better one).

    To take the thought further that a stay at home mom teaches her daughters that is what they need to do, is such a stereotype. Perhaps that has been your experience. It certainly was not mine. Nor of the friends that are stay at home moms. Sure some mom cuddle and over protect (and don’t even get me started on the whole gentle mothering), but that can come from a mom that works outside of the home just as much as it can from a stay at home mom. It has to do with the person the mother is – not what they choose to do in terms of staying at home or working.

    As well as the personality of the kid involved. Like it or not, for some daughters, they grow up, they get married, they have kids and they stay at home. Perhaps it may seem like why on earth would they do that? How horrible is that? Yet I know women how have done exactly that and are happy with their decision to do so. It fits them. They weren’t told to do it, they wanted to do it. Hell some of their moms weren’t even stay at home moms, so where would they learn that for to be less self reliant – if I was use that argument. For those women it isn’t a sacrifice, it is what they want. Now for someone like me, who owns two business, doesn’t ever want to have kids, it’s not something I would want to do, be a stay at home mom, but it doesn’t decrease my respect for those that do.

    I recently was in a facebook ‘discussion’ when someone was complaining about the cost of childcare. The average cost of childcare is LESS than minimum wage. Which to me is stupid. But yet those women that were choosing to work outside of the home, to me had the nerve to complain about what they were paying. Someone has to look after the kid, wether it’s the parent, or someone else. By paying those that do that work, less than minimum wage, and then they wonder why so few people do childcare, it’s so hard to find, why so few good people do it.

    I’m getting off topic, and yet it all plays into the same issue. My impression from your statements is that a stay at home mom is someone putting down woman rights, we should all work outside of the home (remember I have no kids, nor do I ever want any!). Instead should the argument not be that stay at home moms should somehow be rewarded for their work – not because of the ‘sacrifice’ but because someone has to look after the kids. It sure doesn’t make them any less of a woman by doing so. A stay at home mom is a career. Again if I was pull out these statements, would you say then women should not go into traditional woman careers? Teaching, nursing, secretarial? Does that somehow lessen the value of what that women does? or teaches her daughters?

    My two pennies.

  4. Shannon: thanks for your wise words, and also for your good will of seeing through most of my rant-y-ness in my post.

    While I can understand your interpretation of the movie scene, I think the clip is a bit tainted for me, due to the scene precedes it — it’s the scene where the smarmy male fiancee laughs off her future plans to attend Yale and pursue a career outside of being his wife. While I understand that she supposedly makes the choice to not pursue a career, I can’t help but think it wasn’t a choice made completely on her own (you know? but that could be me again reading into the film a bit much).

    That said, I think you are absolutely right when you say: “the point is the ability to choose, not the choice itself.” I need to remember that.

    Janina, you just always make me laugh, despite myself. This is a good thing, and I hear your mama wisdom.

    And Tara, it looks like you’ve pretty much completely missed the point what I’m saying in this post. I’m not out to bash SAHMs — because, guess what? I’m also the kid of a mom who was both a working mama and who stayed at home, plus I’ve got many many friends who have chosen to take that path for themselves (see Shannon and Janina above).

    I guess I’m a little too put off by your tone to seriously engage with you and what you had to say in your comment, especially since you appear to have so completely misread any of the points I made.

  5. Heya! Just had to pop my two cents in here. I believe some women are capable of having a career and a family. I did it for years. Then I burnt out, because I couldn’t make the switch from business me, to mother me, to wife me, to teacher me (I homeschool) a million times a week. I took a leave of absence from work and my home life is finally a home life. Ultimately, I am expendable at work, but I am not expendable at home, and I’m happy there. I don’t need a titled career anymore to make me feel successful. I did have to try “doing both”, and I wasn’t good at it. I hated the rushing, the pushing, the pulling, the constant scheduling, the decision making, the anger, the frustration….for not just me, but for my husband and son too. Add into that that after I truly sat down and calculated the cost of working, it made no sense to continue (and I made a good wage at a large company with great benefits and pension plan). I guess I have decided to focus on my two careers separately. Firstly, while I have the opportunity, I will be a stay at home mom, and make money with various ventures at my own convenience, but without a regular employer. Secondly, when that job (raising my son) is fully completed, then I will find another life’s work to carry on (and it may not be a “career”). I don’t believe that I personally can do both WELL; I can only do both half-assed and that’s an honest assessment from a highly intelligent person and it galls me to admit it. In my experience, with a job that was expensive to actually do, and which was exceptionally stressful, by staying home and being a wife/mother/teacher I am only teaching my son that to be happy isn’t necessarily to be employed at a 9-5 job. I am not losing my independence – I am creating independence by working for what I truly believe in, and working for only myself and my family. I have removed my dependence on an outside employer, as it were. I am teaching my son that he can be independent without working for someone else, at a job he hates, like I was. And I am showing my family that they are worth my focus and my time, because when I was working, they weren’t getting either. My hats go off to all women who are capable of doing both – to their satisfaction . I couldn’t make it work to my own satisfaction, and therein lies the difference. Everyone is different and places difference importance on everything. No one thinks the same – but for me personally, if I can’t do both well and be happy, then I better focus on one. I wish I could do both! For the record, my family also has to deal with depression for both my husband and my son, and that was a big decision in me staying home – and it’s been a huge boon to our family. I guess the bottom line of my nearly incoherent late night ramble (sorry) is that a woman shouldn’t feel pressured to work and have a family anymore than a woman should feel pressured to stay home and give up their career. It’s a decision made in conjunction with everyone in your life, and taking all possible effects into consideration. Neither is better than the other; but regardless of the decision, do it well. If it’s not working out – make a change, and don’t hang on to the career because you feel you “should” be able to. (I guess you could in theory not hang on to the family, but I doubt that’s what we are talking about here!). For me, I had a child for a reason, and that was to enjoy him, and when it was no longer enjoyable and we were always fighting and he was depressed, I had to make a change. If that means staying home makes everyone happier, including me, I will gladly give up my career in a hearbeat; that’s something I would have vehemently denied ever feeling just four years ago (I felt pressured to continue to do both). I hope this makes some sense at all, it is very late and the letters are swimming in front of my eyes 🙂 lol.

