If you’re a parent, chances are you’ve found yourself at some point embroiled in what the internet calls the “Mommy Wars.” Should you work or stay at home? Are you failing your children one way or the other?
As with most things, the answer is not as clear-cut as we make it out to be. Too often, we find ourselves fighting tooth-and-nail against those who made the opposite choice, as if their decision makes ours invalid. We’ve seen this us-against-them mentality play out in the political arena, but it’s far more insidious in our homes, with our children, over whom we have the responsibility to raise into upstanding, productive members of society.
The tensions between stay-at-home mothers (SAHMs) and career mothers stem from the cultural assumption, rising in recent years, that mothers must “do it all” lest they destroy their children’s potential or future lives. So, career mothers work to provide a comfortable lifestyle for their kids, but fear they don’t spend enough quality time with them. Stay-at-home mothers make the home their job, but fear the outside world doesn’t take their work seriously.
As Amy Poehler said in her book Yes, Please, “Every mother needs a wife.” In our struggle to do it all, all by ourselves, we forget the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. By vilifying other mothers who make opposite choices for their families and striving to be seen as supermoms who need no help, we deprive ourselves of a crucial emotional and structural support system—other women.
Working mothers are pressured in a unique way: in the world’s eyes, they’re choosing themselves over their children. They’re expected to work all day at their jobs and work all night at home—and they should always prefer being at home. In the societal imagination, a working mother only works because she has to; she should not want to work. To offset the guilt, many working moms try to become the perfect mother. The ones who seem to succeed at this almost always have the same dirty little secret—they have help. The reasons a career mother might enlist the services of a professional nanny are clear: to engage the children with educational and developmentally savvy activities, keep them on schedule and entertained, perform light housekeeping duties, and help out with the cooking, among other things.
However, a part- or full-time nanny or nanny housekeeper can be just as necessary for a stay-at-home mother. There is a persistent and ugly expectation surrounding the life of the SAHM, which has only been intensified with the advent of the “Pinterest Mommy.” Perhaps more than anyone else, she needs to be able to “do it all”—she should take care of the household, the intricacies of her partner’s life, keep track of every detail of her children’s lives, be heavily involved in school projects and PTA meetings, and she should probably also be a writer or philanthropist or do some freelance work on the side, because—the world thinks—how else could she stay home? If she finds herself worn down or overwhelmed by her duties as a mother, she feels an isolating sense of pressure or shame; she is not doing it all.
With a part- or full-time nanny (or housekeeper), a stay-at-home mother can focus on the tasks most important to her. She will be better rested, better able to function when things go awry, and more empathetic to her children and partner. For the majority of human history, no one woman has been expected to raise her children, run her household, and do outside work all alone. The wealthier classes had hired help; the middle and lower classes had the help of extended family and other nearby women. There was no shame in asking for help then—why should there be now? The more close, attached relationships a child has with adults in his or her life, the better.
So, mothers of America—why not bury the hatchet? Admitting we need help—or that we already use it—can only benefit us. No one woman can do it all, and no one woman should be expected to. Why not celebrate our differences (and our similarities!), and like Amy Poehler, give ourselves the gift of a wife