Oprah Highlights So-Called “Mommy Wars”

When Oprah still ruled the talk show air waves, she took on the hotly debated topic of the stay-at-home vs. working "mommy wars." Did she make a difference?

Thanks to Cara’s post last Friday, I asked my husband to record Tuesday’s Oprah show so I could finally get a straight answer to that burning question, “Can working mothers have it all?”

Alas, the answer was not a simple yes or no. Surprised?

I enjoyed Oprah’s too-brief interview with Elizabeth Vargas, who explained how she came to the “agonizing” decision to step down from her coveted position as ABC World News Tonight anchor. She found out she was pregnant (surprise!) just three weeks after returning from a reporting stint in Iraq. Then her coanchor Bob Woodruff was critically wounded by an IED in Iraq, which was a big wakeup call to her.

Eventually, Vargas and her husband came to the conclusion that she couldn’t be “the kind of mother I wanted to be” and anchor the evening news with excellence. So she gave up her post and now hosts 20/20.

The rest of the show included brief glimpses of stay-at-home moms and working moms, why they made the choices they did, and what they think of each other. Occasionally, Oprah’s go-to psychologist Dr. Robin Smith piped in about “being attuned to your children” (whatever that means) and how “Guilt and having remorse, regret, is really in our lives to teach us not to torture us.”

The moms made some predictable “mommy wars”-style jabs at each other:

Lisa, the stay-at-home mother of two children, says, “I feel like, because I do stay home, I’m making my children a priority. If you’re working outside of the home, they can’t be your top priority.”

Barbara, one of the working mothers, says, “It’s more important, I think, that you’re around when your kids are teenagers. You know, anybody can read your kid a book or cuddle your kid. Not anybody can ask your kid how the soccer game went or cheer them on at the soccer game.”

I guess I was most annoyed by all the judging and mama-hatin’ on this show. Each family needs to make the choices that are right for them. What business is it of mine if another mom chooses to stay home, or work?

And the other thing that bugged me: What about the “Daddy Wars”? Of course, there are no Daddy Wars, because everyone just expects that dads will work. If they stay home, it’s an oddity (though it’s becoming more common, I think). Why weren’t fathers mentioned at all during this show? Parents have an equal obligation to care for their children, yet our culture continues to put the burden of caring for children squarely on moms.

I was hoping Oprah would push the discussion a little further than the usual boundaries and arguments. But her big insight was “you can have it all. You just can’t have it all at the same time.”

If you didn’t catch the show, you can still see clips and read most of what was said on the Oprah website.

Anyone else watch this show? What were your thoughts and reactions?

14 thoughts on “Oprah Highlights So-Called “Mommy Wars”

  1. Selfmademom says:

    I’m glad you guys blogged about this too. I haven’t seen too much discussion about this on the blogosphere which I’m a little disappointed about, but I wholeheartedly agree with your comments. I wish Elizabeth Vargas (I’ve nicknamed her Tin Lizzie for her reliability as a working mom spokeswoman for us all) would have stayed on longer, and I wish Oprah would have pushed the discussion more. I do agree with you that dads were nowhere to be found, but I didn’t expect that to happen on Oprah.

  2. I was eager to watch this show too and didn’t really think there was anything earth-shattering brought out. But I did think it might bring a little more awareness (not for us moms since I’m sure we are all too aware of this topic)to those out there who don’t know what us working moms and SAHM’s go through and why we chose the roads we did. I did discuss it on my blog too…one good point – how society makes us think that we NEED to “have it all.” Can we NOT “have it all” and still be happy? I think so….

  3. What is this “having it all” thing that everybody keeps talking about? Many women work so their families can have *something*. What bugs me about this whole “Mommy Wars” business is that working moms often get framed as though we’re sending our kids to daycare so we can buy diamond rings and fur coats. In a lot of families, Mom simply needs to work. End of story. Some families make real sacrifices so Mom can stay home with the kids, and I totally respect that. But if those sacrifices cut too deep, I wonder how much healthier it is for a child to be in a household where Mom and Dad are constantly stressed about money vs. going to a babysitter for a few days a week.

  4. I did think it was weird that the Elizabeth Vargas interview was so short and then she disappeared for the rest of the show. But, if it was her decision to leave Oprah’s couch–than I shall not judge her decision. 😉

    At one point watching the show, I had an overwhelming sense of sadness. I just get so frustrated with moms judging each other. Can’t we all just get along? And be respectful of each other’s decisions? One thing that did stick out was Dr. Robyn’s point that we live in an “either/or country.” That Americans are so split on views (pro-choice/pro-life, Democrat/Republican, etc.) “we lose the wisdom of both worlds.” We should bless the mom who has found her way of living—and not try to make her think our way is better.

    In regards to Oprah not pushing the discussion more, it’s like Elizabeth said, “you don’t get it” until you become a working parent. Even though Oprah may think she gets it from watching her BFF Gayle, I doubt she really, really does. But, Oprah is helping gain awareness to the subject and hopefully she’ll have more shows in the future around this topic.

    Helen, what’s your blog address?

  5. I am so happy to have found this blog. This is just what I needed! The guilt of being a working mother is so hard to deal with sometimes. It is nice to hear other peoples stories.

    I just watched this Oprah, and I was dissapointed. I was sad to see that it was a lot of both sides of the Mommy Wars being forced to defend thier position. I also wanted them to discuss more about “why” we feel guilt for working. It seemed like they started to discuss that, and then got offtrack onto another topic.

