The mommy wars

It’s the elephant in the room. Nobody says it but everyone is thinking it.

It’s the stay-at-home versus working mommy wars played out in every school or PTA committee meeting I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through.cartoon illustration of two arguing women

I’m sure in some circles, it may come to hair pulling or mean-girl talk, but in the circles I run in, it tends to be an undercurrent. My kids have been at several different schools and I’ve seen a different flavor at each.

I’ve also been on both sides of this equation, a working mom and a stay-at-home mom. My bias is equal, all things considered.

So, I thought it might be fun to make apparent the tapes playing in heads as opposing factions smile sweetly but emotionally square off.  And, of course, no names mentioned or my mommy friends will never speak to me again.

Working Wanda

In this corner, we have Working Wanda. While small in stature, she is a titan in the boardroom. Which is why you’ll rarely find her in the school room at a committee meeting. But when she does show up, her secret pet peeves tend to run along these lines:

Shut up, shut up, shut up already. Ah, yes. As the stay-at-home mom who has decided this meeting is her primary purpose for the day drones on, Wanda seethes. The point that could have been made in a concise sentence or two is instead made in paragraphs. Long, sloooooow paragraphs. With lots of “you know’s” added in and “yays” when someone else says something she likes. Wanda checks her watch and calculates what this meeting will cost her, in billable hours. And starts to count slowly backward from 100 to keep herself from exploding.

I did not sign up for the Little Darling show. This peeve refers to the mother who brings her toddler or small child with her everywhere. Planning an event to raise thousands of dollars? She’s there, alright. The agenda items never quite get covered because a) Little Darling has spilled her sippy cup all over the paper agendas, b) the entire committee must “ooh” and “ah” over LD’s latest song and dance for the talent show before the meeting can begin and c) it’s hard to focus on agenda items when a small person is trying to braid your hair. Wanda calculates how much she pays her nanny per hour and thinks she may just offer to write a check to LD’s mother if it means the next meeting can be an actual meeting rather than a play group.

The agenda-less meeting. Otherwise known as a glorified coffee klatch. No agenda, no progress. You begin with small talk and never quite get beyond it. Or, you start with a random small item, such as the committee chair’s penchant for red and blue decorations, rather than with a budget figure and a timeline. As the talk meanders, Wanda imagines her company’s latest product launch being handled in this manner. And immediately breaks out in hives.

The dinosaur dance. Wanda sits through a 90-minute meeting that was supposed to end 30 minutes ago. She sees the new event chairs pitch all sorts of creative ideas. And then she watches those ideas shot down by the grand dame of the PTA, one by one, with the precision of a sharpshooter. The conversation degrades into talk of how many folding chairs will be needed versus available. And anyone who has ever been in the corporate sector wonders why the grand dame asks for new volunteers when what she really wants is a Stepford Wife. The meeting ends with the inevitable, “We’ve always done it this way. It works.”

Stay-at-Home Susie

Stay-at-Home Susie sits in the other corner. Don’t let the messy hair and tired eyes fool you. She can multi-task with the best of them, even on the mere four hours of sleep her baby allowed her last night. She has been to a million of these meetings and can spot a Wanda from miles away. Her pet peeves tend to sound like:

I didn’t know this was a fashion show. As Wanda sashays into the room, Starbucks in hand, she is probably rocking Manolos. Maybe some Theory. She is showered, made up and caffeinated. And that alone makes Susie want to kill her. Because the uniform makes her think she runs the room the way she runs her work team.  Her constant interruptions, eye rolls and sighs make Susie wonder how many years she’d get in the Big House if she reached across the table and strangled Wanda. After a brief mental calculation, she decides against it, realizing her kids would never find their shoes or eat a decent home-cooked meal again.

Two teenage dolls back to back isolated on white backgroundIf you interrupt me one more time . . . Susie is used to not being able to finish a sentence at home, with her young children speaking over her. So she’s a wee bit sensitive about the issue with fellow grown-ups. By the fourth or fifth interruption, she and Wanda are competing for highest volume and the rest of the room either heads for the bathroom or pulls out earplugs.

I’ll tell you what you can vet. Every era has its corporate buzzwords, which Wanda likes to bring forth at key points in the meeting. She likes to say all ideas should be “vetted” for “peak performance potential.” By the tenth mention, Susie is about to tell her what exactly she can vet and then where she can stick it when she is done.

