The so-called “mommy wars” have been stirred up again during this heightened political season. The “war” being fought in the media seems to have so little to do with what mothers today really are concerned about and worry about. In an interesting article in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne Jr. writes: “Instead of fighting a phony mommy war…we should face the fact that most families these days cannot afford to have one parent stay home with the kids. This is not about ‘lifestyle’ or ‘values’.”
The article further states that the public debate seems premised on the idea that all two-parent families have a choice as to whether one or both work. Although there are families where women are working because they want to, just as there are women who choose to stay home to raise their children, and either choice should be respected, the fact is that most American families don’t have such a choice.
A report of a study released by the Center for American Progress, referred to in the article, demonstrates conclusively that: “Most children today are growing up in families without a full-time, stay-at-home caregiver.” Fewer than one in three children now have a stay-at-home parent, compared to more than half only a generation ago. “And these changes are driven more by economics than by any of the mommy-war issues that provide so much fodder for television and radio brawls.”
A reader of this blog wrote a comment expressing the view that attacking mothers is a distraction. “If moms are ‘at war’ then we’re not fighting for rights…such as universal health care, education, child-care, paid maternity/paternity time and job protection for illnesses and personal time.” It is certainly true that a focus on whether mothers should stay home with their children or work outside the home ignores the kinds of supports that could offer women real choices. The fact is that such supports, which are provided in other Western democracies, would ultimately benefit children and families as well as mothers, whether mothers were working outside the home or not. Yet the resistance to providing such supports misguidedly has the objective of supporting family life by making it more difficult for mothers to work outside the home.
In the meantime, mothers are faced with their real concern of providing for their children with food, shelter, educational opportunity and the best child-rearing they can offer. Just this week there were other articles in the press pointing up difficulties parents are dealing with in trying to achieve these goals.
One story tells of the challenges mothers face if they have to travel as part of their job. They are advised not to try to run their households from the road. Seems easier said than done. On the other hand, although things may not run as smoothly as when mom is there, “sometimes parents come home from a trip and discover their children do know how to load a dishwasher or clean their own clothes.” One mother described how she stored premade meals in the refrigerator and freezer for her children and husband, homemade cookies, a pot of soup, or chili that could last for a few meals. That sounds like part of what has been described as mothers working a second shift.
Then again, another story about the disappointments parents face hoping their children might have a place in one of the special programs for gifted and talented children. This year, for every available seat there are four children who scored in the 99th percentile on the two exams New York City uses for gifted and talented admissions. Yet city officials are reported as saying they have no plans to open more schools or to add new seats.
Despite any obstacles that may exist in achieving their goals for their children, it is clear that mothers are invested in their children’s well-being and behavior, whether they are full-time mothers or working outside the home. Yet working mothers worry whenever problems arise and are quick to attribute any difficulty to the fact that they work outside the home. Full time mothers are just as quick to attribute any bumps in their children’s development to things they have done – or haven’t done.
It is disheartening to find mothers continually criticized and put on the defensive as a result of larger social issues over which they have little control, and work hard to try to fix in individual ways. I agree with the mom who called the “mommy wars” a “distraction” from the real concerns of parents that have not been addressed.