Dear daughter, here’s why I work (at ending the mommy wars)

Mommy wars

Dear Daughter,

Why do mothers pummel each other over whether or not they work for pay outside the home? Why do so many women eagerly enlist on one side or another in the Mommy Wars?

Why did Lydia Lovric write Dear Daughter, Here’s Why I Don’t Work? Or, more to the point, why did Lovric publish a letter that was ostensibly written to her daughter, including such gems as:

My “job” is to take the best care possible of you and your younger brothers…

Other people may dismiss babies as simply blobs. But we both know better.


I stay home because although I did love my job very much, I love you more.

I stay home because although writing and radio did make me extremely happy, I knew that you seemed happier when I was around. And your happiness was more important to me than my own. And making you happy also made me happy.

I stay home because I want you to learn that family and love are more important than material possessions. A large home or fancy sneakers will not make up for an absent mother.

I stay home because I want you and your brothers to be proud of me because I gave up something I truly loved in order to put you first.

And especially:

The feminists may not like it, dear daughter, but even if I made it to the very top of my profession, even if I drove a fancy company car and went on a slew of business trips, I would feel like an utter failure if any of my kids felt the need to ask me if I loved work more than I loved them.

I ponder these questions because I’m a feminist. I was a feminist even as a child, before I had ever heard the word and before the feminist movement profoundly improved the world for all women.

I’m proud that you are a feminist, too.

I ponder these questions because I was a stay at home mother, too, and I am all too familiar with the way that women bash each other about their choices, as if their worth as mothers and as human beings depends on belittling those who make different choices.

I suspect that it was your feminism that led you to ask me years ago why I no longer worked outside the home, specifically, “Don’t you feel bad that you are not an important person?” We talked about it when you asked me, and I’ve thought a lot about over the years.

I understood that what you were asking about was not that mothers aren’t important; you were curious whether an ambitious person can be happy if she does not have professional success to point to, and if no one is paying her for the work that she does. The answer is yes.

I stayed home because I am a feminist and feminism is about women being free to make the choices that are right for them, without external limitations imposed by societal beliefs about women. Feminism is a remarkably simple belief: women are morally, intellectually, and politically equal to men. That’s it.

That’s why Lovric’s dig “The feminists may not like it, dear daughter, but … I would feel like an utter failure if any of my kids felt the need to ask me if I loved work more than I loved them.” is hard for me to fathom.

Dear daughter, as a feminist yourself, you know that feminists don’t care that Ms. Lovric chooses not to work. And you’ve probably figured out that the fact that she imagines they care tells us more about her and her misunderstanding of feminism than anything else.

As you know, and as we have discussed at length, feminism requires that women not be constrained by societal prejudices. It does NOT demand that women work or emulate men in their choices. While Ms. Lovric feels driven to flaunt her choice to prove her supposed maternal superiority, the rest of the world is going about its business.

Or they should be.

Sadly, there is no lack of enlistees in the mommy wars. They imagine that motherhood is a zero sum game with a limited amount of child happiness, parental success, and personal self-worth to be doled out among the mothers of the world. They envision an “I win; she loses” world. I hope you never view motherhood that way.

The truth is very different. As I’ve written in the past, two women making opposite choices can BOTH raise happy children … or not. Two women making opposite choices can both point to the same parenting success … or not. Two women making opposite choices can both be proud of what they have done … so long as they aren’t always judging themselves by what others are doing.

And that’s why I work, not at paid work, but at defying the invective, defusing the guilt and decrying viciousness of the mommy wars. I concentrate on childbirth, infant feeding and attachment parenting, which some women have turned into fights to the death about unmedicated childbirth vs. epidurals, breastfeeding vs. bottlefeeding, and baby-wearing vs. sleep training, but I’m well aware of other battles like “stay at home vs. working” mothers.

I stayed home with you and your brothers because I love you beyond reason, but I don’t think, even for a moment, that other women who made different choices love their children any less.

I’m so glad, dear daughter, that you’ve had the opportunity to know my friends, highly educated, talented, powerful women who have made a range of different choices and whose profound love for and devotion to their children has not been bounded in any way by those choices.

As a feminist, I want every choice to be open to you, including the choice to be child-free (though I am not so secretly desperate to be grandmother). But if you do have children, I fervently hope that what I’ve tried to teach you, and endeavored to model for you will lead you away from the mommy wars and toward making the choices that are right for you and your family, without any reference to what other women are choosing.

And no matter what, I will always love you and your brothers more than life itself.
Your Mom