I’ve had it.
I read a piece online this week called “Ten Ways I’m Ruining My Child by Living Outside the United States.” In it, the author makes some good points with which, as someone who lives outside the United States herself, I wholeheartedly agree. She discusses how great it is to watch her daughter learn other languages and appreciate other cultures.
She also boasts of what she has done for her daughter by giving up a high-stress U.S. lifestyle including a big house with “two living rooms and three bathrooms.” She is proud of trading that in for a tropical existence in which her daughter can say “her mother has time for her, all day, all night, rarely stressed, no car, a basic phone for safety, together 24 hours a day adventuring and sharing and laughing and being unstressed and happy and free.”
Should she be proud of this achievement and the choices that got her there? Absolutely. She’s amazing. But as I read this at the end of my workday, it was like a punch to the gut as I pictured myself “adventuring and laughing and being unstressed… 24 hours a day” with my kid. I, too, am a U.S. citizen with a fairly simple life in the developing world. I don’t own a car, and I rent a home that, from the sound of it, would probably fit into one of those two living rooms. But I still need to work to pay the bills. That’s just reality, as it is for many others.
I was still brooding a bit over that when I saw “Dear Daughter, This is Why I Don’t Work.” This piece details how the author stayed home with her kids by making sacrifices such as driving a used car and not going out to eat much. “I stay home because I want you to learn that family and love are more important than material possessions,” she writes. “A large home or fancy sneakers will not make up for an absent mother.” Again, I think she should be proud of her choice. And again, I would point out that the choice for most mothers is not between a large home and fancy sneakers, or staying home. They don’t have either.
This piece didn’t come from nowhere: it was apparently inspired by “Dear Daughter, This is Why I Work.” And there were hundreds of pieces before that, some wonderful and useful, probably, but many snide and smarmy, many comparing one woman to another as mothers, mothers making other mothers feel bad because THEY were made to feel bad, back and forth and back and forth. There will be many more to come.
But what if there weren’t?
What if the tiny percentage of women with the luxury to make a choice about whether or not to work — and I include myself in that group, because while staying out of the workforce was not an option, I have absolutely had rare privileges and flexibility — took one-tenth of the energy they have devoted to showing why their choices are better than others, and devoted it to complaining about the extraordinary underrepresentation of women in leadership positions? Or the lack of adequate legal protections for women in the workplace? Or the continuing pay inequalities that continue to plague us? Or the terrible choices facing that vast population of mothers who are working their fingers to the bone and still not making ends meet for their kids? Or the women I was just reading about today in an old friend’s post, describing mothers and babies being held in detention for bringing their kid on a death-defying journey from Central America to seek refuge in the United States? Or the other hair-raising problems facing women outside our borders?
I’m not saying we can’t discuss these work-life and parenting decisions anymore. Hey, I clicked on these headlines because I’m struggling with these issues, too. I am in awe of an incredible mother and writer I know who stretches every penny in an incredible juggling act to stay home, and I learn from her commentaries. I love reading about women with full-time jobs who make it work, and learning from them. But can’t we share those opinions with a little less self-congratulation and a little less smarminess?
I’m not saying we need to relinquish our private moments of pointing out why we are SO much better than those other crazy parents, because let’s face it, that’s what keeps you going sometimes at the end of a long day. But can’t we restrict that to our living rooms, where it’s meant to be, where you laugh with your partner or your friend over that crazy mom who disinfected the whole swing set before little Houston could use it, or those parents who named their kid Quinoa Jade? Can’t we keep it off the Internet? Can’t we do a little more thinking about how horrible our comments about motherhood might make other mothers feel about themselves, and how pointless that is? (Apologies to all those who have named their child Quinoa Jade. See? I just did it myself! Damn.)
Tina Fey has already made this point much better than I could in Bossypants, but parenthood is hard, period. We’ve all got applesauce in our hair — and by “applesauce” I mean “vomit” — and Cheerios stuck to our butts. We just need to support each other.
And women with the ability and power to write publicly about women’s issues: as a gender, we have bigger fish to fry. We have bigger problems to confront than which mom is awesome and which one is a screwup (spoiler alert: we are all both of these things). We need the most highly educated and the most eloquent among us at the forefront of those battles.
More power to all of us who get up on the soapbox to speak about what we believe in, no matter what our topic of choice might be. I just think all that bravery and intelligence and power could also have an impact on issues that matter to a much bigger universe of women. And as for my “Dear Daughter,” tonight, all I want to say to her is this: May you grow to discover a world where women no longer waste so much energy ripping each other apart.