I know that the usual topic here has something to do with science fiction, but since I do sometimes post about feminist issues, I think this is apropos. Earlier today, CNN posted the article “8 Ways To Be A Happier Mom” in conjunction with its content partner Parenting.com. While most of the advice here isn’t necessarily bad advice, it’s advice that should apply to everyone, not just mothers: be vocal about asking for help when you need it, get your zzzzs, re-prioritize, live in the moment, see the forest for the trees, connect with other people and be grateful. Still, I have three bones to pick with this article.

(1) The article points to a University of Michigan study that examined mothers’ attitudes toward childcare — the article doesn’t specify, but from the context I assume this study was of stay-at-home mothers. The mothers were asked to rate certain activities, and: “on their list of pleasurable activities, moms rank child care lower than eating, exercising, or watching TV. . . And kid care rates only slightly higher than housework, working, or commuting!”

I venture that this is a common attitude by most people, not just most women or most mothers. This is the high point of the article for me, that at least we’re acknowledging how unrewarding childcare can be at times. I didn’t say it isn’t valuable, I’m saying it’s difficult. I’m looking forward to the day when stay-at-home mothers upon re-entering the workforce can put “childcare” down on their resumes and not be penalized for it. I’m a working mother and I pay almost a grand a month in childcare costs. It’s valuable, people. It’s worth something.

(2) Maybe my priorities are just messed up, but this doesn’t ring true for me: “‘Making $60,000 more in annual income has less of an effect on your daily happiness than getting one extra hour of sleep a night,” says study author Norbert Schwarz, Ph.D., a professor of psychology.’” Um, no. Especially when gas prices are $4/gallon.

(3) Just martyr yourself during the week, kay? You can take the weekends off from that:

So how can you sneak in that extra hour or two? Misha Sauer, mom of 1-year-old Riley, says her husband takes over on the weekends so she can sleep in. “It makes a big difference in the way I feel,” says the Culver City, California, mom. “And I’m more willing to do something active, like take my daughter to the park. If I’m tired, the most I can do is sit there and read to her.”

So, she’s a stay at home mom, which means she works in childcare all day. Her husband works in something else all day. But I assume it’s only her getting up in the middle of the night. I guess the thinking is that she can sleep in? She can’t. She’s got a 1 yr. old and a second child, both of whom are probably awake by 7am. She’s running around all day, he’s likely sitting at a desk. Why can’t he get up at night?! Hmmm? Wait, I see the difference now. He’s using his brain all day, while she is not. Right?

While I’m up on my soapbox, here’s an article by The Guardian “Is this the end of the stay at home mother,?” which instead wants to elicit an emotional reaction akin to “OMFG! The sky is falling! Cthulhu is going to eat you!” But let’s quote Tina Downham, former headhunter and now a “full-time mum” (since I work, does this mean that I’m not a mother during 9-5? Does this in turn mean that my stretch-marks magically disappear during those hours?) says:

“Looking after children is the biggest job you will ever have. If you put them in nursery you get the worst of them – at the beginning and the end of the day. How do you ever do any bonding?”

I don’t believe in the Mommy Wars; I think that mostly the conflict is manufactured by the media. Most real-life women understand that whether you work in or out of the home, we’re all still working our tails off. I’m not sure Downham does though, unless she really meant to imply that working mothers can’t bond with their children, that bonding only happens between 9-5. Let’s just give her the benefit of the doubt, shall we?

Let’s see Downham’s whole story though:

One day she picked her daughter up from nursery at the 6.30pm cut-off time and Holli, then three, said, “Mummy, do I have to be the last one here?’ She realised it was time to quit. “It makes me feel sick when I think about what I had to juggle.”

Downham’s problem wasn’t that she worked, it’s that she had a crappy commute. I’ve been there, I’ve had the nasty 90-minute commute. I understand where she was in that moment. I just wish she weren’t using the bonding excuse, though, to justify a life choice that makes her happy: being home with her kids. She’s doesn’t need to justify that at all, let alone denigrating working mothers in the process. Faced with this same dilemma, we moved to another city where housing costs were lower, extended family was closer, and the whole family could be sitting down for dinner at 6pm. It was a drastic solution, but we both wanted more family time — and it shouldn’t come down to one of us having to give up our professional lives if we didn’t want to and could avoid it. If you’re happier being at home, more power to you, but there are other choices available. The only options are not binary and mutually exclusive.

