Monday, January 27, 2014

The imaginary war

We inadvertently stumbled into a war raging in this country, a war none of us knew was being fought.  We didn't know it was being fought because it is an imaginary war.  That war, of course, is the "Mommy Wars".

If you never heard of the term and are wondering what the heck we're talking about, in a nutshell, the war is over whether Moms should stay home and raise the kids or juggle their careers while raising the kids.

The discerning reader will immediately see the implied sexism in the above description.  The sexism, however, is implied on many different levels, and is what fuels the imaginary war.  More on that as the article progresses.

The war started many decades ago as women moved into the workforce and began demanding equal opportunity in the workplace and equal pay for equal work.  For all those people, particularly men, who viewed Leave It To Beaver as a documentary, the threat of women shedding the June Cleaver image was a threat to the stability of the family most everyone accepted as the norm.

The media, whether it be our news or entertainment shows, fueled the flames more.  Here was a major social shift creating controversy that, if played right, could generate huge amounts of advertising dollars.  In the seventies, we had Mary Tyler Moore showing us a woman could be more than a sixties housewife to Dick Van Dyke, and Edith Bunker standing up to Archie declaring she needed to do more with herself than getting Archie his beer and cooking dinner for him.

In the eighties, we had the depiction of "Super Mom", the June Cleaver who could shuffle her career responsibilities with her "motherly" duties and make both work.  The tabloid shows loved stories of "Super Mom" and showed women could be a good mother, like June Cleaver, and, unlike Mrs. Cleaver, hold down a promising career.

Then in the late eighties along came Peggy Bundy, the stay-at-home-Mom who was anything but a Mom...or wife, for all that matters.  Peggy Bundy changed the portrayal of Moms, and families in general. 

After Peggy Bundy came along, Moms were portrayed in many different aspects, but, more notably, as the leader of the home raising kids, including raising her biggest problem child, her husband.  Think Tool Time or Everybody Loves Raymond.

Today, we can tune in any family we want.  Modern Family challenges the idea of a need for Mom in the family at all.  Switch stations, and the Duggars present you with June Cleaver, puppy mill style with 19 Kids and Counting.   And the tabloid shows jump at every opportunity to stir the pot and keep the Mommy Wars going.  It's big bucks.

Who is really fighting the Mommy Wars?  Quite simply, the extremes of either side of the debate of what constitutes a family.  In the left corner, we have the conservative Christians, who want to return to the days of June Cleaver, a time when women knew and accepted that their place in the world was in the home cooking, cleaning, and raising the kids.  In the right corner are the feminists, who want to make sure a woman isn't held in bondage by a man and is free to pursue her life's ambitions.

Who are the casualties in the Mommy Wars?  Almost every man, woman, and child trying to be a family and who, most likely, has no idea that the Mommy Wars even exists.  The Mommy Wars are nothing more than a smoke screen obscuring the real issues both sides, and everyone in between, should be talking about.

Before we start covering the real issues we all should be talking about, quick, describe your image of the typical stay-at-home-Mom.  Now ask yourself, why is a White, middle class woman the image you pictured as a stay-at-home-Mom?

The hard, cold facts are that about 80% of married women work at least part time.  For most of these women, working isn't a "luxury" choice to get away from the house and assert her individuality.  Her working is a necessity so both her and her husband (the father, remember him?) can better provide for their children. 

The working Mom isn't the mythological "Super Mom" of the eighties, either.  Mom can't work if Dad isn't around to take up child rearing duties in the absence of Mom.  Unlike the mythological Dad of the fifties, Dads are more than ATM machines, and, unlike the mythological Dad of the nineties, they are more than goofball ATM machines.

Single Moms and single Dads (yeah, there are Dads out there raising their kids on their own), have it the hardest.  They need to work and don't have a choice of whether they can stay home to raise their kids or not.  You can bet that 100% of the single Moms and single Dads are working.

The primary issue for the family, whether or not the family is headed by a married couple or a single parent, is the need for affordable, quality day care for the children.  There is a difference between a babysitter and quality daycare.  There's even a difference between grandparents watching the kids and quality daycare.  Several decades worth of studies have shown over and over again that children placed in daycare centers grow up no differently than children raised by stay-at-home-Moms.  Placing a child in a daycare center is not "farming out" (as some warriors in the Mommy Wars like to say) parental responsibilities.

The secondary issue the family faces is the undue guilt burden placed on the Mom (never the Dad) because mom has to (or maybe wants to) work.  Moms always get blamed for how their sons and daughters turn out.  We didn't coin the terms "soccer Moms" and "helicopter Moms" as a compliment.  Oddly, but expectedly, we don't have equal terms to describe Dads because, after all, it's always Mom's fault for the way a child turns out. 

Want an extreme example of how far society goes to blame Moms for "bad" kids?  In the Sandy Hook shootings, there were 27 victims.  The news reports, and chatter up and down the Internet, reported 26 victims - and the mother as an "also killed".  Tell you what.  Read this mother's experience of raising a mentally ill child and tell us if you think the child's mental illness is Mom's fault.  Then let us know if the Mom up in Sandy Hook should be counted as a victim or an "also killed".

The Mommy Wars ensure we heap more blame on Mom for not being there for her children, especially when her children screw up.  Again, we ask, why not blame the Dad, too?  Oh yeah, that's right.  Dad is just the ATM machine and the only time he screws up is when he stops spitting the money out.

