Cease-fire efforts unite working
PEGGY O'CROWLEY, Star-Ledger Staff, May 14, 2006
Laurie Pettine of
Mendham sat in the green room at the "Good Morning America"
studio in New York six weeks ago, ready to go on the air for a
segment about the "mommy wars," that decades-old conflict
between at-home and working mothers.
Instead of sniping at each, the mothers assembled for the show
-- including Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization
for Women, and dedicated at-home moms -- agreed it was time to
get over the one-upwomanship. By the time the cameras
started rolling, a truce had been declared.
"We really didn't have a beef with one another. We are all
moms and we share more in common," said Pettine, 38, an at-home
mother of two who also heads a NOW task force on mothers and
caregivers. "So we agreed, let's keep this position and
talk about the real issues."
Those issues include ways to help families better balance work
and home: paid family leave, flexible work schedules, a
living minimum wage and recognizing the unpaid work of caring
for children or the elderly.
As the nation celebrates Mother's Day, a variety of
organizations are getting behind an informal campaign:
# Joan Blades, the co-founder of MoveOn.org, has published a new
book, "The Motherhood Manifesto" (Nation Books, $14.95, paper),
laying out policies for working families, and launched a new
MomsRising.org, to encourage grassroots support of the
# A coalition of mothers' groups, including MomsRising, MOTHERS
(for Mothers Ought To Have Equal Rights) and the National
Association of Mothers' Groups, is collecting signatures for the
Mommy Wars Ceasefire, asking the three major networks, ABC, CBS,
NBC, to "cease and desist" producing stories about the mommy
# U.S. Sens. Lamar Anderson (R-Tenn.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.)
co-sponsored a briefing on flexible work issues on May 1 on
Capitol Hill. The event, also co-sponsored by the New
America Foundation and Workplace Flexibility 2010 of Georgetown
University Law Center, featured prominent work/family experts,
such as Ellen Galinsky of the Family and Work Institute.
# TakeCareNet, a coalition of labor, academics and work-family
experts, presented the "Work & Family Bill of Rights" to
Congress on May 11, asking for paid family leave and flexible
# Locally, members of New Jersey NOW scheduled an "action"
Friday at the office of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.)
that asked for a reallocation of funds from the Iraqi war to
domestic programs such as paid family leave.
# A new book, "Leaving Women Behind: Modern Families,
Outdated Laws" (Rowman & Littlefield, $21.95), co-written by
Wall Street Journal editorial writer Kimberley Strassel and two
members of the National Center for Policy Analysis, argues that
current laws favoring a full-time worker and an at-home spouse
do not recognize the realities of families in which both spouses
work or one spouse may work part time or move in and out of the
"It's very exciting to see this happening right now; there seems
to be a lot of mobilization," said Heather Boushay, an economist
for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a nonpartisan
think tank in Washington, D.C.
Boushay, who has written about women's participation in the
labor market, will be part of a month-long online campaign
called "Mothers at Work," hosted by Mothers and More (www.mothersandmore.org),
a support group for mothers who are either at home or working.
Whether or not this momentum will actually produce policy
changes is anyone's guess. So far, these groups have
claimed victory in California's inauguration of paid family
leave last year and Massachusetts' recent vote to ensure that
virtually all of its citizens will have health insurance.
That state is also looking seriously at paid family leave, and
legislation is pending in New Jersey, as well. Eighteen
states and many cities, most recently Albuquerque, N.M., have
raised the national minimum wage of $5.15 an hour to help
working families make ends meet.
Those are significant but small achievements in a nation that
lags far behind most industrial nations in the kinds of family
support systems it offers.
A family balance bill, introduced by Rep. Lynn Wooley (D-Calif.),
has died twice in the House of Representatives.
But these groups are heartened by a growing consensus among
mothers themselves that these issues should be addressed.
The group leading the cease-fire effort is the National
Association of Women's Centers, an organization of predominantly
at-home mothers. They are joined by Mothers and More, a
title that's a far cry from the group's original title, Formerly
Employed Mothers at Loose Ends.
One of the reasons for this sudden spurt of energy may well stem
from the latest wave of "mommy war" programming. A new
book of essays on the topic and "mommy war" shows such as the
one aired by "Good Morning America," as well as stories about
women "opting out" of the workplace, were greeted with dismay by
many mothers' online publications. Writers for
MAMAzine.com and MomsMovement.org both decried the trend.
The "Good Morning" America segment in which Pettine appeared was
in response to complaints by NOW and viewers that an earlier
show had cynically tried to stir up conflict between at-home and
What they increasingly agree is that the plight of mothers is
among the most important issues of the women's movement and a
problem that must be addressed by society, not individual
families, as is now the case.
Despite the highly debated opt-out trend, in which educated
women are seemingly dropping out of the workforce in droves,
two-thirds of American women work outside the home, composing 46
percent of the U.S. workforce. A vast majority of American
women, 82 percent, are mothers. While the wage gap between
men and women is nearly closed, the gap between working mothers
and other workers is widening.
An analysis by The Star-Ledger last year found that, while the
richest and the poorest mothers in New Jersey did not have paid
jobs, most mothers did. And many of the women who are
staying home with young children are probably going to return to
the workplace at some point, a trend described as off and on
ramps from the workplace.
"Even if you are a dedicated career person who goes back to work
two weeks after the baby is born, 10 years later your mom might
have Alzheimer's and you need time to deal with that," said
Juergens, adding that the policies being sought were not just
for mothers of young children, but anyone with family
Pettine, who has been home with her children, ages 5 and 2, said
she intends to go back to paid employment at some point.
"But I strongly believe this isn't time off," she said of the
time spent raising children. "The unpaid care-giving work
done in this country, for elder care, ill spouses, disabled
spouses, is part of the economy," she said.
She and others also agree that mothers want all children to
benefit from policies such as a reasonable minimum wage,
affordable health care and quality child care and after-school
While conservative women may agree that the mommy wars are
fictional, relying on government to fix problems may only serve
to reignite the conflict, said Carrie Lukas, vice president for
policy and economics for the Independent Women's Forum, a
conservative Washington, D.C., group.
"Where the mommy wars exist is in the public policy arena.
We all sympathize that women are facing real challenges in
raising families and pursuing careers, and some see government
as a solution," said Lukas, a new mother. "But once you
start intruding government into it, you are favoring one over
She cited an example of providing free child care, which she
said would cause at-home mothers to be devalued, sending the
message they could be replaced more cheaply.
On the other hand, providing Social Security credits to at-home
moms would be resented by working mothers paying large amounts
into the system, said Lukas, whose new book, "The Politically
Incorrect Guide to Love, Sex, and Feminism" (Regnery, $19.95,
paper), was just published.
The women behind the new initiatives obviously think that they
have the backing of most mothers, and they are hoping the issues
become important in the 2006 mid-term elections and 2008
"Is it going to be an overnight change? Of course not,"
said Rhonda Kave, a co-chairwoman of the board of trustees of
the National Association of Mothers' Centers. "If women
can organize themselves into a solid voting bloc, we can take
our interests to the top of the agenda."
"We hope to make enough noise that the message gets across,"
said Eileen Appelbaum, a member of the steering committee of
TakeCareNet, the group of work-life experts, academics and labor
"Where are the women who don't want high-quality accessible
health care, a high minimum wage, health care when they have
sons and daughters working?" asked Appelbaum, the director of
the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.
"Where's the woman who doesn't want a husband with a flexible
schedule so he can pick up the kids?"
Peggy O'Crowley covers family issues.
She can be reached at
email@example.com or at (973) 392-5810.