The mommy wars

Some debates never go anywhere. Since Hilary Rosen spoke out last week on national television asserting that Ann Romney has never worked a day in her life, cries of outrage have aired 24/7 in the media. As a stay-at-home mom raising five children, Ms. Romney certainly does work. The point, Ms. Rosen said half-apologetically, isn’t that stay-at-home mothers don’t work, but that some women are in a position to make a choice, while others are restricted by their economic position–they must work outside the home to make ends meet.

I’m less frustrated by the fact that we find ourselves engaged once again in the mommy wars–the conflict reflects a vital discussion that should be on our radar regardless of political timing–than by the sad reality that the issues around which the conversation evolves never seem to shift. It makes me wonder if we’ve learned anything. Perhaps we need to expand the terms of the debate beyond those women in our own communities living with choices, free or forced, and consider how the discussion looks from outside the US.

Two things struck me this week as I listened to Republicans, Democrats, and Independents conversing (loudly) about what Rosen meant, or didn’t mean, and whether there’s any truth to whatever she meant, or didn’t.

First, in many parts of the world, earning a living outside the home and caring for children aren’t mutually exclusive activities. And I’m not referring to the widespread scenario that dictates women should bring in the crops or sell the wares they make and then come home to the second shift–cooking, washing, and tending babies until they fall asleep. Rather, I’m referring to the many, many women I’ve observed in Africa, Nepal and India heading to “work” with a baby, maybe more than one, strapped to their back. Toddlers and older children are also often in the picture, trailing along behind their mother and carrying their own load into the fields or marketplace.

And second, the definition of “choice” in this public dialogue seems quite limited. Yes, there are those who do or don’t have the liberty of choosing whether or not to work inside or away from the home. But I think we often overlook what the work itself means to us. I am grateful to do work that I love. I feel for my friends who feel stuck in a job, sometimes a life’s career, that they perceive as pure drudgery. They count down the hours until the workday ends and the years until the work ends altogether–they retire from a company or their children head off to fend for themselves.

It seems to me that there are bigger issues to talk about that do mommies on all sides of the debate justice.

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