God knows, I don’t want to say anything that could ever be construed as supporting Mitt Romney’s candidacy for president. But this Gawker story about Mitt’s wife Ann joining Twitter to rebut CNN commentator Hilary Rosen, who said of Ms. Romney that the mother of five has “never worked a day in her life” has too much potential to backfire on the Dems to let it slide.
Ms. Romney (or, to be fair, perhaps it’s someone Tweeting on her behalf) tweet-tweet-tweeted in response:
“I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.”
“I’ll be with @marthamaccallum this morning at 10:40 discussing Hilary Rosen’s comments. All moms are entitled to choose their path.”
Well, on this issue at least, I have to agree with Ann Romney. As a mom of five myself who has both done time as a stay-at-home mom and balanced working with having a pack of kids, I fully support women who have kids in making the choice that’s right for them. The reality is, once you go down the pregnancy path there’s no going back, and if you are both a mom and a woman who loves her job, you’re screwed no matter which choice you make. Your choices pretty much boil down to:
(1) Return to work a few weeks (or months, if you’re lucky) after baby is born, so that you can enjoy the incredible balancing act of being a working mom of a newborn, including but not limited to shelling out a good chunk of the pay you bring home for child care expenses, showing up for important meetings sleep-deprived and with baby puke drooled down your back, and going home to do more housework than their working husbands (and get a bonus seven hours of housework a week just for HAVING a husband around). If you’re also trying to breastfeed baby, add in the joys of breastpumping in the middle of the day at the office and sitting through that impromptu 4PM meeting your boss calls with your breasts painfully engorged, nodding your head and trying to appear interested while every maternal and hormonal instinct just wants the relief of your baby getting that milk out of your boobs, now.
(2) Take a few years off work to stay home and take care of your kiddos while they’re small, if you can afford it or constrict your spending to accommodate one income for a while. The upside to this is that you’re not juggling work with your kids, and you get a few years to really bond with them while they’re babies. The downside is that building block towers and watching kiddie tv shows gets old incredibly fast, and you can feel lonely and isolated. Also, the pay and benefits suck. There’s only so much stimulation you can get from stay-at-home mom groups and playdates, especially if a part of your mind is already on getting back to work. And if you take more than an average maternity leave to stay home, you may find it hard to jump right back into your career where you left off. Even after just a couple years off in the tech industry, I would have had a very hard time getting right back into project management at the level I was when I left. On the other hand, you may, as I did, find an entirely new career path that allows you greater flexibility, which is why I ended up transitioning into using that journalism minor to shift into writing rather than going back into tech.
(3) Just be a SAHM. There are plenty of women, like Ann Romney, who have chosen the path of being stay-at-home moms and caring for home and family as their first priority. And while I wouldn’t choose this path myself — five years of it was my max tolerance for being a SAHM — I know plenty of smart women, women with graduate degrees even, who have chosen this path, particularly in the homeschooling community. SAHMs often feel lonely and devalued; in my own experience, I often felt that both men and other moms who were working outside the home looked down on me for choosing to be a SAHM at that point in my life, and there were many times when I questioned my choice to do so. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that choice, and certainly in many ways it’s easier than the constant juggling of balancing work and family and finding there’s never enough of yourself to go around.
Staying home to take care of your family is a perfectly valid choice to make, and it’s certainly not an easy choice. Being home all day with kids, focusing all your energy on caring for home and family, especially with five kids running around, is exhausting. But that doesn’t make it an invalid choice, or mean that a SAHM is contributing less to her family or to society than a working mom.
The Dems really need to watch how they’re framing the discussion here. Don’t vilify stay-at-home moms in trying to get your digs in on Romney, liberal pundits. The last thing women need to do in this political climate is to start attacking each other for our choices as mothers and working women. It’s okay to be a working mom. It’s okay to be a SAHM. But it’s not okay to say that SAHMs have “never worked a day” in their lives. Every SAHM I know can call bullshit on that, and all you accomplish with those kinds of inflammatory comments is pissing off women who are already struggling to make the best choice for themselves and their kids.