Is This What Moms Really Want?

More than 100 extraordinary (and at times infuriating) responses were posted to the Friday, March 17, entry ("What All Moms Want"). It surprised me that so many were negative, snarky and defensive. Hallelujah to those of you who tried to be constructive and supportive. The conversation clearly has got to continue.

Here's what struck me as the most thought-provoking observations ( in case you don't feel like reading 41 pages of comments).


"We are still our own worst enemies." -- DM

"Do we really want a world in which the only people who make our laws, start new businesses, do scientific research to make medicines, protect our environment, advocate for children in the legal system, are all men?"
--Sammy

"Why are women willing to call themselves by hostile and demeaning labels?" --Nana

"How happy the politicians that control the money in this country and give us no good daycare, no healthcare for our kids and no true family leave time must be that women are still putting most of their energies into fighting with each other." -- Stacy

"It reminds me of junior high, when people would put others down to feel better about themselves." -- Laura

"Does anyone have a sense of humor?" -- Working Mom of 3

"The sniping and judgmental attitudes on both sides here was really getting to me." --School volunteer

"Let's be supportive of all mothers, dads, families, SAH or working outside the home. " -- Anonymous

"Working or not is incredibly far down on the list of things that matter to kids." -- Catherine

"Most women just want the opportunity to make a difference -- wherever they can." -- LG

"It's simply not fair to judge other moms or dads on this one -- we all suffer guilt enough as it is." -- Anonymous

"Let's focus on building a good sense of community -- instead of tearing each other down." -- Laura

So, questions for you today:

1) Pick the most disturbing snippet from Friday's blog. If someone said it to you in person, how would you respond?

2) Why does the topic of the relative value of working and stay-at-home motherhood elicit such intensity?

3) What needs to change in order for moms to stop attacking each other?

Noon update -- washingtonpost.com editor's note: Leslie has responded to comments posted in this entry.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  March 20, 2006; 8:25 AM ET  | Category:  Conflicts
Previous: Calling All Supportive Dads | Next: Sick Days


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1) The thing that disturbed me the most was the statement to the effect that it is a mother's job to sacrifice for her children. My response would be first, why is it that the MOTHER has to sacrifice? Second, how do we define sacrifice - isn't working to give your children a good home, food, education, and experiences a sacrifice, too? And third, I am in the unusual position of making considerably more money than my husband - so I am in the role traditionally held by the father. If I quit my job, we wouldn't just have to "do without some things" - we'd have to do without everything. So, just because it's a "choice" you can make doesn't mean it is a choice every woman can make.

2) The reason the dialogue about women at home vs. in the work force has become so intense is because there are downsides to both options. If you stay at home, your kids benefit by having you there all the time, but then you have to find an outlet for your career side by doing powerpoint presentations for the Kindergarten teacher. If you go to work, there is enourmous guilt about having someone else raise your kids, but then you can pay for school trips, camps, etc. Neither side likes to admit that they don't have it exactly 100% right, so we snipe at each other.

3) What needs to change? The same thing that needs to change in every political debate - someone needs to say "You know, you have a point. I can totally see why you would go to work/stay home. Sometimes I wish I could go to work/stay home, but ultimately, I am OK with my decision. I recognise, however, that it is not for everyone."

Posted by: Anne | March 20, 2006 8:57 AM

1) I was really bothered by the manager who said she would not hire working moms anymore. Apart from being blatantly illegal, it is just so short-sighted. Companies need to realize that everyone (moms, dads, and others--we all have friends and families) is better off if companies help workers find work-life balance instead of trying to find the smaller number of talented people willing to conform to outdated corporate expectations.

2) Because people often justify their decisions or situations by saying they are doing the "best" thing, which is insulting to other people who have made the opposite choice.

3) People need to accept that women who are mothers can, should, and will work outside the home.

Posted by: Arlingtonmom | March 20, 2006 9:19 AM

How do we stop attacking eachother? I think we all need to realize that the reason why we attack someone else for not doing what we did is because we are insecure not 100% comfortable with the choice we made. Every mom--working or stay at home--sometimes wonders about how the grass is on the other side. You either admit that or lie about it. We need to admit that, not attack the other becuase they have what we don't.

Neither option is perfect for all so just be the best mom you can be and realize the lady next to you is just trying to do the same.

Posted by: DW's mom | March 20, 2006 9:22 AM

Womens' "roles" (and who is the casting director here, anyway?) are so difficult to balance that it is almost impossible for anyone to do them all at the same time. Society has a stake in childrens' futures that it will not claim until the finished product pops out of Harvard at age 25 ready to earn a million dollars a year. As we all know, it takes a heap of effort (and years out of parents' lives) get babies to that point.

I have personally done the frantic working mom thing and impoverished stay-home-with-the-baby thing, and they're both all scary, all the time, because you have something that you care deeply about to worry over no matter which "box" you are in at the moment. No wonder people seek certainty in formulas.

How happy indeed must be the masters of the universe who are supposed to be running this mess that the hardest-working citizens in it are fighting each other! Either way, they get to sell us cleaning products and antidepressants.

Posted by: PaulaK | March 20, 2006 9:33 AM

What needs to happen? More flexible work arrangements for everyone, men and women alike, without forcing the employees off the career track. That will allow parents (and childless, and those of grown children) to find a better balance.

Since women are under fire for working or not working outside the home, I think the best chance for increasing flexibility in work arrangements will be the hordes of babyboomers demanding this as they transition into retirement.

However, the ones who need flexibility most and are often in positions where it is least available, are working moms and dads in low and moderate income families. I'm not sure what to do about this beyond advocating for better, more affordable child care. Where will the government get the money to finance this when it is paying billions in military costs?

Posted by: HollyP | March 20, 2006 10:07 AM

The comment that disturbed me most was regarding the statement that it was the mother's job to sacrifice for her children. What message does that send to our children, especially our daughters? My mother worked for a time, and I remember her being happiest while she was working. It made me proud to have a mother (an intensive-care unit nurse) who made a difference in others' lives as well as my own.

As to why does the topic of the relative value of working and stay-at-home motherhood elicit such intensity - I believe it is partially because people who have made a choice either way have lingering doubts about that choice. They may believe by putting down the other group they are validating their choice.

What needs to change? Women need to remember that we are all working towards the goal of raising good children. We need to be appreciative of each others' different skills (whether those skills are in the workplace or in the schools or the home).

Posted by: 37027mom | March 20, 2006 10:23 AM

Give us more free stuff! Free day care, paid for by the taxpayers! If women truly want to be seen as equal in these discussions, we all need to get real. It all costs money, ladies. Nothing is free. We need to get real.

Posted by: Carole J. | March 20, 2006 10:26 AM

1) Like many others, I also found the comment about a mother's job is to sacrifice her own happiness in favor of her children's to be quite disturbing. For one thing, the tone of the post was quite bitter. I mean, you could sense the woman's unhappiness about her own choice all over the post. A mother who is truly doing what she feels is best for her family, does not feel her choice to be a "sacrifice". Think about it: if every woman were to postpone her own happiness until her kids were all grown up, the human race would have ended a long time ago. If you are really at peace with your choice, whichever that choice might be, then you are happy mom, and happy moms DO translate into happy children.

2) Like I said before, unless you are truly at peace with your choice, you are going to have self-doubts, and the best way to calm those doubts is by reassuring yourself, at the expense of "the other side". So, you critize the "other mom's" choice, because it makes you feel you did the right thing, even though you are not so sure about it yourself.

3) Focus on your own life. Find out the balance that makes sense to you and your particular situation. Be happy with your choice, and I mean, look inside yourself and question yourself until you can answer sincerely that "yes, I'm truly happy with my life and my choice". Only then will you be able to look at others and accept that they too have done what is best for their families.

Posted by: Mariela | March 20, 2006 10:37 AM

The most constructive comments over last week were the ones who stated their intentions to not come back. Today's "discussion starter" is no better -it essentially asked, "What's wrong with what other people think?" I won't be back and here's a letter I wrote to the Post

"To the Editors of the Washington Post:

I write asking that you remove the “On Balance” blog from your site on the grounds that it serves no constructive purpose. I have visited it several times this week. Each time, I have walked away dismayed by the resentment, hurt, and defensiveness voiced by the men and women who have participated. Once, I was so offended by a comment that I posted a comment of my own that I recognize did no good and, in fact, probably did harm. I regret this and hope that the Post will remove something that is only inciting its readers to argue in immature and non-nuanced terms.

