At War With Ourselves

You hear a lot about the mommy wars. You hear about stay-at-home moms criticizing working moms for their choices. You hear about working moms criticizing stay-at-home moms for their choices. And we believe that a mommy war really exists, because the media tells us so. But does it really?

I have been on both sides of this so-called war. I have been a working mom while my husband was a stay-at-home dad, and I am now a stay-at-home mom while my husband is a “working dad” (funny how you don’t hear that term…ever, but “working mom” is used so often it has become part of our national lexicon.

When I was a working mom, I felt guilty for the time I could not spend with my daughter. Every time I worked late, I dreaded the call home to my husband, who by that point in the day was exhausted from running around all day after a toddler. I felt guilty for leaving him in the lurch. I felt guilty for missing yet another night of dinner and bedtime stories. And then there was the time “with” my family, which as a working mom included the ever-present blackberry. My dear old blackberry attended family outings, family dinners, and everything in between. It was part and parcel of the working mom requirement.

In addition to the guilt, there was also the occasional resentment. I busted my butt all day – sometimes being verbally ripped to shreds as is apt – or more like oft – to happen at some point in a high-pressure work environment. There were some days when all I wanted to do was walk in the door at home, put up my feet and relax, but because my husband had been partnered by a toddler all day and wanted the same thing, it was me who took over parenting duties at that point. Would he have stepped up had he been asked? I don’t doubt it. But with my ever-present companion – mommy guilt – I was dead set on spending every available moment with my daughter – no matter the personal cost. I’m not even sure who I resented at the time – my husband? Not really. My job? Most probably, although it kept our family housed and fed, so I am not sure that is fair. Myself for not being able to be all things to all people? Absolutely.

There is no less angst for women who are stay-at-home moms. The personal demons are still there. They just pop up in different forms. I still feel an ocean full of guilt. What kind of example am I setting for my daughter when it comes to her own aspirations and her own career, having put mine on hold in what sometimes seems like a throwback to the 1950s? I feel guilty that we wanted our daughter to have a sibling and wound up with twins, which meant she wound up being more than a little neglected some days, particularly when they were infants. I feel guilty that we don’t get out and about more to experience life, but with a five year old and two two year olds, more often than not these outings turn into a wild experiment in torture – for us and those around us.

There is also the dreaded – and recurring – question: “What do you do?” At one time, I proudly replied without hesitation, “I work at the White House” or “I work in marketing” or whatever else I was doing at the time. Now there is hesitation before I answer. Depending on my frame of mind (and usually how much sleep I have gotten the night before), I admit that I am sometimes embarrassed to reply, “I take care of three kids.” And why am I embarrassed? I have no idea. With twins in the mix, it is definitely the most relentless, difficult, and emotionally challenging job I have ever had. But there it is, and having talked to a lot of other stay-at-home moms, I know I am not alone in this.

There is no easy and guilt-free choice for moms when it comes to whether or not to work, and many times there is no choice at all. We all do what we must, and if we do have a “choice,” we do what we think is best. But that is not to say that our decisions are not without baggage. Many times this baggage makes us more defensive than we normally would be – more sensitive to comments than we would like.

It is when moms get together that this defensiveness can rear its head. An off-handed comment can easily be taken the wrong way and get under our skin because of our own insecurities. Why? Because nothing is more personal than the decisions we make about raising our children. But this is not a war we are engaged in with other moms; it is a war we are engaged in with ourselves. It is the constant internal struggle we all have – whether working in the home or out of it. And part of the reason this struggle is one we are destined to lose is that no matter how much we moms try, we simply cannot be all things to all people.

That’s not to say that the “mommy wars” are wholly about our internal struggles. There are some moms out there who seem to relish any opportunity to hurl verbal bombs at other moms for their own personal pleasure, but I don’t think they are as prevalent as the media would like us to believe. If I have learned one thing from starting a website for moms it is this: moms really do support other moms – very much so. The bigger question it seems is how we can learn to support ourselves. Because until we do, it will continue to be the vocal minority of judgmental moms out there who get all the press.

Shannon Hembree is a stay-at-home mom of three and co-founder of www.mamasagainstdrama.com.

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