While not exactly on topic, this stream of consciousness essay was inspired by a recent post by Marjorie at 280 Main Street, and her mental reminder that “a feminist family still needs to eat”, as well as the interesting conversations going on over at blue milk.
How is that I ended up here? At home all day long with my children? Well, home is a bit of a euphemism for in-the-van-at-the-park-at-the-museum-on-a-bike-ride-at-a-play-going-swimming-taking-one-of-them-to-knitting-getting-to-enjoy-a-lovely-cappucino-at-the-cafe-while-they-read-comics, but you know what I mean.
First, a bit of background. After I quit my 100 hour work weeks cold-turkey to stay home with my newborn daughter and toddler son, I went through quite a difficult patch. To say it was a huge adjustment would be making a massive understatement. I won’t bore you with the grim details, except to say that after some deep soul searching, I realized that my being home was as much about me and what I wanted for myself as it was about the environment I wanted to provide for my kids. I wanted to be a part of their growing up in a moment to moment way, I wanted to hear the tidbits that fell out of their mouths, I wanted to be a part of all of the little moments, I wanted to try to mold their interactions with each other, all of that. I didn’t want to miss even a microsecond of it.
Flashing forward a decade, the downside, of course, is that I really don’t miss a microsecond of it. And, to be honest, not every microsecond is really that interesting. Some of it is painfully, painfully boring. A lot of it is repetitive. It’s a never-ending loop that hardly varies with the seasons, and if looked at through a particular lens (read: a bitter/cynical/angry one) the job of stay-at-home parent doesn’t have much going for it. And in the beginning, I was a little bitter, angry and cynical. I wanted to be an integral part of my kids’ lives, sure, but I was upset about feeling like I was forced to give up my career in order to do so. Plus, I bridled at doing all of those domestic chores that seemed to be part of staying at home.
What turned it around for me was making a perspective shift. I had to remember that I was making a choice, and that doing tasks that have been for years delegated to women didn’t, by virtue of my doing them, make me any less of an independent woman. I had to remind myself that in choosing to stay home with my children when they were babies (and now, as they grow well past babyhood), I was no less a strong feminist than I would have been if I had chosen to continue working outside the home, especially if my choice to continue on with my career would have been made out of fear, out of a knee-jerk reflex to avoid doing anything that could be considered something a traditional woman would do. That bit was key, when I forced myself to honestly ask myself what I wanted, not just what I thought I should want. It’s tricky, growing up a smart, scrappy, the-world-is-your-oyster kind of girl, if that sense of being able to do whatever the boys can do leads to the pressure of having to do what the boys do so as not to disappoint.
I decided that yes, I was an intelligent, capable individual, and that I really did want to be at home with my kids. That these things were not mutually exclusive. That I could not rely on the rest of the world to see it that way. That I would have to put up with the fact that I would get very little overt respect for my work, that I would have to provide my own accolades, and that I would have to work hard to provide myself with the stimulation and socializing perks that go along with jobs outside the home. I have to admit that I did have times of feeling more than a little irked about the lack of respect I got, especially because I was used to striding down the corridors of a hospital with a stethescope dangling around my neck, but most days my attitude was damn it, I’m doing something incredibly valuable here people, and I know you can’t see it, but so what. I can’t wait for the world to see it my way, because my kids will be grown up by then.
Once I decided that I would not let my personhood be defined (by me or anyone else) by the tasks I performed, the next big step was in finding ways to make the day genuinely enjoyable. I don’t know about you, but for me, a lot of the taking care of babies and toddlers, though rewarding in a big picture kind of way, is downright stultifying in the moment, especially when it seems never-ending. So I made sure to do all of the things that made sense, like:
excercising, getting babysitting help, hanging out with other mothers, getting out of the house,
AND, I mentally committed to doing my very best. I decided to be as conscientious and thoughtful about the practical job of mothering (as opposed to the idea of mothering) as I had been about doctoring, and it was when I made that mental shift, when I began framing it as a job ( sure, a job with downsides and irritations, but a valuable, important job), when I began investing it with my attention in this way, when I valued it, that it became more interesting. I began waking up in the morning excited, and imbued with a sense of purpose. I was in charge. I could decide how to run things. That was also key. When I shifted out of passive victim mode, out of the poor me, stuck being a woman and it isn’t fair to getting over the unfairness of it (because it is unfair) and saying well, maybe it’s not fair, but I actually am glad to have the opportunity to have such an influence on my kids’s lives and owning my decision to do just the one job and not try to do it all, that my old personality came back.
I’m not saying that I didn’t have moments in which I sat weeping on the kitchen floor, or that I didn’t sometimes feel like I was going crazy, or that I never struggled with incredible feelings of frustration, because I did, and I’m sure that my rather vague language is of absolutely no practical use to a tired, bored young mother out there, I’m just saying that it was the mental shift that made it easier for me to make the practical changes I needed to make. I tried to let go of the worry. The fear that I was letting myself down, that I might never get a paying job outside the house ever again, that I was letting my valuable youth slip on by, that I would be forgotten, that my mind would disintegrate, that I would forget everything I had ever learned, that I would in some way, disappear. And I stopped dwelling on the negatives. The night-waking, the mess, the inconveniences, the diapers (although, really, what’s the big deal with diapers? I never found that bit to be too onerous).
I’m making the case that it is possible to be who you are AND be a mother. I didn’t step into a role, I just kept on being me. I am the exact same person I was before I had kids, except that I try harder to be patient, and I sometimes angst and worry about doing the right thing.
I was telling my 11-year old daughter today that I hope our world can work towards being able to see each person as an individual, not as a member of a stereotyped group lumped together based on age, gender, race or really anything. It would be nice if we as women could make decisions that felt right for us as people. It would be nice if the word “feminist” could one day be replaced with the word “humanist”. In fact, I’m beginning to think that my choice to spend some time as a stay-at-home mother, given all of the options available to me, while looking from the outside like a strike against womanhood, was actually a vote for personhood.
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