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My brush with the mommy wars January 2, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, education, family, homeschooling, personal, societal commentary.
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Parenting has created a whole set of experiences for me that have left me feeling ‘in between’. The primary situation is being caught between the stay-at-home moms and the working moms, aka the mommy wars. I have been half-and-half most of the time, a position not appreciated by either camp: going to school and working part-time while homeschooling the older boy. My working mom friends either didn’t really understand why I needed to homeschool (although I don’t recall them having the same level of difficulty integrating their kids into public school) or were jealous that I was home with my kids so much. The SAHM crowd thought I should just quit school to be full-time with my pride and joy. I really got the feeling that either I needed to be like them so reinforce that their position was right or that they were jealous that I was able to straddle the fence when they would’ve preferred to jump it.

I could never clearly articulate to either group (or they didn’t want to hear) that while I love my kids and want to make sure they get a good start in life (and the public school wasn’t doing that for the older one), I was actually very frustrated with my inability to continue with my education. I viewed it as a temporary measure until I could make sure that the older one was able to get on his feet (and while we are still homeschooling now, he is largely responsible for his own classwork and doesn’t need my constant direction). I was not going to quit my education because I felt like I really had a lot of interests outside of raising kids, and I didn’t want to give them up.

A couple people looked at me like I’d sprouted two heads. Who could be selfish enough to put their own education before their kids?

I came across this article, which explains what it felt like to me:

In my private psychotherapy practice and in my personal life, I have known many gifted women who seem to possess what I refer to as the “rage to achieve.”

They are constantly driven to learn, to create and to be intellectually productive even while raising young children.

What distinguishes these women from their ambitious counterparts is that their motivation is not financial security, accolades or professional visibility; but their love for the process of learning, creating and involvement in a field or arena that holds deep interest and fascination for them.

Many of these women face periods of frustration when the demands of family and their need for intellectual immersion collides.

The whole time I was staying at home with my kid (and sometimes kids because the younger one had some periods of separation anxiety so intense and inconsolable that he was kicked out of daycare for a time), I was extremely frustrated. I wanted so badly to be working on my education and pursuing my interests. I tried using other hobbies to fill the gap, but they didn’t satisfy me the same way taking classes and working on intellectual pursuits did. And even when things were really rough in grad school, giving up was never an option. Although I thought many times about how much less stress it would be, I knew I would be very miserable if I weren’t able to continue on my desire career path.

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1. Charles J Gervasi - January 2, 2011

This is a powerful post. It calls for a rant.

My guess is the SAHM group quit their jobs b/c they really were not passionate about their work. They have a lifestyle that depends on having some income from both parents, so it’s a financially painful decision. Caring for kids turns out to be mind-numbing back-breaking work (for me anyway) that they probably dislike as much as their previous paid line of work. As a result they have to keep telling themselves that the decision to quit paid work was worthwhile.

The parents who put their kids in daycare find their kids frequently getting sick. The daycare consumes a big chunk of their income. Kids normally sleep more than adults, so they only see their kids briefly in the morning and evening. They are equally desperate to tell themselves that their childcare arrangements are worthwhile.

This is not to say that everyone who does full-time daycare or is a full-time parent is in one of these modes. Many people are truly very happy with their decision. The trouble is our society does not have a good plan for who takes care of the kids. Women are now doing better at all levels of schooling, but they are the ones whose careers are at least briefly interrupted when they have kids. People go to school and get married without a personal plan or a set of cultural standards regarding who will take care of the kids. When historians examine our society the lack of a system to care for the kids will be stand out: “How could they have built this advanced and egalitarian society without stopping to think who will care for the kids?”

I do not have the answer, but a big part of the solution is for men to step up, accept some drudgery (and the blessings that come along with it) of caring for children, and accept some setback to their careers, all for the greater goal of having well-cared-for children who have a role-model of equal parents.

