I admit to being a little behind in my reading, so it was only Monday night that I read last week’s My Turn column in Newsweek. Tuesday, Mojo Mom reacted to the same piece. Since this kept coming back to mind at random times over the last several days, I felt compelled to offer my two cents.
To begin with, I do have a problem with Ms. Friedman generalizing and stereotyping mothers. Many of her comments only perpetuate a negative image of motherhood that certainly isn’t the norm. I know many fabulous moms who are raising great, polite kids while following their passions, working in fantastic jobs, contributing to the community and mixing a mean cocktail. I think it is entirely possible that Ms. Friedman needs to expand her circle of mom friends to include a more balanced cross-section of motherhood.
However, she does hit on an unfortunate truth — when it comes to kids (having them, naming them, raising them), many people feel the need to impart unwanted advice as absolute truths. Why is it okay in this society to judge women about when/whether they have children and once they do, whether they continue working once they arrive?
While reading this particular column, I was reminded of all the thoughts/reactions/advice I received before and after having peanut about whether I should return to work or stay home.
Before the hubby and I even started trying to get pregnant, someone asked me, “well of course you’ll stay home when you have kids, right?” I was so thrown by the question and tone of the subsequent conversation. How could I possibly know what I would do in such a personal situation that comes with so many new experiences that I could not even pretend to imagine how I would react to any of them? Not to mention not knowing what kind of financial situation the hubby and I would be in whenever that moment arrived. But this person seemed adamant that I should stay home and would of course want to, insinuating that if I didn’t, something was surely wrong with me.
After I became pregnant, the closer the due date approached, the more people asked. The strange thing, to me, was that my husband was just finishing up grad school and still had not found a job. Of course I was going to return to work after maternity leave — if I didn’t, we were going to have BIG problems.
When the hubby did get a job (ironically receiving the offer the same day as peanut was born), I thought long and hard about whether to stick with my plan to go back to work or to stay home. This was an issue that was also a topic of much discussion in the media this year based on this book and this one and this one (all of which I admit to not reading…YET! They are on my to-do list, I promise.).
Of course not all the voices out there are critical ones. I received the best advice and support from family, friends who have been there and experienced moms who had the benefit of perspective on their own choices.
I do still find myself defending my decision to people in both camps, fearful of being judged. I realize that a lot of this is my own internal conflict as I grow into this new “mom” person while still struggling to hold onto my unique self. But perhaps if as a society we all redirected our questions and judgements to corporate America and our culture, women could grow in a more flexible environment, would have careers to come back to after an absence and wouldn’t feel so obligated to choose between career OR family (this certainly only applying to those of us lucky enough to have a choice).
In the meantime, I remind myself that the column is labeled “My Turn” and this is just one woman’s opinion and she is entitled to it. I respect her decision to not have children right now, after all, I don’t know her. I would hope that she could extend me, and the rest of us moms, the same respect. That, I believe, will create the best role models not only for other new moms but for our children as well.