Feb. 23, 2006— -- Stay at home with the kids or go to work? It's a question every mom struggles with, and a question at the heart of a fierce debate.
"I think it's a mistake for these highly educated and capable women to make that choice [to stay home]," said law professor and working mom Linda Hirshman. "I am saying an educated, competent adult's place is in the office."
Hirshman found herself at the center of the "Mommy Wars" debate after she published an article in American Prospect magazine condemning the trend of college-educated women opting out of the workplace to become stay-at-home moms.
Many college-educated moms adamantly argue Hirshman's claims.
When Debbie Klett became a mother, she quit her job in ad sales and started a magazine called Total 180 so she could work from home and spend more time with her children.
"I completely disagree," said Klett of Hirshman's argument, echoing the sentiment of countless others.
Hirshman has some questions for the women who disagree with her: How can women leave the workplace when the divorce rate is 41 percent? And don't women know that after divorce, the man's standard of living goes up 10 percent while the woman's can collapse?
Stay-at-home mom Faith Fuhrman said the key was preparation.
"The women of today are prepared for that," Fuhrman said. "You have a sense in yourself that whatever happens, I'm going to be OK."
Some women say that being financially dependent on a husband is their choice and that they should not be made to feel guilty for that.
"Well, people choose to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, but that does not stop people from saying it's a mistake," Hirshman said. "Listen to the risks you're taking before you take the risk."
One of Hirshman's major arguments is that it's difficult to re-enter the workplace after staying at home, and that when a mother comes back, she may make less money.
"Who's to say, though, when you're in the work force, that you're not going to get laid off and you're [not] going to lose your job anyway?" Klett asked.
Working mom Deborah Skolnik countered.
"Except where I am is that I just rekindle -- got laid off from a job and I have all of the current skills and connections and I can use them to the utmost of my abilities to hopefully find another job fast, faster than some of the nonworking mothers I know who passed me their resume and say, 'I'd really like to still get into the business. Can you help me?'" she said.
Not all women have the choice. Those without the means must stay in the work force while raising their children.
"It's still a matter of choice," Fuhrman said. "You choose between having cable TV in your house or the latest iPod."
Skolnik said she didn't work just for money.
"I think it's important to make it clear that it's not about an iPod for me," she said. "It's about the satisfaction of going to work at a job I love."
Hirshman says working is also a matter of feeling fulfilled. She doesn't buy into the arguments of many homemakers who say taking care of the family is the most fulfilling thing they could imagine.
"I would like to see a description of their daily lives that substantiates that position," Hirshman said. "One of the things I've done working on my book is to read a lot of the diaries online, and their description of their lives does not sound particularly interesting or fulfilling for a complicated person, for a complicated, educated person."
"Walk in our shoes and then you'll understand what we do all day," Klett said. "You're in at Mach 3 with your hair on fire, and you get up in the morning and suddenly you're pulled in four different directions, and suddenly it's lunchtime and dinnertime and you're just constantly moving, constantly challenging yourself, constantly learning and growing as a person."
But Skolnik admitted that work could also be filled with frustrations, especially when trying to balance it with motherhood.
Hirshman says that's why women should only have one child. If you have one, you can keep up in the workplace, but two makes it difficult.
Skolnik could relate, somewhat.
"It almost broke me going back to work after I had my second child," Skolnik said. "Kids have the tendency of getting sick like over two days, one gives it to the other. So, 'Oh, I'm sorry, boss, I can't make it today,' [can soon become] 'I can't make it two days from now because now the other one has the eye infection.'"
One of Hirshman's most sobering arguments is that women who leave the workplace are ensuring that the hard-won gains made by women will be undone. She asks why should business schools give advanced degrees to those who don't use them?
"I think it's not just the universities," Hirshman said. "It's the executives in the boardroom."
Hirshman said that women could become a liability to employers, and that the consequences of them leaving the work force could be even more far-reaching.
"I think that one could argue that these women are letting down the team," Hirshman said. "Consider a society in which the entire Supreme Court is male. We may actually experience that in our lifetime. What would it feel like if the entire Congress were male?"
The "Mommy Wars" debate continues. To join the online discussion, Click here.