Katy Bourne

Working Moms

POSTED ON April 18, 2012 | POSTED IN: My Blog | 10 Comments

 There was quite a flap last week over Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen’s remarks about Mitt Romney’s wife Ann. In case you missed it, here’s what she said:

 “What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country saying, ‘Well, you know, my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues, and when I listen to my wife, that’s what I’m hearing.’ Guess what? His wife has never actually worked a day in her life. She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and how we do worry-and why we worry-about their future. I think, yes, it’s about these positions, and yes, I think there will be a war of words about the positions.”

 Needless to say, Rosen’s remarks kicked up big reactions. Twitter lit up like a Christmas tree, political pundits pontificated at length on cable news and the bloggers had a field day. (My favorite post on the subject came from Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon.) Whether this is an authentic dust-up or merely a media contrived frenzy is hard to call, but it has reignited the debate as to what defines a “working mom” and which moms get to claim that title.

If I may offer my two cents on the matter…

First off, although I can’t claim to know exactly what was going on in Hilary Rosen’s head at the time she made this statement, my take on it is that she was speaking more to the economics of Mrs. Romney’s situation than the fact that she was a stay-at-home mom. Indeed, being a stay-at-home mom with piles of money is a far different thing than being a stay-at-home mom with limited resources. If Ms. Rosen’s statement was intended to speak to this discrepancy, then I believe it was valid and fair. Regardless of what Ms. Rosen was driving at, the whole incident has definitely stirred the decades old pot.

Nothing has kicked my ass more than motherhood. And as someone who has walked both worlds–staying at home with kids and working outside of the home–I can testify that each presents its own set of challenges. I might add that neither is nobler than the other.

There are a few reasons that I decided to stay home with my kids when they were young. Prior to having children, I was an actor who had worked a variety of day jobs. When it came down to whether or not to go back to work after my son Emmett was born, part of the decision was an economic one. Daycare was expensive and it wasn’t like I was a big earner. Whatever money I would have made in the workforce would have been completely eaten up in childcare costs. It didn’t make sense. But economics aside, I very much wanted to be home with my kid anyway and felt it was the right thing for our family. At the time, my husband agreed. Another factor that weighed heavily on my decision to stay home was the experience of losing my firstborn child. I was understandably nervous about my baby’s well being and, at the time, felt strongly that nobody could care for him as well as I could.

 My years at home with the children were a mixed bag. I loved being with my boys and we had lots of fun together. I was able to experience all the “firsts” and felt blessed that I had the space and time to fully engage in the day-to-day wonders of motherhood and family life. I loved the birthday parties, the field trips with the preschool and the lazy afternoons on the beach at Lake Washington. I really get how lucky I was. However, I also remember being exhausted most of the time. Being “on” all day with small children is perhaps one of the most physically and mentally demanding things I’ve ever experienced. I spent those years wandering around in a chronic state of semi-depletion. We didn’t have any family around, so there wasn’t a lot of respite. The other thing I remember about those days was a nagging identity crisis. I always had the gnawing sense that I wasn’t doing enough and that I was letting my career–whatever that was–fade into oblivion. Beyond the world of breastfeeding children and cleaning up poopy diapers, I wasn’t sure who I was.

 When the kids were older and comfortably settled in the neighborhood elementary school, I went back to work part-time. Although it definitely felt good to be back in the mainstream workforce, this situation presented a new set of challenges. In our particular family dynamic, the expectation was that I would still be available if one of the kids were sick and that I’d also be responsible for their care during school breaks and holidays. This resulted in a lot of harried juggling and one disasaterous summer involving a ne’re do well nanny with a nose ring and an attitude. Needless to say, I felt like I was busting ass and still failing in all directions.

