Being a mom is hard enough. It’s time for women to stop arguing with each other over which is the best way to parent and focus on the real issues, says Kate Maruyama.
We are having the wrong conversations.
There have been a slew of articles on the Stay-At-Home-Mom vs. Working Mom debate. Each time a new article comes out, there is a furor, names are called, mud is slung, mothers condemn mothers for doing it wrong and I am increasingly disheartened. And each time I think the arguments have died down—that this nonsense is over—they come back with something new.
Most recently, the article in New York Magazine, “The Feminist Housewife: Can Women Have it all by Choosing to Stay at Home?” started up the whole argument all over again. It is written with such authority, backed up by numbers and studies, that show us women as a whole (a bold and maddening declaration) are turning their backs on feminism and embracing their roles as mothers.
As if the two cannot coexist.
I read these articles (and their counterparts) hoping that there will be some insight, or some pro-women slant. But it always comes down to two camps pitted against each other: each side saying a certain kind of parenting is better than another—that a specific definition of being a woman is better than another. In the New York Magazine article, a retro wife, who nobly gave up her job to raise her children says, “Women are raised from the get-go to raise children successfully. When we are moms, we have a better toolbox.”
That statement probably galled a dad or two.
And you know what? I’m happy for her. I think she’s found her path on this uncertain road of motherhood/life and she’s fortunate enough that her husband’s salary can support both of them and I wish her bliss.
Because the truth is, our choices as women are so varied, often so stressful and so often beyond our control, that taking a woman down for whatever life choices she makes, or claiming to have the superior solution for raising children or for being a complete woman is ridiculous and demeaning. It distracts from the larger discourse, and this distraction is dangerous. Why, when there are so many forces working against women (the dangerous language surrounding rape, women’s rights in the workplace, women’s rights over their bodies) are women constantly putting each other down?
Ever since my boy was small, I’ve heard mothers pass vindictive judgment on each other for one thing and another—for breast-feeding too long, for not breast-feeding, for sleep training, for co-sleeping, for being too strict, too permissive, too fat, too thin, too sloppy, too tidy, working too much, not working enough. For overparenting, for underparenting. For single parenting (a judgment that baffles and distresses me.) There’s a streak of condemnation so ingrained and so strong that whatever choice a mother makes, she often feels the need to defend it.
I have friends who stay at home with kids and struggle with that choice; they feel they’ve become some sort of a disappointment by not pursuing a career. I have friends who work full-time and feel guilty because they aren’t spending more time with their kids. There is always guilt involved and that guilt is wrought from this toxic air of constant judgment.
These decisions aren’t easy and, as a Stay at Home Working Mom—a SAHWM—or as a Writer Person Who Has Kids and A Few Low-Paying Jobs—WPWHKAFLPJ—I can tell you that they are completely individual and extremely complex. It’s not an either/or thing, it’s a take it as it comes/day by day/choice by choice thing.
This is not the part of the article where I outline my choices and defend them, because that is completely beside the point.
In her article “Welcome to the Girl’s Club” Elissa Bassist challenged us to “woman up!” to endorse and support women—a surprisingly radical idea as Bassist outlined the various professions in which women put each other down.
I would ask women to “mother up!” Unite, don’t bicker over semantics and what works and what doesn’t work, and don’t judge each other. Because life as a mother—as a human in general—is complicated. This job is hard enough, why make it harder?
I have these two very close friends, both mothers. One works, one doesn’t. Their lives are too complex to give report cards on, to break down into specific variables and judge. Both of them are doing the best they can for their kids every day and it shows—I enjoy spending as much time with their kids as I do my own.
I know these friends have my back. My friend Gloria Villegas coined the term “coMadres,” and there is something at the heart of this that shores me up every time she uses it. We are in the same boat, we are making decisions, bad or good, by the seat of our pants, day by day, minute by minute. We get together, drink wine, hang out with our kids, decompress after whatever nonsense our various days have brought us and most importantly, we don’t judge. We raise each other up. Because at the end of the day, who else is going to understand the myriad of decisions a mother has to make every day better than another mother? Who is going to understand the daily frustrations, mistakes, and rotten, messy do-over days? And if every mother out there is judging us, putting us down and sizing us up, motherhood can be a very lonely place.
I know a large number of fathers (including one I’m married to) who have as huge a role to play in their kids’ lives as mothers. But I don’t see them judging each other. The stay at home father, the working, but involved father, or even the father who chooses the ’50s role of all work and minimal kid-time aren’t judging each other.
It’s the women who get scrutinized, criticized, and put into little boxes of definition.
On her book tour for Still Point of the Turning World, a book about losing her son to a fatal disease, Emily Rapp talked about how she was being judged for how she grieved. People ask her how she can take a book tour so soon after her son, Ronan, has died. She pointed out that if she were a man, no one would even think to ask her this question.
Women are constantly criticized for their many roles and so publicly. It’s time to stop arguing with each other, to unite, and to get back to the more important discourse.
And in a time when language is used so roundly against us, when the incident in Steubenville focuses on the rapists as victims, completely forgetting the victim herself, haven’t we got more important things to talk about in women’s issues than which mom is doing the best job? If we don’t come together and focus on these bigger issues, how the hell are we going to elicit change? And how are we going to explain all of this wasted energy and backbiting to our daughters?
So mother up. Reach out to that mom near you, however she’s raising her kid and say, “I’ve got your back.” Because this job is hard enough.
Kate Maruyama’s work has appeared on Salon.com, The Rumpus and in Stoneboat, Arcadia and Controlled Burn. Her novel Harrowgate is coming from 47North this fall. She holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles and lives, writes, teaches, cooks and eats in Los Angeles.