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The Work/Stay-at-Home Debate

I'm listening to the other moms talk as we wait to pick up our kids from preschool. The topic is husbands, and the moms have plenty to say. Their men, they agree, have a good deal. They're at work all day --which in this context sounds like they're making a getaway to Tahiti. When they come home, they want some time to relax before they take on the kids. "My husband even leaves early for breakfast meetings," one woman complains.

Heads are nodding all around. But for once, I have nothing to say. I'm the only working mom in the group, and I hardly want to confess that sometimes I, too, go to breakfast meetings. How can I open my mouth when I deserve to be lumped in with the slacker daddies, whose primary contribution is bringing home the money?

When the topic of work comes up, in fact, I usually have a slinking tendency to say that I have to work to support our family. That's true, but I know that even if the mortgage weren't a concern, I'd want to work, at least part-time, because it's interesting and stimulating and a part of my identity --and because it makes me, I devoutly hope, a better mother. Lucky for me, I'm a writer with flexible hours, so I get to slip off and pick up my 4-year-old daughter most days. That provides me with a kind of camouflage, so I don't have the nerve to say a word.

But how disheartening that in the years since women started fighting for their place in the job force, I still feel this need to fib a little about my reasons for working. I'm hardly alone in my fear that some of the mothers who have chosen to stop working view me with suspicion. The tension between moms who work and those who stay home is still smoldering a decade or so after the term "mommy war" was first coined, and even as the number of working mothers climbs.

Kim Masters is a columnist for Esquire and has written for Vanity Fair, Time, and The Washington Post.