Where real moms tell it like it is.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Sane Voice in the Mommy Wars

As Dr. Phil, feminists, stay-at-home mothers and journalists can attest, no topic generates more online flame wars than the stay-at-home-mommy debate. Salon's Rebecca Traister warned a New York Times op-ed writer – who she slams in her column today -- to "buckle his seat belt in preparation for a bumpy 2006" on more articles about domesticity. Feminist Linda Hirshman dissed "choice feminism" -- college-educated women who "choose" to quit their jobs to stay home with their children -- because it perpetuates traditional gender roles and keeps women out of positions of power. In order to acquire power, Hirshman argues, a woman needs "to find the money."

Almost without exception, the brides who opted out graduated with roughly the same degrees as their husbands. Yet somewhere along the way the women made decisions in the direction of less money. Part of the problem was idealism; idealism on the career trail usually leads to volunteer work, or indentured servitude in social service jobs, which is nice but doesn't get you to the money."

Of course, Hirshman never tries to sell these "social service jobs" to men and, instead, wishes for women to abandon their ideals. When I read such articles, I often feel defensive because, I too, am one of those pesky college-educated women who chose to quit her job for stay-at-home motherhood. Hirshman's piece really struck a deep nerve because I had no idea that I had abandoned the feminist movement -- actually it failed me, according to Hirshman –- for my temporary choice to stay home and make zero money. (I plan to return to school this month and will cut back on some domestic duties. Nonetheless, I have no regrets of quitting my job to stay home with my son.)

But thanks to the Traister piece, my focus turned to perhaps one of the most heartfelt, objective and non-judgmental pieces in a long time on the stay-at-home motherhood versus "work" debate. Terry Martin Hekker, a mother of 5 children and grandmother to 12 children, used to write newspaper op-ed pieces and books, defending her choice as a full-time housewife. Then on her 40th wedding anniversary -- when she was 60 years old -- her husband unexpectedly handed her divorce papers.

Without denigrating other mothers for their choices -- she comes off as a gentle grandmother dispensing good food for thought -- she reveals the financial bind she faced after her divorce. She had no formal job training and very little alimony for a limited amount of time. In an inspiring ending, she picked up the pieces -- in her 60s! -- to become mayor of her town, retire, and help raise her 12 grandchildren (full circle from her earlier days with her own children).

Considering that stay-at-home mothers do not pay into social security, have no 401K plans and other money and benefits, planning for any future calamity is smart. However, I still disagree with Hirshman that the only way for women to succeed in life -- to be true "feminists" -- is to display their prowess on Wall Street.


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