Saturday, May 03, 2008

The debate rages on

This is a good article on a subject I loathe, The Mommy Wars. Before I became a mom, I wondered if they were real or just intended to sell soap. Now I know they are real, though probably overblown, except perhaps in the minds of petty women who like to keep score.

I work full-time, and I work guiltlessly. I'm not your ardent, in-your-face feminist, but I am an attorney, and even as a federal employee, my earning potential is pretty good. When I was much younger, I just assumed I'd stay home with kids, at least until they were in school. By my mid-30's, when I still hadn't married, my assumptions changed. I never assumed that I wouldn't eventually marry, but I knew I'd probably keep working. After all, I thought, my children would likely be born of another woman and a bit older, perhaps school age, when they entered my life -- as stepchildren, I assumed. Meanwhile, tired of headaches from pounding the glass ceiling in my previous career (computer programmer/analyst for various defense contractors), I made a U-turn on life's path and backtracked to pursue a long-time (try from junior high days) dream of becoming a lawyer. I enrolled in night law school as a prematurely gray 37-year-old. (Hence the moniker "Old Lady," bestowed on me by some younger peers, and it wasn't intended as flattery.) I graduated and passed the bar at 41. Magna cum laude, law review, various writing honors, judicial clerkship -- not only had I become a lawyer, but people seemed to think I'd probably be a pretty good lawyer, too.

In the mean time, I'd married Kevin, a guy who didn't have children and wanted them. I quickly learned that it would be difficult, and require a lot of medical intervention, for me to have a baby. Although we have no problems with assisted fertility in many cases, it wasn't for us. There are babies out there, if race and national origins are not important to you. Ultimately, we decided to request an infant rather than an older child. In terms of everything from attachment to language acquisition, it just seemed easier that way.

So ... Madeline arrived at a time when I was changing careers at mid-life and trying to establish myself as an attorney. She arrived when I had just incurred big student loans. There was no question about it: I would keep working. And because there wasn't any "work or don't work?" question, I never felt guilty about working.

It's true that some people tried to make me (and people like me) feel guilty. I've participated in a number of adoption-related e-groups over the years and frequently some neophyte will pose the question, "If you're going to all the trouble to adopt a child, shouldn't you have to stay home to raise her?" Usually, these neophytes are evangelical Christians. Agendized evangelical Christians, I might add. I was raised as an evangelical Christian and, though a fairly liberal Methodist now, I know a lot of them. But, the answer to that question is a resounding, "No!" It's actually a pretty silly question. Isn't a child without parents better off with parents, even if those parents work?

I remember one of these e-debates where a self-righteous lady told us that if she worked, her family could afford a trip to Disneyworld and a house with a three-car garage like the rest of us, but no, she was sacrificing those frills and fripperies to give her children "the best." Well! For the record, we're planning right now to take our 6-year-old to Disney for the first time. Disney won't be a yearly occurrence. That place is expensive. Oh, and the last time I checked, we had a two-car garage.

On the other hand, we ought to be able to take care of ourselves in retirement without burdening our daughter, and hopefully, we'll be able to send her to Harvard if that's her dream (and she can get in). It's much easier to do that with two incomes.

None of this is to say that there aren't rich folks out there who don't need two incomes. And there are families where it would eat away the vast majority of the extra income for both parents to work. In that case, it makes sense for the person with the lower income (I did not say "mother") to drop out of the workforce for awhile. (On the other hand, it does NOT make sense to homeschool. Well, maybe not never, but seldom. And escaping the evil public schools isn't a good reason to homeschool. Get a job, woman, and send the kid to private school like I do.)

Okay, so I have strong opinions on this stuff, too.

