Note: This piece was fueled by exasperation and inspired by two excellent blogs posts -- by Grace Hwang Lynch and Pamela Kripke -- that urge those who "got privilege" to name it.
I used to have Ann Romney's life. The first time around I married into a family that was rich. Romney Rich. So when I became a mom I didn't have to work-at-a-job-that-paid-money-which-is-what-Hilary-Rosen-meant-for-Chrissake.
I got divorced nine years ago. I then spent four years as a not-rich single mom. I am now a not-rich remarried mom. And you know what? My years spent as a rich married lady were easier!!
Not because being a SAHM is easier than having an office job. And certainly not because being a SAHM of five boys is easier than having an office job.
But because having plenty of money, and plenty of choice, is easier than not having enough. And I don't understand why more people aren't acknowledging this.
Ann Romney isn't less than because she chose to stay at home, or because she's rich. But she shouldn't be treated as a victimized saint. And Hilary Rosen shouldn't be demonized.
The glaring omission of Privilege in this tiresome Mommy Wars debate denies the experience of mothers who ARE hindered by race and social class and marital status. Omitting Privilege from the conversation doesn't acknowledge their reality and lack of choices.
Ann Romney says she did most of the grunt work of raising five boys. If that's the case, that's admirable. Frankly, I'd take an office job any day over personally wrangling five sons. But at any point if Mrs. Romney had wanted a nap, or lunch with the gals, or an impromptu tennis match, she could have had it in a snap.
I know, because I was once privvy to those choices. Here's what my life looked like when I had Privilege:
- I had a maid, a gardener, a pool man and a full-time nanny.
- When we moved, a Staff person unpacked all the boxes, hung pictures, and organized the kitchen.
- When I was found to have a rare autoimmune condition during my first pregnancy, I didn't have to worry how I was going to pay for the $40,000 that insurance wouldn't cover.
- When I ended up on bed rest the last trimesters of both my pregnancies, I had a live-in cook/assistant.
- I had a baby nurse for three months after both children were born.
- If I wanted to take a nap in the afternoon I could.
- If I wanted to take a 10 a.m. yoga class I could.
- If I wanted to buy the new Spring line at Baby Gap, I could.
- I flew first class and on a private jet.
- When my son was two my former in-laws planned a week-long family yacht trip. They wanted me to leave my then-toddler with the nanny. I said no. My mother-in-law baby-proofed the yacht.
- When we traveled to visit my former in-laws in one of their five homes, a staff person would call ahead of time and ask what we needed so our rooms would be prepared.
- Staff traveled on all family vacations so we had round-the-clock help and childcare.
- When my ex-husband and I went over budget, my former in-laws gave us six-figure sums to get us through the "lean times" because "all parents help out their kids."
- Each grown child and spouse received annual five-figure gifts to be spent on "extras."
- When my second child was born and my office became her bedroom, my mother-in-law offered to build a new wing on our house.
- When one of the smaller family vacation homes got too crowded with grandchildren, my mother-in-law built a new house up the hill, with adjoining steps, a 9-hole putting green, and a jacuzzi that fit 25 people.
Because I had grown up middle-class and my mother had
to have a full-time job, I never forgot that I had Privilege.
But Ann Romney came from money and married money. She has never known what it's like not to have money, which may be why she could say, without a glimmer of irony, that she doesn't consider herself rich.
Some women with her background work tirelessly to level the playing field. Eleanor Roosevelt and the Kennedy women come to mind.
But Ann Romney does not.
I am aware that she and her husband donate a lot of money to charity. However, I have yet to hear anything from either of them to make me trust that the Romney camp will create policies to help those with less privileges.
In fact, when I hear Romney contemplating policies that would strip welfare women of benefits in order to give them "the dignity of work," I feel deeply afraid for women unlike his wife, who apparently doesn't need the dignity of work. Because if this man becomes our next President, the average woman is charred toast.
For a gander at some of the anti-woman policies Romney has supported thus far, read here. For some thoughts on pro-women policies Ann could suggest her husband support, read here.
I'll be honest: I often miss my former life. I don't miss the guilt I had, having so much when others had so little, but I do miss the absence of stress.
The kind of stress that comes from lack of choice.
And that is what Hilary Rosen was talking about. When you don't have to worry about money ever, and you can afford to buy your way out of most problems, being a SAHM, even to five boys, is easier than being a mom who does have to worry about making ends meet, and who can't buy her way out of most problems, whether or not she stays at home.
Or in Ann Romney's case, stays at homes.
I appeal to all women who don't have to have a job, and especially those women who can afford help, those women who have enormous financial cushions to buffer them from job loss or foreclosure or bankruptcy due to health problems, to admit what they do have.