Did you know you're happier doing less work and spending more time with your family, but not all of your time, because you're still a person with a brain and probably need the satisfaction of using it away from those people in a culturally validated way? Congratulations, you just indicated that you already intuitively understand the results of a new study that says moms who work are happier than moms who don't work, and that moms who only work part-time are the happiest of them all. Meanwhile, fathers are sometimes very good at coming home around 5 p.m. but are tired and would like a driiiiink.
At least this no-doy study adds a third potential villain to the Mommy Wars mix, a slippery, hard-to-caricature type that's not as easy to hate or praise than the original two. Before, we were either selfish, career-driven bitches, or pious, home-schooling harpies (headband optional). I guess now we've got ourselves a lazy waffler on our hands with this part-timer. I bet she uses all her free time homewreckin' around the neighborhood!
Questions: which type of mom gets more sleep? Will we be told which group is thinner? Can a part-time working mom still be a MILF? Would she played by Megan Fox in the made-for-TV movie? Also, I'm not clear on who the actual enemy is here.
Of course, this new sexy part-time poseur, who's probably younger and prettier than the rest of us, gets to have her cake and eat it too. When full-time workers complain about not getting to attend little Monica's daytime school play, part-time worker sighs contentedly. When stay-at-home moms complain about not getting to engage in meaningful work outside the home, part-time worker…sighs contentedly. I haven't even met this woman yet and already I think she's kind of a bitch. Congratulations, Mommy Wars, you've scored yet another divisive point.
Fer realz, I've never understood the Mommy Wars. I think some people like working and some people don't, and some people have career ideas and some people don't. Some of those people are women, and some of those women are moms.
I've known moms who stay home and love it, moms who stay home and are clearly resentful about not having pursued careers, working moms who feel really guilty and working moms who couldn't survive a day at home alone with their baby for 8 hours. I can't believe that any of these women is completely satisfied with her choice every second of every day, which begs the question - do most of these women have a choice these days, anyway?
"Mommy Wars" also makes it sound like there's some interesting, longstanding domestic conflict afoot that might have spies and dossiers and secret agendas and covert meetings, when really it's just a sadsack, old-fashioned way for women to keep policing each other's choices. Shit, wasn't that more fun when we were talking about shoes and pubes?
When I was pregnant, I always assumed I would go back to work, but what I hadn't counted on was how ambivalent I would feel about it. For 12 very confusing weeks, I took a maternity leave cobbled together from short-term disability and paid time off, and I was the full-time caregiver for the kid while my husband worked 15-hour days. It was the longest time I'd ever gone without a work schedule since I'd entered the workforce at 17, and it was a surreal experience, postpartum repair and new baby to care for aside.
In the fog of healing, breastfeeding and newborn care, I found I had no compass to orient myself to the day's challenges. The baby clock is a bizarre time warp of inconsistency nestled within droning sameness, and knowing the intense immersion is temporary only further gums up the works. So you struggle to enjoy every second of The Experience while navigating an obscene lack of sleep, crashing hormones and also a very injured body.
The great part: Suddenly, I didn't have to show up anywhere, or do anything outside of the house, or have conversations with people who irritated me or pretend to care about their weekends.
The awful part: I had no source for jokes, gossip, current events, chit chat, lunch plans. And with no amusing yet annoying office politics, I had nothing to hate in a daily way anymore, which is apparently really important for my mental health.
By the time I'd gotten the swing of it and felt it might actually be enjoyable to keep up this routine of domestic order, it was time to go back to work. I was happy to have adult interaction again, only now it was near impossible for me to do the nighttime socializing the gig required, at least to be any good at it. I felt like a cop who'd been pulled off duty and put on a desk job.
When I was at home, I wanted to be working, and when I was working, I wanted to be home, and other clichés. What my husband and I wanted were two well-paid, engaging part-time jobs in our fields with affordable health insurance for the entire family. But we would have had better luck being bitten by a shark going the wrong way down the freeway.
Even cooler, we realized we could not afford daycare even with both our salaries (thanks, creative field!), so we decided the person with the most career-directed position, me at the time, should keep working and cover the benefits. I at least found it comforting to know one of us was getting to be home with our daughter. But this didn't actually make me happier.
And as for what makes for a happier kid, kinda the point here? Look around: we all know really well-adjusted kids raised by working moms, and total basket cases raised by stay at home mothers. Bitches are bitches, doesn't matter what your shift at the mall looks like.
With that in mind, please turn in your hymnals to the inestimable Diane Keaton's rallying cry in Baby Boom. In this vastly underrated film, Keaton plays a sharp-eyed career woman climbing the corporate ladder when one day a baby is basically dumped into her life, which clashes with her sophisticated life with her sophisticated boyfriend in a sophisticated apartment.
She tries to make it work by scaling back a little on her work commitments, but, duh, capitali-sexism. So the snake pit simply reproduces asexually, and adds another slithery corporate climber into the mix in the form of a young, sneering James Spader whom she ultimately and inadvertently ends up training for her own position. Balls! (Someone has conveniently put together three of the funnier scenes from the movie here).
But rather than slink away and call it a very long Manhattan day, she ends up concocting a way to have her baby and eat it too! Well, have her baby and have it eat organic baby food, too. She moves to Vermont, starts her own organic applesauce biz, marks up the price to sell to other yuppies and fixes up a cool old Victorian in the process. Did I mention this was over 25 years ago? Color me hipster.
Now, people were pluckier in the '80s, it's true. But I think her character today would just be a corporate badass with a husband who wanted to stay home for a few years, or they'd run the biz together and employ the baby, or just take turns pursuing their awesome jobs and juggle the baby care, and no one would bat an apple.
Note to Mommy Wars: I imagine a lot of women like the idea of both raising their children and also providing for them, and that men feel this way also, and that we are all just sort of biding our time until the working world becomes less hostile to this position. And working mothers and stay at home mothers are also people who were friends before they got pregnant, and I bet they even invite ol' part-time floozy over every now and then for some cawfee tawk. Where's the study for that?
Tracy Moore is a writer in Los Angeles. She's eating organic baby food for dinner tonight.
Image via Lightspring/Shutterstock.