Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen put her foot in her mouth last week when she suggested Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life” because she chose to be a stay-at-home mom to her five sons.
I watched a video clip of the exchange she has now apologized for after receiving considerable backlash, and to be fair, she clearly only meant that Ann Romney had never worked for pay in her life, suggesting that her financial ability to stay at home disqualifies her from commenting on the issues that are important to women in the workforce. It was more of a stab at the Romneys’ wealth than it was at Ann’s ability to work hard as a stay-at-home mother.
Unfortunately, her comment rekindled the age-old war of Stay-at-Home Moms vs. Working Moms. The last thing we need right now is another war on that battlefield.
I believe part of the offense comes in the assumption that mothers who choose to stay home do it either for financial reasons (because their spouse makes enough money to allow them to stay home and read home decorating magazines all day) or educational reasons (as in, they are too uneducated to get a decent job.) Certainly there are those who fit into both of these categories. In fact, I can think of some in my own circle of association.
While living in the Los Angeles area, it was not uncommon for women I knew to have full-time nannies who did everything from cooking and cleaning to driving kids to and from their classes and activities. My sister-in-law nannied for a woman who spent a considerable amount of time shopping and party planning while my sister-in-law did most of the childcare.
I also know a mother who spent the vast majority of her children’s life as a stay-at-home mom while living on welfare because she didn’t have a spouse or a high school diploma. She couldn’t get a job that would pay her enough to get out of the welfare program. Every time she would get a job, the rent payment for her government housing would go up so disproportionately that she was practically forced to quit. She felt the welfare program made it financially impossible for her to work even if she wanted to, not to mention her education level didn’t allow her to get a job that would cover the associated costs of childcare, gas, etc. This mom would have actually chosen to be a stay-at-home mom, but under better circumstances. She felt she was forced to stay home.
But there are still other possible scenarios, like the highly educated woman with good earning potential who chooses to stay home even though her standard of living could be higher if she were in the workforce with her spouse. Yes, there are women who deliberately forgo personally satisfying, high paying careers simply because they feel it is the best thing for them and their children.
Take one of my closest friends for example. She is a stay-at-home mom with a PhD and has been all but ridiculed by her other highly educated friends for making this choice. They feel she is throwing away her talent and education, and doing a disservice to her community by not using her skills in the paid workforce. This woman is raising three of the most remarkable young people I know and spends her discretionary time volunteering in the classroom and heading up school science fairs among other things. If that isn’t contributing to society, I don’t know what is!
I also know several highly educated moms who choose to stay home even though their spouse doesn’t have a very large income. In our current economic climate, people often suggest that both spouses have to work for financial reasons, but there are many women who–with full support of their husbands–choose to stay at home and raise their children even if it means money will be very, very tight. As in, not enough for a second car, cell phone, or cable TV tight. Money isn’t necessarily the deciding factor for these women.
It’s easy to point to Ann Romney and suggest that she was a stay-at-home mom simply because her husband made a lot of money. But is it possible with her degree from Harvard that she could have worked if she had wanted to, choosing instead to stay home because she felt it was important for her five boys? Of course! Is it also reasonable to suggest that raising those five boys who are now contributing to society in their own ways was indeed very hard work and also a valid way to contribute to society? Absolutely. And like many moms who choose to stay home when they could be working, Ann Romney has spent several decades volunteering in various charitable organizations–too many to list in this short post. That’s work too.
Of course, the variety of choices don’t just apply to stay-at-home moms. We could just as easily go through a series of scenarios for working moms. The mom who works full time because she really has no other financial alternative even though she would rather be at home.The mom who has a full blown career because she would go crazy if she had to stay home and change diapers all day. The mom who works part time just to have a little extra cash of her own and keep her brain fresh. The mom who doesn’t need to work for money, but feels it is her duty and responsibility to “give back” to society and use her education in the workforce. The mom who works while her husband stays home since she has a better earning potential. The mom who loves to work and feels it actually makes her a better mother and provides a strong example for her own daughters.
Basically, the diversity of scenarios and reasons why mothers choose the type of work they do are endless. From part-time work in the home with a paycheck to practically full time work outside the home in the community as a volunteer to very untraditional jobs with flexible hours both in and out of the home–the lines are getting blurrier by the year!
What we should all acknowledge is that the vast majority of mothers are most certainly working mothers, and they are most likely working very hard at the type of work they’ve chosen to do with whatever life situations and gifts they’ve been blessed with. Whether or not they get a paycheck for their work shouldn’t affect the value of their offering.
Our only job as fellow mothers should be to support each other and stop the judgement until we’ve walked in another mother’s shoes–be they pumps or house slippers. That is one of our main purposes at The Power of Moms, to be a support and “a gathering place for deliberate mothers.” That tagline is intended to include all mothers who take their mothering seriously – everywhere and in every circumstance.
In the end, it’s Barbara Bush’s concise assessment of the hullabaloo that gets my vote for putting an end to the mommy wars: “Forget it. Women who stay at home are wonderful. Women who go to work are wonderful. Whatever.”
Question: Do you think it’s time to put an end to the mommy wars? Do you agree that all mothers work hard in one way or another whether or not they receive a paycheck?
Challenge: Whatever your work situation as a mother, try throwing out your outdated baggage about the “other side” and reach out to all mothers with love and support.