Volume XXIX Number 2
When Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House, at-home mothering was touted widely as one of her top job qualifications. "Having five children in six years is the best training in the world for speaker of the house," said Pelosi herself in one of many interviews, this one with the AARP Bulletin. Caring for her brood, she said, made her "the ultimate multitasker and master of focus, routine, and scheduling." In the same article, daughter Christine Pelosi recalls the lunch assembly line her mother established, all five children preparing their own lunches each day before leaving for school. Nancy Pelosi has spoken often about her "mother-of-five voice" which she's not afraid to use "to ensure that I am heard."
At age 66, with six grandchildren, Pelosi may remember her days of mothering this way—efficient, organized, upbeat. I wonder about the other days, though, the days most stay-at-home moms have. The days when you are walking back from the park in the dwindling daylight, pushing a stroller slowly and wondering what in the world your college degrees are for anyway. "Working mothers" have these dark days too, the days when you pry the arms of your sobbing toddler off your neck at the child-care center door and rush away, questioning whether your paycheck is really worth it.
I went back to work when my twin daughters were 2. I welcomed the income and benefits and mental stimulation, and I was torn by grief and guilt every Monday through Friday. The media makes much, too much, of the "Mommy wars"— the ongoing divide over which is "better" for women and their kids, staying at home or staying in the workforce. I know women on both "sides," and we feel much the same. We are doing the best we can as we struggle with feelings of faultiness, shame, love, and joy. As the online advocacy group MomsRising.org puts it: "Simplistic 'us versus them' rhetoric does not reflect our experience and needs. The truth is, there are no sides."
Mothers—at home or at work—want the same things for their children: affordable and reliable child-care options, quality education, widely available basic health care. And the millions of moms who want, or need, to "opt in" to the workforce want truly flexible work situations, ones that allow us to be involved in our children's lives without penalty or consequences. For all of our rhetoric about women, children, and family values, we are far from achieving family-friendly policies in this country. I, for one, hope Nancy Pelosi raises her mom voice loud and clear about that.