  6. Eh. I think we all feel the “mommy guilt” regardless of whether we stay at home or stay in the workforce. For me, I hope I’m raising a self-reliant child even though I stay home with him. I want him to grow up knowing that his mom is quite capable of being the breadwinner, too. I think it’s sad that people judge each other on BOTH sides of that fence. What’s good for you may not work for me and vice versa. Why do we always want to put each other into our own shaped boxes?
    Really, I feel it’s more about the gender roles you display to your kids. I want my son to notice daddy enjoying cooking in the kitchen… and know that guys can cook and clean too. I want him to know that he can grow up to do whatever he wants, whether he wants to be a stay-at-home dad or a doctor. My focus is more on him seeing my marriage (and men and women’s roles, for that matter) as a partnership and not as a 1950’s arrangement!

  7. Yeah, I think there are just a whole lots of ways to interpret that scene and maybe each of us interprets it a little differently based on our own experiences and biases. I agree- the male fiancee was a jerk. 🙂

  8. I don’t think that there are any “easy” choices that a mother can make. My own mother chose to work, and openly resented us for “making” her work so hard at a dead-end job (her recent comment on my topic of breast-feeding was, “I had to work.”). On the flip side, I know many mothers, like yourself, who are perfectly happy to work and to show their children that opportunities are available for women now in every working capacity. And I don’t think that any one way is the right way, nor is any the wrong way.

    I was fortunate to come to know a devout Catholic family recently. To earn a little extra income (and perhaps to prepare for my own family), I took a part-time position helping the mother, who not only stayed home with her EIGHT children, but home schooled the older six, while running after a fierce toddler and caring for a baby with Down’s Syndrome. I must say, I have never been more impressed. Never. While I hope to have only 2 kids myself, the resolve and grace with which this woman managed her family was truly remarkable. All of her children were self-reliant, and possessed a wide variety of skills, talents, and abilities(everything from cooking to gardening to refinishing furniture to sewing to music to cutting hair… the list goes on!), not to mention, learned how to work together rather than to fight over who does what. The oldest began going to college early, recently crossing the country to attend a liberal arts school; the kids from age 9 were studying greek and latin as a foundation to their studies (and were far more intelligent than me!); the older 3 children were being taught physics and chemistry by an octogenarian retired professor, who also happened to be a fiercely devout atheist. Not once in my experience did these people attempt to “save” me, nor were my faith, path or choices ever questioned. The mother had double-majored in biology and illustration (both parents are artists), and was well-equipped to teach her children about the choices that they could make, in their homes and in the world. While this story may seem off of the subject a bit, I am using it to illustrate that a woman who CHOOSES to be home to work can simultaneously give her children a plethora of opportunity, and encourage them to be individuals while maintaining a cooperative and able mindset. This woman is the polar opposite of my own mother, and is, quite honestly, my inspiration for what I will bring to the table in my own journey as a mother. While her way may not be my way, I can take what I have learned about this remarkable family, and apply it to my own.

    Also, I think that the term “stay-at-home-mom” somehow implies that a mother at home is not working. Mothers work constantly. And many do it so gracefully, that it appears that they aren’t doing much. But, as I have told many people (mostly men), if she makes it look easy, she may be working harder than you!*

    *not you specifically.

  9. Hello Ladies! How are you? Fantastic.

    Shannon I liked your comment “In my humble opinion, the best mother (or father for that matter), is a happy one. ”

    So true.

    The worst thing a parent can be is self-sacrificing, giving up his or her own life for vicarious existence shaped only by the experiences of the child. This is not a pro-working parent statement, just an emphasis on the value of not putting self-actualization on the back-buner for 2 decades.

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