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September 22, 2008

Mommy Wars: Can networking exist between SAHMs and working moms?

Mommywars_2 I just had dinner with a friend who recently moved to another city, and she mentioned that it's hard for her to meet other moms. We agreed that networking with other moms is important, giving us a sense of community and support system.

Her struggle is a common Catch 22: she works full-time and isn't available during the day to get to know stay-at-home moms, and the moms she knows from work want to spend time outside the office with their families. She also wonders if there really is a "mommy war" between stay-at-home and working moms, preventing them from getting close.

For working moms and dads, there are the competing demands and opposing forces of career and parenting, and for stay-at-home parents, the defensiveness behind their choices to leave the workforce and care for their kids full-time sometimes makes it hard to connect with working parents.

As peers, how can we close the gap between these two groups of parents and form lasting relationships without completely ignoring the issue?

Leslie Morgan Steiner, best-selling author of Mommy Wars and an advertising executive at The Washington Post, was recently interviewed by Meredith Vieira on The Today Show during the Republican National Convention. Meredith asked Leslie if the addition of Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska and mom to five children, including an infant with Down syndrome, to the Republican party presidential ticket is setting a new standard for moms everywhere, further pushing the myth of "Super Mom."

Leslie's answer is very poignant, not only about the election, but about the root cause of the gap between working and stay at home parents:

"I think that women tend to over-personalize other women's choices…about how they juggle work and family," Leslie said on Today. "It's something I do a hundred times a day. And Sarah Palin is not saying to you or to me or to any other woman out there that we have to have five kids and run for vice president of the United States. She's saying that she's doing it and she has to be treated as an individual."

So, how can moms and dads, whether they work or stay at home full-time, build a cohesive community and network for the common good?

Here are my tips:

  • Frequent Family Venues
    I suggested to my recently relocated friend that she look into newcomers' clubs and other places where families can meet, like the YMCA or a kids' soccer game. Shared interests like community involvement, religion, or volunteering provide an even playing field for working and stay-at-home parents to bond.
  • Have a Block Party
    Weekends are one of the few free times not mutually exclusive to working or stay at home parents, and a great time to host a neighborhood meet-and-greet for all members of the family. Better yet, recruit a few fellow "committee" members and make block parties a regular thing!
  • Organize a Social Network or Email List
    Web sites like Facebook, Meetup.com or Ning are a great way to engage parents in your community, and in the virtual space, people can participate at a time of day or week that's most convenient for their schedule. Use a Facebook page, Meetup.com group, or a Ning community to find shared interests, activities, and experiences that you can use to further bond with parents in your area (or from your workplace).

In an interview with Care.com's editors, Leslie also added her perspective on the state of employment options and the need for more collaboration and joint activism from both camps of parents:

"Five or ten years ago, it was tougher for well-educated women to take time off without significant penalty," Leslie said. "Also, [as Americans, we have a] collective devaluation of stay-at-home [parents] who perform years of unpaid labor.  We tend to applaud paid labor in this country.

"There are approximately 81 million moms in America today. Each of us juggles modern motherhood amidst social paradox and flux. Fifty years ago women struggled to force many law schools, business schools, and medical schools to admit women. The number of women with college degrees has doubled in 20 years, and women now make up 51% of the white-collar workforce. In the last 50 years, the percent of American women staying home dropped from 76% to 28%.  None of us has the today's work/kids paradigm figured out.

"Beneath the surface of the "mommy war" between working and at-home mothers lies each woman's inner mommy war, an endless mental debate over whether we've made the right choices about how we juggle work and family.  Now that women's advances at work and at home have increased our options, the challenge for each woman with a bona fide choice is to feel good about her decision—without condemning, or silencing, other women who make different ones...Not a fairytale ending—we won't have that until there's a cornucopia of flexible, well-paid, part-time work for men and women in all segments of the labor force—but far better news than moms have gotten in a long time."

For more advice from Leslie Morgan Steiner, check out: MSNBC.com (specifically for stay-at-home moms looking to re-enter the workforce); her column, Two Cents on Working Motherhood at MommyTrackd.com; or pick up a copy of her best-selling book Mommy Wars.

How do you network with other moms? If you're a stay-at-home or a working dad, how do you find your support system? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please share them on my blog by posting a comment.

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Comments

Roxanne Schroeder

I meet people at the park when me and my daughter go playing. I meet people during school. I am 36 and started going for my Masters, so I get to meet people that way. Also, through other friends, I meet people. Another good place to meet people is he local library during reading for children. Hope that helps.

Unique Thompson

I'm 19 years old I have a 4 month old baby boy. In the morning, I get up and get ready while he is still asleep and go to my program. Sometimes I want to stay home, but I can't, so what I will do is get a laptop and do online work just to be around myfamily.

