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« So, this is the coolest thing ever... | Main | Family Pictures (Virtual Exhibition #1) »

May 15, 2006


Welcome to Accidental Blogger and thanks for sharing your experience. My own circumstances were similar to yours if not in the details, in spirit for sure.

One thing that bothers me about this controversy is that it really is a limited issue - affecting middle and upper middle class educated women. Poor mothers (single and married) have always "worked" outside the home to make ends meet. Hence I see no real reason why a "cat fight" needs to be manufactured out of a situation where mature and well informed mothers are making personal choices to organize their own lives according to what is best for them and their families.

I am usually very much in agreement with Ellen Goodman. Her opinions mirror mine on most issues. But she has been a bit harsh (not in this particular article) on stay at home mothers. In this one she mentions Caitlin Flanagan who is a writer and is a stay at home mother with a nanny but continues to throw out barbs at women who "work". I will note here that Goodman too is a writer - she also can work from home. Being a writer is perhaps the work that fits a new mother the best. It is quite different from other jobs which require a woman to be away from home for a certain number of hours each day. It is not the "work" which stay at home mothers are choosing to forgo, it is the "time" away from small children and the pressures of juggling two roles to one's complete satisfaction. When children grow older, many of the same mothers resume a career. Others like me, don't. That too should be left entirely to individual women to decide.

I am bothered by the careless and perhaps unintentional stereotypes attached to each group of women by the other. To hear some of the holier than thou "stay at home" moms, all career women are selfish witches or worse. On the flip side, many women holding down jobs outside the home, will unconsciously peg non-working mothers as Stepford wives with empty lives and vacant stares whose pre- motherhood IQ has slipped and now equals their bra size. Neither image is true.

My own mother and mother in law were working women as are my sister, sister-in-law and most other female relatives. I am one of only a handful of "non-working" women in this wide circle. But they all live in India where family networks, affordable and reliable live in help make child rearing a much easier proposition. On a personal level, my decision proved to be a good one for me. It allowed me to take up or resume various activities that I like to do but had given up for lack of time. I took up regular physical activities, started painting again, enrolled for classes at the university and had much more time to read. Above all, it allowed me the peace of mind and lack of stress that I desired. When both kids had started school, I also began volunteer work with the local Adult Literacy Program which I continue to do to this day. One of the most useful things I have done during that endeavor is to tutor and train several young mothers (local drop outs and immigrants) to pass their G.E.D exams and get into the work force.

Holier than thou SAHMs and condescending WOHMs are just manifesting their inner anxiety and jealousies toward each other, I feel. It's their way of dealing with the grass-is-greener syndrome that invariably afflicts every ordinary human, barring the Mahatmas and Saints. I wouldn't grudge either group their right to express their feelings, if it makes their lives a little less miserable. But I would hope that some will eventually have the wisdom to realize that such squabbling is counter-productive and that it is best to focus on working for the well-being of women no matter what their work or income status. Till then, we will continue to see endless studies trying to bolster one side or the other in what shouldn't really be a war.

As a practical, "To Stay or Not To Stay?" question, it does seem that the only fair answer is the one which Sujatha nicely illustrates: "it is truly a personal decision."

Besides the odd, bourgeois cat-fight aspect noted by Ruchira, the debate bothers me in its essential lack of creativity. Why do these women expend so much energy pointing fingers at each other, when they could be thinking about whether there might be a way for women other than writers to continue to do some work from home; whether some men might, if culture and comparative salaries allowed it, prefer to share more child-rearing responsibilities; whether the ever increasing "productivity" (read: "decreasing leisure time") of American workers doesn't unfairly burden and limit the choice between working and staying at home, etc.

My mother is a homemaker, and I respect the choice she made, which I think she made work well for herself and for us. I would also add, for the record, that she is a great peacemaker, and one of the least judgemental people I know. Yet I remember, to my surprise, hearing her mildly disparage a couple in which the woman has a very distinguished and lucrative career, and the man is a homemaker.* It saddens me that, by casting childrearing choices as a binary, win-or-lose decision between cookie cutter SAHM or WOHM (as Sujatha handily put it), women unintentionally make the world a less free place for both their sons and their daughters.

*On the other hand, when my sister and I were little, our mother filled our lives with tapes of goofy children songs cum indoctrination like:

"My mommy drives a dump truck, my daddy washes clothes/scrubs the floors, cleans the doors, the cabbages and my nose./Daddy stays at home with me, he changes diapers, too./You might think that it's funny, but they do what they want to."

As far as working from home goes, there are vastly more opportunities these days.
One incident that I didn't include in the above narration- I had a fairly nasty bout of the baby blues and was really depressed a week or so post-partum. The phone rang, with a request from my group leader to urgently finish some debugging and put out a new release of software ( which I could do remotely over my PC). Guess what helped pull me out of the funk more quickly.
The work distracted me from the blues just long enough to help recognize the feelings for what they were and kind of bootstrap myself out of it, with aid from family and friends.
Anna, much as we would like our parents to be perfect, it does not work that way in the real world. You were surprised to hear your mom speak a little disparagingly of someone who made a different choice - I would say, just recognize what might have led her to say that, and move on. Parents don't have to be perfect for us to love them, nor do we have to perfectly mirror their ideals and thoughts for them to love us.

Sujatha: I fully agree, and my recall of the exchange, which occurred maybe ten years ago, was triggered only by this topic. Still, I feel very lucky to have a mother with whom, in fact, I share many values, including (as my footnote was intended to show), this one. My point was not that my mother's values are different from mine, but rather the opposite: that cultural opinions on the subject of childrearing are so entrenched, that even someone who holds those values in the abstract, reacted with reflexive skepticism to an "outside the box" choice that was essentially the same as her own, only with gender roles reversed. My further memory, as far as it goes, is that when I said something of the sort to my mother at the time, she responded with a shrugging "you're probably right." That said, your point is well taken, and I'd love her even if she didn't agree with me on this question. Happy Post Mothers' Day!

Hi Sujatha..,

Only a mother who can shape a child's life. MIL, day care center or baby sitter won't be able to shape the children character... only a mother can do that.

Children who has their mother as the main caretaker in day to day life of their golden first 5 years of their life, are the most happy and lucky children. So... enjoy your time

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