How can it be that a poor mother is the best mother when she is working and a wealthy mother is the best mother when she is not?
Despite the reality that the vast majority of Americans need two full-time salaries to reach and maintain a position in the middle class, we still fantasize that working is a choice for women. It isn’t. The way to solve the Mommy Wars is to realize that the question isn’t whether a mother will work, it is whether our country will support her when she does.
The good news is most mothers believe in themselves. A 2015 Pew Research Center study revealed that across income groups, nearly identical shares of parents with incomes of $75,000 or higher (46 percent), $30,000 to $74,999 (44 percent), and less than $30,000 (46 percent) say they are doing a “very good” job as parents, and similar percentages say they are doing a “good” job.100
The bad news is we still don’t support each other as we could and should.
Careers For Stay At Home Moms Returning To Work Photo Gallery
Erin St. Onge-Carpenter, who worked with me on the Women on the Rise survey, has felt the sting of reprisal for being both a stay-at-home mother and a “working” mother. Like many, she’s had a nonlinear career path so she could meet the needs of her family. Erin has worked for pay full-time and part-time, not at all, and then full-time again. In each of these phases, she has been frustrated by the way in which women have criticized her choices. She believes the winnowing of women at the top of industry is a driving force in the Mommy Wars.
“It’s like a big game of musical chairs where there’s one pink chair and the rest are blue. If we’re all fighting for that one pink chair, it makes sense that we’d fight against each other,” Erin told me.
For college-educated women, the Mommy Wars is less about class and more about the politics of traditional feminism When I was coming of age, the best “feminists” were considered those who didn’t need a man. Like many of my friends, I had a poster in my college dorm room that said, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” I bought into it hook, line, and sinker.
I don’t believe that anymore, but the vestiges of that outdated concept remain imbued in modern feminism, particularly when it comes to female economic empowerment. Because we, as a country, still do not believe that all women will, in fact must, work, we passionately cling to our side of the debate on what’s “best” for our children. As a result, we conflate women’s careers with women’s roles as mothers.
If women of means and education (that is, those most likely to be able to activate real change because they have the time and the money) are too busy fighting amongst themselves to focus on fighting against a system that needs to change, no real change can happen for anyone. We need to reframe the fight. It’s not about us or our “choices”; it’s about family.
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