The latest front in the ever-evolving mommy wars has broken out and the shrapnel is flying. The question: Is stay-at-home motherhood a luxury—or a job?
My friend and colleague Karol Markowicz weighed in on the pages of the New York Post last week. She wrote: “Misconceptions, however, do not change the reality that the ability to stay home is, indeed, a luxury. Not in the sense of being some ‘nonessential’ merchandise, but in the sense of having a choice.”
Karol was responding to the Times’s Allison Cohen, who wrote that her stay-at-home status was far from a luxury. She and her husband instead sacrificed many luxuries in order to make the arrangement possible.
I’m not an unbiased observer, nor is anyone who weighs in on the mommy wars. Most who write on the topic are mothers themselves, and the rest were raised by parents who made decisions the wisdom of which are fiercely debated in the various skirmishes of the mommy wars. I’m a stay-at-home mother, though I work on a freelance basis while caring for my children.
I don’t care to define or defend what I do each day with regard to its status as a job. Mothers who have gone back to work should also be exempt from having to defend their choice to work out of the home.
My experience has taught me that, in my case as surely in many others, my decision to stay is far from a luxury. My husband and I decided I would stay home after looking at our family budget. We live in the New Jersey suburbs. After carefully calculating the cost of daycare for two kids under two in the area (which we are tied to due to family and his work) plus the cost of commuting, my extra take-home pay would have been so paltry we deemed it not worthy of the stress of going back to work and juggling our household as two full-time working parents. Every time I have to bring a kid to see the pediatrician for a sick visit and the only available appointment is at 10 a.m., we are thankful we made the choice we did.
The majority of stay-at-home mothers I know in the area, whose household incomes would be considered upper class in other parts of the country with lower cost of living, made their choices largely based on the same math. While studies may indicate stay-at-home motherhood is for the very rich or the very poor, they don’t reflect the differing cost of living or childcare across the country.
Most middle-class families, especially with infants (whose care is more expensive), do this algebra and all have differing variables that play into their decisions. Do they have the ability to work close to home? A flexible schedule or employer? Family members who can pitch in with childcare to cut daycare or nanny costs? All of these variables can be considered luxuries yet our society does not deem them as such.
What is a luxury, however, is having children at all. Regardless of the decision I made, full-time work or stay-at-home motherhood, we would have been left to survive on little more than one paycheck. That second paycheck would have largely paid for childcare and a commute to New York or the “luxury” of my staying at home.
Having children in our society is a luxury, and not just because of the expense of raising them.
I don’t care to define or defend what I do each day with regard to its status as a job. Mothers who have gone back to work should also be exempt from having to defend their choice to work out of the home. No choice is easy, no day without its own unique challenges and stresses. Vitriolic mommy bloggers who attack others for their very personal choices (like Liz Pardue Schultz on Time.com who deemed stay-at-home motherhood a hobby, not a job) and those who disseminate their work self-righteously should consider spending some time away from their computers. There is no need nor justification for denigrating other mothers’ choices either to stay at home or go back to work.
Having children in our society is a luxury, and not just because of the expense of raising them. On this point I agree wholeheartedly with Karol when she says “having options in life is indeed a luxury.” For those of us engaged in the mommy wars, it’s best to keep this in mind. There are so many women and men who would love to be parents but cannot due to constraints of finances, relationship status, or biology. The decision to stay home or work might be a challenge to many mothers, but we should also be thankful that we are faced with it at all.
Bethany Mandel, a New Jersey stay-at-home mom, writes on politics and culture.