I will give Leslie Morgan Steiner the benefit of the doubt and assume that she did intend to stir up this hostility between well-meaning men and women. However, I do hope that both she and you realize that there is no discussion about “balance” occurring on this blog. There is only a “war” being incited between hard-working and well-meaning “Mommies”. Shame on her, and shame on you, if you choose not to bring this unnecessary war to a peaceful resolution."

Posted by: becky | March 20, 2006 11:06 AM

I work in a public elementary school, and I am a working mom. I have to say from my own observation that kids whose parents set clear boundaries, don't buy every electronic toy out there, help homework get done and show up for school events when they can are the nicest, friendliest, most eager to learn students we have. And most of their parents work. It seems to make no difference whether a mom or dad has "sacrificed" themselves to their children by staying at home. As long as common sense parenting is out there, it should not matter if mom and/or dad work outside the home.
Can't we all just be friends now?

Posted by: AWB | March 20, 2006 11:26 AM

Leslie, I am completely unsurprised that your blog has become, in such a short time, a magnet for anti-feminists and people who would attack women and their choices and their freedom. That happens a lot on the internet. The most popular feminist blogs have to moderate their comments section very carefully if they don't want to be taken over by misogynist trolls. It is sad but true. Given the relatively hands-off moderation policy the Washington Post has on its blogs, it will probably be extremely difficult to foster constructive discussion. That moderation policy works well in a lot of cases but this is one case where it probably will not.

You should not feel that you have done anything wrong or that this problem is your fault in any way. I see at least one poster here has tried to blame you, but you certainly aren't responsible for the existence of so many people who would tear one another to pieces over these issues. Nor are you responsible for the fact that it is more socially acceptable to denigrate women and to advocate their oppression than it is for just about any other minority group.

You are absolutely right that these issues need to be discussed, in a respectful and constructive manner. But bringing up these issues unmoderated on the internet brings out the worst in some people, or maybe it just brings out the worst people. I'm never sure which.

Posted by: human | March 20, 2006 11:35 AM

Today's discussion strikes me as more productive -- and no less enlightening -- than some of the negativity on Friday. I hope politicians and journalists and advertising executives take note that moms want resolution and solutions to the very real problems facing mothers today. We are the real experts on motherhood. Gotta say, though, that Becky's "shame on you" stance seems like she wants moms to hide our heads in the sand. We've got to talk about these issues, hopefully in a constructive way, in order to resolve them. In criss-crossing the country to talk about Mommy Wars, I've found women are dying to talk openly about the pricetags attached to staying home, working fulltime, and working part time. The worst damage occurs when moms are shamed into not talking about our problems, and when other supposed "experts" on parenthood tell us what we should do and how we should feel when it comes to these very personal decisions.

Posted by: Leslie Morgan Steiner | March 20, 2006 11:38 AM

When we have a blog talking about the Daddy Wars, and the cost of dads working instead of staying home, then we will have balance. Until then, we just have the embarassing sight of women throwing darts (and worse) at each other.

Posted by: Where's the Daddy Blog? | March 20, 2006 12:00 PM

1) Pick the most disturbing snippet from Friday's blog. If someone said it to you in person, how would you respond?

We need the working moms *and* the stay-at-home moms. I've been both and currently I work as a Webmaster about 6 hours a day while my kids are in school - if there's more work to be done, I can do it on my computer from home. I'm lucky, not everyone has such a flexible workplace. I also volunteer at my daughter's school, managing the PTA web site. I'm thankful for the moms who volunteer at the school during the day because there's plenty of work that needs to be done and I can't do it.

2) Why does the topic of the relative value of working and stay-at-home motherhood elicit such intensity?

Because we are made to feel guilty about our choices as soon as our children are born. Cloth diapers or not, breastfeeding or not, preschool or not, and the list goes on.

3) What needs to change in order for moms to stop attacking each other?

Workplaces need to be more flexible and telecommuting needs to become a much more viable option. Then the lines between working moms and stay-at-home moms would become blurred, and moms could have the best of both worlds as work-at-home moms. There's a lot of jobs that can be done remotely, but many workplaces won't loosen their grip on their employees. Not only would it benefit the children by having a parent home when they're home, but it would help the environment by having less cars on the road.

Note, I was a "latch-key kid" and I vowed when I had children, I would be home with them. While they were little, I worked strictly from home doing data entry, transcription, whatever I could find while I finished my Bachelor's degree (which I got online through UMUC). Now I work in an office while they are in school, but if they have a day off or a half-day, I can work from home. I was lucky to find a job that is so flexible. More jobs need to offer this kind of flexibility.

Posted by: Kim | March 20, 2006 12:10 PM

The very slow response to today's topic confirms what I have suspected -- most people don't want to discuss the nuances thoughtfully, but would rather just pick and yell at the other side in an effort to defendant their own choices.

Posted by: dc | March 20, 2006 12:11 PM


Leslie, I have to say, though, that the entries you have chosen to post in this blog do remarkably little to advance the dialogue in the constructive way you claim to want here. Instead of just throwing up the typical rants of a mother, where is the discussion of avenues for true resolution? How about posting some pointers to think tanks and advocacy groups that are really working for true solutions to the work life problem? Highlighting the bills or lack thereof in Congress that would help working parents? Pointing out ways we can all ACT to make it better, instead of just turning this blog into another crabfest that we all already have with our girlfriends? (I'd be less gender specific, but guys just don't b*itch to their friends the way girls do. :)

That's what I'd like to see in this blog. Constructive conversation can't exist without it.

Posted by: A thinking mom | March 20, 2006 12:14 PM

Leslie,

I think the blog is a great idea, but I don't understand why you chosen to post the extremely stereotypical pieces that you have. Where is the nuance, the thoughtfulness, the internal conflict? I read a few interviews that you have given recently about the conflict being within each mom, but that the publisher made you change the title of the book to focus on Mommy Wars (ie., external conflict). Has the Washington Post done the same thing? I don't understand why your examples have chosen to pit WM against SAHM. Or have picked the stereotypes ("Are all men like that?").

Posted by: Unhappy with Topic choices | March 20, 2006 12:28 PM

1) The snippet that moms must sacrifice for their kids and do what what is best for them bothered me because there is no concrete evidence that establishes that X is what is best. One study will say that kids with moms that stay at home do better than those that don't and the next day a study says the opposite.

2) Why does the topic of the relative value of working and stay-at-home motherhood elicit such intensity? I deny the basis of the question. Most moms support and appreciate other moms-- it is only a small minority that voice such vehemance one way or the other. Since these comments are all over the internet, there is no reason to believe that it is really even women saying this stuff about other women. Am I cynical to think that people are abusing the anonymous setting of the internet, or outrageously naive to belive that most moms support each other?

3) What needs to change in order for moms to stop attacking each other?

Realize that it is probably not another mom attacking you and your choice-- just a sad, sexually frustrated middle aged man that loves a good "cat fight". Don't take the bait ladies!

Posted by: L Smith | March 20, 2006 1:06 PM

Another thing that is getting lost in this whole discussion is that for those mothers who have the option to stay home, it is a privilege that comes with wealth. I can hear the screaming already, but for those who are holding down multiple minimum wage jobs just to survive, having the mother stay home to care for children is not an option if you want to feed your family. I have a state job and I could not support a spouse and child on my income, let alone multiple children.

Posted by: human | March 20, 2006 1:20 PM

1) Pick the most disturbing snippet from Friday's blog. If someone said it to you in person, how would you respond?

I realize I may stir something up here, but here it is:

"Quoting DL:

"'It's a mother's job to sacrifice for her children.'

"I'm not sure how to respond to such a regressive comment. Ick."

Now, that's disturbing to me. I'm not implying anything about the dads, or how the sacrifices are made. I work full time; so does my husband. And the one thing we have to agree on consistently is that we, as a team, place the needs of our kids above our own. I don't know what's regressive about that. We brought our children into this world and we're responsible for how they turn out. The alternative to sacrificing for one's children, sadly, is that 1) we expect our children to do all the sacrificing, or 2) we continue to kid ourselves into thinking no one has to sacrifice and we really can have it all.

Perhaps some of us can. But I wish one of them would come forward and give the rest of us the formula.

2) Why does the topic of the relative value of working and stay-at-home motherhood elicit such intensity?

I suspect it's because we all want to be "right," and none of us wants to admit her personal limits, and because no one likes to be left holding the bag for someone who won't take care of her own responsibilities - the SAHM who shuttles around the working mom's kids, the working mom who'd rather be home with her own children than cover for a colleague who cuts out early so he or she can go coach the softball team. The jealousy issue, I think, is a minor one to most of us. Unfortunately, "she's just jealous" seems to be a popular technique for shutting down some useful inquiry here.

