February 25, 2005


Okay, so I get this email yesterday to the Big Arm account, talking about an upcoming book, provocatively entitled "The 7 Myths of Working Mothers, Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don't Mix." It includes an invitation to review the book or email the author, and mentions that she (the author) will be appearing on Fox News' DaySide to pimp the book. At first I am intrigued. A free book? That might be interesting. Then I check out the endorsements, you know, the blurbs from folks who just lurved the book, and I notice that Dr. Laura, she of the no sympathy or empathy for anyone, ever, unless you live EXACTLY THE WAY SHE DEEMS BEST, is prominently featured. Those alarm bells? Woah. Ring-a-ling, people.

Look, I'm savvy enough to realize that the Trauma of Motherhood is a multi-billion dollar beast, and that the beast feeds primarily on conflict between working and stay-at-home moms. Hell, they've even turned calling yourself a "working" mom into a slight against stay-at-homes, because it implies that they don't work. Um, no, but thanks for once again addressing an issue by getting self-righteous about terminology, you stupid bastards. But I digress.

Am I the only person in America who's tired of this crap? The DaySide program will feature little miss "careers kill children's souls" alongside little miss "oh, woe is the stay-at-home mommy," the whiny authoress of the correctly much-mocked Newsweek piece. And to what end, beyond ratings and self-flagellation fodder for people who are incapable of making decisions without the approval of some invisible other?

As a third-generation working mom, I must be frank and tell you that I have noticed exactly zero difference between my own levels of self-esteem and socialization and those of my peers whose moms stayed home. And when I was a kid, my mom was the exception to the rule in the middle-class suburban enclave where I lived, so all those feelings of inadequacy that I should suffer from and the resulting mental deficiency should be fairly well pronounced. Strangely enough, they aren't. So I'm a tad sceptical of the studies and scare tactics telling me what will or won't happen to my kid if he is or isn't in daycare.

Hublet and I made choices when we decided to reproduce. He's a teacher, which works well for him both in terms of what he was born to do and having a schedule that will coincide with The Boy's when he starts Kindergarten. I chose a job at a university, because it's a hell of a lot more flexible in terms of getting time off than a comparable job in the corporate world. We use a daycare that I am comfortable with. We made some sacrifices and some decisions and we have a pretty happy kid as far as I can tell. If he turns into a psycho killer in another 15 years, feel free to beat me up with a copy of "The 7 Myths of Working Mothers." Until then, Dr. Laura, the author, DaySide and Newsweek can conveniently store said book somewhere that the sun don't shine.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at February 25, 2005 12:26 PM

I think the people responsible for the big outcry against working mothers have a very narrow vision of what a working mother is like. I think they see someone who is gone 10 to 12 hours a day a minimum of 5 days a week and, when she comes home, is too exhausted or too distracted by her career to spend any time with her child.

That a mother can work and still have time for her child doesn't enter into that mindset.

My wife is a university professor. She is also an excellent mother to our daughter.

I resent the stereotypes this type of material paints with such a broad brush. I also resent the "fathers don't play an important role" stereotypes that are also quite common.

Parenting is hard work-- frustrating, time-comsuming--but also immensely rewarding. While there are working moms and dads that are poor parents, I believe there are also a similar number of "stay-at-home" moms (and dads) who aren't interested in putting in the effort required as parents.

Posted by: dhanson at February 25, 2005 12:48 PM

I think you hit it on the head with this:
"ratings and self-flagellation fodder for people who are incapable of making decisions without the approval of some invisible other"

Life is nothing but choices, and being an adult means making your choice and then SHUTTING UP about having to do so and what you could have done differently blahblahblah, unless you are at a drinking party with the gals. If people make chioces they really hate, I think they pass THAT dissatisfaction on to their kids. If, as you/Hublet did, they make choices that are a good compromise and then get on with life, they end up with well-adjusted, normal kids (and friends who don't roll their eyes everytime the bitchin' starts, LOL). Cheers!

Posted by: Sheryl at February 25, 2005 01:30 PM

It's there because it's soap opera, and soap opera fascinates women, anyway enough women (40% to judge from newsmagazine ratings) to support its production. You got it because you're a women.

Women like soap opera because they're challenged by ongoing complexity, where a man just says the hell with the whole thing and solves one problem exclusively instead. Both are virtues and both need the other guy, anyway they do if they're going to be civilized.