I don’t know that my kids were any better off for my staying home with them and I believe that my years as an at-home mom ultimately put me at grave financial risk. When my husband and I divorced, re-entry into the full-time workforce was brutal. The time gap in my work history was like a bleeding sore on my resume. It didn’t matter what skills I had. It didn’t matter what volunteer work I’d done or how flipping much money I’d raised while chairing a fundraising committee for a nonprofit. It didn’t matter that my writing chops were in top form. The only thing that mattered was that I had been absent from the workforce to raise children.  That was a deal breaker­–a death sentence, actually–again and again. The only jobs that I was able to get were low paying ones at two different preschools. It was as if I’d come full circle; once again I was exhausted and questioning my identity.

I finally decided that if there wasn’t a job for me out there then I would make my own job. I threw my focus completely into my singing and writing. I recorded a CD and hustled like mad for gigs. I went back to school and received a certificate in Public Relations. I taught myself how to do stuff. Between evening workshops, help from friends and late hours of research on the Internet, I was able to cultivate a lot of new skills. I wooed clients and sometimes wrote for days at a time just to get things done. I took as many jazz gigs as I could possibly get. All the while, I was also parenting. At this point, the boys were both at different stages of adolescence. One was a tween and one was a teenager. In some ways, their day-to-day needs were less demanding, which made the time balance a little easier. But whatever advantages I gained on that side were tempered by the challenges of parenting a full-blown teenager. I was trying to pay bills and also navigate the extremely turbulent waters of my son’s very loud rebel yell. If that wasn’t “working,” I don’t know what is.

My fiscal days are a little easier now but I feel like I still have a long ways to go in terms of catching up on the ground I lost, economically speaking, from staying at home with my children. I understand that there are probably some at-home moms who might take exception to my sentiment that staying at home with kids can make a woman financially vulnerable down the road. My intent is not to offend but to speak honestly from my own experience. You never know what might happen.

When it comes to motherhood in this culture, there seems to be a damned if you do and damned if you don’t mentality. No matter what choices we make, we are scrutinized, judged and sometimes even penalized. I’m curious how the issue of working mothers is viewed in other countries that have more affordable day care options. Or is it even an issue?

I believe that ALL mothers are working mothers. And I actually agree with Ann Romney that women and moms do care about economic issues in this country. In fact, I’d say we care more about economic issues than we do about judging each other’s choices. If this newest flap does anything, it should remind women across the country that we need to stick up for each other, support each other and help each other. We need to continue to fight for economic equality, access to family planning and the right to self-determination. We deserve to live in a country that values us, no matter what choices we make.

We are working mothers. Let us do our jobs.




10 responses to “Working Moms”

  1. Hear hear Katy. I didn’t pay much attention to the flap to be honest, because I find it a little worn and threadbare. But reading Hilary Rosens remarks, I took them exactly as you did-that she was referring to Ann being a “well off” stay at home mother.

    That being said, I’ve actually read and heard about this grave financial risk of not working that you mention….more than a few times since the recession started in 08. Combine a bad economy with the divorce rate and you got a pretty bad situation for a lot of women who’ve spent their prime income earning years raising kids and not making said income. It not only hurts upon re-entry to the workforce, as you experienced, but it also hurts retirement since social security is based on the income earned over a lifetime.

    Every family deserves to make the right choice for them and every woman deserves to feel that her choice, whatever it is, is valid. But there are lots of things to consider in making that choice, not the least being the high rate of divorce and the current state of the ‘american dream’ and economic opportunity in this country.

    I think you really nailed it. And I love all the old pics of you and the boys!

    • admin says:

      Great comments, Charity. I’m particularly struck by the remarks about retirement. I just figure I never will.

  2. Vicky Rose says:

    Thank you once again, Katy, for a well-writen and thoughtful op-ed. The policy makers in this country (and they are NOT who run for office and get elected) are quite busy distracting us with racism, sexism and religious schism when, in fact, the social chasm formed in our society is economic inequality created by the better opportunities being hoarded and and guarded by them what has them all to begin with. Ms. Rosen misspoke. It IS the economy, Stupid, and until we of the middle and lower classes wake up and realize that the 1%, as they are called these days, lump us ALL together, they will continue to have the upper hand by dividing us. We can lump ourselves together and have some damn fine leverage. Turn off the TV, get out and meet your neighbor. See what she or he may need help with and is willing to trade for, get something going. Poverty makes people sick. Stress disables people. Chasing the now non-existent American dream kills people. The scraps thrown to the poor make them mean and desperate. These are the things that Mrs. Romney may not know about but, God bless her, she was making a stab at it. Maybe SHE should run for president!