3) What needs to change in order for moms to stop attacking each other?

In theory, the blog format should be perfect for this kind of discussion because no one knows anyone else's circumstances and consequently, should be able to refrain from being judgmental. I'd like to assume that everyone's personal situation is the best one for him/her and see if we all can't learn something here about what works for others and how the other half lives. If we can't come away with something, we're all wasting our time here. And if we're all juggling as much as I think we are, we have precious little time to waste.

Posted by: Momworkstoo | March 20, 2006 1:28 PM

Kim wrote:

"2) Why does the topic of the relative value of working and stay-at-home motherhood elicit such intensity?

Because we are made to feel guilty about our choices as soon as our children are born. Cloth diapers or not, breastfeeding or not, preschool or not, and the list goes on."

This, to me, was part of the disturbing undercurrent that ran through many of the posts last week. No one can "make" you feel guilty. You make the best decision for you and your family. Other families decide what is best for them. The fact that two families reach different conclusions is not an indication that one is right and one is wrong, and certainly should not be an invitation to judge each other.

Believe in yourselves and your own values. Allow others to believe in themselves and live their own values. Even if they are different, it is still possible, through sharing of experiences and ideas, to have something constructive to say to one another.

Posted by: Supportive Guy | March 20, 2006 1:35 PM

What disturbed me the most? That several people think there is no need to talk about the difficulties of balancing working and parenting... that by talking about this, it somehow makes it worse.

In my opinion, this blog and the comments in response make it all that much clearer to me. It's easy to spot the judgmental commenters. It's refreshing to see the sympathetic posters - and I don't mean the ones who are sympathetic to one side of the issue. I mean the ones who are symapthetic to the existence of the problem - that some people do have to juggle working and parenting.

I see no great solution to my juggling of both. So, I continue to read this forum in hopes that we as a community can help each other find solutions that work for all of us.

Posted by: Fairfax | March 20, 2006 2:00 PM

To Unhappy with Topic Choices -- Let me know what you think the the topics should be. By my standards (mostly monthly women's magazines and my experience with editing my book), The Wash Post has a remarkably hands off policy on the topics. We can obviously chose what we want to focus on in discussions.

The topics I've chose so far are undeniably a reflection of my own mommy war. A lot of tension simmers as I argue with myself about the pros/cons of working v. being at home, how men get a free pass on a lot of this stuff, how arbitrary employer & government support seems to be, and my stupification that some people thinks it is their right to judge others and mandate how women should live our lives. Of course I stereotype -- and I hope that by exposing my and others' mommy wars, it will become clear what stereotypes are realistic and which are not.

I also want to point out the obvious: I have no control over where the discussion goes. Can't predict responses. Can't (and don't want to) edit or delete other people's entries. The free-for-all aspect of the blog is a key part of the discussion.

A note on the book title. Mommy Wars was chosen because a) women understand right away what the topic is, since Mommy Wars has become a pretty generic way of capturing the tensions between moms b) the "wars" are also the ones we moms wage against our worlds and society overall c) the real mommy war is inside each mom's head. So I think it works on lots of levels, although obviously a two word title has its limits.

Posted by: Leslie Morgan Steiner | March 20, 2006 2:06 PM

Mworkstoo said "we continue to kid ourselves into thinking no one has to sacrifice and we really can have it all.

Perhaps some of us can. But I wish one of them would come forward and give the rest of us the formula."

I haven't 'sacrificed' and here is my formula-- stay at home with child for as long as you the mother enjoy it then go back to work and get 1) on-site childcare and/or 2) a really short commute. If you can't afford to do this stuff then I am afraid it is true that you will feel you are sacrificing and I am truely sorry if that is the case. I stopped working for almost 2 years, but in retrospect 16 months would have been ideal.

Why base the decision on what makes the mom happy? Because she is the one that gave birth, not the dad. Furthermore, the only thing that is "Best" for a kid is that the mom is happy. And what makes one mom happy will not cut it for another. (The kicker is you don't really know yourself until after you have your child.)

On-site childcare is so great-- I can check on my child whenever I feel the need-- he is happy to see me, but he loves the other kids and teachers so much that he doesn't want to leave at the end of the day! Most of the other kids seem to feel the same.

Other kids my be different-- and other moms may be better at relating to toddlers and can do the stay at home thing. I wouldn't want to go back to that it this point because I have had it with breastfeeding all day long! Exhausting! But if I didn't give it to him, he seemed to hate me. Again, not every kid is that way and there are moms out there that are cool with doing it for more that 2 years but I had had enough!

In sum-- motherhood shouldn't feel like a sacrifice. If it is feeling that way, please be careful that you are not sending this message to your kid.

Maybe you can't really have it all-- at least not all at once. But please enjoy what you do have. If not, do what you can to change your circumstances so that you again find happiness in motherhood.

Posted by: L. Smith | March 20, 2006 2:10 PM

The most disturbing thing about the course of the conversation on Friday was the harshness of tone in both directions.

In reading them though I wondered what would happen if the US offered better job protection, flexibility and financial support after giving birth? Would that remove SOME of the reasons women/men return to work, thus less stress about decisions? If the choice is to return to work, how do we as a society facilitate that in the least traumatic way possible? Not trying to be snarky, but just trying to understand. I have friends who while happy to be working, still wish more/better flexibility in the workplace, for both partners.

Posted by: LB | March 20, 2006 2:44 PM

Picking up on LB's comments, I had my first child in London and felt that the level of support there helped me re-enter into the workforce. I had 6 months full paid maternity and an option of one year where my job was protected. I stayed with my child without financial stress and enjoyed the time I spent at home because I knew I would go back, my job and salary level were protected. When I did go back I was given the option of working from home when I needed it.

From a very personal point of view, this time and benefit, allowed me to re-enter without guilt. And I retured to work with renewed energy and viger (life isn't always peaches and cream, this is how I felt at the time).

My point is if maternity was longer and women could spent more time with their babies without financial stress, perhaps the tension and guilt around working wouldn't be as strong as we have seen in this blog.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 20, 2006 2:59 PM

Let's just take one of these "most thought-provoking observations":

"How happy the politicians that control the money in this country and give us no good daycare, no healthcare for our kids and no true family leave time must be that women are still putting most of their energies into fighting with each other."

Ok, first of all, "the politicians" don't "control the money in this country." You as the individual and as a democratic participant control your own money and your share of what is allocated by taxation. However, your welfare-statist response suggests you'd rather surrender more of your money (or at least more of everyone else's) to Uncle Sam. And is it really the government's duty to give you daycare and healthcare for your children? (Show me, right now, in the federal Constitution or that of any state.) If you can't afford to care for your child, perhaps you should have considered that before reproducing! As for family leave laws, it's up to you to choose an employer that offers such benefits. It's not the government's job to force businesses to pay people for not working. This garbage isn't "thought-provoking." We are all less intelligent for having read it. The debate over motherhood is really one over personal responsibility versus dependency and entitlement.

Posted by: John Andrews | March 20, 2006 3:01 PM

Someone in the blog called me demonstrasly arrogant. If they knew me personally, I doubt they would used so harsh of terms. That is one of the great things about the internet, a person can express their opinion and not care about whom they offend. I think the ideas discussed on Friday's blog were pretty mild at worst, especially when you consider the content in conjunction with the audience. Why so intense? Because women, as a gender, has the responsibility of giving birth to, and raising their young children. Face it girls, no one else does it better. A discussion on how to most effectively raise the next generation is no light subject; hence an intense debate that will never end.

Posted by: Father of 4 | March 20, 2006 3:07 PM

Here are some topics that I think would be good to cover:
1) When will we raise the minimum wage enough so that parents need to only work two full time jobs to live above the poverty line?
2) How will we slow the rate of increase in our public college's tuition, to take some of the financial pressure off our families?
3) How do we organize things like cooperative daycare?
4) How have others managed to balance work and family?
5) Has anyone had success in convincing his or her work place to become more family friendly? If so, how?

To all you super parents out there, we (or maybe its just me...) want your tips! Do you freeze a weeks worth of dinner every Sunday afternoon? Do you sneak your laptop to your kid's T-ball game and get some work done while the other team is up? How do you make it work?

Posted by: FG | March 20, 2006 3:10 PM

I think your discussion points are used to promote book sales, and generate more heat than light.

You answered your own question when you wrote "the real mommy war is inside each mom's head".

This is really the ongoing relationship discussion that two adult parents have with each other. You merely begin to discuss these questions BEFORE becoming parents.

After birth is too late to decide how children will effect work life, lifestyle choices, etc.

