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April 17, 2012

BEAM: A tale of two mommies

FLOYD COUNTY — It was a brief comment, only a sentence really.  “His wife has actually never worked a day in her life,” uttered Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen on CNN last week when she attempted to disparage the fact that Mitt Romney had said his wife, a stay-at-home mother of five, advised him on economic issues related to women.

As fast as a diaper change, news had been made. Tweeters started tweeting. Political spin doctors started spinning. And moms around the nation started seething. All of the sudden Rosen became the newest headline. So why did such a snarky little stab from an unknown political pundit infuriate so many?

Because working moms and their stay-at-home counterparts have an uneasy truce, one founded on the principle of silence and smiles. You don’t talk about each other’s choices unless it’s to express sisterly solidarity. Yet Rosen’s quip launched a rocket right into the heart of a disputed territory — the treacherous terrain that tackles the question of which type of mother works harder in their daily lives.

Say what you want, but Rosen’s inference was offensive. At least to me. I’ve stayed at home with my kids for 10 years now. I struggled at first, not feeling like I made a difference in the world. I lost a part of myself.

The kids became my life, and I started to live mine through theirs. All the cleaning, cooking, teaching and playing wear you down. Some women relish motherhood, loving every aspect of it. I felt failure.

Add to this the fact that people would make comments that made you feel less than intelligent. Once an old classmate couldn’t believe I hadn’t become a lawyer, but I instead had settled on staying at home. I jibed that three children fighting over candy had honed my negotiating skills far better than a jury trial. If I could only give them jail time and some community service, all would be right with the world.

So, yes, I might have a chip on my shoulder. OK, maybe I have the whole dang tree balanced there. But Rosen’s remark seemed to reinforce the stereotype of ignorant stay-at-home moms. How could we possibly advise anyone on anything? We don’t even have “real” jobs.

Rosen shot back on Twitter that this was not her intention. She meant to say, of course after the fact, that a woman of Mrs. Romney’s economic means couldn’t possibly understand the plight of most women.

 “The idea that I would create a division between stay-at-home moms and working moms is just silly,” Rosen said to Anderson Cooper.

After condemnation from her own party mounted, Rosen issued an apology. It came too late. The first shot had been fired and the damage had been done. No, she hadn’t created the rift between mamas. She had just widened the fissure.  

Why can’t we all just get along? I spoke to my friend Shannon about the trials and tribulations of working mothers and the issue at hand. Besides being employed full-time, she also is responsible for the care of her two young sons.

After work, she and her husband come home to cook, clean, do homework and run the kids to practices. A day in the office doesn’t exempt her from parental duties. A mom is still a mom regardless.

In addition, mothers with jobs outside of the home are not immune from ill-conceived comments. Once, a friend told Shannon that she, a stay-at-home mom, loved her kids too much to send them to daycare. As if Shannon didn’t adore her children in the same way just because she needed a baby sitter to watch the little ones while she worked.

Jabs like this can create animosity. And sometimes when you perceive hostility, you become defensive of your decisions in life. In essence, that’s what the argument against Rosen’s commentary has become: A vindication of mothers sick of having their choices questioned and of having their competence challenged.

So who wins the war for hardest working mommies? A white flag has been waved and a draw declared. Being a mother is difficult regardless of whether you’re employed outside the home or not. Both scenarios present distinct challenges.

As long as we acknowledge these differences in a constructive manner, mothers can get along regardless of a truce. Otherwise, without each other, to whom can we complain about the battles with our children?

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at hoosiermandyblog @gmail.com or visit her blog at HoosierMandy.com.

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