A Veteran Of The Mommy Wars

“Who cares if you work or stay home? … Be the best mother that you can be … and ignore what everyone else says.” This is sage advice from a Tampa mom who chose to start a law practice, but later made the tough decision to scale back and spend more time with her family when her own mother became ill.Recent media coverage and Leslie Steiner’s new book, “The Mommy Wars,” have rekindled the debate between moms who decide to stay home and those who opt to return to work. While many mothers work for financial reasons, most of the debate centers on mothers who have a choice.Diane Sawyer interviewed law professor Linda Hirshman on “Good Morning America.” Hirshman condemned moms for leaving the workplace, citing a failure to maximize their capabilities and not thinking of the consequences of staying home.In an article, Hirshman stated that expensively educated moms who choose to stay home will live lesser lives that involve “sweeping and cleaning bodily waste.”Hirshman targets women like me. I’ve enjoyed a great education and thrived in my professional career, yet I’ve chosen to stay home with my children.I worked after my first child was born, but I soon learned juggling a demanding job with a baby meant I wasn’t doing any of it well.After waking the baby in the morning before work, I didn’t see her until I put her to sleep when I got home. In order to climb the corporate ladder, I’d need to do a lot more than 9 to 5. Ultimately what worked best for me was to compromise my career and not my parenting.Hirshman, a mother herself, believes she is continuing the feminist movement spearheaded by the Betty Friedans of yesteryear. But she doesn’t get it.Growing numbers of women are deciding to leave the workplace. Census data show 54 percent of mothers with graduate or professional degrees leave full-time work.Mothers are individuals with unique talents, attitudes and financial situations. The very choice we enjoy today is a major contribution of the early feminist movement.A successful business executive and longtime friend recently related her story of leaving a prominent health care company to raise her child. Her human resources director, also a mom, asked: “Why are you doing this?”My friend said she never imagined she’d “have to justify my reasoning to my company. Then I realized that I wasn’t justifying it to my company; I was justifying it to this woman. I was envisioning her getting out her mental yardstick to see if my rationale would measure up.”Some do not value parenting and base their views of motherhood on the mundane aspects of caregiving.What they overlook is the premium value that mothers as individuals place on parenting.Consider the lawyer who gives up a six-figure income to stay home with her child or the college professor who leaves the classroom to parent full time – a choice that means raising her children is more important to her than money and status.Parenting is a priceless, lifelong effort. This is true whether a mother chooses to work full time, stay at home or do anything in between.Time out of the workplace will certainly affect a mom’s résumé, but life is about trade-offs.Women are harder on women. Men just don’t do this kind of stuff to one another.The mommy wars are being pushed by the feminist elite and championed by the media, many of whom are working moms and have used this stage to justify their own decisions. At its root we’ll find envy and righteousness.Diane Lewis, a member of the Tampa group Mothers & More, shared her feelings. “Pitting one mom against another does nothing to improve our lives.”Choosing to stay home or return to work is like many paths in life: We can deliberate and vacillate about the road not taken and see the glass as half empty.But women who opt out of the workforce can use this time to search their souls and perhaps try a career change, an academic degree or the realization that parenting itself can be the greatest endeavor in life.Michelangelo could create a great work of art and Hemingway a great novel, but a mother’s hand creates the greatest masterpiece of them all: humanity.Perhaps the ideologues can achieve peace when they quit prescribing for (and judging) others. And recognize that we can’t espouse what is best for every mom, only choose the course that is best for ourselves.MyLinh Shattan is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and holds a master of business administration degree from Florida Southern College. She lives in Lutz with her husband and three children, ages 6, 4 and 2.

May 14, 2006

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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