Posted by: Laurel, MD | March 20, 2006 3:13 PM

This debate, which I've been witnessing for the past 15 years, is part of the reason I don't have kids. I am not swayed by the snarky comments on either side, but I don't want to have to make the difficult choices associated with children and work, or deal with any of the guilt or stress associated with living, working, and childrearing in this day and age, while trying to earn enough pay a mortgage for a modest home in this market. It's just too difficult.

This may sound like a cop-out, but being unable to get pregnant also played a role. After years of trying an testing with no success, I have decided that my life is simpler to just stay childless. Yes, I may regret it down the road, but right now now I don't have to worry about putting my child in child care and commuting an hour to get to work, or how to afford living on one paycheck when we still have a mountain of student loans and a mortgage to pay off. Maybe we can adopt when we retire!

Posted by: No Kids for Me | March 20, 2006 3:18 PM

Every time I read one of these articles I'm startled by the fact that I'm supposed to care what other women, who've made other choices, think of me. I'm doing what's best for my family's situation, and I'm assuming they are as well. I've never had anyone, ever, comment on my status as a working mother (of course, I'm also a single one - are we not in this debate?). I wouldn't dream of commenting on someone else's choices.

Posted by: lsf in pa | March 20, 2006 3:20 PM

I find it interesting that the focus of most of the blogs was on whether or not the MOM sacrificed for her family -- what about Dad? Maybe Mom is sacrificing by working outside the home in order to stabilize the family finances. Maybe Dad is giving up the opportunity to a more lucrative position in order to work fewer hours and be available to his family. There's all kinds of "sacrifice" -- it shouldn't be about what's good for Mom or for the kids, it should be what's good for the FAMILY. My kids complain about not having the money for the best computer, Ipods, cell phones, etc. but at the same time, they prefer to have time with their parents --especially at sports events, school performances, etc. My job isn't well-paying, but it's incredibly flexible and I have a super-supportive supervisor; if one of my children (or pets) are sick, he shoos me out the door. I am so grateful for that! And stop the sniping -- whether or not a mom is working at home or working outside the home, she is working -- and I bet Dad is working hard, too.

Posted by: Ithaca, NY | March 20, 2006 3:28 PM

Dear LSF,
I don't have a comment on your comment on not making comments, but thanks for the comment

Posted by: No Comment | March 20, 2006 3:31 PM

Ithica wrote: "Maybe Dad is giving up the opportunity to a more lucrative position in order to work fewer hours and be available to his family."

Or it could be that Dad is sacrificing his health and sanity commuting 90+ minutes each way plus bringing his work home with him via Blackberry, etc. for a high-paying job so that Mom has the choice of whether to stay at home or work.

Of course, the Mom and Dad could be switched so that Mom is the one killing herself slowly so Dad can stay at home.

It's sacrifice either way, unless you're lucky enough to be able to live close to work.

Posted by: Jacknut | March 20, 2006 3:40 PM

I. Feminism has often been criticized as a white, middle class movement that does not pay attention to the needs of lower income groups. Friday's blog highlighted that reality for me. The constant assumption that working a job outside of the home is a choice troubles me. My husband and I are fairly well off in the relative poverty of Baltimore. We are both teachers with stable jobs, good benefits, and decent salaries. However, one salary will not support us, and we do not live an extravagant lifestyle. For example, we share one car, a Hyundai. We have a mortgage for a house that was worth less than the median house value in the area, student loans to pay, and high utility costs, despite keeping the house at 63 degrees all winter. I would love to stay at home with my baby on the way, but unfortunately, I do not see how that is in anyway possible without going into consumer debt. It is not possible for any of the four recent moms that I work with, either. All of them love their jobs; all of them would rather be home with their new babies. Unfortunately, their husbands, like mine, do not make enough to support their family on a single salary and provide health insurance. I cannot imagine how much harder it must be for young families in the D.C. area, where real estate is so much more expensive.

II. I think that this question arouses such anger because nobody wants to discuss that our decisions/choices do not exist in a vacuum. As a result, there is an underlying tension. Stay at home moms rightly perceive that if all/most middle/upper class moms stayed home, families would not have as much disposable income to spend. This, in turn, would decrease the opportunity costs for staying home -- including perhaps driving down the cost of real estate. Working moms rightly perceive that if all/most moms worked, there would be significantly more pressure on the government to provide for the next generation. Instead of public school starting at age 5 years, perhaps it would start at age 5 months, taking away some of the family burden. Because working is still seen as a "choice" however, there is much less pressure on the government than if it was considered required. There is anger, because they see that others' "choices" impact their lives.

III. I wish there were easy solutions, but I don't think there are any quick fixes here. I certainly don't think the internet is a good place to look for solutions and productive dialogue. Looking at the structural realities behind families' choices is an important first start.

Posted by: saddened | March 20, 2006 3:45 PM

Dear Ms. Steiner
You have entered the discussion of choices made by mothers with a book called "The Mommy Wars". That, in itself, says something about the emotions and the expectations you have for reflecting on your own choices and for any conversation about such choices in other women's lives.

I would suggest that to call something a war is to begin with the premise that there will be violence, discord, strife, cruel suffering and pain.

This begins to set the tone for your column and your blog.

As I read today's column I see your writing full of judgment, name-calling and words guaranteed to promote more strife, tension and discord in today's blog. For example:

"1) Pick the most disturbing snippet from Friday's blog. If someone said it to you in person, how would you respond?"

Ms. Steiner, please stop and think of the effect on your audience. What does such an assignment do to further a conversation on women's choices? In what way do you expect this assignment to allow people to dismiss the name-calling and continue an intelligent conversation? If you did this in a college classroom, you'd have a riot on your hands in no time. You expect the result on the anonymous blog to be productive?

Another example:
In referring to the posts from last week (thank you for quoting mine), you describe other posts like so: "It surprised me that so many were negative, snarky and defensive."

When dealing with the blog, your act of name-calling against those negative posters will only bring back those posters to the blog. They will respond to being called 'snarky' with far worse, thus escalating the tension and further postponing intelligent conversation.

For a third example:
"3) What needs to change in order for moms to stop attacking each other?"

Is this really the question? I would hope that most of us could look at this question and realize quickly that the attacker has got to change in order for the attacks to stop. Again you delay the conversation, sidetrack it.

You have set a tone here, and you appear to be unaware of the effect your words are having on your audience. It must be terrible to feel that way about your work and your value in the lives of those who read your column.

What is it you really want to say? And is it for the public to read?

Do you want to foster solutions and/or open up a civil and honest discussion to build understanding? That would be so admirable, so valuable and so timely. A blog is the perfect place for such a discussion -- and so many, including me, are still here, hoping for such a conversation to take place.

I think part of you wants the sharing of thoughts, wants the community to come here, and I give you credit that you at least have been honest about your own confusion and fears. Truly, we can learn more easily in the company of others who are seeking answers and making mistakes and listening to the feedback. You don't have to have the answers. You just open the conversation with the right intentions and see where we all (including you) take it.

It's not too late to start again with this blog. It's getting later, but I will look to see what you make of my suggestions in tomorrow's column.

I'm sure you have many different ways of looking at this situation. Take a hopeful approach and allow your best intentions for this space to guide your next column. You have all the tools you need to bring something of tremendous value to the WaPo site. And you have the burning desire to explore this issue. I think *you* can facilitate this blog becoming a great space.

Nana

Posted by: Nana | March 20, 2006 3:55 PM

How would I respond to any questions about my personal life choice? Whether I stay home with my child or go to work is no one's business but my own.

The topic of the relative value of working and stay-at-home motherhood elicit such intensity because we are at a major turning point in our lives - some of us did have mothers who stayed at home but that number is shrinking rapidly. Soon, there will be such a small percentage of mothers that will be in a position to stay-at-home that it will be a lost memory for most - therefore the concept of stay-at-home moms will no longer be a reality.

What needs to change in order for moms to stop attacking each other? Just grow up - why do we have to compare each other all the time? What does that get us? But this kind of rivalry is not unlike any conversations mothers and fathers have about their kids (comparing them...), their house, their cars, their vacation homes, etc. It's a very personal topic that speaks to family and their finances and core values - hence a potentially fiery topic of conversation...

Posted by: Pauline | March 20, 2006 4:23 PM

Leslie, I disagree that men get a free pass. My husband actually complains that men have no choice about whether or not they can work, but women do have a choice.

A graduate of a top-ranked business school, he's had to significantly curb his career aspirations so that he can spend more time at home with our children. While his classmates are out working 80 hours a week and earning 7-figure salaries on Wall Street, he's earning a much more modest salary with less career growth so that he can be home for dinner with the kids and have his weekends free. (Well, as free as you can be after playing with the kids, cleaning the house and doing laundry.) In practical terms, men don't have the option to take parental leave after the birth of a new baby, and taking sabatical to care for children looks bad on their resumes.

