Saturday, December 10, 2005

Total 180

I know I'm behind the times, but I can't stop boggling about this article from last week's Salon about Total 180, the new magazine for mothers who've chosen to stay at home with their kids (if you're not a subscriber, you'll have to watch a short ad). I should say that I haven't read the magazine, so of course, I don't have the full picture, but just the remarks from co-founder Debbie Klett made me shudder.

I believe in writing and speaking honestly about the difficulties involved in being a mother - as much as those of us with kids love our children, being a parent is hard work, and it's not always fun. Calling bullshit on the happy-smiling mommies on the tv is an important part of shattering the idealized view of motherhood and validating our own and other women's experiences. But the descriptions of the articles in this magazine made me deeply uneasy; the tone seems to be one of self-congratulatory martyrdom, and as much as Klett mouths platitudes about "different strokes for different folks," it's pretty obvious that she believes the best mommies are the ones who choose to stay home with their kids, and that the decision of so many mothers to work outside the home has contributed to the imminent downfall of society.

Clearly, many of the articles are intended to be funny, but the humor seems to be a way of letting off steam, rather than genuinely critiquing the situation. The women discussed in the interview (the presumed readers of this magazine) sound profoundly unhappy, and yet the magazine seems to be encouraging them to pat themselves on the back: "yeah, it sucks, but if you want your kids to be happy, then you have to practice total self-abnegation. Let's have a little laugh about how hopelessly undomestic men are, and then get back to the laundry!"

All parents have to juggle family and work as best we can, and some of us have more options than others - I'm not going to criticize anyone else for the choices she/he's making (so long as they're not actually endangering their children). In the nearly nine years that Adam and I have been parents, we've cobbled together a variety of solutions, based on the needs of our entire family. Yes, my children are incredibly important to me, and if push came to shove, I would make whatever sacrifices I had to so that they could have what they needed. But I refuse to believe that the only way to have healthy, happy children is to make yourself miserable. It's telling that the founders of the magazine have gone back to work, publishing this magazine that reinforces the value of staying at home with your children (notice how Klett really avoids addressing that in the interview).

One of the things that really frustrates me about the "mommy wars" is the way that everything is simplified, as if every mother is either a. a full-time, workaholic high-powered executive who puts her kids in day care for 12 hours a day starting when they're 3 weeks old, or b. a mindless June Cleaver clone whose greatest delight is in cooking and cleaning for her family (notice how dad is entirely absent from either of these pictures). In between those stereotyped extremes are the millions of women who work part-time or from home, who take their kids with them to work, who work opposite shifts from their husbands, etc. Every family has to balance breadwinning and homemaking, and there are as many ways to do that as there are families; no solution is right for everyone. I've done the "total 180" and quit my job to stay-at-home with my kids (and now, after several years of part-time work and working from home, I'm doing a "360" and going back to work full-time), but I don't think Total 180 would ever be a magazine that I could enjoy. For all the "honest" venting about how hard it is to be a stay-at-home mother, the magazine seems designed to enforce a very narrow set of parameters for "good mommies," and that's not something I can support, even when my choice happens to be the one that's being valorized.