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Working moms vs. stay-at-home moms: The Dr. Phil edition

Categories: Balancing Act, Working Women Issues, Your life


I’ve never watched Dr. Phil and to be honest, the small bits of the show that I’ve caught here and there, while flipping through channels at the gym, didn’t exactly draw me in. I find him blunt, but in a bad way, intrusive, but in less-than-helpful way, and just overall not a kind of guy whose opinion will sway me. So when I read about the show he did recently about stay-at-home moms vs. working moms, I didn’t rush to YouTube to check it out.

It turns out it was a very good thing. According to the many, many blog posts about it — most filled with the kind of sharp emotion only the mommy wars can bring on — the show would have made my blood boil. One of the guests was Jessica Gottlieb, who is a stay-at-home mom and who often blogs about the wonderfullness of moms who stay at home and the terribleness of moms who choose to work. Apparently she said things like working moms who choose to work (vs those who have to work) are selfish and “I wouldn’t outsource loving my husband, why would I outsource loving my kids?”

You know what’s funny? Stuff like this used to set me off for hours, maybe days. I’d go into a whole defensive tirade about how working keeps me happy and smart and my daughter benefits, and how her having exposure to different caregivers and being in a social daycare situation has been amazing for her, and so on. But no more. It does make my blood boil for a few seconds but I’ve grown to a point where I just move on. It’s sad, it’s stupid, it’s offensive and as moms, we should be way, way better than that to each other.

The show was apparently a huge ratings hit and I get why Dr. Phil and his producers chose to cover this topic, but c’mon, aren’t we done with this? Don’t we have enough studies that show working and stay-at-home moms give their kids the same amount of hugs (which I think is a ridiculous thing to study but so relevant to mention in this context), that they spend as time time with their kids as stay-at-home moms, that kids who go to daycare benefit from it, that neither working or staying-at-home is empirically better for the mom or the kids. We all make our personal choices. Period.

All this talk about the Dr. Phil show really makes me wonder about one thing: Will we ever get over the mommy wars and just accept each other’s choices OR is this an undying debate, with us for eternity of motherhood? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments!

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26 comments so far...

  • On the other side, we still have feminists who believe stay-at-home moms are selfish for not helping to advance the professional women’s agenda.

    I’m trying to imagine myself as a SAHM (I was for 3 months) getting all pretty and smiling and talking glibly about how much better my life was than that of working moms. Sorry, but when I was a SAHM, I needed to take time-outs so I wouldn’t chuck my kids out the window. And I didn’t even bake! Surely there are some moms who are so happy at home that their joy spills over onto their perfect children 24/7, making them honestly believe that they are the example for all moms. I just haven’t met any of those women.

    I actually think the “mommy wars” are only “fought” by a small minority of women who are very confused or small-minded. But like a football game, there are many on the sidelines who get worked up when the side they identify with gets dissed. Until we’ve been through a few iterations of the same identical discussions, which never actually lead to any conclusions.

    Now about Dr. Phil - I have never watched him because I am too busy doing more important things. I guess people who have time to watch daytime TV also have time to get worked up about this argument time and again. Since I don’t care what Dr. Phil has to say, I care even less what his audience thinks of my choices.

    SKL  |  October 19th, 2009 at 8:27 pm

  • Dr. Phil seems to duck his own controversies by creating other ones that don’t relate to him. Wasn’t there a quote by Harry Houdini along these lines?

    Have to agree fully with SKL. Dr Phil isn’t worth my time, nor is it worth my time to get worked up over his show. I did see a web clip of the woman in question, decided that “thou protest too much” and turned it off.

    CV  |  October 20th, 2009 at 6:25 am

  • You know, being a stay-at-home mom is often looked down upon just as much as a working mom. I feel like I have to point that out, because a lot of working moms, in their defensiveness in feeling judged (by whom, I am not sure, but it ain’t me), tend to go on about how much THEIR choice benefits their kids, to the point where they put down SAHMs.

    That being said, I agree with SKL that it is such a small minority of women that it doesn’t matter, and frankly, I was irritated that Dr. Phil and Dooce, to be honest, perpetuated it by feeding into it.

    Who. Cares. Seriously, it’s such a small percentage of people who actually care that it’s embarrassing to give it airtime.

    I’m really smart — I had a big career once! I swear! — and I like staying home. It works for us. I really and truly could not care LESS what other families do, so long as it works for them. I don’t think I’m any better or any worse, I just think I do what works for us. I think whatever works for you is also awesome, and your kids are probably happy and healthy, too.

