Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Heart of the Mommy Wars...What Moms Really Want

I’ve studied the Mommy Wars for more than three years and I’ve lived life as a mom for six years. Through my work with Mojo Mom, I have researched the topic on a factual level and immersed myself in media reports of the tensions and animosity felt between stay-at-home moms and employed moms.

At first I was temped to dismiss the existence of the Mommy Wars as a mere media creation, but the more I’ve read on each side, the more I think that there is some truth to the idea that this tension exists. The question is, what does that truth mean? I have tried to look beyond the actual words and criticisms put out by both sides to distill the essence of the Mommy Wars down to the feelings behind the conflict. What I believe is that at the core, we all want the same thing. Zen scholars teach that language is only "the finger pointing at the moon, not the moon itself." That’s how I feel about the Mommy Wars. It’s time to look beyond our finger pointing at each other to get to the heart of the matter.

What Moms Really Want

• To be appreciated and have all our work recognized as important

Much of women’s work is still invisible. Housework and childrearing are very intensive and our efforts are most noticeable when things aren’t going well. Stereotypically, men build skyscrapers and women clean them. No one ever looked at the Empire State Building and said, “Yeah, it’s tall, but what’s really amazing is how clean the bathrooms are inside.” Whether we are in the boardroom or playing board games with our kids, we want to have that work recognized.

• To use our talents

Every woman deserves to have an opportunity to continue to use and develop her whole range of her talents. I have written about this on a practical level, but I believe it is also important on a personal, spiritual level as well. Motherhood taps a lot of our skills but let’s face it, every hardworking mom needs a creative outlet that allows her to express herself and to let off steam in a new setting. We can do this on our own, or through volunteer opportunities or continuing our careers.

Along with this desire I sense a fear among moms that we are in danger of losing our sense of identity and losing losing our sense of identity and losing our power. This can be expressed as jealousy or judgment of women who have made different life-work choices, or an inability to honestly express our needs to our partners. When stay-at-home moms talk about how useless their husbands are around the house, but how they just have to put up with that, I worry that we have given away our power and need to find ways to reclaim it within our relationships.

• To be recognized and to feel part of a group

Mothers form the largest sisterhood on earth—arguably the most important group that holds this whole enterprise together. In the best circumstances, being a member of this club creates an inclusive and supportive environment. However, this can cross over into exclusivity that hurts other women. There is a fine line between creating an environment among women who share common experiences and splitting up into cliques that make “other kinds of moms” feel less worthy.

I have walked a similar line myself as men have asked me why I create talks and seminars that are just for women. I believe that for better or worse, a mother’s experience truly is different that a father’s and there is value in talking about these issues among women. Whenever an exclusive group is created though, I would ask the founders to carefully examine why the group is set up that way, whether it is truly justified, and who is being left out. Reaching out has value. While I continue to host all-women events, I have created a separate Mojo Families talk to present to mothers and fathers.

• To know that we are doing a good job as moms

Here’s the real heart of the Mommy Wars. I don’t believe that most women are really so worried that other kinds of moms are doing a bad job and are hurting their kids by making different choices about working or staying at home. I think that each of us at our very core of our being wants to know that we are doing a good job ourselves. Not just keeping things together and being somewhat appreciated for it, but doing things RIGHT. All throughout our academic studies and our professional careers, we knew how we were doing. We got an “A” on a report, a raise, kudos from our boss, awards, recognition.

As mothers, we not only receive scant praise, but we are faced with a daunting task whose final performance review won’t come for at least 20 years. Many women have been raised to aim for perfection and as mothers we take on a role that is impossible to do perfectly. Perfect Motherhood is a puzzle as insolvable as the Zen paradox that asks the question “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Even more maddeningly for those of us used to being totally in charge of our lives, the ultimate outcome of our work is largely out of our direct control. Raising children is an act of faith and requires courage. The famous quote by Elizabeth Stone says it best, “Making the decision to have a child—it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.”

To end the Mommy Wars within ourselves requires a new kind of thinking, one that gets us away from the corporate ladder mentality and into the present moment of our lives. Extending compassion to ourselves and other women is the first step. Every mom deserves a break with the recognition that with few exceptions, we’re all doing the best we can with what life has given us.

Who can give us what we want?

There is a lot that others can do give us what we want. Society can decide to make women’s work count on a number of levels, from categorizing homemakers as working instead of unemployed, to adopting caregiver-friendly public policies. Our families can honor what we do by both appreciating our work and pitching in to create a fully involved family work effort at home. But in the end, I believe that only we mothers can end the Mommy Wars. I urge each mom to treat herself with the kindness she’d extend to her best friend, and to offer support rather than criticism to other mothers whenever possible. We are truly all in this together, sisters not adversaries.

Those are my thoughts. They've been swirling around in many forms for a long time, and it feels good to have them coalesce. I hope you'll post comments and let me know what you think.


Blogger PunditMom said...

Amen, MojoMom! I agree wholeheartedly and have been privately thinking some of those same things myself.

1:52 PM  
Blogger PunditMom said...

Amen, MojoMom! You have really summed up what I have been thinking about the "Mommy Wars" for a long time!

1:53 PM  

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