Mitt Romney’s camp is so delighted with the gaffe they are mislabeling Rosen an Obama advisor, hoping to smear the President of the United States with an offensive phrase he never uttered. With women favoring Obama over Romney by 19 points and the airwaves awash with phrases like “the Republican war on women,” Romney’s people thought this might be just the break they needed. Hilary Rosen’s comment would deliver stay-at-home moms right into their laps.
Not so fast. Most women know the Mommy Wars are not real. The conflict was ginned up by magazine writers and talk show hosts, not real women. Real moms know that all parenting is hard work, whether performed all day without so much as a private bathroom break, or crammed madly into a precious few hours in the morning and evening.
Real moms help and support each other, and are often heard to say, “I don’t know how you do it.” Stay-at-home moms do not hate career moms; they often prefer moms over men when looking for a pediatrician, counselor, banker, or other professional. Neither do career moms look down on stay-at-home moms. Who do you think they hire to pick up their children after school or to watch their newborn when forced back to work too soon?
Most moms do not organize themselves into hateful, competitive groups as depicted by the media. They understand women who made the other choice, because they considered it, too. Our two-income economy puts mothers in a double bind when it comes to parenting and employment. While parents in other countries enjoy maternity and paternity leave for up to two years, American families are often forced to drop nearly half their income or else combine parenting with working.
Real moms already understand that staying home with children is both a luxury and a sacrifice. Working a career is another kind of luxury and another kind of sacrifice, also made primarily for the children. Careers pay for children’s groceries, orthodontia, tuition, and perhaps a wedding someday.
Yet it can be dicey to use a phrase like “working mom.” One runs the risk of being chastised with “All mothers are working mothers!” Even a label like “career mom” is dangerous because someone will say, “Raising children is my career.” The media’s Mommy Wars have created a demand for politically correct speech without offering a new vocabulary.
The Mommy Wars are based on a false dichotomy that divides all mothers into just two categories: working a career, or staying home. Reality on the ground is not so black-and-white. Most women get through the parenting years by mixing things up a bit. They may stay home with a baby but return to work during the preschool years. Some start home-based businesses. Others count on their partner to care for the child. Some take children with them to the office, the restaurant, or the salon where they work. Women do not neatly divide into career and at-home. We do not fit into neat little boxes, like bonbons.
Jeannie Babb is a Ringgold native. You can find her on FaceBook or pedaling a neon green bike through the Sewanee fog to the School of Theology, black academic gown billowing behind like a sail. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.