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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mama, Ph.D.: Unite!
July 22, 2010 - 7:14pm

Even people who have never taken a class in Economics have probably heard phrases from the subject from time to time. “The Invisible Hand” is often used to explain the fact, noticed by Adam Smith, that self-interest on the part of participants in an economy still leads the economy to a point where everyone’s needs are met. “But in the Long Run, We are All Dead” was a phrase spoken by John Maynard Keynes when many people assured each other that the economy of the Great Depression would turn around on its own, in the long run. But it was a phrase penned by Karl Marx that I was reminded of last week, when I heard a story that made me recall the line “Workers of the world, Unite” Only this time, I was thinking of mothers, and not just workers in general.

One of the best aspects of teaching at a women’s college is the fact that I am surrounded by so many intelligent women who are academic leaders in their fields. In our building, lunchtime conversations (by the fish tank) can include topics that range from history to evolution with a bit of statistics thrown in to keep everyone interested (?). Often these conversations come back to questions about parenting, as the more seasoned mothers advise us newer moms about topics ranging from day care to where to buy school uniforms to where to get our child vaccinated against H1N1. We support and encourage each other, and I had grown to assume that other mothers outside our small group would be supportive, too. However, last week I heard a story that made me realize that is not necessarily true.

I guess I knew that not all mothers were supportive of each other, as I had brutally encountered the “mommy wars” when our daughter came home. Never mind that I had thought long and hard about what kind of work/life balance I would try to find with a new baby; it seemed that everyone had an opinion about whether I should keep my (tenured) job or how many hours I should work. However, now that my daughter is in grammar school, the “mommy wars” seem to have settled down, at least for me. I wonder if they have settled down for everyone, or if they still wage out there.

I try to be respectful of the women who make the (difficult) choice to parent full-time, and I hope that they can respect the choice to try to search for a way to balance parenting with working in the marketplace, a choice that many women make for their families. In the end, I hope that the mommy wars end soon; if ever there was an endevor that leads to inefficiency in the economy, this battle is it!

One of our lunch group members told me a story of an encounter she had recently that made my blood boil, and left me and her speechless. She was entering a grocery store with her young child when that child saw a display of junk food strategically placed near the entrance, where it could do the most harm. The child quickly pointed it out to my friend, who reminded her child that they had come for only a few specific things, and would be going soon. The child continued to plead, and my friend ignored her child, turning away to enter the store and buy the things she had come for (which usually makes her child follow her.) As my friend turned, she saw a woman, several years older than herself, watching her and shaking her head. As my friend passed her, she said “I can’t believe your child is talking to you like that.” My friend responded quickly “they are not always like that” and continued into the store, very frazzled.

And so, I ask you, my readers- what should/could have she said to that woman, whom she did not know or have any connection to? It is obvious that the woman was far removed from the experience of parenting, or she would never have said something so hurtful. Perhaps she had no children of her own, or perhaps her own children are grown and gone. However, such behavior that obviously undercuts another mother’s authority is not acceptable, and warrants a response, preferably one that does not include the choice words that come to mind instantly. Does anyone have any ideas of an appropriate response that could be used in such a situation? Indeed, my friend suspects that she saw this same woman do a similar thing to someone else, telling another woman to “just discipline her” when that woman’s daughter was acting up in the same grocery store. I guess this unknown woman could be labeled a “serial criticizer”. Obviously, the response of being thankful that, this time, it is not us being criticized, is not the response that is most effective; after all, nothing guarantees that we will not be the recipient of such comments in only a week or two. As a mom with a very “spirited” child, I know this well.

I truly hope that we, together, can find an appropriate response to such horrendous behavior, just as we all hope to find ways to make our own children behave in an appropriate manner when in public. Being a mother is a very difficult job, and we owe it to ourselves to support and encourage each other, sharing insights and wisdom that is often learned at great cost. To slightly paraphrase Karl Marx, Mothers of the World, Unite!

P.S. to the reader who wanted the link to the letter from Bob Begin, it can be found here.


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