LONDON — It’s been exactly two weeks since the dreaded “Mommy Wars” re-exploded into our collective lexicon. Since then — courtesy of figures as disparate as First Lady-hopeful Ann Romney and French feminist Elisabeth Badinter — we’ve been pitting stay-at-home-moms against working moms in an inexorable, intractable struggle.
I’m completely on board with all those who think that this faux cat-fight sets up a false dichotomy within the female voting block that’s neither productive nor accurate. As far as I’m concerned, the real wars aren’t the ones that go on between women, they’re the ones that go on within women.
And I’m exhibit A.
You see, I’m about to go back to work full time. And not unexpectedly, I have mixed feelings about that. On the upside, I feel a tremendous amount of relief. Relief to have a steady income stream after years of working part-time as a freelancer. Relief to (finally!) be able to secure a mortgage in London, which is just barely within our reach on two incomes. (Never mind that it’s going to be a very expensive closet.) And relief to get off the exhausting, nearly full-time treadmill of networking, cover-letter writing and screening listings that job hunting entails.
More to the point, the jobs that I’m contemplating are really, really interesting. And for someone with the energy of three people on a slow day, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into one of them.
There is a downside of course. But it probably isn’t the one you’re expecting me to identify. It’s not the logistics of returning to work full time that I find daunting, i.e., the hassle of finding child care...managing work travel...or what to do when the kids get sick. It’s not even the emotional bit of seeing my kids less. After five and a half years of doing the school run twice a day, I’m looking forward to turning some of that over to someone else.
Nor is it the fact that part-time work is not an option. While I think part-time work is a great solution for those who can afford it, it’s just not for me. My experience is that either you end up working full-time hours for part-time pay (which is for the birds) or you end up missing a meeting and discover that the project you’ve been working on for several months has just been handed to someone else. (Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt.)
No. For me, at least, the main anxiety I’m confronting right now concerns my own identity. It has everything to do with the loss of control that attends to my no longer being, as my daughter once so colorfully put it (much to my own delight and terror), “the main person in my family.”
Not long ago, I visited an old friend who works in a very demanding government job, and we discussed the challenges facing mothers who work outside the home. As she watched me micro-manage my children, she asked me what I thought would be the hardest part of returning to work full time. I initially responded “relief,” by which I meant relief not to have to do so much around the home anymore.
“Only relief?” she pushed back. “Don’t you think you’ll also feel a certain loss of power?”
And with that, she hit the nail exactly on the head. While many of us assume that the truly “powerful” women are those out in the work force, there’s also a tremendous amount of power and authority that comes with organizing a home and a family (if not, like office work, a fair share of drudgery and thanklessness to boot). So what I fear most right now is losing the status that being the de-facto anchor of all things large and small in our household has afforded me these past five years.
That doesn’t make me especially identify with Ann Romney when she reminds us of all the hard work she’s done raising five boys any more than it makes me want to rush out and purchase Elisabeth Badinter’s latest screed against motherhood as prison.
But it does make me human.