Posted by: HollyP | March 20, 2006 4:25 PM

First, if your comments are long, I don't read them. So get your point across quickly. If you start name-calling, you lose credibility real fast. That what's great about these comments--I can anonymously trash anyone without you knowing who I am.

Second, sorry I missed the gaggle on Friday, but I was busy following the basketball tournament on the Internet.

Third, I don't worry about what anyone thinks of the choices I made in my life--nor do I concern myself with the choices they make in theirs.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 20, 2006 4:43 PM

Dear John
Your two cent comment is a comment of entitlement from a male perspective and nothing more.
Many of your points were correct in the obvious sense - but that still does not take away from the fact that if THE MEN were giving birth many steps would be finalized for a better workplace 1) enable maternity leave that is comprehensive in regards to the babies and mothers health & development
2) properly paid positions and secure positions for parents 3) family healthcare that is affordable and once again comprehensive 4) affordable daycare and child mentoring programs. Very simple facts don’t make your opinion anymore equal to a woman’s opinion- unless you can walk in someone else’s shoes (heels and pantyhose all day) you should forget the simple minded sexist comments that only promote the stupidity of the sex you represent. You are a blog for another day!

Posted by: blonde 19 | March 20, 2006 4:53 PM

1) In my opinion, the most disturbing snippet: McLean Dad questioning what kind of car Springfield Dad and his wife drive. Wow - that would make my jaw drop if someone said that to me in person. So much of the vehemence in this debate boils down to insecurity - both about parenting choices (who cares for our kids) and family finances (how much do we have). I can't help but think that family finances is actually the larger issue -- our general insecurity about being able to afford our homes, send our kids to college, save for retirement, and weather any hard times along the way. Who works and how much directly impacts the bottom line.

2) I also can't help but feel that those who are defensive do so because they are not happy about some aspect of their situations. That could be due to the balance (or lack thereof) of home/work responsibilities between parents; or some general lack of fulfillment that women feel (that men either don't feel or suppress?) as we try to "have it all."

3) What needs to change? I think marriages and the workplace are a lot less clear-cut than they were even one generation ago. It's important for both partners to jointly make decisions that honestly take into account what's needed to care for our kids, support family finances, and satisfy our intellects and ambitions. First and foremost, the debate needs to be about parents, not moms. And more men need to be like Springfield Dad, who view parenting and providing as jointly held responsibilities. Though that may reflect my personal bias - I know that I could not be married to someone who didn't consider ours a marriage of equals and co-parents, knowing that we support each other to maximize our satisfaction inside and outside the home, wherever our individual satisfaction (along the parenting and providing dimensions) lies.

Posted by: MG | March 20, 2006 5:03 PM

I believe that the very first posting this morning by Anne sums it up very nicely, all three of her points are right on target but I really appriciated the third point promoting understanding.

Thank you Anne!

Posted by: Anonymous | March 20, 2006 5:03 PM

In response to question number 2, why does this issue illicit such vitriol, I would say it's because it gets to the very question of our identity and what it means to be a woman. As women we are trying to find a place between two extremely potent societal messages: 1) Success means doing well in your career and making money 2) Being a woman/mother means sacrificing everything for your child.

I think most of us know that both of those statements are untenable and untrue, but they are powerful societal myths that affect our sense of who we are. And they are irreconcilable. The only way to get out from under this is to redefine both success and parenthood, for both men and women.

Posted by: Megan | March 20, 2006 5:07 PM

I think that the role of women in our society has evolved, but in a way, it has made things harder for us. We are no longer expected to stay at home and raise children. We can have jobs and careers now, and that's a good thing. But in a sense, we are expected to do both, hence the word "supermom." Here is where the situation becomes difficult. It is almost impossible to have a demanding and lucrative career and still have time to be the primary caregiver of your children. If women choose to have a career, they are seen as selfish and neglectlful mothers. If they choose to stay at home, they are seen as throwbacks to the 50s. IMHO, I think one of the reasons for all this strife as that as advanced as we are, we still do not appreciate the contribution that women make in our worlds, whether they are working or stay at home moms. Sexism is still very much a part of our society, and we see women and their contributions, at home or at work, through a lens that is muddied by sexist attitudes. We need to acknowledge that women who stay at home to raise children are making a huge contribution to our society. They are raising our next generation of workers: doctors, lawyers, social workers, teachers, politicians, and if they do a good job, our world will be a better place. We should also recognize that women in the workplace are also contributing their talents to this world, and that as scientists, teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, etc., they have every bit as much to give as any man. And then, when we have recognized the value of both tracks, we should support the raising of our children in material, practical ways, by subsidizing quality low cost day care, and supporting flexible work hours and telecommuting, for example, to help families whatever choice they make. If we were under less financial and physical stress from the demands of working and child rearing, we would not be sniping at each other. Instead of fighting each other, we should unite and lobby our government and workplaces to institute policies that are friendlier toward motherhood. We should do it for the children, as well as the mothers. Our entire society would benefit from such policies.

Posted by: c | March 20, 2006 5:11 PM

I didn't want to read the blog anymore to answer the first question, but if someone on the street made sweeping generalizations about my choices in life, I would ask what was making him or her so angry.

I believe the reason "debates" like this one are so heated is that the efforts to create strife in our society are greater than those to foster peaceful coexistence. It's not just this issue- try, just try to have an open conversation with anyone about any issue: everything we read and watch is formatted in an adversarial manner, and people tend to adopt this format in their own interactions with others. I think it took off as a marketing tool by the political argument shows, and has had the effect of creating this nasty, vicarious sense in individuals.

I think what has to happen to turn things around is for everyone to take a deeeeeep breath, calm down, and remember that we are fortunate to be able to craft a unique life based on choices we make for ourselves to realize our goals- whatever they are. Neither gender is good or evil, no one choice is good or bad, and the only person you have a snowball's chance of changing is yourelf. Also, for those who regularly find themselves fired up and angry at any particular group of people, maybe you want to stop and question why you're feeling that way and is it really how you want to spend your day or your life. Maybe you want to stop and assess what's influencing you to think and behave this way, and whether you'd be happier if you focused a little more on your own needs. Are you really taking care of yourself the way you should? How does The Angry Crusade you wage fit into your overall life goals? If you "won" The Angry Crusade, how would your life be better?

The bottom line is 'live and let live.' Oh, and turn off the TV once in a while!

Posted by: WorkHomeMom | March 20, 2006 5:11 PM

Leslie,
I'm really conflicted about this blog and its topic. Here's what I've come to realize reading it:

1. If you're miserable, it's easy to find company! I think there's an ebb and flow to motherhood--and blogs like this may only feature the ebb without getting the flow.

2. Discussing a situation with the hopes of coming up with answers is productive; looking for the answers in the ramblings of others may not be. I'm beginning to wonder if it's an effective use of my time.

3. I heard you on the Diane Rehm show when you said "there's a lot of anger in motherhood". I couldn't agree more. However, I wonder if the anger isn't due to misguided expectations--I know in my case I'm a lot happier when I try not to overthink it all.

Posted by: PTjobFTMom | March 20, 2006 5:38 PM

I'm a working mom and I have spoken to many other working moms about the general "war" or competition among stay-at-home (SAH) moms versus working moms (WM's). Each camp seems to have its own clique, and apparently never the twain shall meet. Not to say that SAH moms are mean to WM's, or visa-versa, but neither goes out of their way to help the other, which I believe is exactly the problem. The SAH moms have the established car pools to practices, games, school pick-up, play groups with kids of other SAH moms, social gatherings with other SAH moms, etc. Meanwhile, we working stiffs are left out in the cold. Outside of the occasional fringe neighborhood event that we get invited to, for the most part, we and our family members are left out in the cold. Some would say this is a blessing because it also keeps you out of the neighborhood "dramas" that tend to play out within these tight-knit groups. This is true; however, I actually find it rather hurtful, especially if we feel it's affecting our children's ability to form friendships because they don't necessarily get invited to all the events with the kids of the SAH moms. I'm not trying to rag on the SAH group. Believe me, I don't always love being a WM and getting up at some horrible hour to drive for 45 minutes to an office. I also hated having to hire babysitters or nanny's to take care of my sick kids when I ran out of leave. Fortunately, mine are getting older and more independent and they've turned out just fine, as a result of or in spite of my working; I'm not sure which. But what I miss most is the emotional support we women get only from our women friends. We ALL need those connections. It keeps us sane. Gives us a safe place to vent our problems about the kids, husbands, whatever. So SAH moms, please don't think less of me because I work outside of the house. I appreciate that you work your butts off all day long, too. I really do. How about not excluding me or my kids from your group, just because I leave for an office everyday? In return, I promise not to make assumptions that you can't possibly be as busy or stressed or have it as difficult as me because I have to juggle home, kids, husband, house duties, and a demanding boss. We all have things we can share with each other and learn from each other. Can't we just appreciate that we're all doing the best job we can, regardless of where or what it is. We're all killing ourselves trying to be the perfect wives and mothers and daughters. How about being better friends to each other? Maybe I can't run all the carpools, but I might have a funny story to cheer you up or a solution to a similar problem that I've already worked through. Maybe I can recommend a fast and easy recipe or just offer a different point of view. In return, maybe you could invite my kids to come play with yours after school once in a while, or let me know about a summer camp or event that the other kids in the neighborhood are all signing up for so that mine can be included. Our homes are still our hearts, just like yours. We're not so different after all.

