Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mom or Wife: which is the tougher job?

What’s the tougher job: Housewife or Working Mom?

Check out the anecdote I’m leading with, below. It has nothing to do with my major premise. At least on the surface…

The scene is the Washington DC Metro Red Line, between the Rhode Island Avenue and the Catholic U. stops. The train’s slowed to tortoise pace due to “track work.” Bored and ruffled, I eavesdrop on two white women who look to be chaperones for what’s apparently a middle school field trip…yet quickly, as I crane my neck like I have no damn sense, I realize that all these kids are theirs. One of them carries a nylon backback with a “Palin” sticker. Not McCain-Palin. Just Palin.
Turns out the two of them of them are housewives from rural Virginia visiting the Capital with their brood in the aftermath of the annual anti-abortion march protesting the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Funny, they talk about the crowd. On 1/20 I could have shown them crowd, Lord. Funnier still, they live only 25 miles away yet are only now marveling at our decaying, unreliable subway. As if Kismet, there’s a poster for a cable TV show on TLC about an evangelical Christian family with sixteen children. Oh, the conversation moves to Michelle Obama. Nothing positive yet nothing nasty, either, as quite a few sisters got on at Rhode Island Avenue. My molars grind anyway when one grouses to her daughter, “She [the First Lady] must have had such an easy time of it."
Now, diagonally across from me all this time sits a young Hispanic woman with a long pony tail. That, not her security guard's uniform, caught me attention first. She’s pretty but has that tired, beaten look. Not ennui. Not the weariness of her young blond counterpart also seated, punching on a Blackberry and sporting a vinyl satchel embroidered with the name of large D.C. law firm. The Hispanic woman nuzzles a little girl who's clearly doing her homework on the train. No wedding ring on the mom's finger. Before a tunnel cuts her signal the woman finishes a conversation on her mobile phone. Perfect English, not Spanish. Something about rent, cut back on hours. Health insurance…

That’s the vignette. Here’s the totally unrelated premise. Being a mother is the toughest job on earth. But is being a housewife so? No.
My mother, who was a housewife till she decided to go back and get her degree, then a masters then a real job, would agree were she alive. I’m sure she, like a lot of middle class women from the 1950s to the 1980s and irrespective of race or color, had sprinkles of Kate Winslet- “Revolutionary Road” moments.
Being a working mother/wife is very hard. And being a single working mother is toughest of all—especially if you don’t have the type of job where Blackberries are de riguer. The only reason housewife is even in the mix is the mom component.

So...let me have it with both barrels, or agree. Talk to me about equal pay battles, pregnancy leave, the fulfillment of motherhood versus the glass ceiling, giving it all way to be with one’s baby. Knowing “Dora the Explorer” episodes by heart. I’m only a man, after all. Being a husband and dad, well that’s supposedly a piece of cake…


Lisa said...


Single Working Mom
Working Wife and Mom
Working Wife, no kids (but that depends on whether your man is trifling)

That's the hierachy.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with your rankings, Mr. Chambers. I'm particularly annoyed to me are housewives like Caroline Kennedy. These women take their platinum educations and do charity work just to get out of the house. Then they have the gall to be shocked that's there's little room for people with absolutely no experience in the workforce after an absence on 10 to 15 years.

Anonymous said...

You are getting us all into trouble. ;-)

I have long kept my tongue about stay at home moms. The mother part is superhuman. The stay at home part has been built up by conservatives. It is a waste of an education. Somebody--male or female--who didn't get that space whether you're at Howard or Harvard and could have used it, what would they say? Commuting to work, dealing with insurmountable complex problems, surly underlings and cruel, stupid bosses. "Dragon Tales" and Swiffer "wet jet" is no comparison, neither are lunch and play dates!!

Now that this is off my chest, I'll remain anonymous!

Now, I will

Chicama Vineyard said...

Yes do NOT forget we working wife/mothers. Fighting bastards on the job, then coming home and trying to cook, tidy and put my squirming daughter to bed. Yes my husband helped but he was on often 4:30pm to midnight shifts as a Mobile police officer.

The housewives out there treated me as if I was a leper.

Anonymous said...

Why are we ranking the traditional female roles of housewife, mother, and working mom here? Does the act of making snippy comments about women's decisions regarding their private lives advance the causes of pay equity, family medical leave, and/or the harmful effects of chemicals in household cleaning products on women's bodies (both unpaid housewives and underpaid cleaning women)? How does this discourse provide substantive content for the public debate on women's roles in society? Where's the love, the unity?...

Look, housework is work. W-o-r-k. Hard work. Motherhood is work. W-o-r-k. Hard work. Being a working mom is work. W-o-r-k. Hard work.

Women are unpaid or underpaid in all of these roles, and most women take on each one at some point in their lives, earning less than men over the course of their lifetimes. Because our health care system is the worst in the so-called developed world, women earn even less relative to men because we're the ones who take off from our jobs to have and raise children for longer periods than men. (Shoot, a man doesn't have to take off at all, and no one judges HIS decision.) Shifting in and out of the workplace with the current laws regarding maternity leave and medical leave in place economically devastates women and makes them more dependent on the dominant male.

