The Mommy Wars


The right to choose to be a full-time mom or a career mom was supposedly settled in the 70’s and 80’s. Now the issue is a battlefield again as champions of both sides come out swinging. The reason: a growing number of highly educated and successful women are picking mothering over career, choosing to either stay-at-home or work part-time. While most moms work out of financial necessity, these moms have the luxury of choice. So are they June Cleaver throwbacks or just stepping out for awhile?

But wait. I don’t remember Mrs. Cleaver needing a daytimer to micromanage the Beavers soccer schedule or arrange his play-dates. Current stay-at-home moms parent with the same intensity that they once brought to powerpoint presentations. Maybe this new social trend really does reflect a change in how women mother. If so, are women responding to their instinct to nurture? Disappointed with the glass ceiling? Or simply too exhausted by trying to fill multiple roles? And what is the cost to their personal fulfillment and the hard-fought status of women in the workplace? And what will daughters think of moms with little or no career ambitions? Stay-at-home vs career: It may be that one size does not fit all.

Canadian moms Susan Blass and Dana Peever both say their families are number one but they’ve made very different choices. Both are university educated, articulate and passionate about their parenting decisions. One mom brings her daughter to daycare so she can pursue her professional career while the other barely dips a toe into her old corporate world. Both moms say that they’ve made the right choice for themselves and their families. Both believe their children are happy and well-adjusted. Both moms were daycare kids themselves.

Susan, age 29, Paediatric Occupational Therapist
Children: Emma, Age 21 Months; A Second Child Is Expected This Month

Susan’s daughter, Emma, has been in daycare since she was five-and-a-half months old, a decision Susan says was harder for her than for Emma. She graduated two weeks before Emma was born, sent out resumes and had a job by the following Tuesday. After spending so much time and energy on her training, Susan didn’t want to step away for too long. This is her second career. She went back to school to become a therapist because she felt it was a career that she could balance with family. At first, Id wonder what Emma was doing; did she have a nap? She wasn’t in the same building so I couldn’t check on her but that actually made the transition easier, Susan recalls of those early days. I was still breastfeeding at the time. I tried pumping but didn’t send it in consistently so I stopped. I was lucky that I was able maintain a milk supply. Emma still got breastfed in the morning, at bedtime and at night.

Taking The Flack For Her Choice
Susan often found that people, including some family and friends, were shocked when she first enrolled Emma in daycare.Susan had to learn to take unsolicited advice with a grain of salt. Its typically understood that women have a year off, so people would ask, Why did you choose to take less? When it comes from a stranger in the grocery store line, its not the most comfortable conversation, Susan says. Part of my family’s concern was generational, with older family members expressing concern about Emma’s well-being. Ive had a turnaround about it now. Once they could see that Emma’s happy and well adjusted, it was all right. The concerns came from a good place they just wanted to make sure she was safe.

 In that first year at daycare, Susan acknowledges that Emma probably caught every sniffle going around. She probably would have had fewer colds if I had stayed home with her, but thats the only harmful effect. I missed about ten days of work because you don’t want to leave someone that little if they’re not having a good day.

The Daycare Dilemma
As two professionals (Susan’s husband is a lawyer), they had options. Susan’s decision to work was based more on career aspirations than financial need. At first, she worked five days a week but the commute was difficult so she transferred to a position closer to home thats more flexible. Currently, she works four days a week while Emma attends a regulated daycare in the same building.

I love my job, says Susan. I enjoy going to work and fortunately my daughter enjoys going to school which is what she calls daycare. When the new baby is born, Ill take nine months maternity leave and my husband will take three. The plan is that Ill still go back to work four days a week. Were also going to compare in-home and out-of-home daycare.

Susan complains that its difficult to find an infant spot for a child of less than 18 months. Waiting lists can be very long. While they were lucky in finding a good centre, Susan thinks there should be more spots available for that age group.

She was a daycare kid herself and was about the same age as Emma when she entered daycare, while her mom finished her medical degree. She remembers it as fun since there was always someone to play with.

Family members say that Emma is a lot like I was no byes for mom or dad. Id just see the toys were out and be gone, says Susan, who’s observed that the children of stay-at-home moms are often more timid in group settings. Emma really enjoys the social aspects of daycare. When she gets up in the morning, she wants to put on her coat and go to school to see her friends. Shes very independent. Shes happy to leave me in the morning. She understands when mommy is going to leave and come back.

The routine is important to her so we keep it consistent. She likes to be at daycare before eight because then she gets to see certain kids. She likes that she gets to eat at a specific time. If its Saturday and we don’t have snack at 8:39, shes standing in the kitchen going hungry snack.

