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Published: 6/4/2006

Mommy Wars enters new battlefield

Elizabeth Vargas is the latest test of American attitudes toward the question that plagues many mothers who have the luxury of asking: To Work, or Not To Work?

The 43-year-old pregnant newsie may have left ABC's anchor chair last Friday, but she sure stayed in the spotlight all last week.

Ms. Vargas said that after her maternity leave, she'd return to work, but in a less demanding position.

Her insistence that the de-cision was hers, and not the network's, didn't quiet doubters.

Three women's groups, including NOW, wrote a joint letter to ABC saying Ms. Vargas's departure was a "clear demotion."

"If she can't have it all," NOW president Kim Gandy told the Washington Post, "who among us could?"

Not so fast, cautioned Ms. Vargas.

"It's one thing to say, 'I'm willing to work a 75-hour work week, be on airplanes, and travel the world.' " she told the Los Angeles Times. "It is another thing to ask your children to pay the price for that."

Of her decision, she said, "I would urge people not to draw conclusions about the ability of a woman or a mother to do this job. It just didn't turn out to be something I could do this year."

So, OK, where are we now? Part III of "The Mommy Wars"? Part V? Part X?

And yes, I also hate the "mommy wars" notion. But how else should we describe the endless conversation?

Newspapers. Magazines. Talk shows. Books. In so many formats, we keep having this discussion over and over again.

Recently, see two books: The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother? by Miriam Peskowitz, and To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife by Caitlin Flanagan.

If this was a society anywhere close to agreeing on mothers' workplace and family roles, the subject would be too passe for publication. Instead, these two books ignite fiery dinner party conversations (to say nothing of middle-of-the-night soul searching).

Some 15 years ago, on the last Sunday of my maternity leave, I sobbed, bereft at the prospect of turning my baby over to other people. (And those "other people" were my mother-in-law in the morning and my husband in the afternoon, a comforting scenario that still couldn't erase the truth that I would not be the one with my child.)

But when that Monday morning came, I surprised myself by practically burning rubber in the driveway, so eager was I to return to work. Both versions of motherhood were accurate representations of me as a "working" mother.

The question isn't: Was Elizabeth Vargas wrong/right?

More interesting is: If/when she wants to resume her career with the brake off, will that be an option?

"The personal is the political," we used to say during feminism's Second Wave.

There's a new mothers' advocacy group. MomsRising.org, seeking improved parental leave and workplace policies, formed last month.

Within weeks, 50,000 members joined.

Whether Elizabeth Vargas is one of them is really beside the point.



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