Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families Hardcover – Mar 7 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Most of the women here, famous and otherwise, express a familiar guilt along with pride at how they make peace with their choices juggling motherhood and career. Some, like Harvard MBA Ann Misiaszek Sarnoff, have pursued a high-octane job while raising two kids; others have scaled back work or work at home in order to be with their kids all day. These mommies (most are upper-middle-class white mothers who've made careers out of writing in some form) almost without exception have solid, provider husbands, and nannies or full-time babysitters. Moms in similar situations stand to gain the most from the collection and will relish such gems as novelist Jane Smiley's "Feminism Meets the Free Market," where she notes, "Home was the refuge when the workplace drove us out," and PW editor-in-chief Sara Nelson's revelation, in "Working Mother, Not Guilty," that her career gives her 10-year-old "a sense that there's a whole world outside of our little family." Washington Post advertising director Steiner offers a valuable opportunity for discussing women's "inner catfight." In lieu of mud-slinging, she presents a reasonable and low-key forum for mutual understanding and respect. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Steiner has set out to resolve the "cat fight" between women who stay at home to raise children and women who pursue careers while raising children. She addresses the infighting that goes on between women who often have no real idea what life is like for those on the other side of what has been called the Mommy Wars. This collection of essays by 26 writers--both stay-at-home and working moms--explores how and why women make their choices between family and career. Steiner precedes each essay with a short biography of the contributor and how she came to make her choice. Contributors include Terri Minsky, creator of Lizzie McGuire; Susan Cheever, New York Newsday columnist; and Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley. Steiner maintains that working moms should appreciate the efforts that stay-at-home moms put into volunteerism, which helps all children, and stay-at-home moms should appreciate the fact that working moms continue to expand opportunities for all women. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Because of this, "Mommy Wars" exposes only one very thin layer of the entire picture. If the editor wanted to end the invisible cat fight that she claims all mothers engage in, why didn't she flag down those twenty-six minivans?
In fact, the message this book sent to me was that the "war" only exists between mothers of past, present or future success, in writing or other competitive, professional writing-related fields. To the mothers in this essay, everyone is out to get them, out to compete, because of the cutthroat business they are a part of. Perfectionism, to them, is synonymous with feminism, with motherhood. Success is that mark of a good mother. Success in her children, well, that's even better. That's perfect.
On a more positive note, a handful of mothers had very unique experiences (unique in terms of the content of this anthology). The only essay I truly felt moved by was the first, "Neither Here nor There" by Sally Hingston. This essay left a very poignant message: the mother admitted that she was a bad mom after years of thinking she was perfect. She was brave enough to write that she called her sick teenage daughter a "whack-job" in front of the therapist, who scolded her after her daughter said it was fine; her mother says that sort of stuff all the time.
To me, the mark of a good mother is not that goal of mutual success in herself and her children and the awards won by both, but the mother who can admit that she has failed. One who can admit, honestly, that being a mother does not make her infallible. That her hopes and dreams may not suit her offspring.
The other essay that stood out was a hardened look at two-generations of postpartum depression and how it wasn't a choice to stay home that caused the mother so much pain-it was something beyond her control. Something that had already been in her life, yet she was unaware of it. Here is a real internal conflict; one that is impossible to escape without help. One that any mother could experience, regardless of her career.
Unfortunately, many of the essays blended together in a boring shade of, "Who cares?" The tiresome repeats consisted of: mother has writing job of some sort, mother gives it up for children, mother attempts to go back to work or thinks about going back, mother does or does not, mother angsts over decision and sees her faults in other people, husband is pointless, there is no conclusion. I stopped after stuffing myself frustrated with a majority of them, then declined to do more than skim the rest.
Take the advice of reviewers of "Bitch in the House", and doubtless this anthology too, and find more variety. If the professional writing mom continues to be evaluated as the representatives of the rest of the women in the world, I won't listen anymore.
