The Mommy Wars: For Many, What Choice Is There?

Remember that article by Linda Hirshman that caused the fury late last year? The one about the feminist elite choosing to ditch their executive jobs for motherhood? The “Opt-Out Revolution” where women were now choosing to stay home with their kids instead of continue on the fast track for their careers? I thought you might remember that. It sparked a lot of debate over SAHMs vs. WOHMs, including bringing up the dreaded Mommy Wars.

But I have something different to say today. Another aspect of the debate, one that is less often talked about.

For some women, there is no debate, no choice.

The role of motherhood in the United States is that of a second-class citizen. Oh sure, we have Mother’s Day, but for those who aren’t privileged, being a mom makes life more difficult for those other 364 days a year.

To begin with, the United States has a reprehensible parental leave policy. 12 weeks unpaid leave is granted to us through FMLA, but even that only applies to those working for larger companies. That’s unpaid leave, meaning all they do is guarantee you’ll have a job to come back to in 12 weeks. Of the industrialized nations of the world, only the US and Australia do NOT provide paid parental leave for the birth of a child. (And Australia provides one year of job protection.)

What woman who lives in a tiny apartment, works for just over minimum wage, and struggles to pay the bills has the luxury to take 12 weeks off of work unpaid? Many of these women have to give birth and then get right back to work. For those who do have the ability to take 12 weeks, is that really enough time? Do we as a country really feel that our young are ready, at 3 months old, to be handed off to someone who is only paid to care for them?

And then there is daycare. $1,000 a month is the average cost in most cities for full time care at a licensed daycare center. It’s even higher in many places. For a family with two adults making minimum wage, that cost is more than 2/3 of their monthly income. Even for a family making $50,000 a year, that’s just under 1/3 of their monthly income (figuring in taxes). Even for middle-class families, the cost of daycare is a struggle.

If you can’t afford a daycare center, there’s always private babysitters. But now you’re taking a bigger risk for your child’s care. Many babysitters have no licenses and no specialized training in child care. Plus, it’s a private home, so you have no one to check in to make sure your child is being cared for properly.

Some might argue that we have the Flexible Spending Accounts in place to help with daycare. Well yes, but it’s just a savings account – you still must have money to put into it in order to reap the benefits. If you need every last cent from your paycheck, a FSA won’t help at all.

So then there is a choice. If you can’t afford daycare, then stay home and it’ll balance out. Ah, it’s not that simple. For this case in point, I shall use myself. Aaron and I made decent money together working full-time. Cordy joined us, and due to work screwing me out of benefits, I took my 12 week leave and then was forced to put her in daycare at 3 months old. The mental and financial costs were very heavy on us. Sure, we were still paying the bills, but suddenly we were no longer able to devote any money to future savings, and unexpected expenses went to the credit card.

We looked at our finances. Two people working full-time with daycare was getting us nowhere. But if I quit working, we wouldn’t have enough to meet the bills. Some would argue that if you really wanted to do it, you could. Sure, we could sell the house we just bought and live in a small apartment, but again, we would be getting nowhere. And thanks to the quirkiness of the Columbus market, rent is nearly as high as our mortgage payment. We were stuck, and there was no good choice.

Thank goodness we have family. Our current situation is I work part-time, and our family pitches in to help watch Cordy the days I work. We’re still financially at the same place we would be if we both worked full-time, but the advantage is that we’re not paying strangers to care for Cordelia. And I would consider us privileged – just think how much harder it is for those who have no choice at all, due to finances or being a single parent.

So to those fighting the Mommy Wars, I want you all to stop for a minute. Stop fighting over your choice to be a SAHM or your choice to enjoy your career. Stop arguing for the fact that thanks to feminism we women have the choice to work or stay home with our kids. Think for a moment about those who have NO CHOICE. Those who would love nothing more than to spend more time with their child, but due to financial constraints and a lack of laws protecting them, must instead hand their child over to someone else who they hope will care for that child properly and return to their low-paying job whether they want to or not. They have no choice. Feminism, and the United States government, do not protect them and do not give them choice.

Shouldn’t we be fighting for them? Shouldn’t we be arguing for parental leave reform and greater assistance with child care? We know it can work – it’s already working in so many other countries. It’s time that motherhood be recognized as something valid and worthy of this country’s time, assistance and appreciation. We are the ones raising the next generation, and yet as mothers we are treated as second-class citizens.

We know mothers are fierce. Now let’s turn our attack towards those who see no value in motherhood (or parenthood for that matter – you dads out there deserve just as much respect). It’s time to make sure we all have CHOICE.

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  1. Wow, wow, wow. What a thought provoking post.

    It sure does seem like mothers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t in this situation.

    For us, I am so very blessed to have in-laws that can watch the kids so I can work. I don’t even think I could afford daycare.

    You are a smart tookie! (That means cookie in our house)

  2. I am a bad blogger when it comes to this topic. I won’t blog about it because I don’t see but one side of the issue. And, since you brought it up here, I’ll use your blog to say…..if you don’t see the benefit of parents (mom or dad) staying at home and raising the children, then you are blind. If you don’t see the fact that some people don’t have this choice, then you are more than blind, you are ignorant. And something I like very little is a blind ignorant fool ranting about something they probably (no children at all) have no clue what they are talking about.

