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The Mommy Wars by Cheryl Mobley-Stimpson Sometimes I wonder what “motherhood” has become in a world full of systems that take mothers for granted and where "motherhood" is often manipulated for political purposes. So this Mother’s Day, I’m viewing the holiday through a different set of lenses, one that exposes the people and systems that pit mother against mother and paint the experience of motherhood in black and white brushstrokes, instead of creating sustainable communities and acknowledging the diverse and difficult choices that modern mothers are often forced to make. The latest round of “Mommy Wars” was as predictable as baseball and hot dogs in the ballpark during summertime. This time, pundits wondered whether Ann Romney, who chose to be a stay-at-home mom, would be able to relate to the vast majority of women if she became First Lady. Is this really an issue that needs our attention? The fact that she is a multi-millionaire is the only challenge I can see to her relating to most American women. At its root, this is a game played (by men) using stay-at-home moms and working moms as pawns to keep us at odds with each other and distract us from the real issues of the day. Instead of this tired (and irrelevant) debate, women need to demand to know why those of us with the same educational levels still earn less than men. Let’s talk about the lack of jobs in our communities and ceilings that still exist to keep women from reaching our full potential. Let’s talk about the absence of women in Congress and in elected offices at the local and state levels. Let’s talk about the incredibly high cost of childcare, which makes the so-called “choice” to stay at home moot for the millions of women who simply can’t afford to work. Political pundits and politicians, do you have anything to say on these issues that isn’t just more rhetoric? As we ponder these issues during the upcoming holiday, let us remember that there are real mothers feeling real pain all over this country who deserve our genuine concern. I wonder about those folks who think it’s so easy to cast someone as an “ordinary mom going through ordinary things.” Those who want to paint all mothers with a broad brush stroke do not seem to understand the fact that while there are many commonalities in theory, the actual practice of “motherhood” can be a very different experience from woman to woman, neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, country to country. For example, in the circles in which I travel, tagging a single mother with the label of “sports mom” (soccer mom, baseball mom, hockey mom, etc.) means more than just showing up at games, refreshed and excited, ready to cheer on the team. It usually also means they’ve experienced a minivan full of sacrifices and disappointments, both personal and professional over many years, while being ignored by many who never helped with the development of their children in the beginning but stand ready to devour and/or manipulate them in the end (especially as they come of age and success draws nearer).

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The women I know have also been overlooked by men who never gave them credit for their knowledge and strategy and even ridiculed by other women who thought they were wasting their time by focusing on their children instead of on achieving prestige. And let’s take the time to qualify the term “single mother” so that we start at the same place for discussion. For purposes of this article, “single” means “never married,” “divorced,” “separated,” “widowed,” and/or “married while operating as single”—all of these circumstances create the common ground upon which many women live. All women need our political leaders to develop sound public policy solutions that are strategic, systemic, and sustainable, instead of relying on “one-hit wonders” that are really photo opportunities in disguise, while doing nothing to really change lives of families they represent. I wonder sometimes how the talking heads would manage to get through a single day as a single mother. Imagine dropping one child off for a game, traveling across town to drop the second child off for practice, traveling the same distance back only to arrive for the remaining portion of the game and to pick the first child up, then travel back across town stressfully hoping to arrive in time to retrieve the second child, now momentarily stranded because practice has ended. Imagine forfeiting participation in an important tournament because the “other parent” reneged in the eleventh hour. Imagine choosing a school not only for the academic, arts, and athletic reputation, but because you have an increased assurance that your child will not come home injured or beaten up—both literally and psychologically. Imagine trying to raise a child who does not have the ability to walk freely through his or her neighborhood for fear of encountering a “thug mentality” from either bullies or police officers. Ever wonder about the post-traumatic stress this produces for mothers who reside in dangerous communities but do their best to “hold it down” all over this country? Sadly, too many churches do too little to help. In too many cases—across denominations—the church has remained silent on some of the most challenging and persistent issues that face today’s families. If mothers and their families can’t turn to the church for help, the enemy “wins” in the attempt to devour and destroy. However, let’s also take the opportunity here to applaud and say “thank you” to those churches who labor in the vineyard. You help us hold on to hope, providing concrete examples for others to follow if they would only take heed. It’s time for more Christian women to shape the debate and engage in advocacy. It’s time we stop letting men (even through the mouths of other women) distract us from what is really important. It’s time for us to demand improved policies that help with parenting, to decry attempts to divide us. We raise our voices and say: We are much more complex than a sound bite, and we demand that you pay attention to and provide solutions for the reality in which most of us live. We are screaming, “Too many of us are in survival mode—don’t take up our time with non-issues.” Too many of us don’t have enough income to do what is needed for ourselves and our families. Too many single moms, including me, have had entire livelihoods uprooted by the recession and other

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circumstances beyond our control. There is no personal life “coach” working on our behalf, no assigned “general manager” making decisions to rescue our future, nobody holding our hands to identify potential pitfalls. Any mistakes mothers make are unfairly magnified and manipulated without consideration of lacking resources, overwhelming trials, and seemingly impossible obstacles. Maybe what we need is an identifiable cadre of seasoned mothers ready, willing, and able to provide the strategic support needed by those who are less experienced. Mothers are everywhere, standing on all kinds of sidelines, suited up and ready to enter the game, but we have been held back by those who change the rules, or change the game altogether, when and where we enter. But I am hopeful. I know this won’t last forever; we are becoming much too smart to continue to be distracted and fooled. I would be remiss if I did not stress a critical point. At the crux of this article is the need for us to have God in our lives. If you know any mothers who don’t know God, please find a sensitive and caring way to introduce them. I know firsthand that it is only the peace and comfort that I have received from God that has carried me through the tough times I face daily. In the meantime, Happy Mother’s Day, especially to those of us who need to hear those words the most and who have sacrificed, living out the true meaning of the holiday year round. The next time we try to create tension between mothers, let us all be reminded of the words of American author Helen Hunt Jackson: “Motherhood is priced of God, at price no man may dare to lessen or misunderstand.” To all mothers, continue to do your best to raise your children. God sees all and will provide. Remember what Jeremiah 29:11 tells us: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Grow the productive children, moms, and in so doing you will change the world. Cheryl Mobley-Stimpson holds B.S, M.A., J.D. degrees and has plans to finish a Ph.D. degree, started earlier. She is currently enrolled in the M.Div. program at Palmer Seminary, where she is a Sider Scholar. A new project, “Moms on Assignment,” will further explore some of the issues mentioned in this article.

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The Mommy Wars  

Public Policy ePistle May 10, 2012

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