Mommy Wars: My Interview With Leslie Morgan Steiner

During my weekly trip to the library with my daughters, I came across the most amazing book. It was a life changing text called Mommy Wars. It describes the war between stay at home mothers and working mothers. It helped me come to terms with some of my own issues regarding my choice to work from home.

As a parent of a toddler and a special needs teenager, I have a number of challenges with finding the right balance. There will always be a level of discomfort regarding each choice, as well as a level of sacrifice.  During one particular hot and stressful mommy day, I read through the essays in Mommy Wars and nodded my head in agreement; each narrative resonated with me. I knew that I was not alone. I recently had the honor of interviewing the author of Mommy Wars, Leslie Morgan Steiner.  Check out her interview below to hear how she interprets the text almost a decade later, and the new war that is waged in our households.

Why did you write Mommy Wars?

Whether you work or stay at home after having kids has become one of the defining generational issues for American women today. For me, as a working mom with three kids, I was curious about – and sometimes jealous of – moms who decided to stay home.  I had a raging debate in my head about what was best for my kids and me – to work or stay home. So for Mommy Wars I asked 26 REAL experts on motherhood – MOMS — to explain what life is REALLY like for working and stay-at-home mothers today, and to explore the “inner mommy war” – the guilt inside our own heads.

These issues are the same in 2015 as when I first became a mother in 1997.  We still need more support from other moms, our families, our employers and the government, in terms of equal pay protection and incentives for affordable daycare.  What’s changed:  women are more comfortable speaking out about how difficult it is to juggle work and family, and men have become much more personally involved in parenthood and the work/family balancing act.

If I wrote this book today, now that my kids are older teenagers instead of elementary school students, I’d even more hilarious stories to include about the crazy sitcom of motherhood in America today.

Is the tension between moms real or imagined?  Why so much conflict?

The “mommy wars” are not a typical type of  WAR where one side wins and the other loses.  Women are not looking to defeat other women.  We are looking to feel good about ourselves as mothers – which is a pathetically difficult task in the US today.  The tension between working and at-home moms IS real.  But the worst mommy war is the one that rages inside each mom’s head as she struggles to feel good about being a mom  — no matter what her choices about work.  This inner battle plays out on an external stage — through judgments about other moms. Our society is conflicted, between the “selflessness” of motherhood and the very real need women have to provide for themselves and their families.

What is the tension really about?

In writing Mommy Wars and On Balance, I see three primary sources of tension

1)    Insecurity. 

Nearly every mother has high – usually impossible – standards for the kind of mother she wants to be.   In Mommy Wars, Terri Minsky writes about how, during one year as a stay-at-home mom, she SEWED her child’s birthday party invitations.  This striving for perfection makes us vulnerable to always feeling we’ve fallen short.  Add to that all the media messages that say we are not doing enough and it becomes really hard to feel good about being a mom in America today – no matter what your choice about working or staying home.  When you feel insecure, natural response is to put down others, to make yourself feel better.

 2) Societal conflict.

Our society worships personal achievement and financial success. Our society also worships an unrealistic, all-sacrificing ideal of motherhood.  These two values directly contradict themselves once a woman becomes a mother – as Mommy Wars contributor Monica Buckley Price explains in her essay about how she could no longer work once her child developed autism.

It is very hard to be a mother in America and live up to either of these ideals – and yet we have a lot of moms out there today trying to live up to both at once – to be a loving, hands-on mom, and a success at work.  And moms who don’t work feel shunted aside and ignored by people who still work; and in a very real sense, their lack of financial freedom limits choices for themselves and their kids.  No wonder we moms feel overwhelmed!

3) Competition.

Women are naturally competitive – and that’s a good thing!  We all want to be the finest moms we can be.  So some degree of judgment of other moms, competition with other moms, is normal – even healthy.  But for many women, their natural competitiveness gets out-of-control – when you see a mom staying up all night to plan a five-year-old’s birthday party, or crying when she forgets to make cookies for the school bake sale  – there is something out of whack, not just in her but in our society overall, that we push moms until they feel such a ridiculous kind of failure.

Where are men in the Mommy Wars today?

Fathers caught in a bind – they feel they are doing a lot, because they are more involved in their children’s lives than their dads were. Data shows that on average, dads today spend three times as much time with their children on a daily basis vs. their own fathers. But fathers are still doing far less than mothers are, in terms of household chores and childcare.  Women have earned equality at work.  But there’s a long way to go before women have true equality at home.

 What have you learned from writing Mommy Wars and your blogs?

First: Happiest moms tend to be the ones who have time with their kids AND paid work – they work for companies and have partners that give them the flexibility and support they need to be good employees – and good moms.

 Second: We moms need each other –whether we work or not – and we’d be FAR better off if we supported all good mothering choices.  We need to stand up for other moms, and stick up for ourselves.

  •  A few other learnings from the blog and the book:
  •  Motherhood should unite women, not divide us.
  •  It is a myth or at least an exaggeration that in the US today women have unlimited choices and complete freedom.
  • Don’t blame women – we have too much finger pointing as it is – this is a societal problem – blaming women makes it worse
  •  We’d all be better off if we did not battle each other –  if we joined together to increase options and freedom for mothers, and stopped judging each other by our differences.
  •  When was the last time you heard a woman say to another one, “You are a great mom”?  When was the last time you saw an advertisement or read a magazine article that made you feel “I’m a great mom”?
  •  Whether you stay at home or stay at your desk, you risk insanity when you become a mom, AND it’s TOTALLY worth it!

 Some critics claim that the work/life juggle is a problem we hear about only among whiny, over-privileged women.

Many women who look like they “have it all” have often still struggled tremendously.  And even moms who can afford some degree of childcare and help with chores like housecleaning are often unhappy and frustrated. Can you imagine, then , how less privileged women feel?  The so-called “privileged” mothers in our country are just the tip of the iceberg.  It would be foolish to ignore their complaints about how difficult motherhood can be  — because if these moms are struggling, moms with fewer resources are struggling even harder.

For American women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who’ve been to college – this is the defining issue of our generation.  Almost all of us struggle – mightily – with our decisions to work or stay home once we become mothers.  Each choice has an enormous price tag attached.  I chose this demographic of women for the book because we’ve all thought – long and hard – about the pros and cons of working v. stay-at-home motherhood. The pressures on ALL moms in America today are extreme and it would be foolish to ignore a segment of the female population willing and able to speak up about the problem.

Leslie Morgan Steiner is the editor of the best-selling anthology Mommy Wars ( She writes a weekly parenting column for From 2006-2008 she wrote“On Balance,”a daily online blog about work and family juggling, which was the most popular “mommy blog” on the web, with over 500 entries and 100,000 poster comment (  Crazy Love, her 2009 memoir about domestic violence, was a New York Times bestseller and the subject of A TEDTalk on why relationship violence victims stay in abusive situations. Her most recent book, The Baby Chase, explores the dilemmas of surrogacy, and is also the subject of her second TEDTalk. A former executive at The Washington Post and Johnson & Johnson, she lives in Washington, DC with her three children.