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 The author of the article spoke about how women need to triumph over sexist, outdated and limiting gender roles.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.