Saturday, September 27, 2008

News from the battlefront

It was Working Mother (and Parenting, Cookie, Family Choice, et al.) magazine that first made me aware. The "who's better" battle between stay-at-home moms and career moms has apparently been smoldering outside the awareness of the larger public for some time. Were it not for the publications, books, television commentators and radio experts I would have been ignorant of it and vulnerable to a surprise attack. Thanks to the mag's keen insight I was made ready for onslaughts from breastfeeding playground moms with vegan, organic-only toddlers on their hips. I became aware of every judgmental leer from the velour-wearing set toward my suit and pumps. I became armed with all the arguments of choice, women's suffrage and equal rights and justice. I enlisted wholeheartedly in the war.

Now, I'd like an honorable discharge. My armor is heavy and my aim is no longer sure. I want to make my peace with moms who stay at home, moms who work from home, moms who go out to work, and dads who stay at home. I want to share ideas about what to make for lunch and how to get my kindergartner to sit still.

While I worked long days I struggled to get my toddler boys in bed by 9. My stay-at-home sister-in-law would tell me that her kids were long gone to sleep at that hour. I would grit my teeth and curse under my breath, "Of course, they are. You have nothing to do all day."

Even as my boys would sometimes come home with the gifts of daycare - colds, foul language, bad behaviors - I was quick to address any disdain for daycares by pointing to how independent, sociable and well-adjusted my sons are; particularly compared to my friends' children who stay at home and are clingy and afraid of their own shadow.

I groaned about the moms who spent an entire day at school to decorate for events. I criticized the clique that chatted and had coffee after they walked their children to class. I thought they needed to find something constructive to do with their time.

Then, because God had a keen sense of humor, I found myself at home on mommy duty. Nothing I learned working with cut-throat politicians, arrogant administrators or obnoxious reporters prepared me for this phase of my life. Some of the challenges are the same. My sons still get sick at school and I still feel helpless to do anything about it - even if I can get there sooner now. I also have some new challenges. I seem to have far fewer hours in the day, for one thing. Someone who balanced multiple projects and consistently met unreasonable deadlines, still scrambles to get dinner on the table before nightfall.

I understand now that the moms who have coffee together are just enjoying a few moments of adult company, which can be few and far between. Many who volunteer at school are looking for outlets for their talents that can lie dormant in the roles of wife and mother. In addition to our parenting challenges, there are personal questions we face. Women bear the brunt of these questions. Our lives - and therefore our career paths - are altered at conception. We, more than men, have to ask ourselves what sacrifices we are willing to make and what kind of mothers we want to be. If I choose parenthood over career will I be living up to my full potential? Will I regret the choice and resent my mate and children for it? If I ardently pursue a career will my children suffer for my ambition? Am I being a bad parent if I enlist strangers to care for my child? Is it possible to reach a harmonious balance or is that pursuit destined to end in failure and frustration?

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