Other parts of this Guardian article were very interesting, such as the idea that what we think of as the “classic nuclear family” isn’t all that classic, and that Joy Gower’s quote was poignant:

“My husband did not approve of his wife going out to work. He thought that if you had children, it was your duty to stay at home. I did enjoy bringing my sons up, but I also wanted to be me. I was glad that I could be there for all the sports days, but I do look back now and see that I was oppressed. There is some sadness and regret. I was capable of a lot more.”

Over at Dear Author this morning, there is some great discussion on the independently minded heroine in the Romance genre titled “‘Can’t Buy Me Love,’ or how the independent heroine challenges Romance.” The discussion has led to the working inside vs. outside the home decision that all mothers have to face at some point. One of the many good points raised is the differentiation of the kinds of autonomy: emotional, financial, professional. This is a vital distinction. I would caution not to sacrifice the latter two for the first one. I’m not so much advocating the pitfall of “having it all,” but I am saying that we women should safeguard our financial and professional security. If you’re going to take yourself off the official job market to get your Ph.d. in motherhood, keep in touch somehow with the market so your resume doesn’t have an 8-10 year hole in it, which could mean you’re unhirable. Also, you haven’t been paying into Social Security or contributing to a 401(k) during that timespan. Get a good life insurance plan for the hubby in case the unimaginable happens.

One day maybe those years at home raising the next generation will count as work experience on our resumes. That probably won’t happen until a whole bunch of men start becoming stay-at-home dads and they experience it first-hand.

But really: All the moms? Same team. The media? The other team. The Mommy Wars are propaganda, don’t give into it.

Case in point: Want to look ten pounds slimmer? Wear a girdle. What is this, 1953? You say it’s not my mother’s girdle, but I don’t buy it.



4 Responses to “8 Ways To Be A Happier Mom”

  1. Uh…yeah, what she said!

    Bravo and well-written. Kudos, my friend, I couldn’t agree more!

  2. Re Social Security — exactly. My mom worked off and on, but she was never able to find another job teaching (she taught French before getting married, but there are too many native French speakers in the DC area so she couldn’t compete). The jobs she was able to get, like church secretary, didn’t pay that well. Her Social Security checks, now that she’s getting one, barely cover her Medicare payments.

    I worry about today’s SAHMs — what happens if hubby decides to trade them in for a newer model (play on words intended) when the kids are grown? That happened to a lot of women a generation ago; and alimony isn’t as common as it was then.

    We need to work. We need the workplace to be more family-friendly. And we’re not going to be able to get this unless women (and their husbands) demand it. Don’t let the media divide and distract us.

  3. Aside from the hubby ditching the wife for someone else, what happens if he dies or is injured and unable to work? I’m surprised some divorce lawyer hasn’t come up with a way to quantify lost contributions to Social Security and a retirement account due to staying home with the kids. I don’t know how the concept plays with the idea of traditional alimony, but it’s important.

    Ultimately, I’m a choice feminist, even if it doesn’t perfectly address every single feminist issue. Some people really, truly are fulfilled being home 24/7 with their children. I do think that some of the women who choose to stay at home do it out of family pressure, which is sad. However, in the past few years I’ve known of several men who wanted to be the stay-at-home parent. While this is anecdotal evidence, I think it’s still important. Men and women alike will be able to make more informed choices if this trend continues and becomes more normative. Women outnumber men in colleges today, and yet we’re not seeing women filling leadership roles because many are opting out of the workforce. Society suffers due to this opting out. We as a society give lip service to how important the family is, but we expect only one gender to take care of the next generation, rather than enabling men and women both to be better parents and create work–family-life balance.

  4. Reading the article in The Prospect that you sent me –

    It seems as though it’s come down to what it’s always been — it’s a luxury for a family to afford a wife who can stay at home with the kids. It used to be a luxury that only the middle class and upper classes could afford; now that line has been defined upward so it’s really only the upper classes who can afford it (comfortably). Having a wife who doesn’t work is becoming a sort of status symbol. Like having families with 5 kids — “look, I can afford a large family”. How wierd is that?

    Today’s young men and women (according to that article, anyway) don’t seem to have a realization of how much they’re capitulating to society’s pressure, the anti-female backlash that’s trying to make us all into 1950s-model housewives again.

    Women have to stop capitulating.

    They also have to stop telling guys they’re doing it wrong (parenting, housework, whatever) and let them just get the job done in their own way, as long as it gets done. But that’s part of another ongoing discussion…

    Sorry, slightly less coherent than I intended.

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