The mommy wars are battling in my head. They sound something like this:
I can’t believe you chose to work this summer. You hardly get to see your children. I enjoy working. The two hours I spend with my kids in the morning are really great. It’s true that I don’t always get to see them before they go to bed…What kind of mother are you? You don’t get to see them go to bed, read them that story, even tell them you love them? That’s just a shame. Well, yes, it is sad that I don’t do that during the week, but by working, I’m bringing in much needed income so they can have other things…What is more needed than a mother’s love and time? Money can’t…Yes, but, they spend the majority of their time in preschool anyway, where they are very happy, happier, I think, than if they were sitting at home with me all day. And they are really well adjusted kids, who have tons of friends but still are attached to their parents. I think we have a great balance…Balance? You think it’s balanced to have other people – strangers really – raising your kids? Haven’t you noticed some of the bad habits they’ve picked up from these so-called friends? Well, yes, but…But nothing! You’ve abdicated the responsibility of raising your children to someone else, who isn’t necessarily doing a good job! And you didn’t have to – you chose to! Didn’t your son just ask the other night if you could come home earlier so you could read him a book before he goes to sleep? How did that make you feel?? Well, awful…
The lady in red has a lot to say.
When I decided I wanted to go from my PhD and JD and become an academic, it was for a myriad of reasons. Primarily it was for the lifestyle – the ability to do what I wanted as a career – study what I wanted, make my own life. It was also because I’m generally not a good employee. I don’t respect authority the way I “should,” I don’t like bureaucracy, I don’t kiss a$$, I don’t like small talk, I don’t do face time.
But I also knew that I wanted to work. Being a stay-at-home mom was never an option for me. From the perspective that I grew up with, a black woman who didn’t work was lazy, no matter how many kids she had or how much money her partner made. “Leave It To Beaver”‘s mom was not our reality; Claire Huxtable was. And furthermore, if you didn’t work as a black mother, then you thought you were “better than” the rest of us, with your nose turned up and all. Truth be told, it was not until I moved here, to this very wealthy suburb, that I even knew black mothers who didn’t work. I did not know any black mothers who had nannies or au pairs. And for me, even if the money was flowing copiously, as fascinating as they could be, being immersed in little people’s lives constantly is not engaging or enriching enough for me. And planning charity events would not be either.
This summer, I’m working a 9-to-5 to get a sense of what I might be missing by only going academic. And while I thought I would really not like it so much because of the bureaucracy, face time requirements, and other general BS, it’s really been the lack of time that I can spend with my kids that has really been the largest drawback.
And that’s a huge surprise to me.
At least in grad school, I’ve been a quasi-stay-at-home mom. Working around my class schedule, I can co-op at the preschool, pick my kids up from school in the middle of the day, be available to pick up a sick kid, skip class if I really need to. While I know being an academic is more structured than my life currently, I still see that lifestyle as much more flexible than being an associate at a law firm or working a 9-to-5.
But I’m still working. And hence the mommy wars are constantly going at it in my head.
The mommy wars are partly about privilege, and I think no woman can see the gift and the curse of working and having children more than a black woman. For me, being in this profession as a huge privilege, a privilege that feels uncomfortable. There are very few female law professors. There are even fewer black female law professors. And there are even fewer black female law professors with PhDs. I am (or will be) a rarity. And being rare, in academia sometimes, is a privilege. It’s hard to admit your privilege, especially when you understand the structure of opportunity in our society. Especially when you do not come from a historical place of privilege, and most of your family is not there with you. Yes, I’ve worked hard and yes, I’m bright, but I also had opportunities that had nothing to do with who I am but everything to do with where I happened to be, the chance of being born to certain parents and interacting with certain people who gave me a chance.
It seems that sometimes the meme of being Black in America is that we have to live the life that’s been handed to us. Especially for black women, especially for black mothers, not working a 9-to-5, or a 8-to-6, or a 7-to-7, as I remember my mom doing, is not an option. We, as black women, pride ourselves on working, pride ourselves on doing everything, pride ourselves on not being indulgent or lazy – sometimes taking that to mean that we should be at the bottom of the hierarchy when it comes to taking care of needs. And at one point this was our only reality. We had no choice.
These messages taught me to believe that even if I wanted to not work, being able to live the life that I’ve fashioned for myself feels…wrong. That to decide to use my talents to make life a little easier on myself is somehow…lazy. And being on the “side” of the mommy wars that favors being at home more than being at work, well, that just feels like being a traitor.
I didn’t write this because I have an answer. Five years into this mommy thing and thirty into this black woman thing, and I’m still just trying to ask the right questions.