Without a doubt, the biggest problem with the working mother debate is the fact that it doesn't get into specifics.
For instance, when we talk about mothers at work, do we mean mothers who return to the workforce after a maternity leave -- as the women in the media do -- and hire nannies or send their kids to day care? Are we talking about mothers of older children who've been at home for a decade and return to work once their kids are in school? Are we talking about women who own their own businesses, have employees, and can come and go as they please -- bringing their children with them wherever they go? Are we talking about mothers who work part-time or from home?
These distinctions are critical -- and they are never made in the media. Part of the reason for this is that the women in the media -- "spin sisters," author Myrna Blythe calls them -- are what I call hard-core working mothers, meaning they work 10 or 12 hour days prior to motherhood, are never home, eat all their meals out, and then pop out a few babies and continue with this lifestyle. In other words, they do not represent the average woman in America -- not by a long shot. Nevertheless, they are the folks who report on the working mother debate; and they like to believe their lives are typical of most women. They are not.
Mothers in their category have very little in common with everyday mothers in America. While 70% of mothers now work outside the home -- a statistic the spin sisters love to report -- most of them are not absent from the home to the degree that "hard-core working mothers" are. Most parents in America have one parent home when the children are home. This means that during the first five years of life, and between the hours of 3:00 and bedtime for older children, most households in America have a parent at home.
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Using the term "working mothers" as if this represents one group is fallacious. Mothers have always worked outside the home to some degree. The question is, How old are their children? How many are there? Do they work part-time or full-time? The distinction is critical because it can mean the difference between children who are raised primarily by their own parents -- and children who are not. We simply must come up with a different way to discuss this issue.
But don't look for the women in the media to help us out. They will never frame the debate any differently. If they did, they'd realize they're not the norm -- and their world would come crashing down. And we can't have that.