True Feminism Means Choices Not Judgment

06/05/2015 05:11 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2016
Jessica Peterson via Getty Images

When I became a stay-at-home mom, I learned a lot. There are things you can hear about and think you understand, and then there is what you know from your own experience -- things you feel deep in your soul.

When I saw The New York Times article "Poor Little Rich Women," I thought that Wednesday Martin might be on to something. I thought she was going to talk about the hidden aspects of moms who are lucky enough to stay home and raise their kids, the challenging emotional aspects that I have witnessed and personally experienced.

Maybe she does in her book, but the op-ed she wrote seems to do little more than poke and prod people to further wag their fingers at "mother's work."

It is so often men who get the great accolades and monetary compensation for their accomplishments, she points out, while women -- graduates of top colleges -- are forced to toil as volunteers in schools and on charity boards with little recognition and no pay.

But how about recognizing that this work is crucial work? How about understanding that the feminism school that says women should be in the top jobs also greatly diminishes the role that "non-working" people (moms and dads) play in their communities?

In a way, though, Martin's article just stirs in us moms what we already feel based on the decisions we've made. My mother-in-law read it and thought, "These poor women, without jobs, without pay, relying on their husbands' wealth and worth." This is her view since, up until recently retiring, she worked in finance, and has been on the board of top organizations, playing in a highly male world.

My husband's 80-something aunt, on the other hand, a long-time stay-at-home mom who built up her resume in volunteer positions such that she later ran an arts organization and became a local alder woman in her 70s, thought that it was great that these Upper East Side moms get bonuses from their husbands, remembering her own difficulties with not having any personal income even though she was a highly active community leader.

While Martin looks on to this group of elite moms and their "culture" with a supposed anthropological lens, comparing them to primates, her judgment and ours as we read her account is laden with all the baggage of what is considered respectable in society and what is not.

And respect is what's important. The ego is a fragile thing, and whether we get ours stroked or not, no matter where we are or what we're doing, seems to be the crucial divide.

I can remember my stress and panic trying to come up with a cover story every week when I worked at Advertising Age.

If I didn't, I beat myself up. Now, I place that same pressure on myself in other areas, including whether I am doing enough for my kids. And so much of what I do with my kids is hard to measure. Is "success" acceptance at a top school or getting the lead in the school play, or do we measure levels of happiness and kindness? Do we get demerits for acne, and points for popularity? If I were to get a "wife bonus," what would it be based on?

The reality is that all of us -- working for pay or not -- have to handle our daily lives, whatever they may hold for us to relish or endure. What is highly unproductive is for us to stand back and judge. There is no single metric that means we're doing well. There is no rubric or test that can grade us as moms, or as people. It's an age-old debate, and a tiresome one, to vilify or defend women who have the choice to stay home and decide to, and it flies in the face of true feminism, which is all about offering just such a choice.

Stephanie Thompson writes the Fearless Parenting column every other Thursday on