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Beacon blog: The end of the mommy wars?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 5, 2010 - Max, my son, will be 3 in July. I've known and loved him for that long, long enough to chill out as a first-time mom, long enough to give the doctor a break and see if his cough will go away on its own, long enough to feel like garage sale clothes are definitely good enough for my son, and long enough to leave him with someone who loves him so I can have a drink and talk about "Jersey Shore" with friends now and then.

I've also been a mom long enough to get what the whole "mommy wars" thing is about.

Some moms work outside the home (more than half by most statistics.) Some don't. Both tend to hate on the other, I think, because they really want what the other has -- time with their children and time for themselves.

When my family moved to St. Louis, Max wasn't yet 1. That summer, I attended a information session on starting play groups hosted by Parents As Teachers. We knew very few people in St. Louis, and no one with young children, so I sucked up my "I'm not a joiner" inhibitions and went. After a discussion about all the fantastic things there are to do in St. Louis with kids (so true), we were split into groups according to our children's ages.

Pretty soon, I was sitting at a round table with three other women, one dressed casually, one in pearls and a suit, and one who looked like a trendy teacher. Today, nearly two years later, Max and I still hang out every other week with Katie and her twins; Nicole and her son; and Jill and her daughter.

Yes, playing with other kids has been great for my son. But honestly, playing with other moms has been great for me, and it's made me view the whole notion of the mommy wars from a different perspective.

Katie has a master's in early childhood education and stays home full time with her girls. They go to every event at the library and around the community and her home is full of really cool homemade toys using things that end up in the recycling bin at my house.

Nicole works full time at a local bank, juggles a nanny with help from her parents, rushes home each night, takes off the pearls, puts on the jeans and engages fully with her son. All her free time goes into stimulating his brain. And she's in grad school.

Jill works for the school district as a diagnostic examiner and gets home in the early afternoon, picks her daughter up and they spend the evenings playing and dressing up in feathery heels, and the weekends attending tumbling and swimming classes as a family. She is always pulled together in ways I feel I used to be pre-parenthood, and I have no idea how she does it.

And I work part-time from home, with Max at school two days a week, making calls and writing during his nap time on days he's home, fielding deadlines and occasionally sitting him in front of "Dora the Explorer" when the news can't wait, like the recent earthquake in Haiti.

It's very easy to get judgy, as both a woman and a mom. There's the sweat suit sets that walk in packs at the mall and always come with healthy snacks. There's the dress suit sets that show up at evening events, tired but happy. It's hard to see what each gives up and gains when you don't look closely.

But if the mommy wars are really about envy or guilt at their core, then maybe it's time to cross enemy lines and see how other moms are doing it. Most moms who work do so because they feel it's the best thing for their families. Most moms who stay home do so for the same reason. Working full time and coming home to a family is not easy. Staying home with a child all day isn't either.

What I've learned from my three friends is that we all have very different situations, but we all want the same thing: happy, healthy, smart children.

Being around different women handling parenting in different ways has taught me there's no one way to make this work. There's no recipe. No formula.

You just take yourself, your child, your family, your situation, add love and see what happens.

In my case, that's a precocious 2-year-old who already knows what his mom and dad do for a living. According to Max, Daddy builds towers, (he's a civil engineer, so that's close enough). And Mommy makes the rules. That's also true, I guess. Currently, we're working on getting him to follow those rules, and if any moms out there have any tips, my surrender flag is flying high.

Happy Mother's Day.