Monday, July 18, 2005

In Praise of Working Mothers

In the past two weeks I've had three press calls. One was for a terrific article on whether there's a mothers' movement, and what it looks like, by Katherine Ellison, author of The Mommy Brain, in this past Sunday's San Jose Mercury News.

The other two were about working mothers. In both, and especially for the ten-minute radio spot I did, the hosts or reporters were very anxious about working moms, and about the guilt they feel. In both, my constant refrain was: Working Mothers Should Not Feel Guilty. We should feel, and rightfully, mad, frustrated, tired, torn in many directions, ambivalent, and all sorts of other emotions. But we should not feel guilty. Working dads don't feel guilty. Guilt does not help. Turn that guilt around, feel it as the anger that it is, and call your elected officials and tell them that you're mad at how hard the workplace makes family life. But don't feel guilty. The most important thing as we all make more room for mothers and fathers to follow the life paths they feel best about--whether it's being home with kids, working part time, working full time, and doing all of the above--is that we not let any of the gains of the last women's movement be lost, and important among those gains are the right to work, and have interesting, fairly paid work, and to work on equal terms to men.

Yes, we are now trying to change the workplace so that it's more amenable to raising children while we work, whether while we work full time, letting us back in after we take time off, valuing our part time labor--whatever it is. But in all of the searches for alternatives to fulltime work, we must also and always defend working mothers, and understand what's hard about that, and what many working moms need in the way of support. This is what it means to cast the old Mommy Wars model aside, the way I write about in the book. That instead of just defending our own choices and lives, we make sure our empathy has room for all of us.

And isn't it a sign of our conservative, crazy times that I even have to write an entry like this? That working moms even feel guilt instead of anger? So share the empathy, no matter what your life looks like at this moment, no matter how many hours you're home with your kids or at work. and remember the big picture, that we are defending women's and mothers' rights to work--rights that were hard-won--and demanding that they more truly fit our lives. And keep telling each other that we should be angry, and vocal about it.


Devra said...

In the book I co-authored "Mommy Guilt" we surveyed over 1300 parents about their feelings regarding guilt associated with parenting. Our findings support the notion that parents feel guilt, whether they are working inside, outside, on top of, beside or underneath their homes. We need to remove the fence because the grass is the same on both sides, no greener no browner.

Sam Reich-Dagnen said...

I've tried for the last five years to figure out why we're damned if we do, damned if we don't. When I worked a full time job I felt totally unsupported by my other mom peers--especially if they didn't work. Now that I have my own business with a bit more flexibility I'm still damned but by my friends who do work. More in a way that makes it sound so much better to be working full time. It's such a drag that moms just can't be honest about their feelings whichever side of the fence they happen to live on.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

The other day I emerged from the local athletic club with my two little kids. It was a lovely day, hot; but after a few hours in the pool with the kids, I felt haggard and frustrated.

On the way out we saw another mom. I work part-part-time; she works part-time; our kids are in daycare together twice a week. When we saw her she didn't have her daughter. She was all bouncy and freshly-showered.

She said, "Aren't you lucky! A day at the pool with the kids!"

I said, "Aren't you lucky! An hour at the club by yourself!"

So it goes : )

Really, though, I want to say thanks for this post. Such clarity.

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