Enough with the spreadsheets. Wanda rarely comes to school meetings prepared but when she does, it’s usually with copious spreadsheets showing cost/benefit ratios for every aspect of a fundraiser. As Susie watches all eyes in the room glaze over by the third in-depth explanation, she realizes why accountants are rarely invited to her dinner parties. And wonders how to politely tell Wanda there are no end-of-event bonuses being handed out for overachievers.

The Grand Finale

Wanda sucks it up until she can stand it no longer. When the meeting finally ends, she says to Stay-at-Home Susie: “I think you’d be so FAB at those action items we came up with, especially because you have so much extra time on your hands, what with you not working.”.

Susie, inwardly seething, smiles sweetly at Wanda and says, “I think it is so adorable the way your son calls his nanny ‘Mommy’. You’re so lucky to have found a suitable replacement for you. I’m sure that’s not easy.”

I’ve yet to see it end with scratching and kicking, but there’s a first time for everything . . .





14 Comments Add yours

  1. Great summary. It is interesting how things have changed. When I was a child, all mothers stayed at home. The ones who did work were frowned upon. Mine was the first generation who worked. We all became super-mums, balancing work and home. It was frowned upon to be a mother at home. Now as my children become parents staying home is considered OK again although, as your article points out, not without some disconnection with those who work.

    Do men have this problem?

  2. lmarieallen says:

    I might be weird, but I’ve had 4 kids, and I’ve never been able to relate to other moms. I feel like Roseanne when I attend school functions, like I have nothing whatsoever in common with anyone there, and like they’re all judging because I don’t bathe my daughter every night. Gasp! You should have heard the indignation in the school nurse’s voice when she called to tell me that my daughter’s pink eye was back and I would have to come pick her up. As if I willed it to come back and then ignored it in a neglectful subplot. I’m an alien:)

  3. justme3362 says:

    This is great. I’ve (mostly) removed myself from this world, but when I do throw myself back in, I just take a seat in the first row with coffee in hand and watch the action begin. It definitely goes like this!

    1. candidkay says:

      You had me at: “I’ve (mostly) removed myself from this world.” 🙂

  4. Up until last month I was a Wanda and now I’m a Susie. It’s like learning a whole new language.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, yes. And very few commonalities with your “old” world in that language . . .

  5. Anne C says:

    Strikes a cord with me every time I read something on this subject, hear comments from either side or simply think about it by myself. Like you I’ve been on both sides of the table. As I read this I related to Wanda more than Susie and I’m a “Susie” right now! Go figure?!
    Dinosaur Dance = pet peeve!
    I didn’t know this was a fashion show = right there feeling this each and every day!
    My “favorite” comment from a working mom (being said to me) is “I don’t know what you do all day?”

    1. candidkay says:

      Me too! Always more of a Wanda than Susie. And that comment? Ugh. I’ve heard that from a lot of mothers who say it’s thrown at them quite often . . .

  6. Oh, my. I am so Wanda, it’s not funny.

    Not funny at all. Seriously.

    I work 50 hours a week in a stuffy, professional atmosphere and when I have to attend my 15-year olds softball parent meetings, I spend the entire (what seems like) 7 year meeting being Wanda. Hating the other mom’s because this is all they have. This is what they live for. They have planned and looked forward to this meeting for weeks. That 6:00 pm meeting to discuss IN DEPTH, for over an hour, whether or not the girls should have maroon jerseys for home games or gold jerseys? Whether or not the girls should have matching bows for their pony-tails? Which parents are going to supply meals for home games?

    I kinda feel bad. But then I kinda don’t. As much as I’m seething at their repetitive questions just because they like to hear themselves talk, I can see them seething at my clothes without spit-up stains. And they hate me because I never volunteer to feed the team of 35 picky teenagers.

    Again, I work 50 hours a week away from home. I leave at 6:00 in the morning and sometimes don’t get home until well after dark. When am I supposed to cook for 35? I barely have time to feed my family of 3.

    Thank you for this. I am so glad to see I can’t be the ONLY mom who thinks these things. =)

    1. candidkay says:

      I hear you and could feel my blood pressure rising as I read the scenario you painted. I’m in your situation right now, in terms of lots of hours working. And yet, volunteer to try to do my part. But there are days I regret it . . .

      1. It’s just a reminder of “it’s all about me.”

        No matter what side of the fence you’re on at the time…THAT’S the most important side to be on.

        I’m probably guiltier of that than anyone.

        This was one of the BEST things I’ve read in a long, long time. =)

  7. SalvaVenia says:

    Ha, ha, ha …!! Georgeous!!! 😀 😀 😀

    I am SO relieved to see this happen outside of Europe as well. You just made my day!

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, yes. Rampant in the States:). You’re far from alone!

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