And this is the quote with the questions, from Krissah Thompson:
"My generation has lived through the mommy war debates and heard the “you-can’t-have-it-all” harangues. We’re tired of all the talking — but we do want to hear how you do it. Sandberg’s pronouncement has the potential to change the culture at least a little if we let it… Powerful women like Sandberg have got to be willing to own up to how they manage.
Does she have a cook? Does her husband cook? Does she have a nanny? Is she involved with the school PTA? Is her husband? When I meet a highly successful woman raising small children who is willing to be real, I ask those questions.
It drives me crazy feeling like my generation is left to figure out how to make our lives work when so many other women already have. And is the trail really blazed if you keep it a secret?"I have two responses to that quote: the first is directed to the folks who think that the younger generation has this all figured out and that maybe people like me are talking about it just a little bit too much: I won't say "I told you so" but... this is an example of why I don't think I'm making up some angst that doesn't exist in our culture right now.
The second is directed at women like Ms. Thompson, who may be understandably frustrated at women in my generation and older for not sharing their details. As I tweeted back to @fianros, my experience with trying to tell the details has not been a universally happy one. It seems that any post I write on the topic attracts at least one comment or email telling me I'm wrong. Perhaps because there is no "one true way" to be a mother, people whose details are different than mine feel threatened or just annoyed by what I have written and leave comments implying that I am judging others (I'm not! I triple pinky swear it!), or am lying, or deluded. They say I am privileged (a fact I have never denied, although I do not come from a wealthy background) and therefore dismiss my experience, or tell me that I must be oppressing other women in order to support my lifestyle. They leave comments on other people's blogs saying that women like me are over-scheduled and not enjoying our children, and sometimes they write comments that imply not so subtly that we must be bad mothers whose kids are doomed to fail to achieve their potential because we've put them in day care and sent them to public schools. I have gotten a fairly thick skin about this "mommy wars" crap, but I'll admit that comments of that last type hurt enough that I can't even bring myself to link to an example, because then I'd have to read the comment again.
I try to focus on the positive responses, which, to be fair, are more numerous. And I also try to learn from the thoughtful and fair criticisms of what I write. I do not want to offend other women unnecessarily. But this topic is a minefield, and navigating it wears me down, which is why I often turn to other topics on this blog, even though it is obvious from my stats that posts on combining career and motherhood are what most people come here to read. I don't want to be constantly defending my life. I just want to live it and be happy. I keep this blog because I truly enjoy writing about my life, but I have come to understand that writing about certain aspects will provoke responses that I might find draining, not energizing, and so I am a bit more careful about what I post than I used to be. I also find that sometimes I read a comment somewhere that includes a subtle or not so subtle jibe at my style of mothering or my approach to being a feminist (because, let's be honest, the judgment on women's choices flows from all directions) and I just opt out. I click away and don't engage, because the mental and emotional effort of replying just doesn't seem worth it.
I think this is how women like me have disappeared from the cultural narrative, leaving the younger generation hungry for role models even as they are surrounded by moms in the workforce. This is why Ms. Thompson is frustrated by the lack of details on how to "have it all"- because the women who would give her those details must learn to shrug off judgment from all directions if we try to share. I'm not ready to shut up on the topic yet, but I'm also a lot less naive about the costs of speaking up than I used to be. I now know that I cannot write about my life without offending someone else. Does that also mean that I cannot live my life without offending someone else? Probably, but it is only when I speak up that I hear about how offensive or wrong I am, and I'm only human, so sometimes- a lot of times- I'm going to just close my computer and go play with my kids or talk to my husband instead. And I'm in no hurry to volunteer to say these things with my real name and picture attached to them. As I said in last week's links post, I'm just not that secure in my position in my career. I hope that when I'm as successful as Sheryl Sandberg, I'll feel differently.
But please understand, women like Sheryl Sandberg have almost certainly already absorbed a lot of crap, and are in fact continuing to absorb a lot of crap while they blaze that trail to the top of the business world. It is wonderful if they are willing to speak up and be role models, but it shouldn't be demanded of them. Until the response to a woman sharing the details of how she makes her life work is an unanimous "thanks for sharing" instead of "you suck and you're doing it all wrong," don't be surprised if mothers who are successful in the workplace don't want to paint yet another target on their chests. I suspect that just about any such woman will, if asked in private and in a tone that makes it clear that no judgment is forthcoming, tell all the details about how she makes her life work. But it is unfair to expect all women to be willing to do so in public forums, and it is doubly unfair to expect this only of the mothers who are successful in workplace. Let's start asking fathers in the workforce these questions, too. After all, they are also responsible for the children. I've seen a lot of shocked reactions to the description of Steve Jobs as a father in his biography. But is anyone really surprised? I can't recall ever hearing anyone fret about how he was combining his control freak management style and fathering while he was alive. Why not? A woman in his position would have had her mothering dissected in excruciating detail before her kids were in school- before they could walk, even- and if she tried not to discuss it, people would have simply assumed the worst.
Ahem. This is supposed to be a weekend reading post, not a rant. So, for those looking for blueprints and ideas about how to organize their life as a mother with a demanding career, I do have a link to suggest: Equally Shared Parenting. There is a blog and a book. I haven't explored the site that much yet, but it looks like it might have some good resources. I found it via Laura Vanderkam's repost of her review of the book.
In related news... in the comments on last week's weekend reading post, I mentioned that I have a feeling that pop culture (by which I primarily mean TV and movies) does not often portray mothers like me- i.e., mothers in the workforce who are happy, and not conflicted about it. An anonymous commenter called me out on that, and I have to admit here as I did there that since I do not actually watch a lot of TV or go to many (any?) movies, I am responding primarily to the ads and the general buzz about things, which is completely unfair on my part. I am sure there are excellent examples of strong, happy working mothers out there, and I am not finding them in large part because I have given up looking. Still, it was nice to read FeMOMhist's recent post in which she mentions that she, too, sees the narrative in which the working mother must be punished and/or redeemed to be the dominant one, and offers the example of Bones as a show that avoids that trap.
If you don't want to fuss around with the video FeMOMhist links to, here is a rough transcription of what Tempe says, after she confesses to missing her baby daughter during the day, and then tells Seeley, that no, she doesn't want to quit her job: "What I do is for her, now, too. She should know that what I do is important. Just because something is difficult doesn't mean that I shouldn't do it." Exactly. (But we all get to choose what hard things we want to do to the extent that our lives let us.)
Finally, @Mom101's twitter feed led me to this hilarious post about the Mommy Wars Hunger Games. I agree with Reedster: I am not at war with any other mother. Or non-mother, really. Incidentally, Mom-101 had an excellent post up about the myth of the selfish working mom. Or, as I'm trying to train myself to say "mom in the workforce," because hey, if some stay at home mothers find "working mom" offensive, I'm willing to try to change my language. I think most of us are willing to try to avoid offending our fellow mothers. As FeMOMhist pointed out, a lot of this Mommy War crap is pushed by the media in how they choose to frame stories. Do you suppose we could all call a truce and send a press release to the media to let them know?