The Mythical Mommy Wars
posted by Amy

Despite the bright sunshine and blooming camellias outside my window, I'm fighting that depressing feeling that nothing I do makes a difference. I'm not talking about my kids here—I know what I do with them makes a difference—and I'm not even talking about my students, whose progress as writers can seem unbearably slow to them at this point in the semester but who are improving day by day. My husband, who is in the middle of reading Dan Savage's newest book, told me that when he heard the other day that over thirty (edited to add: um, more like 11) states have legislation pending to ban adoption by gay couples, he felt like he was starting to understand how peaceful folks in the Civil War could take up arms to fight for an end to slavery. Add to that North Dakota being this close to outlawing abortion, the segregation of California schools (lucky middle-class kids go to decent schools; luckier ones go to amazing magnet schools or private schools; poor kids go to truly terrible schools), and the ridiculous, hateful way the mainstream media plays women against each other because "the mommy wars" get good ratings, and voila! Depression.

I came across the latest effort to distract women from the true issues affecting them and their families via Miriam Peskowitz's blog. (If you haven't read Miriam's book, The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, you owe it to yourself to pick it up.) Good Morning America ran the first half of a two-part "Mommy Wars" series today. I just watched it online, and I'm so mad I could spit. Just reading the title "How to Raise Kids: Stay Home or Go to Work? Debate Rages in 'The Mommy Wars' is a clue that a made-up debate, not a true dialogue, is what's ahead.

How stupid do TV producers think we mamas are? Do they really think we won't notice the inflammatory remarks by Diane Sawyer and ridiculous, illogical assumptions that moms who do paid work miss all their kids' soccer games, for instance? I don't know about you all, but here in California, soccer games are on Saturday mornings, and this working mom has NEVER missed a game. And dance recitals? They seem to also be at night or on weekends. C'mon folks—I'm trying to teach my eighteen-year-old students to avoid such black-or-white, either/or thinking. Do I really have to do this with Diane Sawyer, too? Sawyer also implies that moms with paid jobs never volunteer in their kids' classes, talk to their teachers, or meet their kids' friends. According to Sawyer, moms have to leave their sick kids at home all the time. Okay, I know that happens. But I also know that many, many families work something out like what we do in my house: I teach until noon, so if a kid is home sick, Chip stays home until I'm done teaching and then goes in to work. The two of us, like most of the parents we know, don't have jobs where we're expected to work over 40 hours a week on a regular basis, and of course much of my work is done at home.

Job flexibility, which never gets mentioned in the ABC interviews, means that many of the working parents in my kids' schools are regular volunteers. In fact, it's easier for me to volunteer now that I work full-time than it was when I was home during the day with kids and working at night, mostly because we're not allowed to bring younger siblings with us when we help in the classroom. Josie stays at school until 4 these days, which means I can come to Henry's class and help kids with their writing. The PTSO, our version of PTA, is run by at-home parents and parents with jobs outside the home. Where's the story about how parents with all different combinations of paid and unpaid jobs make it all work? Where's the story about the high-quality, affordable daycares which offer flexible hours for parents who work part-time—or better yet, the story about how rare such a thing is, which means that even parents who want to work part-time can't because of the lack of daycare options?

Dads are never, ever mentioned in these interviews. Never mind that working dads regularly coach kids' baseball and soccer teams, drop off and pick up kids at school, and have the full owie-kissing capabilities that some seem to think only moms possess. There's no mention of the creative ways that men and women find to stay involved in their kids' schools and lives while also earning the money that enables the kids to eat and live in a house. My husband, for example, has gone on nearly every field trip our kids have ever been on. He uses vacation time. Even with two parents working full-time jobs, our vacation budget is nonexistent, so he uses much of that vacation time for doing stuff with kids.

There's nothing new or surprising in the ABC series so far except for one big thing: the conversation between the mothers is mostly kind and nonjudgmental. Debbie Klett tells Sawyer that she doesn't want to tell another mom what to do, even as Sawyer tries to draw her into judging the mom with the paid job. I do wish that someone would have uttered the word "fathers" at some point in the segment, but maybe that got edited out. The "working mom" (the one with the paid job) keeps her cool despite being more or less ganged up on by Sawyer, who tries to goad the stay-at-home moms into judging her.

So I'm all irritated at ABC. What I can do? Well, for one, I can be grateful that I don't get my news from the TV—that we've got NPR and newspapers and online resources for those of us who want actual news, not "debates" the producers hope will end with shouting and insults. I can be heartened by conversations like these (read the comments, too). And, since my daughter's Scholastic book order just arrived, I can read her Faith Ringgold's If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks and take a little comfort in thinking that some bad things have gotten better. This hatred of women, which is what the Mommy Wars rhetoric is all about, can also be something that gets better with time. Right? Someone, please, say yes.