Oct 292013

An interviewer recently asked me so many wild questions about the imaginary “mommy wars” that I got really tired. I told him that I think the “mommy war” is a battle that rages INSIDE each parent –  that internal battle between guilt and sanity – between “perfection” and reality. Between what family life is supposed look like (calm and pretty and Pinterest!) and what family life actually looks like (chaos and messy and Survivor!).  Those of us who can’t handle that tension take the war from inside to outside –  and start to judge and project and lash out at others. We defend our circumstances by snarking about people in different circumstances.

I really think that’s how it works – we either learn to let our uncertainty and pain come and go or we don’t – and we dump it on others. So much depends on just learning that pain and confusion are not a sign that anything’s wrong with you or with your life- they are just signs that you’re human.  Nobody’s got it all figured out. NOBODY. We’ve all got pain and confusion and joy and pride and exhaustion surrounding this parenting thing.  Or this LIFE thing, really. Beautiful things are hard – they’re designed that way. I think that’s so we can allow all the hard to bring us together instead of pushing us apart. We should practice more. We can do hard things.



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-at-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 lot to say 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 into the toilet, and rubs soap into his eyes. When a confused observer asks what on Earth he’s doing he says, “I WAS KICKIN’ MY ASS! DO YA MIND?”

I understand the act of 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 uniforms 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 AND you 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 masking 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 believe you’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.


Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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  204 Responses to “Friendly Fire”

  1. Thank u so much. Having grateful tears in my eyes because this is exactly what I wanted to hear today. Thank u ♡♡♡

  2. Thank you, with tears in my eyes, thank you.

  3. im a stay at home dad and i get the guilty dad voice to so its not just women

  4. Amen……you nailed it.

  5. AMEN!! Thank you for this. Let’s build each other up instead of shredding each other to bits!

  6. So true! As a mom that worked outside the home full time, part time, and not at all, I have many times expressed your same sentiments! Why can’t we as women just support each other? Having done all combinations of working, I think the hardest was working part time and being home part time b/c you never feel like you are giving enough to either. The easiest was probably working full time b/c I had awesome people that took care of my kids and while I was ridden with guilt I also had time for myself and when I was with my kids I really made that time count. Now I am not able to work I just enjoy the life I have and my 4 great kids. Looking back- I think that in each phase of my life, I did what worked for our family at that time and I feel good about those decisions and have no regrets. I think that is the key- I think women do what works for them and their families and that’s going to be different for all of us.

  7. My God. How in the world do you do that? Maybe it’s really YOUR voice inside my head???

    Weird. Fun, but weird. I guess that’s why I come back all the time. Knowing there’s more of this stuff out in the world helps me to be a better friend to the world.

    BTW, Bestie gave me “we can do hard things” sign. It’s above the front door for the days when getting shoes on, noses wiped, and schlepping seven bags to the car seems like climbing the Himalayas.

    Thanks and have a great week!

  8. Don’t forget the women who choose not to marry, it who choose not to have children. They at just as whole and worthy as any other woman!

    I myself have been surprised at how much judgment us aimed at me for working at home full time, and still having my kids in daycare. I have to be a working mom to be a good mom. It is just who I am. And it involves not being with my kids 24/7, regardless of where I actually work.

  9. Glennon, a heartfelt thank you for the time and thoughtfullness you bring to this subject which in its totality is about being human and making choices. Perfectly imperfect, sometimes our choices are crap shoot. We do our best at that moment in time. Namaste.

