Even on the nights my husband cooks dinner (which is most nights), I’m usually the last one to sit down at the table. Maybe I’m throwing a few extra carrots on the salad, or maybe I have to check e-mail one last time, or someone needs more ice in their water. But whatever the reason, it rarely fails that within a minute of my sitting down, precisely as I am about to lift a bite of food to my mouth, my almost-2-year-old will start in with “Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy,” until I figure out what it is he is after. It’s not his most endearing trait.
With that in mind, I can kind of understand Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s call , in today’s WSJ , for a “War on ‘Mommy.’” The word, not the woman. She worries that all the talk of mommy wars and mommy tracks and mommy blogs is keeping us down. It IS odd, I agree, that we use childish words to describe important issues like equality in the workplace and work-life balance. I myself don’t use the term to describe my female friends and family members with kids, and I don’t recall being particularly emotional when my oldest made the gradual transition from mommy to mom . I could do without its clichéd overuse myself.
But in making her valid case, Brodesser-Akner hauls out all the tropes of the “mommy wars”: The complaints that there is no Daddy Track. The quotes from the “feminist linguist” (Example: “Whenever there are non-parallel gendered uses of language,” says Ms. Lakoff, “that’s a clue that non-linguistic inequalities exist.”). The worries that we are losing our identities because too much emphasis is placed on our motherhood.
Ugh. Forgive me if I’m weary of the whole thing. I buy that there are women who didn’t make partner or become a CEO because they were on the “mommy track.” But that’s because we’re still working out how to accommodate women who take a few years off while their kids are young, not because the “mommy track” doesn’t have a sanitized legalistic name like “extended parental leave career path.”
And really, aren’t the terms mommy wars and mommy track largely creations of the media? I’ve never had a single conversation with a real human being outside the media about whether someone is betraying the sisterhood by being a stay-at-home mom. Sure, there’s the occasional, “Oh, what I wouldn’t give to stay at home,” or the “I can’t wait until Monday so I can go to work” comments, depending on which of my jobs is driving me nuttier on a given day. But have you ever said, “Oh, I used to have lunch with Carol every week, but I don’t see her now that she’s on the mommy track”?
Of course there aren’t “daddy wars” or “daddy tracks.” It’s not that men aren’t more often taking family duties into consideration or worrying about work-life balance. But-if I may indulge in just a tiny bit of stereotyping-they just don’t sit around wringing their hands about it all or devote thousands of column inches to the issue.
When my son cries out “Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy,” I’m annoyed, but I still love him. And I know it’s a phase he’ll grow out of. When women write “Mommy wars. Mommy wars. Mommy wars. Mommy wars. Mommy wars,” I love them, but I’m still annoyed. And it’s been going on so long, I’m not sure it’s a phase we’ll ever outgrow.