Posted by: KarenC | March 20, 2006 6:12 PM

I believe that maybe we are all so defensive because each of us want what the other has. I work and Its just me and my girl, so staying home was out of the question but how i would have loved being home with her !I will admit that. Even if before I had my daughter I swore I never be that Stay at home mom type. Now for those who can and choose to stay at home a part may want to work , i have a friend who stays at home and remembers going to the office and having a seperate life from home and misses it. Maybe it isnt that simple., i am very happy working and being a mom, and juggling everything but wish that i had more time with my daughter. Why cant we just accept its harder when we have children, it doesnt matter if we work or stay home, your kids are the hardest job and trying your best to teach them to be good people. Both types of moms should get applauded!

Posted by: working single mom | March 20, 2006 6:25 PM

I agree with Nana. It is an awesome responsibility to have a platform like this and you must use it wisely.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 20, 2006 6:27 PM

In answer to Leslie's second and third questions...

This debate boils down to how parents, particularly mothers, respond to the inherent sacrifices of parenthood. We all want to believe that we have made good choices for ourselves and our families, but our choices are not often without a good measure of uncertainty. We deal with that uncertainty about the wisdom of our choices concerning work and family-- engendered, in my opinion, by a pervasive lack of flexible work policies and by an economy addicted to cheap labor-- by blaming it on others, rather than on ourselves (if indeed we have made poor choices) or simply on the nature of parenthood as a state that, for better and for worse, radically redefines our lives.

Essentially, we blame the sacrifices and painful transformations that accompany parenthood on the choices of other parents, usually other mothers. We rail against stay-at-home mothers who apparently waste their time on pointless endeavors, have forgotten who they are outside of being a parent, purposely exclude employed mothers from community activities, and raise spoiled kids incapable of independence. We castigate employed mothers who apparently neglect their childrearing duties in favor of fulfilling their own selfish desires, take advantage of and undervalue the work of stay-at-home mothers, and raise unguided, emotionally scarred kids.

If we recognize and temper our own biases, hold fathers equally accountable with mothers for the work of parenthood, and demand workplace flexibility loudly and often...I believe that we can find real solutions to the heart-wrenching dilemmas that lie underneath this facade of blame.

Posted by: LDC | March 20, 2006 7:09 PM

Nana,
Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I agree with you entirely.

Posted by: Friend | March 20, 2006 7:47 PM

I think the comments re what we do as a society to support families and provide high-quality care for children are very important. Every parent should not have to work out these issues alone.

For comparison, I'm going to provide some links to information about parental leave (i.e., maternity or paternity) and child care leave, which can last up until the child is three years old. Finland is a smaller and less complex country than the United States, but it is a country that has taken seriously the idea of ensuring good services (including child care, education, health care, and elder care) for all its citizens, and it has done so successfully. One indicator: For several years, Finnish students have scored highest on international tests of school performance that are administered in high school. Almost all Finnish mothers work outside the home, but the services provided for parents and children reduce the burden of managing both home and work, and the daycare provided for young children is followed by excellent education provided by highly trained teachers.

For information about maternity, paternity, and parental leave for children up to 10 months, see: http://www.stm.fi/Resource.phx/eng/subjt/famil/paren/parentleave.htx

For information about child care leave for children up to age 3, see: http://www.stm.fi/Resource.phx/eng/subjt/famil/fpoli/homecare.htx

More generally, this site describes the policies and services of the Finnish Ministry for Social Affairs and Health. Explore the site for more information about how this interesting society provides for its citizens. We could learn a great deal from studying this example. Doubtless, many things that work there would not work here. But Finland is addressing the same problems (childcare, education, healthcare) that concern us, and it is doing so in much more focused way, reflecting the deep social understanding that the purpose of government and social institutions is to provide a good life for Finnish citizens.

Posted by: THS | March 20, 2006 8:19 PM

I grew up in the 70s and 80s in Bethesda (NCS, followed by good college and grad school)--I had a working mom and working dad-- now divorced because they worked ALL the time and ended hating and cheating on each other. Eh-- so it is. My brother and I didn't mind that my mom and dad worked all day, but we minded that their jobs and individual pursuits were more important than their marriage.

Here's one thing I learned early, as a kid while waiting for my mom and dad to come home (came to mind while reading the blog for the last few days):

"Now, the world don't move to the beat of just one drum,
What might be right for you, may not be right for some.
It takes, Diff'rent Strokes to move the world.
Yes it does, it takes, DIFF'RENT STROKES TO MOVE THE WORLD!"

Ha.

Thanks Leslie!


Posted by: WhatTheChildrenThink? | March 20, 2006 8:20 PM

Whenever you preach, people are going to rebel. Whenever you create a forum for preaching, people are going to preach and others are going to rebel. That is the natural of the human mind, and there is nothing that can be done to stop it.

This is hardly exclusive to parenting issues.

If, perhaps, you would make more interesting posts with less restrictive questions (nothing like, "Why are you like that?" or "I don't get it!" which are what you have been using), you wouldn't get so much hostility. Your comment 'Are all men like this?' was bait. Generalized bait. You shouldn't have even brough the issue up. Stick with your own family and give details abou the situation, otherwise it simply seems that you are attacking people in order to find something useful to post.

I have listened to your interviews, and I have no doubt that you are a mature woman, which is why this blog boggles me. You seem very much out of character. You are so eager to end this mommy war that you are playing into it. Instead of saying, why are you like that?, ask people to share their experiences and to accept that all people make different choices and those choices are ultimately the right ones for them. You may not understand it, but it is your duty not to ask why, but to say, GO YOU!

Personally, I'm curious about whether or not anyone has responded to the essays in the anthology (which I read and enjoyed; another reason this blog confuses me), such as kids, parents, grandparents...Other anthologies have posted the responses, so I'd like to know. Those are facets of the mommy wars that would really be interesting to read.

Posted by: Choir | March 20, 2006 8:49 PM

My oldest child is seven. I have worked full time the first four years, dropping down to part time after my second child was born. Our children have only ever been in child care on a part time basis.

Part of me wouldn't mind going to work on a full time basis. But my husband and I have arranged our work schedules so that one of can always care for the kids. Sometimes it is hard. But really, by the time you factor in child care, if I did return to work full time, with full time child care, financially, it wouldn't be worth it.

Our situation isn't always easy, but we have found that this solution is the one that works best for everyone in the family...it isn't just about one person's needs and wants.

It is often said that the US workplace should adopt policies that are more family friendly, and that our government should fund daycare, after-school care, etc, to a greater extent than it does. I'm not sure if this is is the answer or not.

I will say this, when I look around and see the daycare options, they are truly wanting. The "village" that is raising our children doesn't seem to be doing that great of a job.

Posted by: Kate | March 20, 2006 11:39 PM

Kate said: I will say this, when I look around and see the daycare options, they are truly wanting.


That's so true, and it's so important. Not only are there not enough places, but daycare is very expensive. Other countries do a much better job of providing childcare than we do. We could and should learn from them.

Posted by: THS | March 20, 2006 11:43 PM

Regarding this quote: "Show me, right now, in the federal Constitution or that of any state."

According to the actual text of the Constitution, the First Amendment only applies to Congress, not to the executive branch. If you rely on a literalist reading of the Constitution to support your ideas, as you did above, then you must likewise accept the idea that the executive branch can violate the First Amendment at will with no repercussions.

Personally, I prefer a more nuanced view of the Constitution.

There were several comments that I thought were absurd from the previous post, but they didn't bother me. I felt sorry for their authors. To live so on the edge, to be so bitter and so angry at the world seems like a hard and difficult way to live.

