Monday, June 22, 2009

What Mommy Wars?

Read an article today in G&M Life pages, "Mommy wars" - whether full time daycare is ok for children, now that Ontario wants to offer it, is at the basis of this article. The title is so old, however, because mommies are just trying to do their best, it's not about which is better, full-time care with at home mommies or day care and working mommies. It's not a black or white issue.

Isn't it always about choice? whether the issue is birth control, abortion or full-time day care, parenting at home whether by fathers or mothers, it's all about choice. Women want to do what is best but they sometimes can't decide what that 'best' is.

Some of limited economic means feel they have no choice - between working and putting kids in day care and not eating, they choose working. The limited options for working parents (outside of Quebec's subsidized day care) are more of a problem than the working mother's guilt at not seeing every rite of passage unfold before her eyes. It isn't simple. And it isn't the same for everyone. See the recent blog about daddies at home, some due to job losses, some due to choice. It's not only about isolation versus self-fulfillment through work, either.

As a mostly stay at home mom who chooses to work from home, with workshops and retreats bringing me outside part-time, I have the best of both worlds. It has always worked best this way for me, hiring part time care when I needed it. When the kids were little, I both wanted to be with them, and wanted a foot outside of the house in my own creative world of writing. Now that they are teens, they need me less, but I'm still around when they do.

When they were little, the options were easier for me to afford. I tried full time daycare and lasted three days, when my son was one year old. I opted for home-care three days a week with a nanny. Even though my home office was just upstairs, which made it difficult to not intervene when there were tears, I did have the time and mental space to mark papers, prepare teaching plans. The biggest discovery was a shared office in a dingy university English department with rundown furniture and a tiny space-- that felt like being on vacation compared to being at home with two small kids all day. Yet I was there to see the first teeth fall out.

The hardest challenge I faced was graduating from university and no more teaching position - graduating to a full-time mommy role, albeit with pre-school and kindergarden schedules filling in for some of the time. Still, I don't think my life was any easier, or harder, than my sister's lifestyle. She went back to work after trying to stay home full time with her second baby. I think she lasted three or four months before she knew it wasn't good for her mental health to be cooped up at home. She missed her work, she missed the stimulation of a job and co-workers. But then, she had to drop them off in winter at the homecare around 6:30 am and pick them up after dark in the evening. When they got older, they prepared their own meals some nights and she'd arrive in time to take them to Tae Kwon Do twice a week.

My solution to the 'going crazy feeling' was to keep active in the writing community as a volunteer, organizing readings, meetings, writing a newsletter, going to see other writers read, reviewing books, working on projects I could do from home. I also joined mothering groups, mom and tot groups, and volunteered at their schools. I kept busy, fought my lack of patience and mounting anger with therapy sessions, wrote about my lack of patience and anger at being the only one they called out to in the middle of the night, explored the issues that came up for me so intensely in a book called "Little Mother".

In my experience, the Mommy wars have been inside of me, not with other women. I appreciate that staying at home is very difficult unless you build a network of friends to support you. I appreciate that working full time means you only get to see your kids between 6 pm and bedtime, which at some ages means an hour and a half of get supper ready, get pyjamas on, and hop into bed. There are advantages and disadvantages to both choices.

Can governments support working parents better? yes. Can we give stay-at home parents more tax breaks? Yes - Penelope Leach's 1994 book "Children First" makes a very strong argument for government support and family friendly workplaces being good the the economy and for families. Let's give parents more options, more choice.

Two other excellent books about the pitfalls, challenges and joys of mothering: The Mother Zone by Marni Jackson, and The Myth of the Perfect Mother, Parenting without Guilt, by Jane Swigart. Both these books help us see mothering as something outside of the stereotypes we have unconsciously swallowed. The emotional reality is that it draws out the best and the worst of us, and yet, without children the 'world' would cease to exist. The reality is that parenting work is "heroic". It takes courage to give a child what they truly need.


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