A few months ago, I celebrated a friendís surprise 40th birthday party at The Sulgrave Club, an elegant old mansion in downtown Washington, DC. Dressed in a vintage black cocktail dress from my mother-in-lawís party girl days and grosgrain heels that bent my toes like wire coat hangers, I stood chatting with a neighbor, a mom like me who works part-time in newspaper and magazine publishing. I told her about my idea for a book exploring the tension and confusion between working moms and stay-at-home moms today.
Another neighbor, a stay-at-home mom whose kids go to school with my children, joined us. This woman is the head of the parent-teacher association at our public elementary school, as constant and welcoming a presence on the playground as a greeter at Wal-Mart. My friend, a former Washington Post reporter who makes her living posing provocative questions, asked our neighbor what she thought of my book idea. Specifically, what she thought of moms who work. Without breathing, the stay-at-home mom answered, ďOh, I feel so sorry for them.Ē
My cheeks flushed like a child with fever. Fortunately, the guest of honor turned on the microphone and started thanking her husband for the party, so I didnít have to disguise my response. This woman felt sorry for me? For all the moms at our school who work to support their families, to show their kids that women can work, who work to change the world, who work to keep their sanity?
My reporter friend was watching me closely.
ďShe doesnít feel sorry for me or you,Ē she leaned over and whispered in my ear. ďShe feels sorry in theory for women who work. Itís why she doesnít work. Because she imagines that if you work, you donít have time for your children, your husband, life. She doesnít know what itís really like to work. Just like you and I donít know what itís really like to stay home full-time. Thatís why youíre writing this book--so we can end this catfight.Ē
That is why I created this book, and how I got a great title in the process. Motherhood in America is fraught with defensiveness, infighting, ignorance and judgment about whatís best for kids, family and women--a true catfight among women whoíd be far better off if we accepted and supported all good, if disparate, mothering choices. For years, I struggled to end my own personal catfight over career and family balance--and I tussled mightily to stop myself from disparaging other womenís different solutions. I still struggle. Along the way, Iíve perplexedly watched working women transmogrify into happy (and not so happy) stay-at-home moms, and seen others continue doggedly working, some happily and others with deepening resentment and anger over the drudgery and missed opportunities both at home and at work.
Nearly every week, someone tells me how lucky I am--that I have the best of working and stay-at-home motherhood. Until 2:30 every day, Iím a working mom in the advertising department of The Washington Post. Then I tear down the office stairs (late, always late), speed walk home, rip off my Tahari suit and pantyhose, and pull on yoga pants and my Merrill Jungle Slides just in time to grab our two year old and pick up the older kids from school. But the truth is I feel like a hybrid--neither working mom nor true stay-at-home mom.
I donít understand moms who find happiness staying home all the time, without work and their own incomes (however large or small). I canít fathom why some working moms stay stuck in too-demanding jobs or careers that they openly resent because of the quality (and quantity) time they miss with their kids. But what I know for certain, because I see it almost every day from each side of the battlefield, is that the two groups misunderstand and envy each other in the corrosive, fake-smiling way we women have perfected over the eons.
How can some moms stay home? Why is it that others, like me, so clearly cannot? Do we all fight our own private catfight about whether to work or stay at home? Does that explain why weíre so bitchy to women whoíve made different choices?
My confusion and curiosity about other momsí lives is what led me to create this book. I needed to hear from happy stay-at-home mothers and hard-driving career moms about what life is truly like for them. To bridge the gap between working mom fantasies and fears about stay-at-home lives (and vice versa) twenty-six wonderful writers have laid out, step by step, how theyíve made their choices and why the decisions are right (or not so right) for them, their children, their husbands, the world. I found it provocative, in the best sense of the word, to juxtapose the stay-at-home mom elucidations with the working mom ones, and to mix in a few hybrid part-timers like myself. In order to end this catfight and emerge united, we need to explain ourselves to each other.
Very much of the debate in the United States about the benefits of working vs. stay-at-home motherhood has been taken over by experts: researchers, academics, politicians, journalists. Many of them arenít women. Many arenít even parents. The most authoritative (and fascinating) answers come from the moms themselves.
So letís hear from them.
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Interviews & Opinions
"If The Baby Chase Were a Movie"
Campaign for the American Reader Blog
Psychology Today Baby Chase Blog
How To Build the Family of Your Dreams
NPR Interview with Leslie and Rhonda Wile
The Baby Chase From Arizona to India
The Baby Chase
The New Republic Review
the crazy love TED talk
the only ted talk by a relationship violence survivor
One Love video
Great video that shows what it is really like to be trapped in a domestic violence relationship -- and what it feels like to be trapped on the outside, wondering how to help.
national domestic violence hotline
NPR: Leslie and the Mocha Moms discussing Sex & The City: The Movie on Michel Martin's "Tell Me More."
Crazy Love and Mommy Wars are available at your favorite local and on-line bookstores. Click here to order from Amazon.
Read Philadelphia Magazine editor Sandy Hingston's "Mommy Wars" essay on Newsweek.com by clicking here.