    And SKL, I don’t sit around baking and talking glibly about how awesome I am, either. Well, unless you count the macaroni and cheese in the oven, but that’s just because my husband and I have to eat something, and … well, it’s probably the only homemade thing I’ll whip out all week. Maybe all I’ll do for TWO weeks. :)

    jonniker  |  October 20th, 2009 at 8:32 am

  • At first I was so angry I went to her blog to make a comment telling her how ridiculous she was, how uneducated, how it is possible to be a wonderful mother and work…and then I read some of her blog posts and realized I didn’t need to. The foul language, the aggressive {NOT assertive} posts and a blog of which I would be embarrassed. I am a working mother, I don’t know if I would stay at home full time if I could, I might, I might work part-time. Who knows? All I know is that it appears that as she judges women who work outside the home she is jetting off to speak on talk shows, writing blogs, participating in conferences…Do her children attend those as well? I would love to be a fly on the wall to determine how much time she actually spends parenting vs. working from home. With that being said, a few jabs later, does she really think it is nice to attack working mothers? I have guilt over leaving my babies some mornings and I don’t need her to make me feel worse. I also have guilt over taking a vacation with my husband…should I not do that? I am disappointed that her blog is so popular. And I appreciate your post. My boys are my world, not my job, it is just something I do to pay the bills.

    Amanda  |  October 20th, 2009 at 8:43 am

  • 1. I’m typing this on my iPhone from the back of my kids’ school morning assembley. I think we can all agree that morning assemblies are a big yawn

    2. I’m sorry you feel guilty, maybe there are changes you can make?

    3. I brought my kid with mr to the conference in NYC, my husbands family is there, it’s a family trip that made sense, Vegas? I was there 4 hours and I was home before bedtime. Dr. Phil show tape 20 minutes from my house. The most recent show filmed on a camp day and the one before that was a school day.

    Im glad most if you remain unruffled

    Jessica Gottlieb  |  October 20th, 2009 at 9:28 am

  • I didn’t mean to imply that all SAHMs glibly diss working moms. Only that those few who do might be momentarily forgetting their own parenting challenges / imperfections. (Or, more likely, they are just being defensive. Or being paid to take a position on Dr. Phil.)

    SKL  |  October 20th, 2009 at 9:34 am

  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
    1. I never knew about these so called “Mommy Wars” until I came to this site and saw some articles discussing it. If it weren’t for this site, I probably wouldn’t have known about this either. Not saying it’s bad that I have that knowledge now, but that just shows how much I care about WAHMS/SAHMS and their issues.

    2. Same for “Working Mom Guilt”. At least, guilt to the level I see posted around the working mom pages. Never knew it was such a big deal.

    The only things I know about Dr. Phil are what I see in the news. I had never heard of the Apparently Controversial Ms. Gottlieb who, it also appears, is only known because of her ability to create controversy (I smell a media…hound). So, their opinions on motherhood mean nothing to me.

    Everyone feels differently about different things. Some people feel strongly enough that they’ll never agree no matter what.

    You know what they say about opinions and assholes though. Everyone has one.

    Phe  |  October 20th, 2009 at 10:03 am

  • SKL, if you were talking to me, I was totally kidding, I promise. I didn’t take what you said personally or seriously at all. I meant that I sort of think it’s laughable to think I’d be smug about any of this, and even funnier to think that I’d be … baking? Am I supposed to be baking?

    Hee. No worries.

    jonniker  |  October 20th, 2009 at 11:53 am

  • I don’t think mommy wars will ever end. It just seems like a lot of people make motherhood out to be a competition - who can raise their child to be smarter, more talented, best behaved, etc. It’s the same with other mom’s telling you how to be pregnant and how to raise your children. Many don’t mean for it to come across in a negative way, but no one wants to here that what they are doing as a parent isn’t good enough for the well being of their child. As a first time mom - I know I feel this way many times. I welcome the advice - but in an “advice” tone not a “what your doing sucks” tone. I’ve learned to let peoples opinion of what they think is best for my child go - and remember “I’m the Mom; I know what’s best for my child.”

    mandy  |  October 20th, 2009 at 12:15 pm

  • Jessica,

    My point is that you cannot be with your children at all times. It doesn’t make you a bad mother. So you were gone to Vegas for four hours, how is that different than a mother who works 4 hours during the day? When you were gone from your children for those 4 hours did you feel guilty? When you work on your blog, create social media strategies, etc. do you ever sacrifice time with your children? I work 40 hours a week, I play with my children from the moment we all get home until the moment I am reading bed time stories. I do not feel that my children are at a disadvantage in fact I feel like they afforded several opportunities they would not have because I work. I just do not feel like it is your place to make statements about who should and shouldn’t have children. I don’t know if you mean to be offensive but part of me feels like you do and that you enjoy it. I have seen several blogs where people say if they didn’t know you, they would hate you, so maybe you are better in person. And BTW I don’t feel like morning assemblies are a big yawn.

