Peg

Role Models and Moms Judging Moms

There is a post and string of comments on www.wsj.com/juggle about working moms and whether or not they are role models for their children. While the post is insightful it really throws the question open to the readers. The comments are the nitty gritty of that discussion. Here is my take. Moms choose to work for a variety of reasons. For some it is necessity in the sense that they need the money. For others it is more personal, more sensitive and may have to do with their need to connect with their adult colleagues, their relatively short amount of patience, marital politics, personal aspirations and pride, etc, etc. Is it really about being a role model for the kids? The author of the juggle post claims that this concern was not a small part of the equation for her decision to work. Really? I think I fall on the side of justification. I think that working moms use this mantra as a way of justifying our decision. Lord knows we need all the justification we can get after being constantly bombarded with family, religion, and media and other information outlets criticizing our decision to leave the care of little Joe and Susie to a perfect stranger ALL DAY in a germ-infested CENTER! (hopefully my sarcasm is apparent) Women are always judging other women. When it comes to criticizing a woman on her mothering -- it doesn't get more personal than that. You can tell me that I am a bad student or a bad wife but tell me that I'm a bad mom and my world comes crashing down. Edie on ABC's Desperate Housewives said it to Carlos best this past Sunday, "Bad mom, bad person, its the same thing isn't it." (or something to that effect) Moms need to stop judging each other. Moms need to stop justifying their decisions. To me, labeling working moms as role models is a form of judgment. While positive on the surface it just adds another layer of societal pressure and guilt on the decision to work or not to work. It is hard enough in our own heads and our own homes to deal with the sensitive subject of our children's upbringing. The last thing we need to hear is that working moms are "role models" for their kids. Maybe they are maybe they aren't, but they are doing the best that they can do, regardless. Finally, moms don't over estimate the effect your working has on your kids. My mom stayed home with us and what I learned from that is that women make sacrifices for their family. My dad worked 2-3 jobs and what I learned from that is that dads make sacrifices for their families. I'm a working mom and my sister is a stay at home mom. On the political spectrum, I'm the conservative one and she's the progressive one. Go figure! Thanks mom for just being a good mom and a good role model in the areas that matter to raising good people and good citizens.

6 Comments

Manamana

I just want to add an anecdote that goes to the women v. women dynamic.  This past Tuesday, NYU Law Women honored Rachel Robbins, an alumnae of NYU Law School and current General Counsel and Executive Vice President of N.Y.S.E.  She spoke about her career path, and shared some observations about being a women and a lawyer at the same time.  She is/was also a working mother, and dealt with the inevitable question about that experience (“how did you do it?!”) with a simple and elegant: “You just make it happen.”  She also noted that a priority for her was always being home for dinner with her children.  One thing in the course of this discussion that she mentioned was that women are not always the most helpful to each other, and asked the audience (of alumnae and current students) who had ever had a negative/unsupportive experience with another woman at work.  <i>Many</i> hands went up, a sad comment (I thought).  So: why can’t we all just get along?

KHernan881

There is another interesting take on this same topic at:
http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2007/03/01/dont-tell-me-about-admirable-moms/ In the post, blogger Penelope Trunk takes the view that we shouldn’t judge moms because there is no way to judge. (At least this is my take on her words.)  She also argues that the discussion shouldn’t be had.  She is tired of reading about moms that are balancing. I disagree with that point.  I think that some women don’t see the damage they are doing in judging other women’s choices.  For example, I don’t think Sarah Munoz at http://www.wsj.com/juggle is trying to be harmful to women by discussing her aspirations to be a role model by working.  I also don’t think the posts on Ms. JD on balance and women’s choices are a waste of words and time.  I do think that this is something that women are concerned about.  Life is hard but does that mean that we shouldn’t talk about what’s so hard about it and try to find out how others deal with the difficulty?

Manamana

Part of the reason I think these are topics (who is a role model, whether it is better to work or stay home, what sort of life you are giving your kids, what choices and compromises you make, and so forth) are so difficult to talk about without disagreements is that these are huge, big, sensitive topics that people have extremely strong feelings about.  They have probably had many of these arguments with themselves when making each of these decisions.  I know that when I was considering firms during on-campus interviewing, considerations of where I wanted to live in a few years (not the major city I am in now) and finding a firm I thought (insofar as I knew) I could stay with long-term were very important.  That is, lifestyle was, if not my top factor, than among my top factors.  But the entire time, I questioned whether I should accept common wisdom and go with the “best” firm I got an offer from, whether I was being silly for putting my possible future family life (since I’m single and without children), and so forth. I can only imagine that were my choices clear for everyone to see I would feel even more unsure, and more sensitive, and furthermore if my choices up for discussion (or even criticism) by others (who perhaps were making their decisions on different grounds), I would be defensive, hurt, and probably angry.  The decisions that come up in these discussions, both in person and online, <i>are</i> apparent.  When you tell someone that you’re a SAHM, or you work full-time, or your husband is a SAHD, you’re giving up a lot in that simple statement.  So that might account for the terse tone in many of these statements and hurt feelings.  I don’t have an answer to the larger question of why, but I do think we should realize that these are not choices that people are making without weighing the costs and benefits, and be sensitive to the fact that every individual is in a slightly different situation.  That is: be kind.

