Earth to Ann Romney: The Mommy Wars Are Over

When Hilary Rosen said that Ann Romney never worked a day in her life, the comment was at first touted as an enormous misstep, a jab at mothers, a slip of the lip that could sink Obama's post-contraception-scuffle 19-point lead among women. 

Do you see it? All I've seen is a little scuffling among pundits who are competing to say that either, a) it's true that Ann Romney has no idea  what economic insecurity feels like, or b) Hilary Rosen is an elitist lezzie, or some combination thereof. 

But you know what? I think the "mommy wars"—which, as I wrote a few years ago, never really existed in the first place, except as a media creation—are over. Most women have to work for their families to stay in the middle class. The situation is impossible for all of us, whether we're working in an office or working at home or taking a few years out of the workforce to manage the house and children and then find it difficult to get back in at a reasonable-enough wage to ensure a decent Social Security check in old age. The United States is set up on the assumption that everyone who works should do so around the clock ... and that children should be a parent's full-time focus at all times, so much so that you must abandon the rest of your life to pick them up from school at appallingly early hours so that you can then ferry them to an endless array of after-school activities. The problem with this clash isn't personal; it's a structural problem. We have set our society up in a way that makes it impossible to both work and parent. And I don't see any interest in solving this as a society. We're all left to patch together solutions on our own. If I want to go out of town, my mother-in-law has to come down from Maine to meet my stepson after school. If she can't, we panic. And I know we're not alone. 

The most illuminating thing I've seen on this lately was written by Jennifer Conlin in the New York Times about a week ago. Here are some excerpts:

…[I]It wasn’t until 18 months ago, when my husband and I finally returned to the States, that I first experienced motherhood in America. Until then, all I knew were the joys of European parenting as presented by Ms. Druckerman, from the way my children ate everything from coq au vin to kedgeree to our tranquil family life of weekend walks, nightly dinners and relaxing vacations. 

Sadly, I now know it is easier to preach benign parenting from one’s pretty perch in Paris than it is to import those traits to the trenches of America. … Suddenly I get it. Before, they always enjoyed a healthy extracurricular life of sports and school clubs, but never one that overtly conflicted with my career or social life — on the contrary, in Brussels I did some of my best networking at the local playground cafe, which served chilled bottles of Pouilly-Fumé and Stella Artois to half-watching parents. … In Paris, my children had only a half day of school on Wednesdays (the norm in France), giving them an afternoon free for ballet classes, music lessons or circus school, which made it easy for me to compress into one day the delivering to and fro.

I now look back appreciatively at my daughter’s early morning field-hockey schedule in London. The team practiced three mornings a week from 8 to 8:30 a.m., with the odd game taking place from 4 to 5 p.m. every other week, weather permitting (it usually rained).

Now our entire adult life revolves around the children’s activities. The last two weekends alone, my daughter was in three performances of the school musical, had softball practice, a state solo ensemble competition (that ended at 12:30 p.m., a 40-minute drive from the musical, which started at 2 p.m.) and a forensics tournament.... .

It is hard to look forward to summer, because we have already been told our annual August vacation with the cousins can’t happen because “preseason” for both of my children’s fall sports starts in mid-August.... Not only has my gas bill grown astronomically because of the chauffeuring, but my waist size has also multiplied from walking less and eating more. (Who has time to cook when the clock says it’s pickup time again?)

Any contemporary American parent has a comparable story. And of course, any meaningful career requires the same kind of around-the-clock, work-when-you're-needed-which-is-always schedule, while waged work increasingly requires a willingness to work crazy shifts without much advanced notice. Our system is just not humane—or to put it differently, we leave no time to be human. But I don't see any change on the horizon. Do you?

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