    I did like what the working moms said about being there for the kids. I am VERY close to my kids, and I think the sadness and guilt I feel are more for ME than for anything I think they are missing out on. I feel torn, and tired, trying to be an outstanding mom AND hold a full time job. That is the guilt and the struggle, that is why it is so hard. We have to work twice as hard to be great mothers and connect with our kids, and we all do it… but being superwoman is tough.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Quick question on time and perspective. Consider this:

    Many American families seem to aim at about 2 kids. Taking the long view of a woman’s entire adulthood/career life, are the decisions discussed in this blog really fairly temporary ones for the average woman?

    With the assumption of 2 kids, I would block out about 10 years or so of juggling these questions — until both children effectively are under the care of their schoolteachers most of the day. Let’s set the homeschooling debate aside for purposes of this question.

    I don’t have kids yet, but I have started thinking about what my “plan” will be (knowing plans will likely change). My calculations show me about 10 years where my children will be small and my husband and I will have to make the decisions you all are grappling with regarding work, child care, distribution of responsibilities, finances, etc.

    Of course childhood lasts longer than that, but it seems from my observations like the early years are the most trying for parents in terms of work, etc.

    10 years is a long time, but it is only part of adulthood. I spent 5 years just getting a college degree (for perspective). I suppose coming to that realization made it easier for me to see some of these potentially agonizing decisions in a new, slightly more temporary, light.

    Agree/Disagree? Have you ever looked at it this way? What conclusions did you come to?

    Just throwing this out for one of the thoughtful contributors to this blog to possibly respond to, in light of her own experiences.

  7. Hi, I am from India.Women here are divided in their feelings too.I agree with you, that each family has to choose what is right for them. There is never a one-and-only right way to do things. When I left a good, well paying job to stay at home with my baby, I felt that was the best thing to do at that time. I might decide to go back to work in the future. In the end we should follow our hearts and do what works best for our family.

  8. From a dad’s/husband’s perspective, FWIW…

    I think it’s interesting how “working vs. SAHM” is such a battle. I think it’s because each side has that wicked whisper of self-doubt inside their heads asking “Have I made the right choice?” The only way they can feel 100% okay with their choice is to make sure someone ELSE’s choice is worse. And hey, condemnation is fun.

    What bums me out is how some women–say, my wife–get the short end of two sticks, because they work part-time. I thought that would put her in good standing with both sides, but as she tells it, she gets double-condemnation.

    The working moms judge her because, in their view, she isn’t committed enough to her career to work full-time. The SAHMs judge her because we have to *gasp* use daycare a couple of days each week.

    So she’s left calling for a medic from the No Man’s Land of the Mommy Wars.

  9. I want to start by saying hello ladies, I love this blog!!

    I agree with a point Sara made. I am a working mom of an 18 month old son. I would love nothing more than to spend everyday with him but that is just not an option. In order for me to stay home during the day I would have to either start babysitting other children in my home or work nights while my child sleeps. My husband and I tried to rearrange our finances to make it possible for one of us to stay home but unfortunately it was just too close to be comfortable. Alone each one of us barely makes enough to cover all the expenses in perfect conditions. But what if the furnace breaks or god forbid one of us becomes suddenly ill? I am not comfortable just scrapping by month to month, I need to be able to put some money aside for “just in case” and for our future.

    Plus, it would be nice to have some extra money to take a vacation every once in awhile!!!

  10. Hey, Anonymous – You make an interesting point, however I would have to disagree with your 10-year timeframe. I think these are issues mothers will have to deal with until their kids are out of the house and beyond. Think about your typical school day. It ends at 2:30 p.m. Most working parents aren’t home until 6 or so. Do you feel comfortable having a 10-year-old on his or her own for three and a half hours in the late afternoon? What about a 16-year-old? These are the times when kids get into real trouble. Sure, they can get involved in after-school activities, but who drops them off and picks them up? It’s a juggle however you cut it.

    And it’s not like a woman who chooses to stay home can just blithely re-enter the workforce after her 10 or so years of worrying about her kids is up. What will her skills be like? How has she networked to set herself up for success? Working and childcare issues are going to be with a mom for 18 years or more, I’d say…

  11. Anonymous says:

    I often feel guilt about being a working mother. When I drop off G at daycare, their is this strange awareness that I have left my most precious gift with a relative stranger and in the back of my mind (buried way deep, so that I can actually make it to work) I wish I were a stay at home mom. But do stay at home mom’s feel bad when they finally send their kids to school at age 5? No – they assume that school is developmentally (socially and mentally) good for their children.

    So why do we feel any different about sending our kids to daycare? Aren’t they learning things socially and mentally as well?

    I guess I just don’t understand why it is socially acceptable to send your children to school to spend most of their day with a teacher (relative stranger), but there is all of this guilt, if we as working mothers do the same, we just chose do to it prior to the age of 5.

  12. Shout out to the dad poster, Mr. Bender! I hope more dads will feel free to comment on this blog, too.

  13. First I wanted to say that I love reading your blogs. My sister, Jen, works with you guys in cincy and turned me to your site. I now read once a day.

    So, on this guilt I feel for being a full time working mom? We have to get over it! I used to feel guilty for working when my son was an infant but now that he is going on 4 yo, he needs the structure of a school environment. I have friends that are SAHM, I could not do that job, my son needs constant attention and someone to play with. Yes, I think this is in part due to daycare and that there is always someone to play with and activities to keep them busy. But I also think it is his personality that needs constant reinforcement and encouragement from adults. The largest part of being a working mom is making sure that you are making the best choices for your children, such as daycare. I send both of my kids to a very expensive daycare, it has pros and cons of course. The largest con is the price I pay monthly really bites into the budget. But, the pro is that I don’t feel guilty sending them there. I know that they have the lots of one-on-one attention by caring teachers. (I could write more on how to choose the right daycare…) Regardless, of your day care choices we have to find a way to be OK with them. My way is to give full attention to my kids at night and on the weekends. We always eat together and do things on the weekends together. My house work my not get done but I’m OK with that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.