sintecho

I was shocked when a friend from Norway told me that there it is weird to not send your children to daycare.  Norwegian daycare is viewed as a place where children are socialized with other children, and it is affordable since it’s subsidized by the government and high quality because they’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to make daycare appealing enough to coax women out of the home and into the workforce.  They’ve been successful: an estimated 76% of children between the ages of 1-5 are in daycare.  In Sweden, women have one year paid maternity leave, and they aren’t professionally penalized for taking it.  Other countries work much harder than we do to create social safety nets that incentivize women to join the workforce.  Let’s face it—society loses when women’s work is undervalued in the home and complicated outside of it by a forced trade-off between career and family.  Ann Crittenden talks about a lot of these issues in her book, The Price of Motherhood.  Some of her arguments can be found here, but she makes the very intriguing point that the economy has actually been boosted and not destroyed in countries that enable part-time work, flexible hours, and family-friendly policies.  I feel discouraged when the conversation is always about what women in the U.S. can do to find “balance” and be a supermom and a super lawyer.  When will the conversation be about what society can do to help us be better moms and better lawyers at the same time? I think the main issue is that the contribution women could make the workforce if they were fully utilized is still not appreciated, and it’s still commonly accepted (even if subconsciously) that it’s the woman’s “job” to raise the children, so any sacrifices or hardships imposed by that responsibility are her problem alone.  After all, if she can’t keep up with the big boys, then she probably belongs in the kitchen.

Peg

UPDATE: 
Okay, so maybe I'm a little naive about all the judging that is really going on out there between parents and non-parents.  As much as the idea of role modeling was surprising and suspicious to me when I wrote this blog post, something much more surprising came to my attention today.
See the blog post and links here: http://gold-platedwitchonwheels.blogspot.com/2007/05/eco-crime-of-large-families.html.
I had no idea that people are judging others' decisions to have children based on the enviromental impact of kids!  The so-called argument is that people should think abobut the health of the planet and choose to have fewer kids—preferably, no more than 2 kids per family!  More evidence that the war is raging.  As being friendly to the environment is gaining ground in the political correctness arena (which Europe is imprisoned by) some will use it to attack every aspect of others' lives - including, of all things, the decision to have kids!
Whoever you are out there—stop judging!!

victorious

<div align=“left”>While maybe it seems in bad taste to criticize parents for having many children solely for the environmental impact they have, I would say that it is considered just fine to criticize parents who "can't afford" to have the number of children they have, and thus either don't provide an "adequate" level of resources for that child or cause society at large to pick-up the tab for the feeding, clothing, education, etc. of that child.  As an ecnomist by training, I have been taught to consider <i>all</i> the effects of the decisions I make, not just those that affect my family budget directly.  The diffuse envioronmental impacts of having a child are real, and perhaps should be considered a legitimate concern, just like many people think that poor women shouldn't put the burden on society for providing for their nth child that they can't afford.</div><div align=“left”> </div> <div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”>I don't think anyone disputes that there are too many people on the planet and that in many areas of the world the local resources (food, sanitation, etc.) are succombing to the malthusian problem.  Thus, I think there is a legitimate basis for the idea that in a world of scarce resources potential parents should have the resources to offset the <i>total </i>social costs of their child on society (of course, offset by the social benefits that that child produces).  While this can only be a thought experiment (no government will ask parents to pay the cost of the child's environmental/carbon footprint), it is worth considering, and maybe parents <i>should </i> think of the greater effects of bearing children.</div><div align=“left”> </div> <div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”> </div><div align=“left”>Of course, as an aside, a woman's education level is the single most important factor in determining the size of her family.  Thus, if we are serious about reducing the number of people on the planet (and, therefore, the greater environmental impact), we should be concerned about getting women worldwide educated, so they are knowledgeable about their bodies, have more power in their family, improve their economic position, and will <i>voluntarily choose</i> to have fewer children.  In my view, everyone wins.  </div>

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