    My final thoughts to you are AMEN SISTA and I’m glad folks like you approach this subject b/c I can’t be objective and thus I just don’t write about it…sad I know, but I don’t like chaos and…well…ignorant people. Thanks again!

  3. I LOVED your post. So glad you said it and said it the way you did.

    I am shocked and appauled at the maternity leave situation in the US. It is ridiculous! In Canada we get 1 year of mat leave and I took every last second of it. I would have loved to “Choose” not to work but financially that wasn’t an option. We have no relatives close by and day care is insane. Instead I switched career paths entirely to be able to work a flexitime arrangment and be home at least some days – its not ideal, its not lucrative, but its the best we can do.

    Forgetting that not everyone has a choice about fully staying at home is insensitive and narrow minded. You expressed your frustration much better than I could have. Clapping loudly for you over here!!!

  4. We just made a huge decision for me to quit teaching full time. My girls were enrolled in the school I taught at and even with a 50% discount, I was bringing home maybe 20% of my salary! So, I took a job that allows me to be home and work completely around the girls…its part time and I now bring home more than before! How sad is that?? MY best friend is waiting to TTC #2 until she has enough senority at her job to be able to do contract work from home because she feels like she’d be working to kee the 2 of the kids in the in-home care she has now for her son. Toher countries have awesome benefits to get moms to stay home. My friend from Hungary said there you get paid a teaching salary (she said about $25000 a yr)for the first 3 yrs to stay at home with your baby…now that is one heck of a deal. In Hungary, kids go to primary school at around age 3, so it all works out for the best of the child. Why the US has zero policies to better provide for families and kids is beyond me!!

  5. Would you like to borrow my soapbox to put on top of your’s so you can stand even taller – because you really, really need to be heard on this issue! This is such an important topic and you’ve written about it so well. Most people would be sickened to hear what some small businesses are getting away with in regards to maternity leave and the like. I’ll post about it myself, when I get the nerve.

    This hits very close to home, Christina, with me and I’m sure with a lot of people who read your blog. Thank you.

  6. Yes. Yes. Yes. I just read the chap. in Perfect Madness (Warner) about this – totally right on.

    We’re spending all our energy/money/anxiety on the wrong things. We need to fight for better childcare, longer mat. leaves – protest, vote, you got it.

    Great and timely post!

  7. Hi Christina

    I liked you thoughts on the Mommy Wars. There’s an interesting debate running on the economics of motherhood here in the UK in Prospect Magazine

    I found your blog doing the “Next Blog” thing at the top of the page.

    If you get the time, check out my blog at . There’s silly nonsense on trepanation, the religious significance of drunkenness and foolish product endorsements.

  8. Here here! There are so many other, more important battles to fight instead of fighting each other. I have believed this since I myself became a mother and it’s never been more timely or true.

    It’s sad and obscene that in the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, women have the status of a second, no, THIRD class citizen and have to fight so hard for rights that are given freely to women in many other countries.

  9. Thank you for saying it so well.

  10. reluctant housewife says:


    I’m sure you’ve checked Moms Rising already.

  11. Your right. Child care costs are more then my house payment for two children.

    If it wasn’t for the retirement, medical and matching 401K one of us would be better off leaving work and staying at home in order to cut the day care costs and stay with our family.

  12. As a Canuck, I am fortunate to have a government who, if you work for a company that employs more than 10 people, you have leave and protection for a year. I was shocked to find out our southern sisters do not enjoy the same rights as we northern women do.

    This is a great post, and something that needs to be fixed. In this day and age there is no excuse. None what so ever.

    Good luck. I’m cheering for you.

  13. Amen!

    It’s hard living on two incomes, and having to give up 40 hours a week of bonding time.

    3 months is so not enough.

  14. I’m currently trying to figure out if there is a way for me to stay home. I used to enjoy my career. But now…

  15. lynsalyns says:

    Excellent, and inspired me to respond later today — that is, post-vacuuming! 🙂

    Seriously, we took a $71K paycut when I left work, and I still consider it a privledge to stay home with Emmie. I read part of “The Mommy Wars” book of essays and it made me by turns jealous, furious and disgusted. It was all written by women with untold privledge and they were all incredibly defensive. I had a hard time feeling a lot of empathy for them when my husband goes to work every day in the ghetto where choices don’t exist.

    The crux of the matter is that we live in a society, in my opnion in part created by the feminism movement, that de-values motherhood. Therefore we have childcare costs and quality that vascilate wildly and leave policies that do not favor parenting.

    I’m on my high horse now, folks, watch out.

    Christina, I love you blog.

  16. Very true, it is so sad that many moms have to return to work a week or so after giving birth. It is not just having to give a precious newborn up, but also terrible on their bodies having no time to recover. We are pinching the pennies for me to stay at home and it is a tremendous sacrifice on our parts to do so. Good post.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I am always amazed by you proud mother types. You seem to have this mentality that by being a mother that you’re some kind of super hero or something. You squeezed out a kid and now you take care of it. Big deal, people and other forms of life have been doing that since higher forms of life have evolved on earth. The average American produces 1,500 pounds of waste a year. You created something that will add to that, wow…what a hero you are.

  18. To anonymous – get a life! Where on earth did you come from??? Mars???

    I applaud Christina’s say…she speaks for many of us.