Hilary Rosen's ill-chosen comments about Ann Romney's choice to be a stay at home mom (SAHM) have ignited the 21st century version of the Mommy Wars. Alas! I thought those wars had been fought in the 70s, 80s, and 90s and resolved by the turn of the new century. Apparently, they have not, and that both saddens and angers me.
Let me begin by stating emphatically that this is not about politics. The debate has bordered on the absurd, and it's high time that if we insist on beating this subject to death, we focus on parenting -- not politics.
At different times in my life, I have been both a SAHM and a working mom. I actually went back to school and back to work because my husband was out of work. With three sons, I found myself leaving at 7 a.m. and often returning after 10 p.m. As I drove from work to school, my neck and shoulders ached from tension and I would wonder if I had time to get a bite to eat before my 6:30 evening class. The exhaustion and stress reminded me of the nine-hour stints I spent every evening as a SAHM rocking, holding, bouncing, and feeding a screeching colicky baby who would not be consoled.
Three sons always seemed to me as many boys as I could handle. I give Mrs. Romney all the credit in the world for successfully raising five sons!
The current conversation revolves too much around money. Although it's estimated that full-time mothering should yield $112,000 per year in the marketplace, that's not the point. It's very easy to say mothering has to do with how much money you have, but it doesn't. There's no doubt that being comfortable -- or even wealthy -- can make your life easier, but it doesn't make you a better parent.
Changing diapers, wiping noses, cooking and cleaning -- and the other mundane tasks -- are commonly believed to be the domain of mothers. But there's a far more important realm that has been totally neglected in this debate. And that's the social, emotional, and intellectual development of children.
No matter how much household help a mother does or doesn't have, it is she who conveys the values that she wants her children to live by. Whether a mother is a SAHM or works 16-hour days, she is a role model for her children.
She also needs to be present for her children, and available to communicate with them at all hours of the day and night. She needs to notice little things that may turn into big things, like suspicions of delayed learning or disabilities, or friendlessness.
It's also my opinion that mothers need to know what's going on in their children's schools and to communicate with their teachers. Research indicates that the more parents are involved, the more successful their children will be and the better the schools. James J. Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, contends that parenting counts as much or more than income in developing a child's ability to learn and succeed in school.
Samantha Garvey, an 18-year-old Brentwood, L.I., high school senior was recently named a semi-finalist in the Intel Science Competition while her family was living in a homeless shelter. Her mother, Olga Garvey Coreas, an immigrant from El Salvador, told the Huffington Post's Latino Voices that parents must be vigilant in encouraging and supporting their children's education. She pointed out that her husband, Leo, worked nights and that she worked days.
"The fact was that we never left them alone; we were always there to help them with their homework," she said. "I believe that good communication is the basis for guiding our children."
Some mothers have no choice but to work full-time. Some mothers choose to stay home. Some mothers work part-time. Good mothering and bad mothering can be found in every socio-economic level and working style. It's high time that mothers stop attacking each other and focus on what's most important -- raising decent human beings.
Follow Meryl Ain, Ed.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrMerylAin