More Mommy Wars: Leslie Bennetts and Secret Life of a Soccer Mom Raising Hackles

BlogHer Original Post

There is something about the phrase "Mommy Wars" that makes me want to gouge out my own eyeballs with a fork, rather than have to read it ever again. It is anathema to every thinking mother I know -- don't we have enough to deal with in life without some manufactured "war" amongst our very ranks?

And so most of the time you can find me blithely skipping along, fingers plugging my ears, singing "Lalalalala I can't heeeeeear you!" when the topic comes up. Haven't we been over this? Once, twice, ten, a hundred times? It seems like we have. And yet, the topic simply will not fade into obscurity. This week it became even harder to ignore.

Let's start with what happened over at Work It, Mom!. Leslie Bennetts wrote an article for the site titled 10 Reasons Working Moms Should Feel Great About Themselves (Reason Number One: Working Women Are Happier). Now, if you didn't know who Leslie Bennetts was -- or if she didn't refer to her book The Feminine Mistake multiple times in her piece -- you'd probably read it as a heartening pick-me-up for the often guilt-ridden working mom. Working is good for you! You're doing a great job! And this is, after all, a site for working moms, where her article was published. No problem, right?

Well, wrong. Bennetts' reputation as a stay-at-home-mom-basher precedes her, and although this piece is tame by comparison to many of her more inflammatory forays into this topic, by and large the members of Work It, Mom! weren't exactly warm in their reception of her.

Work It, Mom!'s CEO Nataly Kogan followed up with a piece on her blog, titled Why we published Leslie Bennetts' article and why I am surprised by the reaction. In it, she says:

I am going to refrain entirely from saying how I feel about the article — I’ve not commented on the other 500+ member articles we’ve published on the site or any posts from our bloggers and I don’t see it as my place to do that. The reason I decided to write this post is because several members have suggested — both in their comments on the article and in their personal emails to me — that Work It, Mom! should not have published or featured such an article. A few members have told me that they are now leaving the community because we published the piece.

To be completely honest, this baffled me. In every interaction I’ve had with members on the site — and you guys know that I stay pretty active and involved and ask for feedback non-stop — what I’ve heard over and over is that we all want an open community rather than an editorial magazine. We want to hear from real moms through their real voices and we want a place where we can discuss things openly, express our opinions, and share support and advice with each other. While I know that the opinions of several members don’t represent the entire community their implication that Work It, Mom! should be editing or filtering what type of content we publish and feature gave me significant pause.

It's a credit to the community there, I think, that the discussion in comments on both Bennetts' article and Nataly's blog -- while spirited and of strong opinions, yes -- has remained civil and well-articulated. In particular, one part of a comment from Shannon on Nataly's post really stuck out, for me:

I admit I did groan inwardly a bit when I saw that Ms. Bennetts was featured on this site, because what bothers me (and I assume others) about Ms. Bennetts’ stance on this issue is that it feels patronizing and reductionistic; how can she (or anyone else) know what’s best for me, and my own heart and soul, when it comes to work vs. being with my babies? Can’t I be an educated, informed, intelligent, accomplished woman with a stellar career who understands the financial risks of staying home with my babies, but STILL finds it untenable to leave them each day to go to work? Can’t I be an at-home mom and still be incredibly happy?

And that, of course, brings us back to the crux of why so many people find Bennetts so unpalatable -- she (often) insists that her way is the only way.

Well, you needn't do much more than look around to know that there are plenty of ways for families to make their lives work and all of their members happiest and most functional, be it with a mom who stays home, works out of the home, works in the home, or any combination therein. Most of us know women in every walk of life who full embrace their chosen roles, and most of us also know women in a role they desperately wish to swap for a different one.

But you know that when Leslie Bennetts comes up I just have to be a brat and find myself a confident stay-at-home mom to point at, right? Everyone, meet Lori of One Day They'll Be Famous. Lori has given up a high-power career to stay at home with her daughters, and she's written them a letter to be read on their 30th birthday. She details all she's given up to stay home with them, being clear that it was the right choice for her but not in any way an easy choice to make. In particular, I loved this:

There is only one piece of this pie that eats at me: Someday you two may want to have children. And you’ll come to me and ask, “But Mom…how do we balance careers and family?” I absolutely will not have an answer. There is no ONE answer. There is no perfect solution. Every family is different. You have to find your groove and go with it. You have to be open to the idea that what you do now won’t be what you do ten years from now. You may have to change old patterns that once felt as comfortable as your favorite shirt. You may have to say goodbye to places that feel like home. You will do these things because above all, family is king. Family is all there is. Making that work is the only true happiness you will ever find on this earth. All other roads lead to lonely. I know, because I’ve walked them; I’ve built houses on them. And watched it all go up in smoke when I bet on the wrong hand.

Lori isn't spouting off flowers and rainbows and sunshine, but she is fiercely sure of her choice... for her. (And that's the difference between someone who knows what her life needs and someone who "knows" what everyone needs.)

And then, of course, you've probably heard about the new TLC show The Secret Life of a Soccer Mom. The program has already drawn so much rancor that Newsweek ran an article about it, noting that "this is reality TV, not reality."

The Newsweek piece prompted an entry on Claudia Wolk's Amazon blog (Wolk is the author of It Gets Easier!... And Other Lies We Tell New Mothers), where she muses:

Is it fair for Newsweek, a nationally respected magazine, to represent the sentiments of SAHM's based on what some message boarders said about a reality-show? I know this stuff is salacious and I know everyone wants to think about the SAHM Moms and Working Moms in a big tub of mud "cat-fighting" it out, but what is that going to accomplish?

I would rather see an article about the reality show that picks the same family up after mom has returned to work. If her going back to work is really going to change the family, let's see it, once and for all. Is it possible that her returning to work could actually help the family dynamic - like the sentiment (my favorite as a matter of fact) If mom's happy then the whole family is happy?)

And although many others discussing the show fall squarely to one side of the fence or the other, even the SAHM-championing military wife behind ....To the ends of the earth is willing to concede that this is hardly a cut-and-dried issue:

Is a Stay at Home Mom necessarily a “better parent” than a “working mom”? In no way. Some stay-at-home moms are lazy (some park their children in front of the TV for hours, others leave them in daycare all day for absolutely no reason). Likewise, some working moms generally take time to enjoy their children’s company despite having to work full-time. The quality of parent is not dependent on whether the parent works or not. In many cases, the parent HAS to work.

I'll just leave you with this; Laurel at Parenting Diva is calling for a truce:

In the episodes where the woman chooses to pursue her new found career, there are many mothers out there who criticize, call the woman selfish and say the show is encouraging child abandonment. While having been on both sides of the fence myself, I can say that both sides have valid view points. However attacking each other rather than the problem never solves anything. Can we remind ourselves of this one more time: attacking each other, rather than the problem solves nothing.

Let’s face it. Bills need to be paid, children need both parents and many parents want a life as more than a parent. The fact that we live in a country that isn’t child-friendly and leaves parents facing the huge struggle of feeling the need to choose or not having the choice is the problem. As the saying goes, united we stand, divided we fall. This is a great big fall for women across the world. Unite and change it.

Amen, Laurel.

There are always going to be Leslie Bennettses and dramatic reality shows and no shortage of people who want to declare The Right Way to live. The bottom line is that we can argue about it or we can work towards a society where not only have choices, we have mutual respect when it comes to those choices.

Down with the Mommy Wars and up with tolerance, folks. I'd wager most of us don't have time for all this bickering, anyway.

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir also blogs at Woulda Coulda Shoulda and Want Not.


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