    Amanda  |  October 20th, 2009 at 2:22 pm

  • ______________________________________________________

    My point is that you cannot be with your children at all times. It doesn’t make you a bad mother. So you were gone to Vegas for four hours, how is that different than a mother who works 4 hours during the day? When you were gone from your children for those 4 hours did you feel guilty? When you work on your blog, create social media strategies, etc. do you ever sacrifice time with your children? I work 40 hours a week, I play with my children from the moment we all get home until the moment I am reading bed time stories. I do not feel that my children are at a disadvantage in fact I feel like they afforded several opportunities they would not have because I work. I just do not feel like it is your place to make statements about who should and shouldn’t have children.”

    Amanda | October 20th, 2009 at 2:22 pm ”

    Amen, Amen, Amen

    I worked full time (40 hours) after the birth of my son until he turned 5 years old and started kindergarten. I did this out of financial necessity.

    When my son started kindergarten I made a decision with financial repercussions to reduce my hours and now work until it is time to pick him up from school. Are we better off? YES in the sense that: (1) he does not have to be in after care after school; (2) I have more time with him; (3) I can supervise his homework (he is in first grade now); we sit down to dinner as a family every night; (4) I can be more involved in his school activities on a volunteer basis; and (5) he can participate in an after school sports activity whose class schedule would conflict with my former full time schedule- NO in the sense that we are very, very tightly budgeted and much of anything over basic necessities is not possible. We are having to defer some things we would like to do (travel, home improvement, new vehicles, bigger house, better financial security, etc); however, these are trades we were aware of and knew would be sacrifices.

    It escapes my comprehension how ANYONE can criticize or judge someon else’s choices. There are millions of families who depend on and cannot get by without the income of both parents, not to mention all of the single parents out for whom this issue is moot.

    Please, lets all stop the insanity and go back to some good, old fashioned minding our OWN business.

    BeccaM  |  October 20th, 2009 at 4:49 pm

  • I LOVE to bake. I do it at least 2 Saturdays a month. But I’m a working mom, am I not supposed to bake ;)

    Mich  |  October 20th, 2009 at 5:40 pm

  • I thank my mom for working, and maybe that’s why I don’t doubt my own choice. Maybe in the next generation, where a higher percentage of kids will have been raised by effective working moms, this “argument” will lose its steam. Or, maybe not.

    SKL  |  October 20th, 2009 at 7:21 pm

  • Amanda  |  October 21st, 2009 at 11:06 am

  • I agree with BeccaM and jonniker. I, too, am really smart (Ph.D.! Left an elite career!) AND I like staying home and it works for our family. Also, it IS hard to decide to stay home and live with the financial repercussions; just like BeccaM, we have no extra $ for anything other than basic necessities, but made that choice in an informed way because we did not want to feel guilty about not having enough time with our children.

    As a SAHM, I also feel that SAHMs are often looked down upon and that the benefits we give our children are often not listed in the whole debate, whereas working moms are quick to point out how great it is that their kids get to experience other caregivers, play all day with other kids, etc., and firmly state that they still spend a ton of quality time with their children. Like BeccaM, I could not care less what works for someone else’s family, but it would be nice to hear a comment from a working mom sometime that did acknowledge the good things we SAHMs are giving our kids, too. I honestly believe that having me “in the background” during those hours I’m not giving my girls one-on-one quality time but am instead cooking, cleaning, etc., is a benefit also, as compared to them being with someone else. In the end perhaps I give my daughters the same # of hours of “quality time” as a working mom does–though I’m pretty sure it’s more, since I’m alone with my girls 9 hours a day and with them alongside my husband for an additional 3 before their bedtime–but I don’t think those other hours of “quantity-not-quality time” are worthless. I believe they have value too–just being together as a family.

    Again–I don’t feel judgmental toward working women at ALL; but I do often feel that many working moms feel that SAHMs aren’t ambitious, aren’t smart, and aren’t as interesting or talented as working moms are. This just isn’t true. We have personal reasons for our choices, just like working moms do.