The tertiary issue the family faces is the marginalization of the role Dad plays in the family and the raising of the children.  We've referred to Dad throughout this article as the ATM machine of the family.  The Mommy Wars ensures Dad's role in the family is nothing more than to provide a source of income for Mom and children.  Dad has little, if any, role in raising his children.

The quaternary issue the family faces is what happens when the husband is suddenly out of the picture.  Let's say a responsible couple has three children two years apart from each other.  A woman decides to be a stay-at-home-Mom from the birth of her first child and won't consider pursuing a career until her last child has graduated high school.  That means she is out of the job market for twenty-two years.

Several scenarios can happen within the twenty-two year time frame.  Worst case scenario is after ten or fifteen years of raising the kids, the husband's income suddenly disappears.  Sudden death, onset of a debilitating disease, or simply a layoff and the inability of the husband to find a comparable job at or near his previous pay are three simple examples.  What will the family do to make ends meet? 

The stay-at-home-Mom has been out of work for so long, the best she can hope for is an at or near minimum wage job.  Even if she earned a college degree and started climbing the corporate ladder before exiting the workforce to raise her children, she can't expect much more than a little bit above a minimum wage job upon re-entering the workforce.  After ten or fifteen years, her education is outdated and she has to prove herself all over again.

Think you can beat the odds, raise kids, and live happily ever after?  Sad truth is most women do - for awhile.  But the husband dies of natural causes and the wife discovers he didn't have a decent life insurance plan, her husband's pension (if he had one) is cut in half - or more, or his 401k plan takes a hit on an economic downturn,  and she's seventy-years-old with no 401k plan or investments of her own to fall back on because she hasn't worked all of her life.  She quickly falls from comfortable middle class to barely above poverty level.  She can, if physically able, take on a job, but no matter what her education and experience was fifty years ago, she'll only find an at or near minimum wage job.  Do you really think those greeters at Wal-Mart are making big bucks?

Her children, the ones she sacrificed twenty-two years of her life for, can't help her so they convince Mom to put a reverse mortgage on her home so she can do better than "just getting by".  After a couple of years, her children hustle her off to a retirement home using the bulk of the reverse mortgage as payment and Mom sits in the retirement home pretending to enjoy the bill-free life and new friends lifestyle, but she goes to sleep wondering what the Hell she did wrong to end up with nothing more than a fancy name for a studio apartment and children who visit her a weekend or two every other month or so.

Remember when we asked you to picture a typical stay-at-home-Mom?  We guaranteed you pictured a White, middle class woman.  We'll go out on a limb, here.  Most of you probably pictured a White, middle class, Christian woman.  Oh yeah, controversy now.

The Mommy Wars is a White, Christian, middle class war.  Go ahead.  Google "Mommy Wars".  See any Black people in the debate?  How about Asians or Hispanics?  Native Americans?  How about Middle-Easterners?  Of course not.  They all have their women control issues, but the Mommy Wars is strictly a White, Christian, middle class war.  They have the money and time to debate such nonsense.

End the Mommy Wars and clear the smoke screen.  Most Moms will have to work, even if only part time.  In a child's eye's, whether Mom is home all the time or Mom has to go to work really doesn't matter.  All that matters to the child is that Mom loves him or her and will be there when he or she needs her.  The child really doesn't care if Mom is living up to stereotyped gender roles.  Only adults care about such nonsense.

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks


  1. This is a great piece. I too, was part of a double income family until I got laid off. My son was in a home-based daycare where he actually had many advantages. And I live in a country a little north of you which gives a) a 12 month paid leave in which benefits must continue to be awarded as if the employee was still at work and b) splits the leave into a 4 month maternity (for before pregnancy and/or recovery) and then 9 months parental leave, which can be taken by either the mother or father.

    So we've got some social benefits here, and yet, even with the double income, the middle class is seeing slide. I was unlucky; I didn't have a retired parent around to help watch the kid, So while I was working, I was paying full on for daycare. I was making a fairly good salary, but I was having to farm out about 40% of my wages on daycare alone. And I know there are many people way below me on the pay scale.

    If it were only so simple as work or not work to guarantee success. Unfortunately, both of our countries are on a socioeconomic race to the bottom as jobs increasingly get exported to nations that employ child labour and pay pennies on the dollar, so that we can afford buy more crap we don't need. Or they privatize them and "reboot" the workforce so they can start over and pay less. Except that it's a vicious circle, and now it's not just people who have been out of the workforce a few years who are ending up as Wal-Mart greeters, it's also Dave, whose manufacturing job in the automotive industry was exported to Mexico; and Mary, the teacher who gets paid only $15,000 for teaching future generations; and Joe, the kid who took an English degree in University and graduated with no prospects and $50,000 worth of student loan debt; and anybody else who suddenly finds that they fall into this limbo where doing anything other than staying at home or working an oddball part-time job when you have the coverage from another parent just... doesn't make any financial sense.

    It's happening too much. And as you say, people are getting distracted by imaginary ground wars too much to pay attention to the torpedoes speeding towards us...

  2. Thank you for your compliment and great insight into the difficulties families in your country face, difficulties not very much different than our own. Unfortunately, we don't have answers to the problem of the disappearing middle class and the days when one parent's income was sufficient to raise the children and support the wife long after the children have grown and left home. We do know, however, that this Imaginary War of stay-at-home-Moms vs working Moms does more harm than good in the long run.