Last year, Lesley Morgan Steiner edited a book titled “Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families,” in which women of various backgrounds discuss their views and individuals choices regarding working and child rearing. The book set-off much media discussion regarding the supposedly strained relationship between mothers who work outside of the home and those who stay at home with their children.
The January 23rd episode of the “The Oprah Winfrey Show” again examined women’s thoughts around working or staying at home with their kids. The show, which allowed women who felt very strongly about the topic one way or another to debate each other about which was the “right” way, also featured Elizabeth Vargas, who discussed her choice to step down as the anchor of World News Tonight upon finding out that she was pregnant with her second child. Ms. Vargas explained her difficult choice to viewers, stating that she didn’t want to have to do the extreme traveling that being the World News Tonight anchor would entail. She also expressed her surprise that many organizations, including NOW, came out against her decision, writing critical letters to ABC asking the news organization to support her in both caring for her family and working as a news anchor. Ms. Vargas reiterated that, as many of the other women on the show, she made a choice to work in a role and on a schedule that she felt comfortable with.
As part of the show, Oprah conducted an online poll of both moms who work outside of the home and stay at home. Over 15,000 women responded to the survey, with some interesting results. 57% of stay-at-home moms say that not working puts a financial strain on their family; however, the average overall household income of the stay-at-home moms surveyed is very close, if not better than that, of the working moms. In fact, the working moms in this survey had to work in order to reach the same household income level that the stay-at-home moms enjoyed. Of the stay-at-home moms surveyed, 22% had a household income less than $40,000 per year, as compared to 23% of the working moms surveyed. If the working moms had not worked, 54% of those surveyed would have had a household income of under $40,000 per year. For those surveyed, the second income enjoyed by having the mothers work outside of the home was key to maintaining a higher standard of living.
Most fascinating, though, is how close both groups are on some key topics, which perhaps shows that the media-hyped “Mommy Wars” is perhaps not as volatile as once thought. Both groups agreed that stay-at-home moms do not get the respect that they deserve, with 85% of stay-at-home moms and 83% of working moms agreeing with this statement. More stay-at-home moms than working moms (71% vs 61%) feel that women can give 100% to motherhood and a career, showing that the majority of stay-at-home moms respect working moms as well and feel that working moms do a good job of balancing both responsibilities.
During Oprah’s show, Dr. Robin Smith argued that whether or not a woman should work outside of the home while raising children is a “grey” issue and something that each woman needs to work through herself. While the media has at times pitted women with extreme views against each other to demonstrate that the “Mommy Wars” do exist, Oprah’s survey demonstrates that the majority of women do support each other’s decisions, even if they are different than their own.