I have to say, though, my daughter has thrived "despite" my staying in the workforce. She never forgot who Mommy was. While she's always run to me at the end of the day, she runs to her friends in the morning when we dropped her off. She attached about as quickly as could be expected. She's been incredibly healthy. Other than begging me to buy her a Bratz doll of late (not happening), she's picked up relatively few bad attitudes and habits from her peers. She has a big circle of friends. She incorporated the Golden Rule in her dealings with others at a tender age and is learning to resolve conflicts constructively. Adults love her. She has a healthy degree of independence, but a little kid's neediness and sweetness. Kindergarten isn't over yet, and she's already reading and doing "pluses and minuses" in math. She's a little mouthier than I'd like (but so was I at that age) and she's a pickier eater than I'd like (one of her cousins asked me how she survived), but she's a good kid, and I can't help but think that her daycare experience enhanced that.


Anonymous said...

A nice mix of assertiveness and neediness lets her (and you) navigate conflicts between mom and child very well. She can state her needs, yet tell you when she needs you to help her decide what is worth fighting over. I like a confident kid who tests limits because that means she will be able to set her boundaries when she no longer has mom on a day-to-day retainer. The fact that you work also sets a good example because she learns that managing a career and children is possible if she chooses to do so.
Personally, I feel like anytime someone stands so hard on the other side of the line that they cannot see anything good in the opposing view they have blinded themselves willingly.
Your doing a terrific job with balance in Madeline's life I believe. She is a lucky kid. ~sb

Anne Hendrix said...

I was a stay-at-home mom for the first 3 1/2 years of my daughter's life, and I enjoyed that season in my life. I would even do that now that I have been a working mom for the last 9 1/2 years, so that I could be more involved in band boosters, Girl Scouts, a women's Bible study at church, etc. However, our family finances dictate that I work at least part itme now, in order to not just pay day-to-day bills, but also so that we can have a comfortable retirement, which is only 10 years away for my husband. I think that my daughter has learned from me that she and her dad are more important to me than work, but that my job brings me not just a paycheck, but a sense of accomplishment and purpose outside of my family. Yes, it would be nice if I could just be a homemaker, but I get so much out of my job, both professionally and personally. I really hate for people to judge me for my choices if they wouldn't be their choices. By the way, I am an evangelical Christian, Southern Baptist by church affiliation. However, a very different Baptist church from most. Check out

Old Lady said...

It's been my experience that you see a lot of incivility on this issue (and a few other issues) in the adoption e-groups. I think in part that the incivility comes from people approaching the table with piles of personal baggage and a fair number of dashed expectations. Many people come to adoption after a long struggle with infertility. They've overturned every possible stone in search of the answer that will let them have a biological child. The more stones they overturn, the more that this child they eventually get represents all their hopes and dreams for motherhood (or fatherhood, though men are usually a lot more reasonable in these discussions). They want to "do" motherhood perfectly by the time they get to the adoption process. And if you've always dreamed of the white picket fence, by George, that's all you'll accept, and because you've convinced yourself it's the best option for you, it automatically becomes the best option for all of us. As Anne could probably tell you all, I had pretty much given up on becoming a mother by the time I got around to meeting my husband. Otherwise, I would have sought out single motherhood -- by adoption, of course. I came at motherhood with about zero expectations as to how I would handle things. So I didn't put any emotional stock into what I was going to do, or not do.

What's interesting about the article, I think, is the false assumptions we make about each other and how they propagate.

Code Sleuth said...

The glass ceiling is thick and seemingly impenetrable in the Rails Community. I blogged the obvious lack of women speakers at the recent Rails Conference in Portland -

I see that you changed careers to break through. It's frustrating out there!

Anita said...

Good for you to speak up! And no reason to not have your career and be a Mom. I am a SAHM Mom partly because there aren't many job choices where we live. I'd be making minimum wage and it wouldn't cover after school daycare! DH thankfully makes 2 to 3 times the county median wage so we are very fortunate. And the cost of living and real estate is lower in rural Virginia then the DC suburbs! So I volunteer my time in the public school. I do think any school can be a good school with enough parent involvement. Sadly too many parents leave it ALL to the teachers. There are days I've wished I had a job so I could have adult converstations! But I do cherish the time with my daughters as well. They are 5 and 8 and growing up too fast!