I have been WOH and SAH, and they're both hard. Nobody has it easy.

Posted by: Catherine | March 20, 2006 11:53 PM

My husband and I are in our 20's and contemplating whether or not to have kids. I was saddened this weekend to see a ugly situation unfold at a family get together that demonstrates the driving force behind the "Mommy Wars". My aunt critiziced one of my cousins, who's a SAHM, by saying that her daughters won't be socialized well because she is a SAHM and they are too sheltered. She's 6 months pregnant and left the room in tears. My aunt then told my sister that her son will suffer because she works too much and has too far of a comute and it's sad she picked an SUV over her son. My sister didn't cry, she just talked bad about my aunt behind her back which is a totally differnt problem women need to stop doing.

So women attack women no matter what decision you make??? That's nuts. My husband and I are trying to make this decision with our own minds and shut out everyone else's opinions but when you hear stuff like that, it feels like you can't win. We're leaning towards just not having kids and putting all our love into spoiling our dog.

Posted by: dog mom | March 21, 2006 6:40 AM

I agree with FG-- we should be talking about how we make it work, and sharing tips and ideas.

I'll start: One of the more unique things that helps us, as parents of a 1.5-year-old and 4 year-old, is the dinner swap we have with two other families down the street. We make dinner for all three families on one weekday, and deliver it to our neighbors' doors at 6 PM. Two other days of the week our neighbors bring us a hot, homemade meal to our door on a tray. It doesn't take much longer to cook for 3 families than for 1 (it's usually just tossing in more ingredients), and the cleanup is exactly the same. Since we always have leftovers from these meals, we usually have four or five weekday dinners covered through one evening's work.

Posted by: Ms L | March 21, 2006 11:07 AM

I regret my posting yesterday where I offered a "formula" to avoiding feeling like parenthood is sacrifice. I should have offered hope and not a "solution". I should have merely said that I don't feel parenthood is a sacrifice for me. By that I mean that "sacrifice" would not be high on the list of words to describe the impact it has nad on my life-- instead words like fulfillment, blessing and enrichment come to mind. But just because I had a long maternity leave and now enjoy on-site child care and a short commute, there realy is no way of knowing that this "formula" would make all parents feel there is little sacrifice. Maybe I would still feel the way I do even if I had had a short maternity leave and a nanny with a 2 hour commute.

But I will stick with my advice to change your lifestyle if you are feeling that parenthood is a sacrificing for your children. If your attitude is "I must sacrifice myself for the benefit of my child" I really think you will end up bitter and angry and your child will be burdened with guilt.

That said, I really appreciate the comments about the Finnish system. I'd love to hear more about what works in other countries.

Posted by: LSmith | March 21, 2006 11:39 AM

I was infuriated by several comments, in various posts that implied that working mothers slack off at work and ask for preferencial treatment. I personally was on the other end of this assumption and was forced out of an exciting, challenging, and intellecutally rewarding job when I had a second child. Some people can get their work done in shorter time because they are better organized and smarter and think quicker and write faster. If somebody is in the office 10 hours a day how much of this time is spent on working and producing and how much on socializing and browsing the internet (including this blog?) FYI, companies the caliber of Goldman Saks are now looking for ways to keep women in the work place after they have children. Giving mothers and fathers flexibility is only a smart thing to do for any employer. Our children are going to leave the nest at some point and we are still going to be young enough to contribute to this society. Don't be shortsighted and marginalize working parents.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 21, 2006 12:11 PM

I feel that in someway we, as women, are experiencing societies growing pains.

I have been reading this blog, and contributing to it on occasion since it was started by Leslie. Many of the posts have stuck in my mind for days. Here’s what I see…

When I attended middle school in the early 80’s, for the first time both boys and girls took Home Economics, Typing, and Shop. Before my class, these were divided among gender lines. The boys did not welcome the girls into their Shop class, and showed that they were not happy making cookies and sewing shirts in Home Economics. But none the less, we were in it together. Growing up, my class also saw a boy join the Field Hockey team. Girls fought to be on the Ice Hockey team and the Football team. It was not an easy battle, but they won. Girls were finally getting opportunities that in the past were only offered to boys. Things were starting to change.

In college, I encountered women whose mothers and fathers encouraged them to go to college to find “A Man”. What better place to find someone who could support their little girls. These women were few and far between in the 90’s, but they still existed. The majority of women I met were there to make a career for themselves. Even recently, I heard a women say of a friend’s daughter, “Her mother is so happy. He has a lot of money. She will have a big house as soon as they are married”. I do not know if this was the daughters’ intentions, but it was clearly a pleasing point for the mother.

Opportunities have been opening up for women. Some of us on the cusp of this change my not realize that we have opportunities that the women before us didn’t have. I know that I sometimes take it for granted that I can get a job, and demand a high paying salary.

One thing that has not changed in all these years is that women are still the ones who get pregnant. We get to experience a moving baby inside our womb. We give birth; we can feed the baby with our bodies alone. It is an amazing gift.

After years of being told you can do anything you want, and getting the education to do just that. Feeling confidant and powerful in your career; and suddenly you’re “The Mommy”. What do you do? Society still has so much changing to do.

Posted by: CTmom | March 21, 2006 1:41 PM

As a 29-year old married woman who plans on trying to get pregnant sometime in the next year, this blog and the many, many other articles/blogs out there filled with the agony and anger this topic provokes are rather depressing. Many of the comments posted are so, so judgemental, so angry.

Does giving birth also remove every shred of self-confidence; perhaps it simply highlights an existing lack of self-esteem? Is parenthood necessarily accompanied by wrenching insecurity? That's what these comments seem to indicate: a perpetual Parent-Olympics, where everyone is striving to prove themselves as a real gold medal Mommy. Is it possible to opt out? Some say no, social pressure is too strong-- I agree, unless there is an alternative to which we can turn. I say that alternative is love and compassion for oneself and others. Given the magnitude of fear and loathing evident on these message boards, it may seem like an absurd suggestion. Yet imagine how it might feel to give yourself the compassion and care you seek from everyone else-- imagine developing the inner resources that would enable you to stop obsessing, worrying, and resenting and start actually enjoying parenthood/life. Is that nuts, or does that ring any bells out there?

I spent my whole young life excelling and acheiving-- they didn't make an academic, extra-curricular or career hoop I couldn't jump through. I'm only just now beginning to realize that continuing in the endless quest to 'measure up' will never make me happy-- nor will it make my family happy. I know from personal experience-- winning the praise and the approval of friends/family/strangers brings only a fleeting joy. The real revolution occurs when you approve of yourself. That might be the most unusual, subversive act any modern Mom can commit! Perhaps this is why we sometimes resent our husbands' "cluelessness": my husband, for one, is too secure in himself understand why I and other women are so hard on ourselves. Yes, some of this self-confidence is society's gift to men. However unfair that may be, that means we have to be more conscious about building that kind of confidence in ourselves as women and moms.

I have no doubt parenthood will challenge every intellectual, emotional, and spiritual resource I have. But I hope I can continue to let go of some of the neuroses and insecurities that drove me so hard in the past, and instead take pleasure in the journey, however wild it may get. Too crunchy-granola for you? If it turns you off to talk about self compassion/love/approval, maybe you can call it personal accountability for your own choices, reactions, feelings, etc. Just a thought...perhaps I'll change my mind when I get unhinged by a wild two-year old in a few years.

It's really hard to stop the agonizing and judging without knowing and understanding why it happens and how to stop. I believe those answers lie within each of us, as individuals. As with every other issue, we believe 'if only the other side would REALIZE how wrong they are...' or 'I'm FINE with my choice, but clearly OTHER people need to change...'. What if we all reflect on our own selves, on the ways in which we judge ourselves and others? What if we embraced the mistakes we all make for what they teach us rather than wallowing in guilt and blame? What if we just start approving of ourselves, first?

Sorry for the long and wandering post-- I know it may sound simplistic, even naive, but I still think Ghandi had it right: be the change you seek.

Posted by: Future Mom | March 21, 2006 2:48 PM

Thank you for the supportive comments at the start of the blog. I have contributed a few times after reading several entries, and my main point in all of my entries is that I respect the decisions of SAHM to be home with their kids, regardless of sacrifices. I understand what they have to give up and the associated benefits. I would ask as a WOHM that I get a modicum of the same respect for my decision to return to work. I was most disturbed by the "sacrifice" comment, but also by the comments by husbands of SAHM saying that is the only way to raise children. There is never only one "right" way to do anything, especially when it comes to raising kids. Give up the vitriol and give up the "holier than thou" and be supportive to the FAMILIES around you. Thank you for some of the creative solutions people have posted. We may try it.

