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By Jill Orr
When Columbia Home told me this issue was going to be about Women at Work, I immediately thought: I’m not going to write about that. Why, you ask? Well, for starters, I don’t really work. With the exception of this column and the odd freelance article, I haven’t held a paying job in 13 years. (Yes, I know that being a mother is work. More on that later.) The second reason, and the more important one, is that I am a big fat chicken and really don’t like to write about controversial topics, and I’ve always thought of working vs. stay-at-home mothers as a controversial topic.
But the truth is that it isn’t really. Not anymore. Like coconut water and Kimye, I think the so-called “mommy wars” have been hyped up by the media and have little to do with real people’s lives. Maybe there was once a rift between the two factions back in the 1980s when the workplace was just opening up to professional women, but we live in a different world today. Thankfully, we have options as mothers, and though we may not have shattered the glass ceiling yet, we have certainly shattered the glass umbilical cord. (Um, wait. No, that’s not a thing. That’s gross. You know what I mean though, right?) We have shattered the theory that women must stay in the home and raise the children while the father goes off to work. In today’s world, the debate of whether to work or stay home is more likely to go on inside a woman’s own mind than play out in any kind of public forum.
Most, if not all, of the women I know feel no animosity toward other mothers because they work outside the home or because they don’t. Over the past 13 years, I’ve talked to hundreds of mothers, and not a single one has ever said anything disparaging about a mom on the “other side” just because she is on the “other side.” We might disagree about sleep schedules, formula vs. breast milk and the number of acceptable days in a row one can wear yoga pants, but these issues have nothing to do with employment status. In the end, I think we all want to feel fulfilled in our daily lives, and no one much cares if you find your bliss in the boardroom or in the playroom.
The decision to work or not for moms is often a financial one but not always. Some mothers work because they have to, some because they want to and many because of a complex equation of the two, the product of which is then multiplied to the power of guilt. It can feel like a lose-lose-lose situation. If you stay home, you lose the opportunity to build your career; if you go to work, you miss out on special moments with your child; and if you don’t have a choice, you feel trapped.
So maybe the whole mommy wars discussion should be less about working vs. stay-at-home mothers and more about how our culture undervalues the contributions mothers make to not only our economy but also to our society as a whole. We should be talking about the dismal maternity leave policies, lack of affordable child care options and increasing support for mothers in the workplace. We should be talking about introducing public policies that aid women who make the difficult choice to put their working lives on hold to raise children. We should be talking about how it should be unacceptable that a working mother makes 73 cents on a similarly qualified man’s dollar.
These are subjects I think all mothers, and a good number of other people, would agree are worthy of public debate. This prefab construct of pitting mothers against mothers diverts attention from the real and serious issues facing so many of us as we are busy, you know, proliferating the human race. So maybe what we need instead of the mommy wars is a mommy revolution.
(Oh, look! I guess it wasn’t so hard to write about a controversial subject after all.)