Friday, November 23, 2007

At home mom

It's starting to not bother me when I tell people I'm a stay-at-home mom. Becoming a mom is a big transition, and watching my identity become wrapped up in being an at-home mom has been interesting. Sometimes I tell people off-handed that I'd work part time if I could find a job that would be worth while when factoring in the cost of childcare, as if that dignifies my decision to stay at home. But I'm not actually looking for work- I just assume that it would be almost impossible to find such a situation.

Honestly, I have a nagging feeling that I'm doing something wrong by not working. That I'm wasting my college education, or going unfulfilled, or that I'm disappointing people who probably barely remember me - professors, old college friends, coworkers. I'm not sure exactly what it is that bothers me so, but it's something! Maybe it's just that I don't feel normal - normal seems to be 'working moms'.

I've been wondering for a while why I feel, well, sort of worthless being 'just a mom', but I read an article in a student newspaper today that shed some light. The author of the article spoke about how women need to triumph over sexist, outdated and limiting gender roles. From the rest of the article, I think it's safe to assume 'home-maker' is one of the things she would hope women would be able to overcome and not be limited by. The presumption behind the article is that women deserve MORE than just being wives and mothers. This attitude by now is just normal-I think most people would agree. But, if you tell a woman that she will be severely limited in life by being an at-home mom (or just a mom, period), or that no person should expect a mother to want to stay home with her children, then how valuable is choosing to be an at-home mom? Not very.

Perhaps the true mission of the feminist movement has been to only give women the opportunity to choose a career OR to choose raising children full-time, and not to insult motherhood as a calling. But the message I've received is that as a stay-at-home mom, I'm not worth as much as I could be. I first learned in any seriousness about feminism in my college sociology 101 class. The encouragement for women to be successful wasn't blatantly negative towards women choosing to stay home, but subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, it is. Anyone remember Hillary Clinton saying "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life." ? This is a very familiar attitude. (Now, girls, what do you want to do--stay home and have a life that culminates in baking cookies, or do you want to have an exciting profession and do something important?!) Or did anyone read some of the brouhaha over Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's move to start offering home economics courses to women? The world seemed pretty peeved that a college would stoop to the level of re-enforcing traditional gender roles by offering practical tips on raising children, etc. for women to use later in life. I understand that this doesn't seem very scholarly, but I took badminton, a math-for-middle-schoolers equivalent course, and sailing as part of my required courses in college in the name of being well-rounded.

Actually, that reminds me-I feel kind of cheated by my college education. Academia seems to mostly ignore the fact that most women sitting in the classroom will eventually become mothers, and will have to decide how they will balance work with children. Perhaps it would be labeled sexist to discuss this (there they go again, touting those traditional roles), but frankly, I think it would be prudent for women with vague ideas of getting married and having kids someday to at least consider pursuing careers that tend to offer flexible or part time positions.

To be fair, I haven't only received negative messages about being a stay-at home mom. A lot of people recognize it for what it is: a really good thing. People who had children themselves responded positively when I told them I was planning on quiting my job for the long-term. But this is not the message I feel I have been fed by society at large, nor what I had accepted.

There are two things that will never change in this debate on what is ideal. Children will always need caretakers, and women will always be the ones that bear children. So prattling on about how women should not be expected to be nurturers seems to be an exercise in futility. Of course there is the option of more stay-at home dads, but if full-time motherhood is perceived as such an unfulfilling gig in the first place, good luck with that.


Irniaq said...

Hmmm...Pete is a stay-at-home dad these days...I wonder what kind of attitudes he's encountered about that. For my part, I struggle with some guilt about BEING a working mom, guilt which probably comes from my own insecurities, but I have also had conversations with people who wondered aloud when I would begin to stay home and be a mom...

I think that women on both sides of the coin experience guilt and receive some crap about their choices. Maybe people (myself included!) shouldn't be so worried about whether mothers or fathers choose to stay home or not! Maybe a good "mind your own business" would be appropriate here! ; )

Noy said...

I agree with you that "prattling on about how women should not be expected to be nurturers seems to be an exercise in futility." I believe there are traditional/natural roles for a reason. I also agree that the feminist movement has given us a choice and I welcome choice. Because even though I tend to lean towards traditional roles, I would really hate it if any role was forced upon me.

With that said, I do think there is guilt on the side of the working mother. I've heard this same issue discussed among women several times ... and there's this underlying guilt that every women seems to bring to the table.

What I think is the most interesting, is that its women that are critical of the choices of other women. We're not hearing as much criticism from our husbands and fathers. Its this reality upsets me the most. We should respect the decisions a woman has made.

Andrea said...

Is this topic the struggle of the century or what? Like irniaq said, there are guilty feelings and second-guessing on both sides. I don't think there is a right answer for everyone. For some people, another care giver could be better than the parent themselves and people have various reasons for needing to have both parents working. I think it's great if you can somehow share both childcare and money making responsibilities with your spouse, as some couples I know have been able to work out. Like noy said, I do appreciate having choices and for the work I was able to do before I had children and possibly will after my children are gone. But those of us educated women who do stay home full time should be able to feel proud for the important and demanding work that we do. Staying home should be valued more by our society for the good that it does everyone. Regarding the seminary offering home-ec to women, I haven't read the article, but I think more education should not only be offered but *required* of both men and women.

Ok...I could continue on, but I'll stop there. I have some very imoportant work to do home.

Florida reader said...

As much as we may say otherwise our society and even Christians often tend measure a person's worth by how much money they make. With that mentality if you're "only" a stay at home mother what can be the logical conclusion but that you aren't "living up to your potential" i.e. you could have made a lot more money doing something else.

Interesting how we say one thing, like how valuable motherhood is, but often don't really believe it.