Can we have a cease-fire?

I can’t decide if I’m more pleased with all the recent attention that work-family issues have been getting in the mainstream media these days or frustrated that so much of the coverage is stuck on the same old groove, setting working (for pay) moms against at-home moms, and ignoring dads completely.

I love RebelDad’s suggestion that we should googlebomb the term "mommy wars" to refer to Miriam Peskowitz’s excellent book, The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars.  It’s a much more productive contribution to the discussion than the new book by Leslie Morgan Steiner that’s been getting a bunch of attention.  (See also Miriam’s blog, where she’s had some interesting posts this week about the NYTimes article on trends in women’s labor force participation.)

RebelDad’s ready to write off the Steiner book because of her stupid comments about dads in the interview with her posted on the Business Week working parents blog.  (He also points out this strong piece from Time online called "Bring on the Daddy Wars.")  I agree, if she can only find men "whose lives haven’t changed as much dramatically" it’s because she hasn’t been looking.  (She also said she couldn’t find any interesting blogs that talk about work-family issues — I posted some of my favorites in the comments section there.)

And yet, I don’t want to dismiss the book entirely, both because I want to take advantage of the big Random House publicity machine’s efforts to get these topics aired, and because Steiner gets some things exactly right.  In the Business Week interview, she says:

"I thought the battle was between stay-at-home and working moms. But women don’t fall into these neat categories. Most women see it as a continuum. A mom who left a hard-driving job may be at home now, but she plans on being back at work two years from now."

Yup.  And in the Post article she makes the point that the biggest mommy war is often internal, and tells a sweet story about the lift she got when her daughter’s preschool teacher complimented her:

"Did anyone ever tell you how beautiful you are?" Mrs. Rahim whispered so that the swirling crowd of stay-at-home moms, lingering by the school door, couldn’t hear. "You are a happy mom. Your face glows with it. That’s what matters most to your kids. I think you should have 10 more children. Now go to work."

So, it’s hard to know what to expect from the book.  One taste is provided by the excerpt from one of the essays published in Newsweek.  It’s by a woman who suggests that her children’s overall meltdown was due to her not being home to meet the school bus (even though she did in fact work from home two weeks a month, and her husband was home the rest of the time).

As I’ve said before, I’m generally sceptical about the degree to which you can draw a straight line from parental choices to children’s outcomes.  But even setting that aside, my reading of the essay is that, to the extent that Hingston contributed to her kids’ problems, it’s not because she was working, but because she felt so guilty about working that she had trouble setting limits, even when her son’s therapist and teachers all agreed that they were badly needed.  I’m quite curious whether Hingston draws the same conclusion in the full version of her essay.

11 Responses to “Can we have a cease-fire?”

  1. Moxie Says:

    I haven’t read (and won’t soon) the pieces you’ve mentioned, but I thought I’d mention this piece written by a working dad:
    http://milesetc.blogspot.com/2006/02/to-gtwd.html
    which was then mentioned here by Dutch of Sweet Juniper:
    http://adoption.bloggingbaby.com/2006/02/28/another-voice-in-the-feminist-debate-what-about-the-feelings-of/
    I think the topic of dads’ sadness at missing their kids while working is going to be the next topic.

  2. Maggie Says:

    Yup. Yup yup yup. The place we all need to get to – editors of Mommy Wars books included – is the place where you can recognize that lots of different arrangements work for different people and at different times. And the proof is in the pudding: Are the kids doing OK? Is everyone content? Is life rich, not just constant survival mode? If so, then the arrangement works. For now. No matter what it is.
    As I’ve said before, I think the people the most invested in the “mommy wars”, from my (admittedly anecdotal) experience, are the ones who are uncomfortable with their own choices, the SAHMs who’d on some level rather be WOHMs, and the WOHMs who, on some level, would rather be SAHMs. That’s what I – like you – get from the Newsweek excerpt. That author’s issues, and it sounds like there are many, are with her guilt rather than with her working; her trying to “make up” for both working and enjoying work by being indulgent with her kids.
    Everyone needs to own their choices, and if the choice changes, well that’s OK too – a foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of small minds and all – and the more a person has ranted about the OTHER choice being absolutely wrong, the less flexibility that person has to move in that other direction when to do so would be useful or satisfying.
    And, emphatically, WHERE THE HECK ARE THE DADS?!?!?!?! Can we please start holding them accountable as parents?!?! (says the mom who, every day, diligently writes down dad’s cell phone number in the “who do we contact if your kids gets sick” box on the daycare sign-in form, and who, if the kid gets sick, gets 4 calls on her multiple cell/work numbers before anyone thinks to call dad. When dad works 1 block away and has the car and picks the kids up every day. Grrr.)

