Monday, June 7, 2010

Happy Moms Probably Equal Happy Children, Right???

I will never understand why women are so hard on each other. Look at the men you know. They don't do this kind of thing to their fellow guys.

The other day, some poor, overtired, over stressed woman who'd recently gone back to work full time (which meant leaving her three-month-old in the care of stranger) posted a message on a popular chat board, saying she was dying from the guilt and seeking support from other mommies who had walked in her shoes. She received a few "hang in there" type replies, but the vast majority of the responders took advantage of the opportunity to cheer her on, mainly by slamming mommies who didn't go to an office every day.

An Ivy-affiliated sociologist even wrote in, citing a nameless study meant to show Original Poster that her precious darling would benefit from her decision, because his long days at day care would serve to properly socialize him. (She correctly pointed out that a majority of women in Europe who have access to subsidized child care avail themselves of it. She conveniently failed to mention that those same women don't have to make any child care decisions for the first one to three years of the child's life, depending on the country.)

Several women also wrote that less advantaged babies with SAHM's could end up stunted, bigoted and relegated to social ineptitude, all before graduating from diapers. They said, basically, we all wrestle with guilt, and it never goes away, but if you spring for good child care, all will be well. A chorus of stay at home moms said any financial sacrifices are well worth the privilege of being home with a young child.

Both camps make valid arguments. So far, Original Poster hasn't commented. I imagine she never suspected to start such a fuss. She was just exhausted and frazzled and second guessing herself. And looking for a little support.

Which she never received. What she got instead: emotional arguments on both sides of the career gal vs. homemaker debate, peppered with a few messages in the you-will-NEVER-get-over-the-guilt-either-way vein. Several people wrote to say that going back to work was the height of selfishness. An equal number said the same about staying home, though usually in more oblique terms.

Here's the thing about the debate as old as feminism: There is no right answer.

It would seem to me that happy moms make for happy children. So if you're miserable staying home, planning meals, hanging at the playground, playing the same games more times than anyone could count, your kid is going to pick up on that. Similarly, if you're hiding in the bathroom at work, crying your eyes out because you'd rather be home, that's not healthy for anyone either. If it tears you up every morning to leave your kid, your kid probably feeds off that and stresses over the separation as well. This all seems like common sense.

I was stunned at how women were so eager to throw each other under the bus. Those who work outside the home argue passionately that they're setting a good example for their children through financial independence. They don't want their children to see them washing clothes, scrubbing bathrooms and relying on a partner to bring in the metaphorical bacon. The SAHM's argue, equally passionately, that there's no career success worth sacrificing the precious early years with their kids. They don't want their children to have fond memories of all those wonderful childhood firsts with the nanny.

At the same time, members of both groups admit to downplaying the upsides of their choices when in female company. One woman wrote that she doesn't tell her working friends about all the fun things she and her kids do during the week, because it might make them sad. A woman who goes to the office every day said she tries not to go on and on to her stay at home pals about things that happen at work, because news of her intellectually stimulating responsibilities might make those stuck at home, cooking macaroni and cheese, jealous.

Maybe these women ought to give their girlfriends a little credit. Most of us who choose one path or another know what we're giving up. It doesn't make anyone feel better to have friends play down their own choices. Those of us who have the luxury to choose in the first place should be thankful.

Most women don't waste hours wrangling over the career versus baby decision. Their choices are mandated by financial realities, rather than by ambition, intellectual hunger or emotion. So when one of the privileged minority asks for a little help with her guilt over outsourcing several hours a week of child care, maybe the right thing to say would be something along the lines of: If you're happy working, it's good for your kid. Happy parents are better parents. Some mommies blossom at home; others need to go to work to feel fulfilled, because their careers are an inalienable part of their identities. Either path can be right.

So let's stop looking down our noses at those who choose differently. I would bet that career women and stay at home moms probably raise a roughly equal number of overachievers and total delinquents. Now that I think of it, I hope someone commissions a study to prove it.

And while we're at it, let's stop putting our kids' successes and failures on one major choice made by the child's mommy. Dads, genetics, education, socio-economics, extended families, communities and dumb luck all play a role in shaping the next generation.

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