Rocket Science

Post-racial, post-partisan, post-Mommy Wars?

Our society is said to be getting past a lot of things these days. We elected our first black president. We're increasingly registering to vote unidentified with either of the two major parties. It makes me wonder if we are also ready to slough off the labels -- and bitter tensions -- that apply to the Working Moms vs. Stay-at-Home Moms. Writing in O: The Oprah Magazine this month, author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about the accomplished lives of her women friends -- Moms, single career women, all stripes -- and wonders why so many of them are waking up at 3 a.m. tormented with self-doubt. Gilbert, who wrote Eat, Pray, Love believes that women lack "centuries of educated, autonomous female role models to imitate," and that we are forging new paths.

By all rights, every one of these clever, inventive women should be radiant with self-satisfaction. Instead, they twitch with near-constant doubt, somehow worrying that they are failing at life.

When I look at my life and the lives of my female friends these days -- with our dizzying number of opportunities and talents -- I sometimes feel as though we are all mice in a giant experimental maze, scurrying around frantically, trying to find our way through. But maybe there's a good historical reason for all this overwhelming confusion. We don't have centuries of educated, autonomous female role models to imitate here (there were no women quite like us until very recently), so nobody has given us a map. As a result, we each race forth blindly into this new maze of limitless options. And the risks are steep. We make mistakes. We take sharp turns, hoping to stumble on an open path, only to bump into dead-end walls and have to back up and start all over again. We push mysterious levers, hoping to earn a reward, only to learn -- whoops, that was a suffering button!

She encourages women to keep trying, and failing when necessary, and to keep mapping our own lives. This is the impulse that has led me to begin writing a book on working motherhood, this desire to help make sense of all of our choices and to describe new possible paths for the next generation of women. I'm calling it Rocket Science for Working Moms: Facts and Fuel for Women Launching Their Own Journeys. In it, I discuss a lot of the wrong turns I made, and how my family, and other families I know, have crafted unique ways of working out the new lives open to us -- filled with greater opportunity for women, increased financial pressure and higher expectations for how we raise our children.

Gilbert writes that we should lay down arms in the Mommy Wars and stop competing with each other over whose life is more perfect, fulfilling, correct. I couldn't agree more. But I'm not sure it's human nature to do that. If you're reading this, let me know what you think.