I am tired of the so-called Mommy wars - the battle between mothers who have paid employment outside the home and women whose primary place of work is inside the domestic sphere. There really is no 'war' despite the philosophical, moral and economic debates that are used to support the choices of women that feminism engendered. And there has yet to be a body of literature called, 'The Daddy Wars'.
That said, the mommy wars do exist. And frustratingly so. Feminism was to give us a choice to do what we want as women - not bound by social structures or stereotypes but inspired by social and cultural freedoms. The data has been in and it hasn't much changed: despite all those freedoms, women are still stuck in the second shift doing more domestic chores than men, even though that balance has changed over the years.
With Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In organization that is funded by her book: Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead bringing the discussion of women's home time back into the firing line, women are again exploring what their role should be at home and at work and trying to explain why despite the increasing levels of women's education, there has not been a corresponding increase in female leaders in the corporate sphere. Of course, leadership need not be in the corporate sphere for women to have power as it could be argued that this is a male way of defining power. But nevertheless, this has led me to consider the women who, for reasons of their career, maintain a separate residence from their child, who live with their fathers. This choice can be made in a marriage or after a separation.
These mothers are particularly vulnerable to the judgement of other women who wonder how any loving mother would choose to leave their child behind to pursue a career opportunity - a choice many men make when they take long-term posts far away from home. However, Dads are expected to make sacrifices in their relationship with children and Moms are expected to choose children above all. And while Dads will get compliments on their abilities to parent alone, Moms will often be the subject of judgement, anger and even vitriole if she chooses to willingly gives Dad the primary parenting responsibility. There is not much difference between this choice and sending a child to boarding school, except that instead of boarding school, the child(ren) are with their father.
These choices are tough ones but many families find a way to make them work. But these are women who are 'leaning in' to career success. And as a mother who has had a teenaged daughter who lived with her father in another state for several years, there are lessons that I have learned for maintaining relationships with one's child when forced to live hundreds or thousands of miles apart.
Here are a few key strategies for making these long-distance parenting arrangements work:
In the end, each woman and her family must choose what is best for her and her family. There are many ways to raise a child and many ways to be happy. No apologies, shame or guilt are needed.