Working Mother Magazine recently posted their annual list of "Working Moms of the Year." I dropped my subscription to this magazine years ago for many and varied reasons. As I flipped through the pages of this particular issue in the grocery store, I was reminded why.
There are a few interesting women who overcame significant obstacles to achieve career and family success. But per usual, their list is mostly filled with privileged, highly educated, wealthy women who have extensive resources to help them manage the challenges of being a working mom. Most curious was the labeling of First Lady Michelle Obama as the "quintessentially working mom" who is "a role model to working mothers everywhere, who are counting on her to advocate for their interests."
Working Mother goes on to laud the fact that Ms. Obama "continued to work at the university of Chicago Medical Center during the primary campaign but resigned earlier this year. A media darling thanks to her fashion-forward wardrobe, she’s determined to keep her family grounded while living in the white house: Malia and Sasha are given chores, and they’re expected to do well in school—and to clean up after their new dog."
I'm not saying that being First Lady isn't challenging. And I'm certainly not implying that Ms. Obama has not worked hard to develop her talents in order to make a contribution to the world. But calling her an advocate for working women everywhere because she has nice clothes and a husband whose income allows her to stay home and "choose" to put "family first" is rather insulting to lesser-resourced women everywhere who don't ask for handouts or benevolent advocacy, but instead focus their energies on making tough, hard choices every single day about how they will give their kids a break in this world.
Here's who I'd like to see make the list of Working Moms of the Year:
My friend Kari had 4 children. Her husband was a rising corporate executive, so Kari "chose" to put her career on hold and put family first as a stay-home mom in her brand new 5-bedroom suburban home with the 2 new SUV's in the garage. Then tragedy struck. In the space of 3 months, Kari's husband landed in the hospital with a heart attack, and her oldest son died from a heart defect that they thought had been corrected. Shortly after her husband returned to work he was laid off in a corporate restructuring. The stress of their situation kicked in his genetic pre-disposition towards depression and he suffered a serious clinical episode. Now Kari was essentially acting as a single mom of 3 - while trying to care for an ill husband, and still grieving the loss of her son. Somehow she marshaled her mental and physical resources and "chose" to sell her new home and find an apartment for the family. She then "chose" leave her kids in "extended day" after school and found a full-time job that would support the family. Now 5 years later she has built her career back up, and has purchased another home for her family - a smaller, older home, but one in a neighborhood with good schools. All the time, she has maintained her faith in God, and a beautiful smile, and a sense of humor. When her company laid off her whole department a few months ago, Kari's first concern was for her employees - helping them to find new opportunities.
My friend Trish was happily married with 4 children. She loved her job as a social worker helping disadvantaged children connect to educational support resources. Then her husband left and made it clear he had no interest in seeing the kids anymore. So Trish "chose" to leave a job she loved in favor of a corporate job in the financial sector where she could make a wage that would allow her to keep the home her children were used to. It was also a job where she could receive the comprehensive health benefits she needed for her oldest daughter who has chronic health conditions. Now Trish travels occasionally for work and must rely on a network of friends and paid care to help her out while she is away from her family.
Lynn, the Single Mom I babysat for when I was 14. I know she hated leaving her 8-year-old daughter in the care of a scrawny, bespectacled teenager from 2-10 PM 3 nights a week while she worked a second job. I know that I didn't exactly inspire confidence that her daughter was receiving educational, enriching, and safe care. But what else could she expect for $2/hour? It was me (or someone like me) watching her kid, or else she had to give up her "choice" to live in the cracker-box town home near the freeway exit that they called home.
All of the Latina women interviewed in "Domestica" by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo who "choose" to leave their children all week long from Monday - Saturday in order to work as nannies and cooks and housekeepers for wealthy families in L.A.. They make this difficult choice in order to ensure that their own children - who they only see for a few hours on Sundays - have the chance to grow up in a free country and get an education. If you have every felt sorry for yourself for the stresses and strains you face as a working mother, or if you ever catch yourself prattling on about how working or staying home is simply a matter of "choice" for women, you need to read this book!
So here is to Kari, Trish, Lynn, and the Domesticas, and every other working mom who has ever had to make choices between rocks and hard places. You are the heart and soul of America. You are the women who create the "aggregate of tiny pushes" that move this world along. You are all heroes of mine, and somewhere I am sure that your names are written on a far more important list that supersedes any collection of names in a slick magazine.