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"Does working make me a bad mother?" -- Legitimate question, or pseudo dilemma?

Last week in The Sisterhood, Elana Sztokman weighed in on the struggle to balance work and motherhood. Her piece was written partly in response to an earlier Sisterhood post by Deborah Kolben, who wondered if choosing to stay home with her new baby made her a "bad feminist."  Below is an excerpt from Elana Szotkman's piece.

As I was driving my daughter to school for an afternoon exam, I received a work call about a knotty issue that left me with a lot of explaining to do about power, money and some complexities of office politics. This is my life, I thought. Though I’ve long since abandoned any hope of being free to do only one thing at a time, and I’m not sure I would have chosen to expose my child to all that she heard on the speakerphone. Nevertheless, after 17 years at this parenting stuff, I am happy to report that I am no longer self-flagellating about doing it all at once.

There was a time, long ago I think, when I would pore over those new-mom essays, the type agonizing over pseudo-crises like, “Should I work?” or “Am I a good mother?” and soak up every word. Today, I find that genre irritating at best. I am not interested in hearing guilt-inducing rants, and frankly, I think that some of these questions are all wrong, driven by a conservative, anti-feminist backlash designed to keep us in our place.

People work. This is just fact of life. We work to earn money, to grow our minds, to be part of society. We work in different ways, using different parts of our bodies and minds, at different paces and in different poses, and in formats and for compensations that change as we do — and we’ve been doing it as long as we have been begetting offspring.

Yet it’s only women — middle- to upper-class Western women of the late 20th and early 21st century, to be precise — who ask themselves whether or not parenting and work can co-exist.

(Read the rest at The Sisterhood)

A few days later, Deborah Nussbaum Cohen responded.

Dear Elana: I usually love your point of view, and always enjoy your writing. But, wow, do I disagree with your most recent Sisterhood post, “What Makes us Bad Feminists? Kvetching About Artificial Choices.”

My friend, I was surprised to see you use such derisive language when you decried the “pseudo-crises” of “Should I work?” and “Am I a good mother?” There is nothing pseudo about these dilemmas for me and for the countless other women who also struggle to satisfy the needs of (a) our families, (b) our mortgage payments and (c) the desire to realize our full potential as productive, creative human beings.

Okay, there may be an excess of navel-gazing among those of us who have the luxury of doing so. It’s true. Hence the recent emergence of a genre dubiously dubbed the “Momoir.” See Exhibit A and Exhibit B.

I think you have a point when you write:

Yet it’s only women — middle- to upper-class Western women of the late 20th and early 21st century, to be precise — who ask themselves whether or not parenting and work can co-exist.

But that doesn’t mitigate the fact that these struggles are real. You write

I think that some of these questions are all wrong, driven by a conservative, anti-feminist backlash designed to keep us in our place.

The women I know who agonize, at various points in their life as mothers, over these very questions are neither conservative nor anti-feminist. In fact were we either, I suspect that there’d be a lot less internal wrestling than actually goes on.

(Read the rest at The Sisterhood)

A comment from Elana Stzokman suggests that she is working on a response to Deborah Nussbaum Cohen's critique. The work/motherhood balance is by no means a new topic for American Jewish women, but it is refreshing to see the conversation taking place in such a respectful and collaborative manner. Visit The Sisterhood and weigh in!

More on: Mothers,

How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. ""Does working make me a bad mother?" -- Legitimate question, or pseudo dilemma? ." 25 January 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/legitimate-question-or-pseduo-dilemma>.

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