The most wrenching essay for me to read featured a woman who'd already made it through some very, very tough years as a single mom to two young children (her husband deserted the family), struggling with the indignities of welfare and making do as best she could. After she starts to become more successful, meets a decent man and has another child, she learns she may die within "8 months"....that is the grim prognosis...and that fact radically changes her life...forever. I won't go into more detail about that section because I don't want to spoil the suspense of you, the reader, discovering what happens next...but believe me, you won't be able to predict it.
Very few of these women seem to be totally at peace with their decision, at least not without a period of angst and guilt (is this the universal norm for mothers?). Ambivalence and even guilt seemed to be the order of the day, something I could really relate to.
I'd strongly suggest reading this with A Perfect Madness (another exploration of Motherhood) as it goes into greater depth when it comes to researching the challenges facing mothers today. Taken together, the two books provide a wealth of information. Both are honest and insightful.
In Mommy Wars, you'll get a host of viewpoints, some full of ambivalence, some full of guilt and some fully comfortable with their choice -whether it is working or not working outside the home. You'll feel affirmed with some pieces, challenged by others and perhaps alienated by yet others.
No matter the viewpoint, reading this book made me feel more connected to other women, since I've had both guilt about working and affirmation at well. My personal choice was to focus on parenting, primarily because my work schedule was not family friendly.
Reading this book made me realize yet again (since this isn't the first book of its kind to appear) that I was not alone. Parenting is hard. Working can be hard, too. Juggling the two can be...well....very tricky. Sometimes it isn't workable at all. Other times you make it by the seat of your pants. But connecting with other women, whether on the pages of a book or at the park or over lunch..can serve as inspiration and support. It doesn't hurt to have some more of that.
What ISN'T fully explored in this book (beyond what is implied in the personal essays) are the economic realities of work versus staying home. I wish there'd been a bit more detail about that. The reality is that women who bring in under $10.00 an hour may actually lose money by working (and create a higher tax bill, actually reducing income even more). Even so, the payoff may be worth it, since working may satisfy a need to be with other adults, build skills,etc. In time, as the kids grow older and day care isn't necessary, the income may build again.
For other mothers, work isn't worth the sacrifice, no matter how hefty the salary. In the years since I've been a parent, I've known several lawyers, accountants and others who've left work when their children started having trouble at school. The teenage years seemed particularly rough and dropouts from the work force seemed higher in my circle of friends at those times.
But I'm speaking only personally. Read this book and you'll get a wider range of viewpoints about the emotional and financial and spiritual benefits and costs of working. I confess that I'm one of those moms who don't want to miss the time I have with my children, not for work. But I am lucky enough not to have to make that choice - yet.
To be fair, several essays were very lovely, vulnerable, and honest. One wrote of post-partum depression, another about the legacy or her mother's suicide, another about the dilemma of helping the daughter of an abusive mom. These and several other essays had, in my opinion, that special quality one reads in great literature. They transcend the ego of the writer and touch upon that soft and mysterious part of the reader, and linger.
But for the most part, I was very annoyed that the part-time editor, who changes into her yoga pants after 2:00 pm every day, had cast such a small net of contributors. Part of me wants to go through the essays and pull quotes that struck me in terms of narcissism and self-entitlement, but I'll refrain.
However, I don't understand why Leslie Morgan Steiner limited those she solicited essays from to mothers in fields who could parlay their previous full time careers into opportunities for freelance work. What about all of the moms in other industries and fields that don't offer the enormous flexibility *almost* all of these moms have? Surely that would be more applicable to most of us who don't have jobs that translate easily into part-time freelance work from home. For us, "scaling back" to part-time or freelance work means entering a completely different field (perhaps less prestigious) and/or developing a whole new skill set. In my opinion, that makes the decision...continue in current career vs. stay home full time vs. figure out something totally new to do...far more dramatic and difficult. Working for a newspaper and scaling back to freelancing articles just doesn't seem like that big of a deal.
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