Dear Lydia, Please Stop The Mommy Wars
I just finished reading your letter to your daughter. It raises so many troubling concerns for me.
You say in your letter that you’re a “stay-at-home mommy” and yet you go on to list all that you had achieved prior to having your daughter. Why do you feel it’s necessary to detail these accomplishments? If you’re content to be a stay-at-home parent, why even mention what you did previously? Are you hoping your daughter will be grateful for the sacrifices you’ve made? It would certainly seem so.
“I stay home because I want you and your brothers to be proud of me because I gave up something I truly loved in order to put you first.”
“…it is important for me that you never feel like a burden.”
I can assure you, as my teenaged children are older than your sweet baby, children are singularly narcissistic and ungrateful for any sacrifices you make, at least until adulthood, and that’s as it should be. They should not be beholden to you, nor should they feel guilty or burdensome, for the choices you made in having them. They were, after all, your choices. To ask a child to be grateful for the sacrifices you make places an enormous burden upon them. You are effectively making that child responsible for your happiness.
You go into some detail about your sacrifices, claiming that “you don’t have to be rich in order to live off one income”. While it’s true that you don’t have to have Kardashian level wealth to be a single income family, it certainly doesn’t hurt. But your phrasing makes it sound like full time work is always a choice, and easily attainable. What a financially, socially and racially privileged assumption. For so very many families, a single income would not provide them with even the basics, forget fancy sneakers or brand new cars.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, only around 10% of white children live in poverty, while 30% of Hispanic, and almost 40% of African American children live below the poverty line. The parents of those children do not have the luxury of giving up holidays to the Caribbean, or deciding whether to clad their child in cloth or disposable diapers. They don’t have the luxury of temporarily giving up jobs they love, in order to raise their children. They’re too busy eking out a minimum wage to feed and clothe their families. And what of all the single parent families out there? Do you automatically discount them because they don’t fit your comfortable middle class mould of family life? Single parents don’t have this choice at all, there is no other income for them to rely on.
“I stay home because I want you to learn that family and love are more important than material possessions. A large home or fancy sneakers will not make up for an absent mother.”
I’m so thrilled to read that you value family and love so highly, that those are values you want to pass on to your children. These are such wonderful values. But, I wish you hadn’t tainted them with quite so much judgement of other women. I notice that you don’t classify fathers in full time paid employment as being “absent fathers”. Do you consider fathers less important in a child’s development? Or is it that a man’s right to work full time, regardless of parenting status, is inalienable? Perhaps it’s against the natural order of things for men to take time away from work to raise a family? I’m not sure who you’re insulting more with your statement, men or women.
You pitted yourself against Sasha Emmons and her essay on being a working mother, but it seems you haven’t understood what she wrote, or taken into account the differences in ages and stages between your children. It isn’t a competition to see who’s the best kind of mother. There’s no “World’s Best Mom” prize.
You quote her conversation with her daughter, “Not long ago you asked me if I love work more than I love you and your brother”, and then go on to say how that question would break your heart and crumple you. Guess what? It broke Sasha Emmons’s heart too. She says so in her essay. She also goes on to say that, as her daughter is eight, it was most likely designed to have that effect. Ms Emmons is clever enough to know that her daughter is testing boundaries, as children do, and that sometimes that boundary testing includes testing your parents’ limits, how much they’ll tolerate.
Ms Emmons spoke of the fulfilment she got from her work, of how working outside the home made her happier and more content, as well as more well rounded. All feelings you clearly understand because you refer to your love for your own work before having Delaney. That contentment in her work life then transfers over to her being a better, more satisfied, less disgruntled, less resentful parent (remember what you said about not wanting Delaney to ever feel she’s a burden?). Isn’t that a good thing? Her parenting is enhanced by her time at work.
Just as not everyone is cut out to be a journalist, not everyone is cut out to be a good stay-at-home parent. It’s a difficult job. It’s not the romantic “most difficult job in the world” that some would have you believe, but for many years, there’s much less social interaction and intellectual stimulation than a workplace can provide. There isn’t the same intensity of meeting deadlines or working on large projects, there’s much less scope for travel, and the pay sucks. Your co-workers can be incredibly demanding, but are also terribly sweet and affectionate. Staying at home full time can be very isolating, and requires more personal sacrifice than most people realise. It isn’t something everyone can do well. Isn’t it better, then, that those who won’t do well at full time stay-at-home parenting, choose not to do it?
Choosing full time work, for those who are even able to choose, isn’t an act of selfishness. You cited Ms Emmons’s choice to enrol her child in childcare at the age of three months as a selfish act. Flippantly, you discount the contributions of others in child rearing, placing the sole responsibility of raising a child on mothers. Fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and child care workers are all thrown under the bus as you pit working mothers against stay-at-home mothers, in your personal version of Mommy Wars.
Your parting sideswipe at feminists (or was that another swat at Ms Emmons?) was confusing and misguided. The feminists are not out to get you, Lydia. And Ms Emmons didn’t say she loved her job more than her children, in fact she says the exact opposite. In an ideal world, where finances are not a consideration, you should be able to choose whether you stay at home with your children, or go back to work, but both choices involve enormous sacrifices.
I celebrate your decision and ability to stay home with your children while they’re young, I wish you great success when you return to the other job you love, but please please stop chopping other women down for their choices.