Every modern mother is faced with one particularly difficult choice at some point during motherhood. When it comes to choosing whether to go back to work or stay at home with her child, every mother makes this decision in a different way and for different reasons. Mommy Wars [Random House, 2006], edited by Leslie Morgan Steiner, is a collection of essays that tell the stories of 26 different women and how they made their choice to either go out to work or be a stay at home mom.
Ending the Catfight Between Working and Stay at Home Moms
Mommy Wars highlights a wide range of mothers, from single moms who work to keep themselves and their kids above the poverty line to highly driven executives who give it all up to rock their babies to sleep at naptime. Through it all we see the conflict this choice brings to women. Editor Leslie Morgan Steiner, herself a woman who combines work with staying home to be with her children, says in the introduction, “In order to end this catfight and emerge united, we need to explain ourselves to one another” [xxvi, Introduction]. The personal essays in Mommy Wars are engaging, emotional and sometimes heartbreaking as we hear about moms struggling with autism diagnoses, memories of child abuse and suicide, yet through it all we hear the voices of strong women who have made their choice and stand by it.
Working Mother Bias?
Despite the altruistic goal of helping mothers understand each other’s choices about work and parenting, we still hear about the closed-minded attitudes and hostility that women direct at each other within the essays in Mommy Wars. Many women write that it is all about making the choice that is right for you, and not being afraid to rethink that choice later on down the road if it stops working, but there does seem to be a pro-working bias in the essays chosen for publication in Mommy Wars.
Perhaps that is because a mom who didn’t accept any outside work simply wouldn’t write an essay to be submitted for publication. She’d be living her choice to stay at home, but her voice wouldn’t be heard. That said, a few mothers who stay home full time are represented in Mommy Wars, alongside mothers who choose to work full time, part time and many unique combinations of working and parenting simultaneously.
Making the choice to go back to work or stay at home full time is a difficult one, and in those dark moments when mothers doubt their own choices it can be reassuring to read about other women and their experiences balancing motherhood and career. Mommy Wars is thoughtful, well-written and provocative, and shows that there are as many ways to make the choice to go out to work or stay at home as there are mothers.
Originally published on Suite101.com on March 11, 2008