IF THERE'S A MOMMY WAR going on in my neighborhood, someone forgot to tell me. I have a lot of mom friends, and you'd think someone would have slipped in a mention at a toddler birthday party or a swim meet. But no. I got wind of battling mommies through talk shows and magazines. Didn't I know, the media told me, that moms across the nation were facing off? Working moms and stay-at-home moms are brimming with guilt and anger about the choices they've made.
Obviously, I was woefully out of touch. I ran to the bookstore to nab two of the books causing the most stir, Leslie Morgan Steiner's collection, "Mommy Wars," and Caitlin Flanagan's "To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife." I rifled through them, hoping to get a quick education. After all, I might have to choose a side -- or a weapon. The books were well written and passionate. But I was confused. I couldn't find myself anywhere.
On the face of it, I'd be the perfect poster mom for Flanagan's exaltation of the '50s housewife. My husband and I, married 15 years, have two boys. I volunteer at the kindergarten. I take my children to church. For four years I stayed home to raise my children. And when I started writing, I worked primarily out of the home, managing to pick up my children from school and spend afternoons with them. I do laundry and housework. My daily concerns are similar to most of the at-home authors in "Mommy Wars." Unlike Flanagan and many upper-middle-class moms, I do not have a housekeeper or a nanny.
Except: I also earn the lion's share of our family's income; I cannot boil soup without burning the pan; my husband is the more hands-on parent, and I feel not one ounce of guilt about how I spend my time.
I meet my women friends (many of whom are moms) on Friday afternoons for Happy Hour. Over drinks we discuss work, our children, politics, shoes, sex, hair products, religion and lovers. Some of us work outside of the home; some do not. Some of us are single; our economic circumstances vary greatly. But we share a gift for gab and a love of cocktails. The other thing we appear to share is a stunning lack of interest in judging each other's choices. So when Flanagan appears on talk shows hoping to whip up enmity among mommies, we're happily imbibing our second round. If your child isn't routinely punching mine on the playground; if your child is reasonably clean, well fed and happy; if he isn't seething with murderous rage, what do I care how you manage it all?
We're having the wrong conversation. When did the choices concerning work and childrearing become the exclusive territory of mommies? Didn't we agree years ago that fathers, lovers, gay uncles, grandparents and employers should pitch in? I thought it took a village. Now I'm being told it takes just one person -- Mom -- and she's furious.
A recent "60 Minutes" segment reported that Americans work more hours a week than workers in any other Western nation. Europeans think we're bonkers, putting in 12-hour days and getting excited about our meager two weeks of vacation a year. Many European nations allow a full year of maternity leave, along with substantial paternity leave. U.S. working moms (and dads) are furious because they're overworked, not because they're under attack by stay-at-home moms. And stay-at-home moms (and stay-at-home dads) are furious because society undervalues their work, not because working moms are lobbing insults. Dads, lovers, uncles, teachers, pastors, friends -- all of us -- must promote the happiness and health of our nation's children. And we can do that most effectively through legislative and social change, through seeking real solutions in our educational system and in the workplace, not by jumping into the fray of a mommy war that barely exists.
I can only conclude that not enough moms are drinking. Everyone looks better after a couple of beers, even the uptight membership chair-mom at your son's preschool. Get together, knock back a few and gab. Then go home and write your member of Congress.