The stronger discussion would be, I think, to talk about the places where women's diverse experiences intersect, honor those similarities, the realities that link all American women across race and class lines, while simultaneously acknowledging the differences that do stem from race and class, and move forward.

And I'm sorry if this comment sounds angry, but I'm due in three weeks, my job's so-called maternity leave sucks, I'm left hanging and trying to figure out the intricacies of mine and my wonderful husband's health coverage and childcare in this labyrinth of a US health care system, and, certainly not least, my floors really need a scrubbing.

Anonymous said...


I disagree. I think or at least eight years reactionary people have denigrated working women--particularly working mothers--and extolled this obviously fallacy prone image of the 1950 of which "Revolutionary Road" has trashed, as a form of public policy. Indeed every right wing economic effort has been couched to the faithful as a means so women can retreat from work to the kitchen. Don't believe me? Do the research. All the while it's taken battle after battle to create equal pay.

If Nat Turners (Chris Chambers) is being snarky about it, fine. That's his approach. It's designed to stir debate. But after checking on your background it's clear to me that his snark--which isn't really snark at all--certainly isn't aimed at someone like you. It's not even aimed a woman who drops out of the workforce for a limited period (as long as it's ok and encouraged for men to do the same thing). I think he planted that seemingly unrelated Metro subway story for a reason, and it lends toward the issues you feel strongly about. I'm 100% sure he agrees with you.

Cut the brotha a break. I knew him in college and his favorite Caucasian song was "Cruel to Be Kind." LOL

P.S. My wife watches that show on cable: TLC's show with the Duggers and their 16 children, along with the one about the "silly" woman who has 8 children -- twins and sextuplets. She took hyper egg producing drugs on purpose. My wife watches it for ammusement purposes, not emulation. However there are too many epople who think it's great.

Remember the mothering part is hard. Watching kids shows all day, making grocery list, playing trophy housewife or packing up toddlers to invade the local mall or coffee shop (and I have heard Nat Turner rail on that before) is NOT when compared with working AND being a mother. My wife is an attorney who works 50 hours a week on average. She loves her work, she loves our children. Both of us side with Nat Turner that lets stop deifying the "cult of mommyhood," as we now see Anne Coulter doing. If we have to replace it with a NEW hierarchy, so be it!

Anonymous said...

I am one of those over-educated people with two Ivy League degrees and always working multiple jobs. I have held jobs as a reporter where I was on call 7days a week and it was all consuming. I say that to say, I quit my jobs/schooling/etc. for a year after my first daughter was born. I stayed home and nursed her for a year with my then boyfriend, now husband. It was by far the hardest job I have ever held. I could fuck around on the Internet at work or take 2 hour lunches. Being a mommy and wife--there's no vacation. Its for life. RUFKM. I ran back to work so fast it would have made your head spin. I needed a damn vacation and some quiet time for myself. Any traditional job is SO much easier than being a mother and/or wife.

Pebbles Flintstone said...

Here's a bigger condundrum:

When I was chained to my desk I couldn't wait to be at home with my babies and make dinner for hubby. When I was chained to my kitchen or the pail full of diluted Clorox, emptying the diaper Genie and wondering when hubby was going to get off the couch I couldn't wait to get back to my desk and the excitement of downtown.

Maybe the word "chained" should be the focus, as "Eisa" says

Anonymous said...

some of these comments are scary, to say the least. Elisa, I agree with you. What a woman chose to do is her and her family's business. If you are a woman and did not like being at home with "your" children then going back to work is what you needed. There are women who enjoy being home and raising their children and to them and to the all women period who choose what is best for their families, I salute you!


Anonymous said...

Anon @ 12:03....didn't the title of this indicate it wasn't a question of which was "better" but which was "tougher"?? I don't understand how its not obvious that a woman who works full-time AND is a mother can not have the tougher role, unless she has a nanny, cook - somebody to do the loads and loads of clothes. Maybe I'm just aware of the women who worked all day and still came home to clean the house, cook, do laundry, monitor homework, etc. There is no way in hell they didn't have it the toughest.

Anonymous said...

Miranda,well if she works hard like that maybe she could get a nanny to help her? They are both tough jobs- not all women at home are sitting on their rumps eating bon bons, not the ones I know . There is no rewards or perks for being at home like work gives you, At work there is collegue appreciations, promotions, etc.. Nobody going to say to a mom at home, hey that floor being so clean automatically promotes you to... what?

Anonymous said...

Miranda, you got it right. The woman who does BOTH jobs (and is single, like me), remains in a perpetual state of exhausted. The SAHM eventually gets a few minutes a day when her darlings are off to school, to take a breather. But, when you have a two-way commute, office personalities to negotiate with, a stack of work that never goes down, PLUS getting dinner on the table, laundry in the washer, homework and studying supervised, dishes washed.... who can dispute which is tougher, especially when you're doing all the home stuff yourself? Sorry to all the SAHMs out there, but I would trade with you for a year, just to be able to read a book or two, and check in with Oprah once a month.

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