I can't decide if I'm more pleased with all the recent attention that work-family issues have been getting in the mainstream media these days or frustrated that so much of the coverage is stuck on the same old groove, setting working (for pay) moms against at-home moms, and ignoring dads completely.
I love RebelDad's suggestion that we should googlebomb the term "mommy wars" to refer to Miriam Peskowitz's excellent book, The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars. It's a much more productive contribution to the discussion than the new book by Leslie Morgan Steiner that's been getting a bunch of attention. (See also Miriam's blog, where she's had some interesting posts this week about the NYTimes article on trends in women's labor force participation.)
RebelDad's ready to write off the Steiner book because of her stupid comments about dads in the interview with her posted on the Business Week working parents blog. (He also points out this strong piece from Time online called "Bring on the Daddy Wars.") I agree, if she can only find men "whose lives haven't changed as much dramatically" it's because she hasn't been looking. (She also said she couldn't find any interesting blogs that talk about work-family issues -- I posted some of my favorites in the comments section there.)
And yet, I don't want to dismiss the book entirely, both because I want to take advantage of the big Random House publicity machine's efforts to get these topics aired, and because Steiner gets some things exactly right. In the Business Week interview, she says:
"I thought the battle was between stay-at-home and working moms. But women don’t fall into these neat categories. Most women see it as a continuum. A mom who left a hard-driving job may be at home now, but she plans on being back at work two years from now."
Yup. And in the Post article she makes the point that the biggest mommy war is often internal, and tells a sweet story about the lift she got when her daughter's preschool teacher complimented her:
"Did anyone ever tell you how beautiful you are?" Mrs. Rahim whispered so that the swirling crowd of stay-at-home moms, lingering by the school door, couldn't hear. "You are a happy mom. Your face glows with it. That's what matters most to your kids. I think you should have 10 more children. Now go to work."
So, it's hard to know what to expect from the book. One taste is provided by the excerpt from one of the essays published in Newsweek. It's by a woman who suggests that her children's overall meltdown was due to her not being home to meet the school bus (even though she did in fact work from home two weeks a month, and her husband was home the rest of the time).
As I've said before, I'm generally sceptical about the degree to which you can draw a straight line from parental choices to children's outcomes. But even setting that aside, my reading of the essay is that, to the extent that Hingston contributed to her kids' problems, it's not because she was working, but because she felt so guilty about working that she had trouble setting limits, even when her son's therapist and teachers all agreed that they were badly needed. I'm quite curious whether Hingston draws the same conclusion in the full version of her essay.