More than ‘Mom’
Susan believes that Emma learns a great deal from being with other kids who are older, such as how to share. At this stage, someone who is four months older is much more advanced. Recently, shes observed that Emma sees the other kids go to the potty and now she wants to do that too.

Susan also thinks a working mom is a good role model, especially for girls. Your children see you as an example. Its important for them to know that they can choose what they want to do. Because you prioritize parenting as a goal doesn’t mean parenting has to be the only thing in your life. If you’re happy, then your kids are going to be happier.

Emma knows mommy needs to have a bag to go to work, so she has a bag too. Its an empty bag but she still takes it to the door. Thats part of the routine.

Missing ‘Firsts’
From a
sacrifice perspective, Susan doesn’t get to see all the firsts the way a
stay-at-home mom might see. The first time Emma said please and thank
you was at school because the other kids were saying it. Susan
acknowledges that they can be a bigger influence than mommy and daddy.
But down the road she says shes not going to remember which week Emma
started running or when it became important for her to talk on the
phone.

Emma is happy and secure. She doesn’t need
to make sure that mommy or daddy is always there watching, says Susan.
Emma can have fun with her friends while were at work. If she needs us,
we come and get her right away. When I’m home with the new baby, I’m
going to find a preschool where Emma can have fun a couple of days a
week because I think shell be a little bored at home without the other
kids.

Shared Parenting
Susan
and her husband make an effort to guard their time outside of work. She
thinks Emma has more shared time with both parents than if she was just
home with mommy, plus she gets to see mom and dad in a whole lot of
other roles.

My husband does laundry with Emma thats
daddy time, says Susan. We specifically spend about 45 minutes to an
hour in the morning having breakfast. Thats our family routine. Dinner
gets compromised more than quality time. We do eat from the four food
groups but if it takes an hour to make something, we don’t make it on a
weeknight. Well cook, leave it on, and then well go play with the toy
box or read books.

Theres plenty of time to spend with her.
Her dad and I see her morning and night. My decision to go back to work
has in no way diminished my role as a parent.

Susan enjoys parenting but didn’t want to
step away from her career for five years or more. The most difficult
part was setting up work so that it was effective for the family.
Working close to home and having daycare close by meant no wasted time.

I’m not trying to escape. Id love to have
Emma around the whole time but I don’t think shed choose that if she
could, Susan says. I’m happy with my choice. I think what I miss most is
quiet time for myself. Even after Emma’s in bed, there are things to do
like prepping meals.

Women Have The Same Rights To A Career As Men
Whenever
you’re given a right, you’re also given the responsibility that goes
with it. You can be a working mom and still put your family first. You
need to evaluate the whole time:Whats been the trade off? What are the
repercussions? You need to make sure it all works. Theres little
downtime, but I wouldn’t change it.

Dana, Age 34. Full-Time Mom For The Past Three Years
Children: Zachary, Five-And-A-Half Years And Haley,Three Years
Dana
has a Bachelor of Commerce in Human Resources with a minor in Business
Communications. Recently, she started working a half-day to one day a
week but says the company knows they could never ask her to work
full-time because it would go against her morals and principles as
a mom. She admits that the time and flexibility that she needs to be a great mom go beyond what an employer can reasonably give.

Dana felt that she had missed out with
Zachary by going back to work, so when she had her second child, Haley,
she stayed home full-time. She had just taken on a new challenge at
work, but since she and her husband were in a better financial position,
she walked away without regret.

Mom Is The Most Important Job
First
of all, I’m a mom combined with being a wife, says Dana. From a career
perspective, I gave up something by staying home. I could have made more
money, but I’m satisfied with where I am. Its not about the money.

I absolutely value what I’m doing more than
my career. Time spent with your children isn’t wasted time. It doesn’t
go in the same sentence for me.

When Zach started kindergarten, I wanted to
be the one who met him at the gate; not have a babysitter do that or
have him go to an after-school program. I think its important to be
there as much as I can because when a kid hits eight or nine, they don’t
want their parents as much anymore. This is the only time they’re at
such a young and vulnerable age. I really wanted to be part of that.

Dana believes the first five years are
critical in building a relationship with kids. If you give any of that
up, she says, then you’re not giving your kids the best you can. After
her own early childhood in daycare and her parents divorce when she was
five, Dana wanted closer family ties.

Family should be your priority. You have
the opportunity to be there for your kids right from day one. I think
we’ve gone through a couple of generations where work has really taken
over as number one. I don’t ever want that to be the case with my
family. I want my kids to know that regardless of what I do, they will
always be number one.

Being There For The ‘Firsts’
Dana
believes that stay-at-home moms definitely can give more to their kids.
Working moms miss out on the little moments that are so special, like
the milestones first steps, first words that she feels are pivotal for
parents.

