Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
Last week I came across a blog debate about moms who work. I can't find the link now (I think it was one of the countless discussions that erupted after Hilary Rosen's now-infamous comment), but you can imagine how it went: A blogger made the statement that mothers need to stay home with young children, working moms took offense, and combox insanity ensued. I've been following debates like this for years, but as I scanned through this one, I noticed that something felt different. At first I couldn't put my finger on what it was, but then I realized:
The whole discussion seemed outdated.
And I don't think I was the only one who sensed that. Even the most vocal, caps-lock-using anonymous commenters didn't display the same amount of scorn for their fellow moms that you would have seen even three years ago. People hardly seemed to mean it when they said "UR NEGLECTING UR KIDZ," and the finger-pointing at other mothers' lifestyle choices seemed to lack energy or sincere conviction. When I thought about it, it realized that there's been a decline in the intensity and frequency of these kind of debates in recent years. And now I'm starting to think that five, certainly ten, years from now, we'll hardly be having them at all.
As Simcha Fisher recently pointed out, it's impossible to put mothers into neat categories that perfectly encapsulate what "type" of parents they are. This has always been the case, but I think that that statement it is getting more and more true by the day when it comes to the labels of "working mom" vs. "stay-at-home mom." With the popularity of telecommuting, many working moms end up spending most of their time at home; whereas many stay-at-home moms now have online stores or websites that bring in some extra income, or they might do occasional freelance work from home in fields where they have career experience. With all the options we have in terms of where we live, what kind of homes we live in, what kind of cars we drive, etc., even the lines between moms who work because they "want to" and those who work because they "have to" have become fuzzy.
This isn't to say that it doesn't matter at all what choices moms make with their lifestyles; it is certainly possible to take selfish actions that could deeply wound your kids. But it's like the debates about what constitutes grave and serious reasons for avoiding pregnancy: while there are moral absolutes in this area, it's almost always impossible to tell if others are violating them. We just can't know those kinds of things from observing someone else's life -- and this is especially true when it comes to modern mothers and their work.
I think that if we could fast forward ten years and ask a young woman what she thinks of working moms, she'd be confused by the question. Is a "working mom" someone like her friend Jane, who has a full-time job but works mostly out of her house? Or is a working mom someone like Jill, who works in an office but has a flexible schedule that allows her to be home a lot? What about Sally, who has an online store that requires that she puts in eighty hours one week, then none for the rest of the month? Or Jessica, who teaches at a homeschool co-op but doesn't receive a paycheck? I think that this woman of the future would find that she ultimately doesn't know how to answer the question, "What do you think of working moms?", because she simply doesn't see that as being a clear, definable category of parenthood in the first place.
I suppose there will always be something for parents to argue about, and the "mommy wars" may continue to erupt about other areas of motherhood. But thanks to all the ways that new technology has blurred the lines between those who have jobs and those who don't, I think that the working moms vs. stay-at-home moms debates have finally become passé.
Judging another mom for working or not working? That's sooooo 1990s.