Posted by: Sunniday | March 21, 2006 4:08 PM

It really does seem like single parents are not much a part of this discussion. I see a lot of married folks here, some working, some not: agonizing about choosing to buy an SUV or day-care, or clip coupons on one income and justify the contributive value of perfect teacher luncheons.

I myself am so clueless! It must be because, like the other single mother many postings above mine, I am out in the cold. I don't know any other mothers - working or SAHM. My daughter is a toddler and stays with her dad during the day.

I don't have time or energy to connect with other mothers of any stripe. I'm too busy commuting and working and playing with my daughter and doing the dishes. Dinner is from the microwave. My car is an old Saturn. I work and toil and save precious scraps of energy to read my daughter her favorite books over and over again - as many times as she wants it.

When I start running into other mothers at my daughter's future school, will they make catty, back-handed comments at me? Maybe. Nothing they could say would ever make me feel as badly as I do in my own head about the lack of control and energy I face.

Posted by: zomamma | March 21, 2006 4:48 PM

PS--

I'm the one who posted earlier about the need for Moms to start approving of themselves. I wanted to add that I am the child of a single mom who left an abusive husband (my biological father) when I was 4. She worked like crazy to make a better life for us and herself, but it was tough. I was a latch key kid, watched probably more t.v. than was healthy, had a zillion different baby sitters, was not breast fed, spent plenty of time in day-care and my Mom was often tired and occasionally crabby. She had her quirks, didn't do everything perfectly and even made some big blunders as a parent...and you know what-- I turned out fine: got scholarships undergrad and grad, achieved a lot academically and professionally, and married a wonderful, caring man and, unlike my Mom, will have my first child after age 30 (knock on wood), not before age 20. More importantly, I love, respect, and admire my Mom for all the many, many things she did right. So when I read those posts of parents agonizing about every little thing they do and worrying that they are going to "mess up their kids", and when I hear parents judging other parents so harshly about staying at home/not staying at home/breast feeding/not breast feeding/fill in the blank, when I hear the voices in my own head worrying that I will not be up to the task of raising a super-kid with no problems whatsoever... I just want to say-- lighten up! You're probably doing a lot of things right, and even if you did everything perfectly, your kids still have to go stumbling through their own mistakes to learn and grow. Your angst and desire for parental perfection and control will probably do a lot more harm than relaxing and giving yourself a little compassion. I say it again: approve of yourself first, moms, and it will be a lot easier to let go of guilt and blame.

I also think if Moms started behaving more confidently, engaging each other with friendship and cameraderie rather than attacking anyone who does anything slightly different out of insecurity, Moms as a group would have a whole lot more power to direct at changing the child-welfare, child-care, family leave, etc. policies that affect them. We're half the electorate, people, and the other half has to live with us-- why do we continue to lie down and accept bad policies when we have the (latent) power to make so much noise? Perhaps because we're too distracted by the Mommy Olympics and our own insecurity to find common ground.

Posted by: Future Mom | March 21, 2006 6:01 PM

Hooray for you, Future Mom. It sounds like you have really sorted out what's important from what's not. I'm sure you'll be a great mom.

Posted by: THS | March 21, 2006 6:22 PM

Another nursery school mother and I were discussing this blog as we had both glanced at it over the past week or so (and I had contributed a comment on March 17th). In my particular case, I have worked either part-time or not at all outside the home since 1987 when my first son was born. I am one of those daughterless moms (four boys), and was disappointed to read the comment about providing a terrible role model to our daughters by moms remaining at home. If there is anything to be learned from this discussion, "If momma ain't happy, nobody's happy." I may not have great mechanical ability, but now I have my 16 year-old son to change the vacuum cleaner belt (neither my husband nor I ever was very good at it, but our son seems to have inherited his grandmother's talent for mechanical projects). I suppose I should train him to vacuum a bit, but he's worth more to me every 6-8 months changing the belt. In some ways this is sexist, but he's aware that his grandmother excelled at it, too, until her arthritis made such projects too painful.

Role models in this world are evolving too fast for any of us to castigate SAHMs for providing an unsatisfactory role model for their daughters, especially if they only have sons!

Posted by: suzyswim | March 21, 2006 6:41 PM

"Furthermore, the only thing that is "Best" for a kid is that the mom is happy."

This goes against a lot of research. Parental happiness has very little influence on childhood outcome unless the parent is into addiction or mental illness territory. Outcome is tied to socio-economic status and that is tied to STAYING AT WORK. Risking your family's financial security is profoundly stupid and selfish and to boot, ineffective.

Posted by: Anna Trueblood | March 22, 2006 10:03 AM

Outcome is tied to socio-economic status and that is tied to STAYING AT WORK. Risking your family's financial security is profoundly stupid and selfish and to boot, ineffective.

This may be true if working is the difference between being on welfare and foodstamps and having a home and food on the table, but really, it is an extreme. If I need to forgo the Mercedes and the McMansion in order to stay home and care for my kids, and if that means I live in a modest rambler and drive an inexpensive car, I will gladly give up the Mercedes and McMansion. These material things won't make my child feel loved any more than the modest house and car. Risking your financial security is one thing. Keeping up with the Joneses because you like the status is another.

Posted by: cg | March 22, 2006 1:10 PM

Leslie, I don't mean to be "snarky," but I felt the need to point out your contribution to this ongoing battle. Oftentimes I'm more offended by the original column than the ensuing squabbles of the commentators. I find some of the posts to be rather judgemental (i.e. the woman who was refused help due to the fact that she possesses a Mercedes and a cathedral ceiling). Many of them perpetuate negative stereotypes (i.e. the incompetent husband who can't purchase ice cream, or the "crazy" mom who helps out at her kid's school). Starting with such harsh assumptions, it's little wonder that the blog heads in a quarrelsome direction - negativity breeds negativity. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I feel that you, as a journalist and an expert on this subject, have a certain responsibility to remain objective. Again, I don't mean to be offensive, just fair.

That being said, I did find the discussion on Friday to be twice as acerbic as usual. I don't understand people's need to cut others down, but I think it's symptomatic of a larger problem in society. We no longer feel a sense of community, or a need to help out those around us. Everything has to be reciprocal; we don't want to give just to give. I'm rather young, but I'm guessing things weren't always this way. I think we have a tendency to get so caught up in our own little worlds, that we fail to see the greater world around us. Or perhaps we've simply discovered that blogs are a good outlet for our pain and frustration, never stopping to think how the pain we inflict might affect others.

Finally, I am particularly annoyed by those who advise against reading this blog. If you don't want to read it, than don't read it, but what difference does it make to you if we continue to read it?

Posted by: We all need to do our part to make the world a better place... | March 22, 2006 3:46 PM

Dear Ms. Steiner,

Kudos to you! I started reading your column and couldn't believe this was the Washington Post.

My wife stays home with our two children. It is a sacrifice for both of us. Obviously, its a sacrifice for her. It is for me as well in that I am in a position that is not perfect but affords me flexibility, enough pay, and is not too stressful. Though, I would have to admit there are other things I could see myself doing.

Of course you're going to get flack from people still living in the 1970's. Don't be discouraged. Kids and families still matter as does sacrifice and creating a comfortable home for our beautiful kids. There is no greater joy or noble endeavor than raising kids. Nobody tends to look back on their lives wishing they had spent more time at work. It is liberating to gain self esteem from the vital activities of keeping a home. That is work, by the way.

Posted by: Maryland Dad | March 27, 2006 2:05 PM

Let's face it. Most women who stay at home to raise their kids do it because they want to and are happy to do it.

It's the women who wish they could stay at home that seem to be the most outspoken and defensive.

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Posted by: John S | July 1, 2006 11:57 AM

Rights.......the freedom of speech, freedom religion, freedon to bear arms, and freedom of choice. Women had finally recieved their rights to choose what they wanted and now that we have them people are worried they will be taken away if women dont work when given the chance. A womens right to choose includes choosing to stay home with their children or work. And even with that choice they are still being critzied for taking that choice of staying home. I feel that it is a womens choice to choose if they want to stay home or not but they should not be critizied for that. They are shaping their lives around what they want and its nobodys buiness if they choose to or not. I, as a junior in high school, have not yet expierenced having children and having to choose between work and staying home. But I know that if my mom wasnt a stay at home mom like she is now i would probably be in a lot aof trouble. I never have to wait to talk to her because she is always there and me and my siblings are her number 1 priority. I dont know what I would do if she wasnt always there to help shape my life for what i want.

Posted by: Sam I Am | September 13, 2006 4:50 PM

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