It says to me that moms who rush back to
work are just having a child because its what they’re supposed to do,
instead of living in the moment and enjoying every day, Dana says.
Infants and toddlers are very taxing; they take a lot of your time. Some
people don’t have the patience to do that, so they give that job to
other people to do. But do you really think anyone else could possibly
care about your kids as much as you or their father? Parents are
irreplaceable.

A Special Bond
Ive
heard of moms who don’t bond with their kids right away, but my bond
started as soon as I was pregnant. Its continued to grow every single
day. Every day that you’re away, you miss the growth of that bond.
Mothers who have gone back to work don’t have the time to share like we
do. My kids will ask me to turn off cartoons so we can have a dance
party together. Were just so close. Thats typical of how we are at home.

You miss out if you’re not there,
especially when they start learning how they fit into the world. I want
to guide that process.I don’t want them to go to someone else for the
answers. My son asked me the other day what a palaeontologist does hes
five years old! I try to record as much as I can because thats what a
proud mother does. Dana acknowledges that shes fortunate to be able to
stay-at-home. She knows most families with kids need double incomes
today, but suggests more could plan for it. She also feels lucky to have
a supportive partner.

My husband doesn’t expect me to be the
housekeeper because I’m home, Dana says. My job is to be with the kids
not do the dishes or laundry. When he gets home, he pitches in, plus hes
fantastic whenever I feel the need to go out.

Mothering Isn’t Boring
Dana
maintains that shes never bored being a mom because her kids are always
involving her in some new project. She also tries to give them space
and encourages independence.

I have no doubt that the base I’m giving
them makes them more secure and confident. Thankfully, they’re very
independent. They can be away from us, like with grandparents, without
any big issues. Plus, the kids are exposed to daycare when I work a
half-day or full day once a week. My son can be introverted sometimes,
like his father, so sometimes he may hang back in a group. My daughter
is a mini-me. Shes in your face a very confident, independent little
girl. Its I do it! I do it! When they come to me for help, I take a step
back and let them try it first.

No Regrets
I
don’t see myself as wanting to be away from them until they don’t need
me anymore. In 20 years time, I’m not going to be thinking about the
work Ive missed.

I have no regrets. My kids are fabulous. I wouldn’t change what I do for the world.

The Middle Ground
Parenting Guru and Psychologist, Dr. Michael Weiss, Responds To Our Questions About How Kids Are Affected By Moms Choices.


Do Some Mothers Stay At Home For Their Child’s Well Being?

Yes.

Do Some Go To Work Or Decide To Stay Home For Their Own Well Being?
Certainly.

These
issues depend on a variety of issues simultaneously.People with money
and education, who dont have to work, should understand that the bottom
line is that your children need you, but that doesn’t mean don’t work.
Parents need to attend to their own needs and wishes so that they are
not resentful toward their spouses or children. Common sense rules.

What About The Impact On Kids?
The
findings about the impact on children when mom goes back to work differ
for boys and girls and depends on their ages. Its much more risky for
boys than girls, much riskier during infancy, especially when infants
and toddlers are left in daycare longer than 30 hours. Conversely, girls
tend to benefit from seeing their mothers in an esteemed work position.
These findings tend to be for older school-aged children who are from
poor, inner-city situations. Its helpful when they see that their mother
enjoys and takes pride in her work (as opposed to someone who hates it,
but has to work due to economic pressures).

What Message Are Stay-At-Home Moms Sending To Their Daughters?

Staying
at home does not send any message one way or another. The question
becomes: What is the quality of relationships? What do mothers do in the
multitude of their lives? Live a decent life characterized by warmth,
care, high expectations for conduct and well-being. In the research
world, this is called Authoritative Parenting and your children will
benefit. Be a cold and demanding person or aloof and detached from your
kids and they will pay a negative price. These are truths whether you
work or not.

How Does Your Own Family Handle Childcare?

The
hope is that my wife will stay at home with the kids when they are
younger to be there for their every little need. In the end no one will
look after our children the way their mother will. Yet, they will go to
preschool and get away from parents in appropriate ways. By elementary
school, my wife is hoping to go back to work part-time, while still
being there for the kids in the morning and after school. We are doing
this because we think that a balance is what is important for all of us,
not just kids or just moms.

Do You Think Kids Resent Their Mothers Working And Would Really Rather Have Them At Home?

It
depends. A critical factor in all of this is who is supervising the
child. Kids who are well integrated into adult supervision do well.
Again,
if time away exceeds too long a period, that is a risk factor, as is
the nature of the relationships when they are together.

Whats The Bottom Line?
Moms need to strike a balance between their needs and wants and appropriate supervision of their kids. PC

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