  3. Wayne Says:

    And, emphatically, WHERE THE HECK ARE THE DADS?!?!?!?! Can we please start holding them accountable as parents?!?!
    I’ll allow that fathers are late to realize a lot of things about parenthood, that patriarchy is alive and well and America, that feminism needs to be reborn and men need to be on board with it.
    And still, I find myself feeling, well, angry about the question Maggie asked — I suppose because the question imagines an answer wherein the men are cavorting around somewhere crushing beer cans against their foreheads and downloading porn while their wives suffer with all things domestic. And I’m all for discussing the domestic — my blog is about practically nothing but the domestic, as I experience it anyway. But just because fathers are absent from the divisive and often horribly skewed media reports about the very (upper?) middle class “mommy wars” does not mean they are absent from their own families. I cannot believe that the big problem is that men don’t care.
    If the daycare is calling the mother instead of the father, and the father is closer — that says more about the daycare than it does the father, doesn’t it? So I like what the Time Online piece suggested — that this is not a women’s issue but a family issue, and once the paradigm shifts that way, we might start asking questions about our culture and society that are more relevant than the insipid “which is better, working mothers or SAHMs?”
    Anyway, yelling in capital letters WHERE ARE THE MEN?!?!?! doesn’t feel like progress.

  4. Amy Says:

    I absolutely agree that the love and work and attention dads pay to their families gets ignored. Wayne, what I got from Maggie’s comment is exactly what you’re saying: “if the daycare is calling the mother instead of the father, and the father is closer–that says more about the daycare than it does the father, doesn’t it?” Maggie, tell us if I’ve got this wrong, but aren’t we all frustrated by the same thing–the way the mainstream media focuses exclusively on moms rather than on families and the ways factors like jobs and health care and daycare impact families’ choices?
    There’s a part of me that thinks if we all had preschool teachers in our lives like the one Steiner quotes, we’d be a little more at peace. When I drop my daughter off at preschool and the chalkboard outside the front door reads, “Smile! Your kids are loved here!” and the teachers’ actions support that, it’s easy to feel content with my choices. When I talk to my son’s public school teacher, the one who openly disapproves of moms who work and send their kids to afterschool care, I feel judged. These are anecdotes, but they matter to me because 1) these teachers have a major influence on my kids, and 2) they reflect the cultural conflicts in our society.

  5. Amy Says:

    I’m being a comment hog. However, I meant to add that I blogged about this here: http://www.mamazine.com/Pages/mamalike200.html

  6. Wayne Says:

    Amy, if that’s what Maggie meant, then I’m sorry for misunderstanding, and happy that we actually agree with each other. :)

  7. Christine Says:

    Do women really want men to return to controlling the household? Do we not forget the struggle for legal rights over ourselves, property and children? We want men to be more involved, but as unbalanced as domesticity is women seem to still control the home. Control is probably the wrong word. The problem is that once women retreat to child-rearing and home maintenance they are pushed out of external life (politics, business, etc.) due to the demands of domesticity. After my child was born it seemed like an essential job to keep up with world events, politics, etc. The underlying reason that women are in an uproar over the domestic glass cieling is due to women leaving workplaces (government, business, etc.) at a time that they can really make policy changes to better life for families. As biased as it sounds I have always felt that since men are not emersed in family issues on a daily basis they will continue to put business issues ahead of education and healthcare.

  8. Wayne Says:

    What’s a domestic glass ceiling?

  9. jen Says:

    Ugh, I am beyond sick of the media bias towards conflict. Is there really a mommy war? Even the writer of the collection of essays says there really isn’t. Yet still she and her publisher title it “Mommy Wars”. Whatever.
    Just today I got an infuriating “survey” from Parenting magazine called “older moms vs. younger moms”. Vs? What’s with the vs? Like we’re all against each other? And the questions in the survey were things like “Agree or disagree: it’s not fair that some women have their kids too old so their infertility treatments drive up insurance cost” (in the young moms version) and “it’s not fair that some women have their kids too young so they end up on welfare” (in the old moms version).
    I swear the MSM won’t be happy until we’re all at each others’ throats. Or maybe they all want us to focus on getting dissed by each other so we forget to lobby for universal health care. (Grimace.)

  10. Devra Says:

    In surveying over 1300 parents for our book, Mommy Guilt, our survey did not indicate any appreciable difference between levels of guilt reported from moms who are employed outside of the home and moms who are not employed outside of the home. Both felt like crap pretty much equally, and the number one guilt producer among all moms was yelling. Which has very little to do with whether or not we work outside, inside, underneath or on top of our homes.
    I think if we’re going to yell, let’s yell at all of these idiots who keep perpetuating the Mommy War and let them know we are sick and tired of it. Yes, the issues need to be addressed about work/family life, but they need not be dealt with in the media in such a divisive manner. Particularly when parents care about our kids and want the best for them, which certainly is a unifying goal.

  11. Devra Says:

    Addition…
    Miriam’s book *gets it*. It deserves to be leading the discussion to unite parents. It is positive, it’s focus is realistic, talks to everyone and is positive. Why on earth do we need to sit in a corner wringing our hands when we can grab onto the concepts in Miriam’s book and take real actions. Count me in on the fan base for Miriam’s book. ; )

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