  10. Love this! I used to feel the guilt too. When I had my first child (nearly 17 years ago!) we had planned for me to go back to work after 8 weeks but she was a preemie and I wasn’t ready! I did go back after 12 weeks and unhappily worked for her first year and then we worked it out so I could stay home with her. At the time I felt like a crappy mom and a crappy employee. I stayed home with her and eventually her little brother for nearly 10 years. I knew I was ready to go back when I realized my volunteering was like a full time job! The extra money didn’t hurt. Once kids are in 3rd-5th and beyond they don’t “need” you as much at home. In fact, dare I say I did them a favor by going back to work. I am not so focused on them and cater to their every need. They had to learn to fend for themselves a little. I long ago got over the “mommy wars”. My choice was right for ME and my family. I have friends and family that went right back to work 6 weeks after the baby was born and I have friends that have never returned to work – their job is taking care of the kids and house. I also have a friend who is the main breadwinner and her husband is a “house husband”. I wish everyone would live and let live!! Love wins!! What is right for YOU might not work for them. I enjoyed every minute I was home with them and I am now enjoying every minute working and helping grow them into independent human beings! Keep up the good work! :)

  11. Thank you for this – it felt like a balm on my spirit today.


  12. I love this, Glennon. Thank you.

  13. I watch a lot of my friends wrestle with the mommy guilt and I know how rough it can be.

    I happily embrace my role as a working mom. A mom who makes ‘semi-homemade’ meals and who relishes the idea. I do crafts when I can, am involved with my daughter, and happily drop her off at daycare on my day off.

    Another commenter said we should be happy with our choices and I have to agree. I am content with, and happy with, my choices.


  14. Thank you for this amazing and spot-on post. I am not yet a mother but I hope that I can be a positive role model for young girls now as well as for my own children one day.

    And what I’d love to model and teach is “…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 masking 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.”

    You Rock G!

  15. FYI…I have four kids…all grown up…mommy wars raged 30 years ago! GIVE IT UP! We are women and we have the right to choose what we want to do with our lives. Parenthood is hard enough….enjoy your choice and have a sense of humor about all the crazy things that you will get to experience as a mother.

  16. Dear Glennon and fellow women. Maybe it’s time to kick Should, Shame, and Guilt down the alley. Our conscience knows right from wrong. After that, we can choose to be free from all those imposters and live our life as fully as we can; it doesn’t matter what we do, but how we do it.
    Love, Cookie

  17. Well said, G. Well said.

  18. I love this post. I’ve done it all as well and the best scenarios are sadly not an option for most women — where we can work flexible, part-time jobs that give us a very clear way to have our cake AND eat it, too. Because I really love cake. And eating it. And that’s what motherhood should be for women. Not a dread or a chore or something to deplete ourselves with … but fun, and filling and full of joy. Like cake.

  19. Thank you, thank you, thank you! When my son was a toddler, I worked half time and was also a part of a Mother’s of Preschoolers group. I was the only one in that group that had a job outside the home. It was so hard because they would plan to get together for coffee and I couldn’t go because I was working. Then I would get to work and find out about a meeting that took place when I was off and they say “you should have been there”. I always felt like I wasn’t giving my best to anything. However, We needed the income, I needed to keep the awesome job I had two minutes from home AND I NEEDED to have more time with my son than anyone else.

    Looking back, I had the best of both worlds (even though my house was still unorganized – I wasn’t the mom who was always cleaning – that was my friend, so I liked hanging out at her house so the kiddies could make their messes there!) but it was hard to see it in the thick of it.

    We need to be okay with being who we need to be. That looks different for everyone and it looks different every year, month, day. Glennon, you rock, by the way!!!!

  20. After 19 years at home, I have – just this week – gotten a part time job! I had begun to despair that I would never find a part time job and it just fell out of the sky and landed in my lap. Man. So now, with my first paycheck, I plan to stop by Home Depot and buy some duct tape. I am going to put a strip over Momma Guilts mouth. Anything to shut that woman up would be a blessing! She couldn”t be happy with the at-home time with the kids (now high schoolers) and now she’s carrying on about the new part-time job. Yikes! And the weird part is, she sounds just like my mother…

  21. How you climbed into my head and knew exactly what I’ve been thinking and struggling with is beyond me. But thank you, thank you, thank you, for putting into words what my heart could not begin to say. It helps me tremendously to know that I am not alone — or the only victim of Mommy Guilt.

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