USA TODAY US Edition
Remarks rekindle Mommy Wars
Stay-at-home, working moms debate stirred up
Just when it seemed that the acrimony between employed mothers and those who don’t get a paycheck had settled down, the age-old Mommy Wars are heating up yet again.
Ann Romney’s decision to stay home with her five sons — cited Wednesday by a Democratic strategist who said she “actually never worked a day in her life” sparked Romney to retort: “Believe me, it was hard work.”
That was enough to rekindle this very touchy debate. But in 2012, there is a decidedly different twist to the fight, largely the result of rapid changes brought about by technology, the recession and societal and gender attitudes that are blurring those once-formidable battle lines.
“Since so many women move in and out of the workforce, you don’t have the camps we used to have. We used to have ‘I’m once and for all an at-home mother and once and for all a working mother,” says Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.
“Particularly in the recession, it’s harder to draw the line that one is good and one is bad. You may have lived both lives, and if you haven’t, someone in your family absolutely has,” Galinsky says.
Even employment is a little sketchier. Some moms who stay home with kids are also employed, either full time or part time, and telecommute.
The most Census recent data, from the 2010 American Community Survey, find that about 47% of the 34 million mothers with children under 18 were employed either full or part time. Other data, also from the Census, on stay-at-home moms with kids under 15, finds that in 2010 about 5 million fit that category.
The numbers were similar in 2009 and were slightly higher in 2008, but
“Women move in and out of the workforce; you don’t have the camps we used to.” Ellen Galinsky, Families and Work Institute
it’s clear the recession has had an impact. Data since 1994 show that in 2006 and 2007, before the recession, there were about 5.6 million stay-athome mothers. The numbers began dipping in 2008 and have continued downward.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, there were fewer stay-at-home mothers than in the decade beginning in 2000.
Megan Miller, 32, of Nashville, worked full time as a graphic designer before leaving the workforce to stay home with her daughter Avery, 19 months. She occasionally does some freelance work from home.
She says it was difficult to adjust after working full time for eight years. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Miller says. “When I quit my job, for a while, I felt like I was trying to figure out who I was.”
Psychologist Juli Slattery of Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, says women feel they have to justify their choices, no matter what those choices are.
“A woman’s life is very fluid,” says Slattery, mother of three sons ages 9 to 14. “You can change from year to year. I think having those categories intermixing now creates less of a Mommy War because most women are doing some hybrid.”
She expects less tension among younger mothers today. “Most people are ‘get over it already.’ We’re seeing all kinds of combinations, with stay-at-home dads and working part time. I think there is less judgment overall.”
Galinsky agrees it appeared that the debate had simmered down.
“I felt that it has dissipated, but it’s easily stirred up with what’s happening right now,” she says. “If someone threatens the way you are living, people are going to get huffy.”