    Shannon  |  October 21st, 2009 at 11:57 am

  • I do appreciate things that SAHM moms do; but I think the issue is that there is judgement on both sides, perhaps not you personally or I personally but there is.
    IMHO, there can be jealousy on both sides too, and that is where it can be perceived as a war. I am jealous of those who are able to go to their kids classrooms every week, one of these moms has mentioned she’s jealous of my ability to provide my child with classes they can’t afford. But she loves being able to be home every day after school for her kids.
    The reality is that most moms don’t care; it is the vocal fringes on either end that cause the “war”.

    Mich  |  October 21st, 2009 at 1:08 pm

  • Shannon, I think the reason neither side hears much positive from the other is that there is so much defensiveness involved. I agree with you that any time you spend with your children is valuable. But the extremists would twist that to mean that any time my child spends away from me is not valuable. I know that is not what you are saying. But these discussions always start out with a jab at someone, and then most of what follows is reactionary. In any contentious discussion, the hardest (though most mature) thing to do is to concede the areas where the other side is right.

    That’s why the best thing to do is just ignore the judgmental rabblerousers. Obviously most of them don’t have your child’s best interest at heart - regardless of which side they take.

    Another thing to remember is that most working moms have been SAHMs at some point, so most aren’t against SAHM per se. They just want their current choice to be respected too.

    SKL  |  October 21st, 2009 at 1:54 pm

  • I’ve always found the “Mommy Wars” to be ridiculous. I’m a work at home mom, so more or less classified as a stay at home mom. Seems to me that a lot of stay at home moms have at home jobs or home businesses and are really work at home moms too, even when they don’t identify that way.

    I don’t have a problem with moms who work outside the home. Why is it that so many people treat that as an option that can only be done if the family can get by no other way? Shouldn’t it also be about what the mother needs? A miserable stay at home mom is probably better off working outside the home. But it’s difficult for many because they’re given such guilt trips about paying attention to their own needs. So long as the needs of the family are well taken care of too, where’s the problem?

    Stephanie  |  October 21st, 2009 at 5:02 pm

  • I’d kinda like to add my 2 cents for what it’s worth, if you don’t mind. 1st off, I read thru a lot of Ms. Gottlieb,’s blog and came away with the feeling of someone who is very sanctiminious and self-rightious, and who can’t see the forest for the trees. At least, that’s what I got from it.

    2nd of all, for the last 18 months, I, like a LOT of other women in this country, have been the primary breadwinner in my household due to the economy and my husband’s loss of his job. (NBC just did an expose on how women are now the breadwinners and what the male POV of this is). THANK GOD I have been working all these years. I was able to help keep our family going, hard as it was and even now, with him reemployed, I’m still the major breadwinner. However, my hubby, thank God, isn’t the egotistical machoman about it. He fully understands that it was MY job and ME working that was able to keep us barely above water.

    Now, as to SAHM v. WAHM/WOTH, WHO CARES? As long as the kids are fed, clothed, well adjusted (as much as humanly possible these days)………….WHO CARES? Part of the women’s movement years ago was that we FINALLY were given the CHOICE and not be dictated to. Yet, there are so throwbacks to the dinosaurs (and YES they exist in our own gender) who would put us back there and honey, this gal would gladly stuff you back under the rock you deserve.

    I loved my daughter from the 1st moment I held her in my arms. And the 3 months I had off for maternity leave was great. BUT I needed to go back to work for financial reasons as well as mental ones. While some are suited for staying at home, there’s no way in earthly hell I would have put myself thru that, because I would have ended up in the looney bin. I love my daughter, I love my husband, but I do NOT want to be there 24/7/365…I need my own breathing room and I make NO apologies about it.

    I come from a about 6 generations long line of working moms and not one lacked love or support. ALL of them nurtured and gave of themselves while supporting their families as well. It hasn’t been easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.

    If you want to stay home, fine. If you don’t, fine. Neither side has the right to get their panties in a wad over it cause that our mothers and grandmothers fought for the right for us to have that RIGHT.

    Jane  |  October 21st, 2009 at 5:33 pm

  • Does the rationale that moms who work are selfish and neglecting their children also apply to dads who work? Do fathers even have the choice to choose to stay home versus working outside? Do mothers/wifes get to decide unilaterally whether the family will subsist on one income so she can stay home? Seems like the new feminism is that wives have a right to choose whether their husbands will fully support them.

