Before we start, let’s get something straight, the so-called “Mommy Wars” are overblown. The term might be good for creating click-worthy headlines and perpetuating the stereotype of women as catty but it isn't as prominent as you might believe. A 2013 Parents survey found that while 63 percent of survey respondents believed the mommy wars existed, only 29 percent had ever seen an actual battle in their own community.
While the war might only be a skirmish, no doubt many mothers often do feel criticized for the choices they make. Here are a few simple steps to create a Mommy War peace accord.
The first step is to step back from online message boards and comments sections. Message boards might be invaluable resources for getting a recommendation for sippy cups or new baby food recipes, but too often they can devolve into capitalized screaming matches. When was the last time someone called you selfish for working or lazy for staying at home to your face? Probably not very often, and hopefully never. But online? I bet it was the last time you dared to read the Facebook comments on an article even tangentially related to motherhood.
I’ll be the first to admit that I occasionally jump to judge my fellow mothers. For me, it’s typically rooted in my own insecurities. If I see a mom friend celebrating her promotion on Facebook, I find myself bitterly thinking, “Well, at least I’m home to make my children chocolate chip cookies whenever I want!” (Side note: I don’t remember the last time I actually made my kids chocolate chip cookies.)
I realize that the jump to judge has nothing to do with her, and everything to do with the fact that I occasionally am self-conscious that I don’t have a successful career. Plus, research shows that working moms actually spend more time with their children now than stay-at-home moms did in the 1970s. The same study also found that it is the quality of time that matters, not the quantity.
The truth is, I feel guilty for ignoring my children to write this article even though I see them all day, every day. But they’re fine without me (even though I’m 90 percent sure Dad has them in front of the TV right now). As hard as it might be, owning up to our own tendency to judge, plus our guilt and insecurities, frees up more room for compassion.
I like to ignore my own advice, so yes, I’ve read plenty of comment sections on articles about motherhood. Certain themes always pop up: “I spend my whole day cooking, caring for children, and cleaning up after their never-ending messes!” or “I do everything a stay-at-home mom does, plus I work!”
The truth is: we’re all doing everything we can to have a clean house at the end of the day and none of us are succeeding. Stay-at-home moms have all day to clean and their children have all day to undo their efforts. Working moms have to squeeze all their chores into evenings and weekends. But here is one thing we can agree on: working or not, women spend more time than men on housework and childcare. Instead of tearing each other down, let’s use that energy to congratulate each other on how hard we work.
No matter how you slice it, being a mom is tough. Whether you work at home, work out of the home, or stay at home, each path has its own struggles. Working moms have less time for leisure and are more likely to say they always feel rushed. Stay-at-home mothers are more likely to worry, feel sad, or report depression, especially if they are low-income. Getting into a “who has it harder” argument is no more than a race to the bottom. But recognizing each other’s struggles can help build each other up.
As a stay-at-home mom, most of my friends are also stay-at-home moms. But when I worked, I hardly knew any. We tend to gravitate to people with similar lives. I’m not likely to meet a working mom at the park on Tuesday morning, and a working mom probably won’t run into a stay-at-home mom in the lactation room in her office. But connecting with someone who leads a different life than you do can open your eyes to the struggles and benefits of choosing another path.
For many women, the decision to work or stay-at-home might not always be a choice. Some families cannot survive on one income. Others cannot afford the cost of daycare. And in reality, many women have done both at one point or another. Of women with children, over 40 percent have taken time off of work voluntarily, and nearly three-quarters of those return to work, according to the Harvard Business Review. If a friend is telling you her struggles balancing work and kids, or maintaining her home life, don’t just tell her how lucky she has it. Every mom has made the decision that is best for her family, even if that decision occasionally comes with painful consequences.
There is no right way to be a mom. Whether you work or stay-at-home, challenges and benefits abound. But there is a right way to be a friend to a fellow mom – by supporting her no matter where she works. The best way to end the mommy wars is to stop pretending they exist and to start recognizing what we know: moms work hard, and we all do amazing jobs.