Sep 282009

I recently heard a vicious radio debate between women who believe that mothers should stay home and others who believe that mothers should work outside the home. All the debaters were mothers themselves.

As I listened wearily while ducking and dodging the ladies’ sucker punches like a cornered boxer, I thought…this is really getting old.

I’ve been both a “working” and a “stay home” mom so I’ve experienced both sides of the internal and eternal debate moms endure all day, every day. When I worked outside my house, Mommy Guilt rode shotgun with me each morning, chiding me for dropping off my sick boy at day care instead of keeping him home and for rocking him the night before instead of preparing for work. When I got to work each day Mommy Guilt whispered that a good mom would still be at home with her son and when I returned home she’d insist that a better teacher would have stayed at work longer. When I’d visit girlfriends who stayed home, Mommy Guilt would say “See…this lady’s doing it right. Her kids are better off than yours are.” And Mommy Guilt certainly had a hey day when Chase’s day care provider admitted that he had taken his first steps while I was working. Every night when I finally got Chase to sleep, finished grading papers, and collapsed into the couch, Mommy Guilt would snuggle up next to me and sweetly say “shouldn’t you spend some quality time with your husband instead of checking out?” And finally, before I fell asleep each night, Mommy Guilt would whisper in my ear, “YOU KNOW, THE ONLY WAY YOU’RE GOING TO BE A GOOD MOTHER AND WIFE IS IF YOU QUIT YOUR JOB AND STAY HOME.”

And so now I’m a stay at home mom. And the thing is that Mommy Guilt stays home with me. These days I experience her less as a drive- by- shooter and more as a constant commentator. Now she sounds like this:

“Did you go to all three of those college classes just so you could clean the kitchen and play Candy Land all day? And how is it that you don’t even do those things very well? Can you concentrate on nothing? Look at this mess! A good mom would clean more and play less. Also, a good mom would clean less and play more. Also a good mom would clean more and play more and quit emailing altogether. Additionally, I’ve been meaning to ask if you’re sure you feel comfortable spending so much money when you don’t even make any. Moreover, when was the last time you volunteered at Chase’s school? What kind of stay at home mom doesn’t go to PTA meetings or know how to make lasagna? Furthermore, nobody in this house appreciates you.” My favorite, though, is that when I finally do sit down, concentrate on one of my kids, and read a few books all the way through… instead of saying “Good job!” Mommy Guilt says, “See how happy your daughter is? You’re home all day…why don’t you do this more often?”

And of course, before I go to sleep every night she whispers… “YOU KNOW, MAYBE YOU’D BE A BETTER MOTHER AND WOMAN IF YOU COULD JUST GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND WORK.”

Mommy Guilt is like that scene from “Liar, Liar” in which Jim Carrey enters a bathroom, throws himself against the walls, slams his head inside the toilet seat, rubs soap into his eyes…and when he stumbles back into the lobby, he explains his battered appearance like this: I WAS KICKIN’ MY ASS! DO YA MIND?”

I sympathize with kicking one’s own ass. I do it all the time.

What I don’t understand is why some ladies insist on making everything worse by kicking each other’s asses.

To the women who argue vehemently that all “good mothers” stay at home: Are you nuts? If you got your way, who would show my daughters that some women actually change out of yoga pants and into scrubs and police badges and power suits each day? How would my girls even know that women who don’t feel like carrying diaper bags can carry briefcases or stethoscopes instead…or also? How, pray tell, could I tell them with a straight face that they can grow up to be whatever they want to be?

And to the women who argue that all stay home mothers damage women’s liberation: Are you nuts? Aren’t you causing some damage by suggesting that we all must fit into a category, that women are a cause instead of individuals? And doesn’t choosing to spend your limited time and energy attacking “us” set “us” back? But for argument’s sake, what if you got your way and every mother was required to work outside of the home? What would that mean to ME? Who would volunteer to lead my son’s reading group at school, host his class party, plan his Sunday school lesson or wait with him in the parking lot when I forget to pick him up? Who would watch my daughter while the baby gets her shots? Who would knock on my door and tell me that my keys are still in the front door, the doors to my van are open, and my purse is in the driveway?

And if every woman made the same decision, how would my children learn that sometimes motherhood looks like going to work to put food on the table or stay sane or share your gifts or because you want to work and you’ve earned that right.And that other times motherhood looks like staying home for all of the exact same reasons.

As far as I can tell, no matter what decision a woman makes, she’s offering an invaluable gift to my daughters and me. So I’d like to thank all of you. Because I’m not necessarily trying to raise an executive or a mommy. I’m trying to raise a woman. And there are as many different right ways to be a woman as there are women.

So, angry, debating ladies…here’s the thing. My daughter is watching me andyou to learn what it means to be a woman. And I’d like her to learn that a woman’s value is determined less by her career choices and more by how she treats other women, in particular, women who are different than she is. I’d like her to learn that her strength is defined by her honesty and her ability to exist in grey areas without succumbing to camouflaging her insecurities with generalizations or accusations. And I’d like her to learn that the only way to be both graceful and powerful is to dance among the endless definitions of the word woman… and to refuse to organize women into categories, to view ideas in black and white, or to choose sides and come out swinging. Because being a woman is not that easy, and it’s not that hard.

