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Another Casualty In the Mommy Wars

Is it possible to stay neutral in the working mom versus stay-at-home mom debate?

When it comes to the Mommy Wars - those inevitable clashes that occur on playgrounds, in school auditoriums, and dance recitals where stay-at-home moms and working moms lob passive-aggressive barbs at one another to justify their lifestyle choice - it's tough to stay neutral.

When the topic rears its ugly head, fur flies. Fortunately, as a part-time freelance writer, I've managed to navigate these politicized exchanges unscathed. The working moms are satisfied that I'm not sitting around eating Bon Bons along with the other slackers. And the stay-at-home moms recognize that because I choose my own hours, and work from home, it's clear my children are my priority. In fact, I managed to sail through 12 years of parenting in a state of pure neutrality. However, just recently, I had a woman call fraud on my Switzerland status.

My husband and I were attending an event for my son's school. I was doing my best to make idle chit-chat when I happened to sit down next to a woman I didn't know. Because we are relatively new to the area, not knowing the parents of my son's classmates didn't seem strange to me at all. The woman, however, found my unfamiliar face off-putting.

"I've never seen you before," she accused.

"Oh, we're pretty new here," I shrugged.

She extended her hand and introduced herself. I assumed the ice had been broken. Not hardly. She didn't waste time exchanging pleasantries.

"So what do you do?" she grilled.

Note to new parents: When a mom asks, "What do you do?" you can bet she's a working mom, and a judgmental one too. A non-judgmental working mom or a stay-at-home mom would ask "Do you work?" (FYI:  A militant stay-at-home mom will respond to said question with an indignant: "Yes, I work. I take care of three children, a dog, a parakeet and a husband who can run a major financial institution but doesn't know his children's age, weight, or shoe size.")

Either way, I make it a point to NEVER ask this question of people. I honestly don't think what you do should define who you are regardless of your child-rearing philosophy.

So although I found the woman's interrogation style a bit obnoxious, I had no fear of her passive-aggressive barbs. I answered her question, hoping we could discuss something less politicized, like, say, the building of a mosque at Ground Zero. Fat chance. The interrogation continued.

"Do you work full-time or part-time," she probed.

"Part-time," I offered, still smug in my ability to straddle both worlds.

"How many hours a week do you work?"

This question threw me. At last, I found myself in uncharted territory. No one had ever asked for an accounting of my time. But her line of questioning became clear: Are you really a working mom like me, or do you have one of those piddly mommy jobs?

I sputtered through a long-winded explanation about how my work load ebbed and flowed based on my kid's schedule and when assignments were available. I half expected her to demand an Excel spreadsheet documenting my hours.

Now I knew it was my turn to ask her if she worked. A stronger person would have left her hanging. But I couldn't stomach the uncomfortable silence.     

"What do you do?" I asked, despite my policy of abstinence.

"I'm a doctor," she pounced.

Oh great, a noble profession to boot. At this point, I was fairly certain she'd written me off as useless. But I guess she decided to throw me a final bone.

"Have you written any books?"

Again, I stumbled. In truth, I have written a couple of commercial, work-for-hire children's books. But I knew that wasn't what she wanted to hear. What she wanted to know was if I'd written anything substantial. Not necessarily Of Mice and Men. But if I could have proudly claimed ownership of the Twilight series, Harry Potter, or even Captain Underpants, I think she may have  accepted me as her professional equal. 

Unfortunately, I have yet to achieve that sort of fame. For the record, I do have an agent and two young-adult novels that I—like thousands of others—am desperately praying will someday get published. But, for now, I guess I'll just have to be satisfied with my piddly mommy job.

And you know what? I am.

Alison Pierce VanDis February 01, 2011 at 06:11 PM
I loved this article. As a new mom I am navigating the line between work and stay at home...I'm trying to work part time from home but with no childcare help at all except on the weekends from in-laws. Having spent the last 6 years traveling for work - as a tv producer - I had to give that up to stay at home which was a major life change. A welcome one, now that the dust has settled. As a freelance writer as well, I love the idea of being switzerland in the mommy wars, although still feel self conscious that I have the piddly mommy job around my working mom friends. Thanks for sharing.

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