    • admin says:

      Thanks for the comments, Vicky. I think Ms. Rosen gets that it’s the economy. As I said in the post, I think that’s what she was basically driving at but didn’t quite spit the words out right.

  3. Brynda B says:

    Well written Katy. As a mother who was single when my son was born, I never had the option to stay home but instead took a series of waitressing jobs at night (some more degrading than others :-)) to allow time spent with my son during the day. I think most well-to-do conservatives are completely out of touch with “real” women and what we go through to raise children and provide an income in addition to having a real career. A lot of women don’t have any choice as to whether they work or not. And if those who have a choice choose not to for awhile then god forbid re-entering the workforce (because running a household and raising children give you no skills whatsoever, haha) Mrs. Romney clearly had a choice and although I suspect she is out of touch with what “real” women go through, I think she would probably figure it out just like the rest of us if she had to. The conservative “leaders” in this country are out of touch on so many levels but I really don’t hold out hope that any elected official is going to make that much of a difference. We are the ones who have to make the difference and as superwomen who have raised children and worked and managed to hold it all together I think we can do just that.

    • admin says:

      “We are the ones who have to make a difference.” Agreed! And we do that by fighting for an environment where moms have equal opportunities and support for whatever choices we need to make.

  4. Mary Klinger says:

    Well, I wonder what kind of income the women have who Mrs. Romney hears from? I also stayed at home with my boys, divorced and suffered greatly getting back into the workforce. Would her acquaintances be eat’in up over whether they are going to be able to take a seasonal cruise, acquire the latest ball gown, or glean their next house/rent payment? I just think the divide has become so terribly great that it doesn’t take much to set off a spark…or flame. I think that if the Republicans had never initiated the war on women, this incident might never have been an issue. It has been mainly ‘the right’ that pounced on Hilary. We women are ‘the’ game word for the upcoming election. Your insight is always touching and warm to read and the poignant pics were an added plus.

  5. admin says:

    Yeah, I kinda sorta figure Ms. Romney’s experience of motherhood and mine are vastly different. There were times when I literally had to choose between paying my gas bill and buy groceries. Something tells me Ann Romney doesn’t have a clue what that’s like.

  6. Eloise. says:

    As a PROUD LEFT WING LIBERAL from a way, way back I totally agree with Ms. Rosen’s statement and regret that so many weak-kneed mic-grabbers on the left leaped on to contradict her immediately.

    (I have other issues with the Romney’s including their enthusiastic support of the last two wars in which none of their sons served! I hate our mercenary military in which the poor are SENT to PROTECT the FREEDOMS of the well-off. The Romney’s should be ashamed to show their faces!!)

    Of course the economic disparities were being addressed. With nannies, maids, housekeepers and assorted domestic staff members (not to mention bottomless checking accounts) I doubt Ann has the first idea of the daily challenges faced by a single mother at wit’s end trying to find light at the end of an endless black tunnel.

    The fact that old Mitt calls Ann the hardest worker I know means nothing. How many coalminers does he know…or single mothers, for that matter? How many mothers of young daughters who work full time as her husband dies of ALS does the Mittster know? What does any of them know that is common knowledge to most Americans.

    One of their shallow sons thanked Ted Nugent for his support in the ignorant screed at the NRA convention! Can you imagine THAT!
    Oh, they are hard workers and deep thinkers, these Romneys.

    Katy, love your writing…and photos of your boys. They are grand. Like their mom!

  7. […] and as such, I did not get much career traction during this period of our lives.  My post-divorce re-entry into the mainstream workforce was brutal. As we all know, the anemic economy proved disasterous for the U.S. job market. Because […]

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Katy Bourne is a Jazz Singer and Writer.