And speaking of “Liar, Liar”….angry debating ladies…. when you yell about how much peace you have with your decisions, it just doesn’t ring true. The thing is, if you’re yelling, I don’t believe that you’ve got it all figured out. I don’t even believe that you believeyou’ve got it all figured out.I think your problem might be that you’re as internally conflicted as the rest of us about your choices. But instead of kicking your own ass, you’ve decided it’d be easier to kick ours.

Which is tempting, but also wrong.

So, maybe instead of tearing each other up, we could each admit that we’re a bit torn up about our choices, or lack thereof. And we could offer each other a shoulder or a hand. And then maybe our girls would see what it really means to be a woman.

Sep 292009

Well. My goodness.

It seems that you ladies had a few feelings about yesterday’s post. I imagine that you are wondering how I’m going to respond.

Remember Jerry McGuire? He got fired because some of his colleagues weren’t sure about a controversial “mission statement” he’d written. When he walked out of his office with all eyes on him, he announced, “Don’t worry. I’m not gonna do what you think I’m gonna do, “Which is just FREAK OUT!”

Don’t worry. I’m not going to freak out either.

There were times during the “debate” yesterday when I wanted to freak out. Several times I wrote passionate comments and responses and then deleted them. And in retrospect, I think that was the right thing to do. Because sometimes, when you’re feeling angry and threatened, it’s good to wait, and think, and pray if you’re so inclined, so that you don’t end up making someone else feel the same way you do. And so that you can be sure, once you do speak, that you are speaking from a place of love.If you don’t, it really is possible to sound “right,” but also sound like that gong Paul mentions in Corinthians.

And here’s the blessing that accompanies waiting to make conclusions and to speak. Yesterday morning, as I wrote that post, I truly believed that it was possible for a group of women to respect each other’s choices without questioning each other’s motives as unworthy or unexamined. And if not that, then I at least believed that a group of women could disagree without hurting each other. But after reading a lot of the comments, I started to feel a little hopeless. NOT because of the debate. NOT because we disagreed. But because we had such a hard time debating without attacking. And that’s what I teach my children that grown ups are supposed to do. As I fell asleep, I felt foolish for being so Pollyannish and causing so much trouble.

But then I woke up this morning and discovered to my delight that I still have faith in God, and I still have faith in the women He created. I still believe, despite some evidence yesterday to the contrary, that women were meant to lift each other up, that power and peace can be found in solidarity, and that competition and comparison are unnecessary distractions. I still agree with the eloquent reader who, in reference to how sensitive we all are about our success as mothers said,

To know this as a mother myself makes me feel compassion for all other mothers, regardless of whether they work in or out of the home. If only we could see our commonality in this, our greatest vulnerability.”

Like this reader, I still believe that the point of our greatest vulnerability, motherhood, is the point upon which we have the opportunity to connect. To truly understand each other and feel compassion for each other. I really do. And I also believe that a lot of you agree with me. I’m so relieved that I still believe. I feel a little Pollyannish and foolish again this morning, which are my favorite ways to feel. Morning is a hopeful time. It’s so lovely that it happens everyday.

There was a man who stood quietly in front of the White House every single night during the Vietnam War, holding a single candle. When reporters questioned him about this ritual, he didn’t say much. But one night, when a reporter said something like “Why are you wasting your time here? You can’t possibly believe that one candle and one man could change the minds of the powers that be.” The man turned and said “Oh, I don’t do this to change them. I do this so they don’t change me.”

I like this man, and I like what he did. I like that he didn’t give up, stay home, watch the news and become jaded and angry. I like that he didn’t yell and scream and add fuel to the fire. Because I think there’s power in peacefully expressing one’s belief that love and unity are the ultimate realities, even when things appear otherwise. Especially when things appear otherwise. Because that’s what hope is, right? And I’m too hopeful to be angry or afraid.

Tonight I am going to the U2 concert with my husband, sister, and friend. And we’re going to listen to Bono wail about redemption and hope and freedom and the power of love. And that thing is going to happen to us that always happens at good concerts: when you soak up the sea of people who are all so different, but the same, and the music hits your heart and it swells so big that it feels like it’s going to pop out of your throat- and you discover you can’t sing at all, you can only whisper. And I’m probably going to cry the whole darn time, because that’s what I do. And I’m going to melt into that sea of people. And we are still going to have different opinions about God and love and family but you know what? We’re all going to sing and sway together. We are going to be like a million drops of water in one sea.

I’d just like you to know that I respect you. No matter how you weighed in on the debate yesterday, I respect you. Not because I agree or disagree, but because you’re a woman made in God’s image. And because I know firsthand that it can be confusing and tough to be a woman. And because I know how much you love your family and how hard you try.

And because I believe, I still believe, that we are all sisters. That we are a million drops of water in one sea.

Sep 302009

I learned last night that there are at least two people in America who still have not seen this, and that is just not okay.

Tish and I are trying desperately to learn the dance before Thursday, which is the night we hit the clubs.

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