Orlando Sentinel

A voice of reason in Mommy trenches

By Kathleen Parker
Columnist
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on June 21, 2000

To author Cathy Young, who always gets it right, goes The Middle Child Award. No one makes peace like Young when it comes to gender and family issues.

In fact Young, a Russian immigrant-progressive feminist (one unencumbered by political agendas), is an only child, though she thinks and writes like someone who has been moderating dysfunctional societies for generations. A columnist and author, whose most recent book Ceasefire, called for men and women to drop their muskets and kiss on both cheeks, Young is now putting the "Mommy Wars" to rest.

Writing in the July issue of Reason magazine, Young reminds us how we've become so confused. Following the working/stay-home mom polemic has been like trying to decide whether it's OK to eat eggs. Is it once a week, or once a year? Is it good cholesterol or bad? Who can keep it straight?

Similarly, it's hard to know, given the number and variety of studies that seem to contradict each other, if we are hurting or helping our children by installing them in day care? Are they smarter or dumber for our complicated households? Are stay-home moms lazy, fat and unhappy, as one study reported?

Are working mothers victims of feminist ideology and stay-home moms oppressed by the patriarchy, not to mention the Southern Baptist Convention?

No wonder every woman -- and man -- I know is exhausted. Who can process so much information while doing the true drudge work of managing office demands and home moods?

The truth is, as Young makes clear through her balanced analysis of most of what's made headlines in the past decade, no one-size fits all. Day care works for some, not for others. Some stay-home mothers are slim, motivated and happy. Lots of them are working part-time or running home offices.

Some aren't thriving and never will. So goes the jungle.

Fathers, meanwhile, are more than token players in The New Family Deal. Dual earners swap baby time and share household chores. Many nouvelle couples have tag-team jobs so that one parent is at home while the other works.

Which is to say, American families have never been more creative, nor more maligned for trying. What Young does so well, as usual, is direct our attentions to the gray area, the middle ground most of us occupy.

All-day-care-all-the-time probably isn't ideal for young children for reasons common sense can provide. All mommy-all-the-time probably isn't good for sanity. Ibid.

Somewhere in between is the right formula, though it may vary for each of us. My own tussle with single motherhood, child care and multiple jobs through the years created a series of entrepreneurial approaches that shifted with my child's age, his needs, mine and the world around us.

There's really no challenge quite like getting food in the right mouths and papers in the right deadline slots, all while trying to stay chipper and in good physical/spiritual form.

It is time to let go of the war, and most important, of all those studies and government pronouncements we keep arguing about. When it comes to children and parenting, the best information we've got is in our own hearts and minds. Deconstructed, it goes like this: Tears are information.

If you're miserable leaving your infant, ranting at fellow drivers and dashing to the restroom lest someone notice you're collapsing inside, it's time to rearrange the furniture. Instinct will tell you where it goes.

Kathleen Parker's column also appears Wednesday in the Sentinel's Living section. Also check out her Web site: www.kparker.com. Her e-mail address is kparker@orlandosentinel.com

Posted Jun 21 2000 12:26 AM

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