Some women tell me that it’s only mind-numbing drudgery for man or insensitive parent, but I simply don’t believe it. The new liberal movement says women must breast-feed for a year or more, personally clean the reusable diapers, homecook meals from ingredients bought from local organic farmers. In short, the new liberal position on this is that a woman’s place is in the home.

The best thing to do, IMHO, is to know you’re not alone and surround yourself with people who are at peace with whatever childcare arrangements they have. I think what we’re seeing in sometimes-provincial college towns in the Upper Midwest is a microcosm for a huge problem our society is just working through.

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mareserinitatis - January 4, 2011

I can’t disagree with any of this. However, I also think there’s another part to the solution that isn’t often explored: women should be able to pursue their careers part-time. The reality is that, in the past, extended family was often part of one’s support system, and that seems to be less and less true. In reality, if women could pursue their careers part-time, I think it would be easier on everyone, and women wouldn’t need to make all-or-nothing decisions like they do no.

I was lucky because my MS advisor had no problem with me pursuing my MS part-time, saying that many of his students also had jobs and were doing classes part-time while working full-time. He didn’t see why there should be any difference when the student is a parent rather than an employee. Sadly, I think he’s the exception with this particular outlook.

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2. Melinda Gustafson Gervasi - January 2, 2011

My husband, who commented above, shared your post with me. I too live in the upper mid-west, have two children (ages 2 and 5 months), and my own legal practice. Like you I spend mornings with my kids and work in the afternoon or evening. When I entered into motherhood I thought I’d find new friends, but that has not materialized. Women who work full time think of me as a stay-at-home mom even though we have a nanny come to the home when I work. SAHM’s see me as career driven, and simply don’t share the same challenges. My husband points to men needing to step up. He has, and is an amazing person to co-parent with. However, what he doesn’t see on a daily basis is the lack of respect and friendship from other moms. And that lack is more devastating than men not carrying their weight in the home. Women are shooting one another down, and that is disappointing. Thanks for your post; it is nice to know that I am not totally alone. And congrats to you on finding a balance between your role as mother and scientist.

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mareserinitatis - January 4, 2011

I totally agree about ‘shooting each other down’. I can’t for the life of me understand why someone who chooses a different approach to raising her family is given the cold shoulder. I guess every person is different, and what each kid needs is different, too. I think everyone is just trying to do the best that they can.

I’m glad you were able to keep your practice going with kids. I have a friend who worked at a law firm, and the cut-throat atmosphere nearly killed him before he quit. I cannot imagine trying to work someplace like that while parenting.

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3. FrauTech - January 3, 2011

Interesting post. I think another thing that makes this all tough is the time and energy we devote to kids these days is much, much more than just a few decades ago. I’m not sure if there will be a backlash and we’ll stop focusing on our kids as much or not. As someone who has chosen not to have kids for many reasons, but the stress of raising them being primary, I’m sympathetic with all sides. And I think everyone can be be blamed in the “mommy wars” thing for picking a side that justifies decisions you have already made. We hate to think we’ve made mistakes so it’s much easier to choose strong positions that associate with a past we can’t change. Though like Melinda Gervasi above I feel the lack of female friendship in my life very often. Sometimes I’m not sure I’d ever have the time for friends so why bother, but other times I’m irritated that all I have are family or colleagues and no one really outside of work that is a friend and not a family member. I wonder if that’s a new societal struggle as well, what with people moving out of their hometowns more often now and the greater emphasis on work and raising kids compared to historical times.

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mareserinitatis - January 4, 2011

I think some of the time spent with kids is a result of ‘compartmentalization’ of society. More and more, I see people taking the stance of ‘I don’t want to deal with your kids’, when just a generation ago, I felt like I could count on friends parents as easily as my own. But now kids should be in school, they shouldn’t be around adults, and if anyone is going to be keeping an eye on them, it’s mom and dad and no one else will ever, EVER be willing to chip in. I’m not advocating that people let their kids run rampant, but I feel like kids are being told more and more that they need to be in school or at home and kept out of community life. And that’s a rant all on it’s own. 🙂

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