Here's James Thurber on Soap Opera, and look how close it comes :

``In many soap operas, a permanent question is either implied or actually posed every day by the serial narrators. These questions are usually expressed in terms of doubt, indecision, or inner struggle. Which is more important, a woman's heart or a mother's duty? Could a woman be happy with a man fifteen years older than herself? Should a mother tell her daughter that the father of the rich man she loves ruined the fortunes of the daughter's father? Should a mother tell her son that his father, long believed dead, is alive, well, and a criminal? Can a good, clean Iowa girl find happiness as the wife of New York's most famous matinee idol? Can a beautiful young stepmother, can a window with two children, can a restless woman married to a preoccupied doctor, can a mountain girl in love with a millionaire, can a woman married to a hopeless cripple, can a girl who married an amnesia case - can they find soap-opera happiness and the good, soap-opera way of life?
No, they can't - not, at least, in your time and mine. The characters in Soapland and their unsolvable perplexities will be marking time on the air long after you and I are gone, for we must grow old and die, whereas the people of Soapland have a magic immunity to age, like Peter Pan and the Katzenjammer Kids. When you and I are in Heaven with the angels, the troubled people of Ivorytown, Rinsoville, Anacinburg, and Crisco Corners, forever young or forever middle-aged, will still be up to their ears in inner struggle, soul searching, and everlasting frustration.

_The Beast in Me and Other Animals_ ``Ivorytown, Rinsoville, Anacinburg, and Crisco Corners''

Posted by: Ron Hardin at February 25, 2005 04:05 PM

I agree with Sheryl--- it's about making the choices, making it work... and then shutting the heck up and refusing to accept whatever guilt trip people will be trying to lay on you because they think you should be doing/should have done something else. (And they will be trying--- pay no attention to them.)
Full disclosure: I raised one child, as a single parent and active duty military member. Yes, I did depend heavily on day care and sitters for four years. Given a choice (Which I didn't have!), I might have preferred working parttime for those four years... but whatthheck. I made it work for us. I fixed dinner every night, read the kidlet story books at bedtime, made a lot of her clothes... all that neato family bonding stuff. Yes, it was very intense, yes, it was hard work, juggling work and parenting... but the hardest bits were early on. My daughter became a very responsible, mature person... and then she was off to join the military and I was left thinking "Whoops... is that all there is? I thought the intense, hands-on stuff would last much longer!"
You actually do not spend very much more than a fifth of your life (assuming one child and a normal life-span) being the hands-on, all-around mommy, so it's best to a)enjoy the heck out of it while you are doing it, and b) have some other interests and hobbies to pick up the slack.

Posted by: Sgt. Mom at February 25, 2005 04:24 PM

So does this mean you don't want the review copy we offered you?

Posted by: Mitchell Muncy at February 25, 2005 04:40 PM

I've been a stay-at-home mom. Have had "working" moms lord their worth to society over me.

'Course I'm of the philosophy that the most important thing any generation can do is raise the next generation...so it didn't work too well.

As to how the kids turn out, I believe -- based on watching the critters ages 3-14 that I see every day when school is in session -- the real difference comes down to whether or not the child spends his/her early years with someone who cares about them.

Notice I said someone who cares about them, which includes more than just parents (hopefully).

Have seen kids with stay-at-home moms who are wonderfully well adjusted. Seen kids with SAH moms who I'd vote "most likely to set something on fire for fun." Have seen kids with nannies - some who treat the kids like glorified luggage and others who treat the kids like the most precious being they've encountered. Seen kids from divorces where the parents are friendly and committed to raising their offspring. Seen kids from divorces where the parents seem to spend a great deal of effort trying to belittle the other.

The big trick to raising a well balanced kid seems (to me) to lie in whether the parents put the kid(s) as the first priority in their lives.

That may mean a stay-at-home parent. Or a grandparent. Or an excellent daycare. Or a nanny or neighbor.

Posted by: di at February 25, 2005 05:17 PM

I would guess that she doesn't want it.