Octavia

Hello,

For a while, it was difficult for me to juggle working full time and family time as well, and sometimes it still does not always work out the way I plan. I have to make it a point to set aside time for family and for myself. We tend to neglect ourselves in the midst of taking care of everything else, which is not a good thing. We really have to pay attention to what I call "me, myself, and I". I think by doing that everything else tends to fall in place. If you are taking care of self and nurturing that which is in you then it will come out and manifest through all you do.

I have 5 children ranging from ages 21 to 2 and a grandchild, so I truly understand you have to find activities and go places where you know families hang out or that are family-type environments. I like taking my younger kids to different birthday parties, whether out or inside. You can always search the internet for local events that are going on in your city and send out a blast email inviting your friends to attend with their children. What ever the time you spend just make sure you give yourself some "me time".

MICHAEL HENDERSON

Not that I'm a mom, but I do have two kids and I'm a single working parent. Networking with other moms and dads is hard at times and I've found it to be a work in progress. First and foremost, get your kids involved in church. Then, get your kids involved in after-school or team activities, and no, I'm not just talking about sports, although I do feel sports are OK. There are lots of local activities. Check the recreation centers, library, and your kid's school. This may be a way or a chance for you to join in a network of people that you can communicate with about your worries or concerns or a chance to help out someone else. The latter part is something we all should try and do, because when you help others, you help yourself even more.

NICHELLE DAVIS

It's hard for me. The only thing that I can say is that I have to take out time for me to clear my head and get ready for the next day. If I sit around and think about those things that I am missing, I start wondering "what if?", so I find things that would keep me going like volunteering.

tanyetta

I have a lot of friends that work full time. Once a month, we get together in the park after dinner with the bikes, scooters and skateboards and let the kids go wild while the moms sit around and chat and catch up on each other's lives. We also have BBQ and family get togethers on the weekend too.

I always say, you make time for what you want to do! If people really want to get out and be around other people, they'll make the effort. The problem is, after working all day, getting home to cook dinner, take care of the house, etc...you are WIPED out and the last thing you have time for is 'chit chat' with the girls.

That's why I always encourage people to make a little time for the things that matter. Before you know it, you'll be making time for your friends too ;)

Kristiana Kincaid

If you're in the Bay Area, the place to be to meet other new parents is Day One Center, a parent resource center and store in Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Walnut Creek.

I'm a new mom and this is my home away from home!

joanna

Hi,

I am a mother of four. I have met a lot of other parents to interact with while playing at the park with my children. I have also met some really great people through church and the children's school/sports. The more you go the more you will meet others just like you. Some people can become lifetime friends. It's great for the kids and you. Another idea is putting together a neighborhood lunch in. Everyone brings a dish and their children. You would be amazed at how many people feel the same way and are looking to meet other parent's.

lacey

I am a fitness instructor at the YMCA. It really keeps me involved with other moms. Before or after classes, I have casual conversations with other women, and a lot of times we'll find ourselves chatting about our family and children. So, I think working out at the gym has a double positive impact. You of course get your work out as well as get to meet and keep in touch with other moms.

tina

I am new to the area I am in now and haven't met anyone yet but my son's babysitter, but she is 20 years older than I am. I have enjoyed the ideas given in these comments and I, too, believe church would be the best way to met decent family-type people although there are hipicrites out there as well. I HOPE TO LEARN MORE IDEA'S ABOUT MEERTING NEW PEOPLE. THANKS!

Jennifer Millman

Actually my husband is a stay-at-home dad. He works from our home office and when our son got to be around 6 months old (I had to go back to work 3 months after he was born) it was just too much for my husband to balance work and the baby and so we had to hire sitters. He expressed and still finds it difficult to meet other men his age in his situation. And being male it is nearly impossible to meet other moms and have our son socialize with their children. I wouldn't mind so much, but I just don't think our society has accepted the whole dad homemaker thing yet.

A Mullins

I am a SAHM of three sons, ages 7,4 and 2. We recently moved to this area and it has been difficult to meet people, especially since my husband works long hours and I am usually exhausted. I have met wonderful people through my son's sports and through the PTA at their school. I think most moms, both SAHM and working, would love to have the opportunity to network with other moms but time is so limited that it's very frustrating
sometimes. I have a masters degree and worked many years in healthcare and it's been difficult to adjust to being a SAHM. I love my sons dearly and love what I do now but I miss the conversations with other working women. There are opportunities to meet and talk w/ other moms but it takes some effort!

Dana

I am a working mother of 3 young children. My husband and I work odd shifts, requiring us to hire a sitter after school 4 days per week and having someone help get them on the bus 2 days per week. Our youngest son goes to a preschool full time.
We find it very difficult to make new friends due to our schedules. All of the couples we know are financially strapped and have very full loads at home due to multiple children and health problems.
I have, however, found some comfort in having a couple of mom's I know to correspond via email. We kind of have a good system and constantly try to boost each other's moral.

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