Are working moms the enemy?

In Britain, mothers and child-free women face off, quietly seethe.

By Carol Lloyd
Published September 20, 2007 6:20PM (UTC)
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As if the mummy wars needed more ammunition, news about a new survey of 1,500 British working mothers has created a fresh skirmish between working mothers and their child-free counterparts.

According to a report commissioned by the Family Care Co., a U.K.-based day-care chain, 57 percent of surveyed mothers regard childless female co-workers as less sympathetic to their family-work struggles than are their male co-workers. To add insult to injury, these working women stated, their childless female co-workers "perceive them as the enemy."

"The report paints a picture of women undermining and undercutting each other, vying for advancement and sometimes filled with resentment," sums up a Telegraph article.

Yikes. Did women choose the e-word themselves -- or was it handpicked by survey writers eager to grease the P.R. machine? I couldn't find the original survey, so I don't know. Nor did the news story distinguish between men moonlighting as Daddy and those who travel unencumbered. As is so often the case, women are defined by their reproductive status, while men will be, well, just men.

The survey reported on the feelings of working mothers (and only 1,500 of them at that), but it doesn't allow anyone else -- be they men or childless women -- to voice their views. Who knows? Perhaps childless women feel that working parents perceive them as second-class citizens? Or maybe working fathers perceive childless men as snakes hungrily eyeing their jobs? Isn't everyone paranoid in this day and age?

Then I began reading the voluminous, cantankerous message boards following the Telegraph article. Big mistake. I guess some people without kids are really angry about the latitude working mothers (where's Daddy in this picture? Enjoying an unfettered career, I presume) have in the workplace. The argument goes on and on: the child-free complaining they are sick of covering for mothers attending a bevy of childcare crises, working mothers defending themselves for raising the next generation of humankind, child-free workers suggesting breeders are ruining the planet with their adorable environmental disasters, mothers shooting back that come retirement age, child haters will all be dependent on the next generation ... Now that having children is widely considered a personal rather than a societal choice, there is precious little common ground between those who choose to and those who choose not to.

Still, it's a shame that this survey almost exclusively nabs headlines as a catfight in the making because a couple of its findings are truly disturbing. Though in 2003 Britain passed a law requiring employers to offer employees flexible schedules if possible, two-thirds of women there believe asking for such an arrangement will make their boss assume they are less committed to their jobs. And one-third say they were grilled about their childcare status during the interview process, despite such questions being illegal. But here's the weirdest one: In the event of a sick nanny making them late for work, over half of all the women preferred to lie to their bosses and blame heavy traffic or oversleeping. When women deem childcare problems so taboo that oversleeping sounds more socially acceptable, there's something barmy in the state of parenting.

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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