The Mommy Wars Within – How to Pick Your Battles

Periodically the so-called “Mommy Wars” kick back into high gear, with a flurry of media attention aimed at getting us vagina-toting soldiers all up in arms.

You could feel it coming last month when Marissa Mayer, new mom and Yahoo CEO, put a ban on telecommuting. The drumbeats quickened when Facebook’s CEO Sheryl Sandberg published “Lean In: Women, Work, and The Will to Lead” earlier this month. And you could see the natives reach a feverish pitch when major publications like New York Magazine started publishing reactionary cover stories with titles like, “The Feminist Housewife.”

You know the drill: we hear shots from every side of the mother ’hood — working moms are self-realized, productive, financial contributors or conversely, they are selfish women who put their own needs and personal satisfaction above their families’. Stay-at-home moms are selfless caretakers who dedicate themselves to the greater good for not only their own offspring, but also society as whole, or conversely they are boring/bored, unambitious slackers who’ve abdicated all the gains made by the Women’s Movement to take a leisurely stroll down Sesame Street.

While I prefer an intelligent examination of the issues (thank you, Catherine Connors!), the truth is that the bloodiest battles of the Mommy Wars are those we fight within ourselves.

And I’m not talking woman vs. woman, mom vs. mom. That we already know about — for example, according to a 2011 study, 87% of moms judge each other. No shocker there.

I’m literally talking about the way we all beat ourselves up for the choices we make, the work we do, what we’ve accomplished — and not — every step of the way. The Mommy Wars within.

I’ve often written on this blog about how BK (Before Kids) I had a big ass marketing job in my “career stage,” and AK I did a face-first nosedive from that stage into the mosh-pit of child rearing as a stay at home mom. It was so disorienting that for a long time I didn’t recognize that what I’d done was make a choice.

Let’s take a moment to truly consider that statement: choosing to take care of my children over taking care of business didn’t feel like a choice at all. The truth was as soon as I had my son, I could feel my value in the market dip. Suddenly I was left out of important meetings that happened at 6:17 p.m. because had to leave for home at 6:00 p.m. so I could see my infant son for 15 minutes before he went to bed. I was so sleep deprived that I couldn’t hold a thought or make a coherent sentence. And worst of all, I had a nanny whom my baby used his first word on — he called her “Mama.” Actually, he called three of us “Mama”: the nanny, his pacifier, and me.

I didn’t blame my son for the liberal use of the word, because truthfully I relied on the nanny and the pacifier to do what I didn’t think I could: make my baby happy. After all, she had raised three of her own kids, plus countless children for other people… what did I know about being a mom?

And so I raised the white flag of surrender, and thanked my lucky stars that my nanny rocked. That was until a few months after that, when I found myself pregnant again. Knowing that I’d signed up for a second tour of doodie, I decided to leave the work force and concentrate on being all I could be as a mom.

When I came in after my maternity leave was up to quit my job, my boss said, “You? In the suburbs? You’re going to be bored out of your mind. I don’t see it.”

As it turns out, “bored” wasn’t exactly the right word. The town we landed in was filled with smart and capable women, all feverishly devoted to constructing the perfect life for their children. Long gone were the days of tossing a pack of crayons at the kids and telling them when they were done coloring, they should go play outside; this was an all-out war to captivate and shape the minds, hearts, and spirits of a generation who should grow up to be inspired, productive, successful adults.

The problem was as a mom, life was shoulding all over me. And it turns out it wasn’t just the town we lived in — it was my whole generation that’s turned parenting into not just a verb, but an art form. While I can appreciate the beauty of selfless devotion, endless patience, and the ability to be fully absorbed by say, reclaimed materials art projects or slow roasting strawberries for a healthy snack, I soon realized that it wasn’t my forte.

Slowly but surely, I took a few part-time jobs and began the process of re-entering the workforce. I went AWOL, though, from the all-or-nothing lifestyle; I work hard at my job when my kids are in school and in the cracks of the day (early morning, late at night), and when they are around, I work hard to take care of them and all we need as a family.

I am grateful to have the choices I do. And that’s some potent ammo to soldier on through the darkest hours.

So if you catch me asking a stupid question at work, or conversely, fucking up an online application to the school my son really wants to go to, remind me not to beat myself up so much. Because after all, we are all sisters in arms, and one woman’s battle is our own collective war.