Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine

Stay At Home Or Stick With Your Career

Author Leslie Morgan Steiner Discusses a Mother's Struggle

Chessa and Cricket Benevento
Sarah Stettinius, The Easter Bunny, Ted and Teddy Stettinius

I stood in a friend's Los Angeles living room a few weeks ago, reading from my new book Mommy Wars. The house was filled with forty tanned and gorgeous working and stay-at-home California moms-and pale-faced me. We were talking and laughing, giddy to be out for a night without kids. As I read aloud the essay I'd written three years ago about my own mommy war-the endless debate inside my head about whether I'm giving enough of my life to my kids, my work, my husband and myself-I was struck by how angry my words sounded.

Just 36 hours before, I'd sat on a stool next to Katie Couric on the set of The Today Show. Katie surprised me with her first question: "I thought the Mommy Wars were over?" Her mommy war may be over. However, many women, especially new moms and women unhappy with their choices (or lack of choices) regarding work and motherhood, find the inner battle continues to rage. Our guilt, frustration and doubt can drive us to demean other women who've made different decisions.

Especially in Washington. In her Mommy Wars essay "Good Enough," Chevy Chase writer Beth Brophy explains why moms are under particularly intense pressure in the Washington area: "In D.C., what you do isn't more important than who you are. It is who you are. Everyone here, including the guy who delivers your pizza, believes he influences the fate of the nation." Stay-at-home mom Page Evans describes a scene in "Sharks and Jets" when a male acquaintance at a Cleveland Park dinner party dismisses her entire life with two sentences:
"I'm basically a stay-at-home mom," I say. "
Oh well, that's such an important job. Kids grow up so fast, don't they?"
"Yeah, they do," I say.
And that's the end of it. Turn and pivot.

Iris Krasnow, an Annapolis mom, communications professor at American University and the author of Surrendering to Motherhood, explains in "My Baby's Feet Are Size 13" that even if you surrender to motherhood as she did, sometimes the inner mommy war continues. "Children do leave. Parents die. Jobs change. We can count only on ourselves. This hard and lonely destiny we all face is a great incentive to discover a self beyond Mommy while kids are still at home so we don't fall apart when they are gone."

That night in California, reading my own emotional words, I realized Mommy Wars changed me. Spending three years listening to hundreds of moms in D.C. and the rest of the country struggling to balance work and kids and to feel good about themselves along the way constituted nothing short of group therapy for me. Other moms helped me strike a separate peace about my decisions regarding kids and career. I'm no longer angry (or at least not as angry) about the fact that there is no true "balance" between work and kids, and that no one can "have it all" all at once.

The best gift of ending my mommy war is seeing that we moms need each other no matter what our decisions about how we work and how we raise our kids. The powerful, primal forces of motherhood should unite women, not divide us. For me, that's the true promise of Mother's Day.


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