I sent a long email to Mona Charen once, and got a reply: "Thank you for your thoughtful note". Among other things, I expressed my opinion that welfare reform, which is badly needed, will inevitably mean babies in daycare; that conservatives are supposed to expect people to provide for their own families; and that I don't feel bad about expecting mommies on welfare to put their babies in daycare and go to work because I'm not asking them to do anything I didn't do. I just wish they had better daycares to send them to. This was after two children died on the same day because they were left on vans at two different daycares. (Before welfare reform, there were no daycare vans, by the way; people drove, walked, or took the bus and transported their own kids.) So the answer is for conservatives to quit trashing the whole daycare concept and get busy and fix it. Some people act like the conservative party line is that the mother has to be the angel in the home and she's a bad woman if she's not totally fulfilled with that and whatever quality of life her husband is able to provide for her. My take is that people need to do whatever is necessary to look after their own, which doesn't preclude helping others, but does preclude expecting others to subsidize their selection of a lifestyle if they can't support it, whether that's through AFDC or tax policy. Of course, if a woman has a husband who can support her and the kids, and she WANTS to stay home with them, fine.

Posted by: Laura at February 25, 2005 05:23 PM

Newsweek last week was all over this topic, and had a great article by Anna Quindlen. My wife told me I would enjoy the insight into her daily existence, and I did -- I also know why she is so wrecked by the end of the day.

Posted by: Isaac B2 at February 25, 2005 11:57 PM

This is just another version of what Getupgrrl, she of Chez Miscarriage, is calling "mommie drivebys". Go check it out -- person A minding person B's business big time


Hundreds and hundreds of examples of drive-bys, some well-intentioned, some mean.

Posted by: liz at February 26, 2005 04:53 PM

Mitchell -

Sorry if I come across all evil and unappreciative here, but I sincerely doubt that I would be able to give the book a fair shake, due to my aforementioned burnout and irritation with the topic as a whole. I would feel like I was cheating. Yeah, I'm a southerner. We're like that.

Now, if you're from the "any publicity is good publicity" school, then you did just get a few more eyeballs on the book's title, so there you go.

Posted by: BAW at February 26, 2005 09:53 PM

I'm new to Raleigh, writing my dissertation on punk rock, and am increasingly concerned with a version of Stepford life that found its way to the cover of Newsweek recently. Has everyone read this by now, the bunch of articles on the myth of the SuperMommy and how women are martyring themselves?

As someone who cut her teeth on Friedan and early feminisms, teaches feminist theatre at a women's college, and is part of the very Gen X population that these articles are looking at, I gotta come on board here and say simply this: Martyr is as martyr does.

Yes, I've made professional sacrifices to have my son, as has my husband. Yes, I've made personal sacrifices to have my son, as has my husband. But I get real nervous when it starts looking and sounding like no matter what we do as women, we're reading in the media (and when I say "media", I fully implicate myself, whoever reads this, the chick across the street on the treadmill, and every other person on the planet in the creation of this "media" that so often comes under attack) as Victims of Something. Maybe I'm just freakishly selfish, but I've never gotten in bed with the Working Mom vs. Stay at Home Mom dialectic. I'm a Mom, I'm a Ph.D. student, and about 324 other things. Just like my husband is. Just like my son is, if he's lucky.

Posted by: Ph.D. Mama at February 27, 2005 03:49 PM

"As someone who cut her teeth on Friedan and early feminisms, teaches feminist theatre at a women's college," and uses the term "chick", you give me hope for the future. Sincerely.

But get a few drive-by's under your belt and you may find your inner martyr. I checked out liz's link and it is truly phenomenal.

Posted by: Laura at February 27, 2005 05:38 PM

Taking Laura's advice, I just checked out the suggested link on Mommy Drive-By's. Capitalist whore that I am, I have to wonder why HasBro, RonCo or some other merchandising genius hasn't developed some sort of stun gun or other device for use by Moms in situations like these. A few years ago, I did a cross country drive through Utah to go to a conference with some colleagues. We rented a minivan for the trip, and equipped it with Post-Its suggesting our thoughts on what all those little storage spots in poorly outfitted rental vehicles are actually for. We had spots for "Mormon Shields", "Panty Shields", and even "Brooke Shields". (We kept her in the glove compartment next to the Mapquest printout.) Maybe SUVs and Volvos should come equipped with a similarly themed product option kit.

Posted by: Ph.D. Mama at February 28, 2005 12:51 PM