Do Mommy Wars Exist?

Inside the So-Called Mommy Wars

The Mommy Wars Are Overblown

2 mothers pushing kids in swings

Katherine Streeter

63% of all respondents believe the mommy wars exist, but only 29% of them have seen evidence of these wars in their own community.

The majority of moms in Parents' poll said they'd never been personally criticized for their status as a work-outside-the-home mom (WOHM) or a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) -- though 28 percent had. Interestingly, a higher percentage of SAHMs (31) than WOHMs (23) felt criticized for their choice -- reasons varied from insinuations of laziness to not supporting their husband or family financially. "It's ridiculous -- but very real," said one mother. "Both sides wish they could be in the other's shoes. Each side tends to feel that they work harder than the other or are worse off because of their choice."

Will women ever be able to do what's "best" for their family -- working or not working -- free of judgment? Probably not, and moms seem to feel it's wasted energy. "We all judge each other and naturally feel guilt regardless of our situation," said one mother. "People are particular about 'the right way' to raise children, and they spend too much time judging each other's decisions." What busy mom has precious minutes to waste on that?

92% of all mothers agreed with the following statement: "There's no tougher job than being a mom."

Working or Staying Home Isn't Always a "Choice"

Another myth our poll busted: Working or being at home is a "choice." Sixty-three percent of working moms and 43 percent of stay-at-home moms said it isn't. Who does believe it's a choice?

Part-time work-at-home moms: Two thirds of them believe women make the decision to work or not. The bottom line for most moms? They do what's best for their -- and their family's -- needs.

WOHMs Say...

"I needed to continue to work full-time since we had to work harder at having kids -- we had additional expenses with fertility treatments and adoption."

"I enjoy being able to take my daughter on vacations and having a second car so that we can get around. If I didn't work, then we wouldn't be able to afford anything."

"I had no choice but to work. The cost of everything has skyrocketed and then we were having a tough time paying the bills, and for all that the kids need for school -- it was too much for one income."

"I'm the breadwinner in the family, but I couldn't be a SAHM. As much as I love my son, I need some time to myself and I treasure the independence."

"I'm a single parent. Teaching allows me to be home at a decent hour, off on weekends, and home two months in the summer."

SAHMs Say...

"My husband makes good money, which enables me to choose to work or not. I've chosen to stay home with my daughter until she starts kindergarten."

"When I was working in retail, I cried when I had to miss school events or family gatherings because I had to work."

"I wanted to stay at home with my children because my mother couldn't. I love being able to do it. We have to do without some luxuries, but it?s worth it."

"I was employed outside the home until I had our third child. With one child having ADD, it was time to become a stay-at-home-mom to help him stay focused."

"The cost of child care made a big difference. If I put my younger son in day care it would cost about the same as I would have made working. I didn't see the point."

Moms (Mostly) Have One Another's Back

Happily, 62 percent of our respondents said that the moms they know "are mostly supportive of one another," regardless of whether they work outside the house or stay home with the kids -- nearly exactly the same percentage who believed mommy wars exist. (Take that, mommy war flame-fanners!)

One exception: The small number of full-time work-at-home moms we polled -- those who are home day-care providers, therapists, or run other businesses from home -- felt less optimistic on both fronts, perhaps because they lack the community of coworkers or SAHMs. "People tell me that I don't really work because I do it from home," said a day-care provider.

And according to the mothers we surveyed, mom-to-mom tension does still exist in small doses. The same number of full-time WOHMs and SAHMs -- just 14 percent -- said the moms they know are too critical of the other "side." But only 8 percent of WOHMs and 6 percent of SAHMs have felt excluded because of their choice or employment status.

"At the end of the day, though our closets and calendars may look different, we are moms and we need to support each other."

More SAHMs Would Work If They Had Better Options

Here's a fascinating finding: More than half of all moms -- 55 percent -- would change their current situation, whether they're employed or at home, if they could.

And perhaps most surprising: 51 percent of the SAHMs in our study said they're home at least partly because of "insufficient pay or pay that doesn't make up for the cost of child care." Sixty percent said they would get a job if there were more options for part-time work or quality and affordable day care. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) said that being unable to find work figured in, while a third (33 percent) cited an inflexible work schedule. And a small percentage (7 percent) said they were home to address their children's unique health or learning issues.

Most Mothers Worry Regardless of Their Work Situations

33% of WOHMs and 16% of SAHMs feel stress because of their work choice.

18% of WOHMs and 17% of SAHMs feel guilt because of their work choice.

35% of WOHMs and 20% of SAHMs worry about whether they're being a good mom because of their work choice.

If you've ever had doubts about whether you're doing a decent job as a mom, you're not alone. A quarter of our respondents said their work choice led to worry over whether they're a "good enough mom"; 22 percent feel stress because of their work choice, and a little less than that -- 17 percent -- feel guilt. Full-time working mothers worried the most about whether they're good enough moms. They don't feel guilty about working, however; only 18 percent of full-time WOHMs said they do.

One thing every kind of mom -- 66 percent overall -- worries about? Money. Stay-at-home moms (69 percent) worry about it the most, though full-time WOHMs (58 percent) worry about it too. Part-time work-at-home moms feel the least guilt and stress, perhaps because they have both some income and time.

Originally published in the August 2013 issue of Parents magazine.

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