    Michael  |  November 23rd, 2009 at 9:28 pm

  • I just wanted to say that I am really impressed with the maturity and general supportiveness in ALL of the comments listed here on this rather-hot-topic blog post. What an impressive community of moms (and at least one dad) this blogger seems to have attracted. One rarely reads such fair-minded and well-articulated comments anywhere, let alone in response to a heated subject matter such as this one. I would reckon that having sensibilites such as you’ve shown and expressed in your comments are FAR more important to the well-being of your kids in the grand scheme of things than whether you are a SAHM or a working mom.

    hmh  |  November 25th, 2009 at 1:52 am

  • Any mom is a good mom who loves her kids and does what she thinks is best for them - whether it be a working mom or a stay at home mom. Can we please stop all the drama and the judging (both ways) and spend the time focusing on our own lives and how to be the best person/mother we can be rather than wasting time minding other people’s business and criticizing someone else’s choices??

    LawyerMom  |  December 4th, 2009 at 11:17 am

  • I am a working father and have to agree with you… Dr. Phil leaves my blood boiling as well. Whether we are a working Mom or Dad, we still care for and love our families. All we can do is hold them tight and help them understand that we go to work so they can have a good life with good opportuities. Thanks to all of us who matter and love others.

    Spencer  |  November 11th, 2010 at 5:31 pm

  • I am a new mommy (10 month old baby boy) and I’ve been back to work now for 9 months. It was hard at first, because, I always dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom (like my mother was with us). But, after a couple of months, it was actually nice. I am a marketing manager and graphic designer and I have to admit that, if I didn’t have an outlet for my creativity, I would go mad (or go broke buying knitting supplies). But, recently, My sister-in-law (married to my brother and they have adopted 2 beautiful babies) got on facebook and posts non-stop about how being a stay-at-home mom is SOOOOOO Wonderful and better. The most recent post: “Do I work? Uh yeah, I work. 24 hours a day. Why? Because I’m a MOM. I am a cook, a cleaner, a parent, a teacher,a referee, a nanny, a nurse, a handyman, a maid, a security officer, a photographer, a counselor, a chauffeur and a comforter. I don’t get holidays, sick pay or any days off. I work through the DAY and NIGHT. I am on call at ALL hours. Tell me your job is harder than mine? Post if you are a proud Mommy ♥”

    I don’t know why I let it get to me, but, it dose… I think you used the term, BOIL? exactly…. Your post, here, and a couple of the study links, have helped simmer the boil… thanks for that.

    Leslie  |  January 19th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

  • I am in my late fifties and chose to stay at home when my children were growing up. I regret it now. My daughter had a child 3yrs ago and stayed home with him for the first 2yrs. She has returned to work and I definitely influenced her to return. I do not want a daughter who depends financially on her husband. You young women, don’t ever think its not going to happen to you, but tighten your seatbelt because it many times does. The marriage can fail, he can loose his job due to a number of factors, cost of living never stands still, and you most definitely get to an age where 40 is too old to enter the workplace. If you can stay home for the first 2-3yrs and go back to work, then perfect. Once you are older there is NO turning back. Let’s remember also, your salary is improving the quality of your child’s life. That means the quality of childcare, doctors, schools, extra curricular, on and on.

    debbie  |  July 18th, 2012 at 8:01 am

  • Debbie,
    Your advice is VERY important to your kids and VERY VERY valid. Many, many years ago (about 40), my parents and I went on our annual trip to Daytona Beach. We always stayed in this little family run motel that had efficiency apartments. That particular week, there was a woman in her 40s + her 2 teenage kids (boy and girl). My mother went out in the little grass courtyard one day to sunbathe and the mother joined her with a steno machine that court reporters use. What we found out is that she was learning to become a court reporter.

    What we also found out was that she and her x husband had married while he was in college (she never went) and they had married for nearly 20 years before he left her for a woman in his office. She had spent her WHOLE LIFE at home, never went to school, but supported HIM thru school and grad school. So he found, not a bimbo, BUT a highly educated woman he worked it (even back in the early 70s) and told his wife that he had grown and she hadn’t. That he needed more.

    She got the house and kids, but then had no way to support herself. So, she started taking court reporting classes.

    She told my mom (who was a high school teacher) that she had been SO STUPID as to get suckered into that kind of complacency and she had buried her head in the sand all those years. She had told her daughter that under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should she EVER become dependent on any man for her well-being and that she needed to be educated and work for a living, even if you have children. That to NOT be as stupid and dumb as she had been.

    My mom came in and told us what she had said and looked at me and said - let THAT be an example of what can happen if you let yourself be walked on.

    jd  |  July 18th, 2012 at 9:42 am