Less of a feminist.

Inspired by a post at Feministing:

I’ve always considered myself a feminist. For the uninitiated, that’s feminism as in gender equality; the idea that what gender we are matters (or should matter) much less than we think it does. But since having children I find myself becoming uneasy with a continuing underlying ‘theme’ I see coming through in feminist writing – that a working Mum is somehow better than one who stays at home with the kids. I’d thought that was part of the ‘backlash’ era, when strong women were first shouting out feminism ideals from the rooftops, introducing the idea to a patriarchial world. I thought things had calmed down by now.

Now don’t get me wrong: I am not about to advocate that women who have children *must* stay home with them. I think the ability to be a parent comes from the person, not their genitalia. But I do believe that having a dedicated caregiver, especially in the first three years of life, is important for a child’s development and wellbeing. Like all best case scenarios it won’t always be feasible, of course. But it is important, I think, that the desirability of the role is made explicit rather than derided.

It also goes against my version of feminism in another way – I’ve always felt that one of the main goals of the movement was to give women *choices*. But it’s not enough to give choice: we also have to respect those choices. We can’t say we’re OK with abortion, and then force the patient to undergo a week long counselling session first. We can’t say we’re open to bottle feeding your baby, and then insist that the new mother must try breastfeeding for a fortnight. And by the same token we can’t say that women are free to make their own decisions around how best to raise the family they decide to have… so long as they keep in mind that they’re letting the side down if they choose to do the raising themselves.

Some might say I’m lucky, that they didn’t even have the choice. That’s sad, and I think it’s a huge Fail for social justice. What kind of society are we creating, where we tell single parents that they’d be better off focusing on making money than spending time with their child? Or where, even with 2 adults working full time the household is only just making enough money to get by. I’m really glad I live in New Zealand where single parents have the choice to collect a benefit and stay at home with their children, and where 2 parent families have the choice of moving to small towns where the living is so much easier and cheaper. Sure, we don’t have a lot of money living on only 1 income. But at least where I live it can be done. I am grateful. But I think we all deserve that to be able to make that choice.

I didn’t have these children in order to connect with them once they were grown. I *want* to be there at every stage, every step, as they discover the world and learn to live in it. I have a University education and before this a white collar job. I’m not saying that deciding (in the end, we tried other ways of working it out first) to stay home has been easy, but it sure has been fun!

And here’s the catch; no, it has not been ‘totally fulfilling’ but you know what? Neither was my career, and I loved that too. But my kids deserve the best I can give them, and at this age, that’s me. Me, my attention, and my time. Not that of a paid stranger.

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5 Responses

  1. Everything you have written could have been written by my wife. With the birth of Lottie, we did the math and it turned out that the cost for two children in day care was comparable to Veronica’s salary. Although Linny LOVED her daycare (had been going since V’s maternity leave ended), Veronica was not looking forward to sending Lottie off, as the experience with Linny was so traumatic (HORRIBLE first day experience at an in-home daycare and wound up going to one of the pricey institutional establishments).

    She asked me what I thought about her staying home and I said we’d have to look into the financial realities, but if it was what she wanted, then go for it.

    She’s been infinitely happier this go round. She loves staying home with them (although Linny gets a little bored sometimes) and, as you said, its not “totally fulfilling.” But it is what she wants to do, and THAT is more important than any feminist ideal.

    Now she’s talking about taking online classes and preparing for a few years down the road when she can work part time because Linny’s in school and Lottie can go to daycare a few hours a day.

    To me, feminism means doing what you WANT to do, not what you feel like others want you to do. That includes feminists. If a feminist says, “It is wrong for you to be a stay-at-home mom” that is just as bad as a man saying, “It wrong for you to be a working mom.” Both people are trying to dictate what is best for you, when the only person who knows that is YOU!

    And I am floored by New Zealand’s policy toward single mom’s. Wow! A rational, compassionate policy to support a single parent? How very socialist of you! 🙂

    Peace,
    Shannon

    • Unfortunately it’s a policy constantly under threat from the red necks and the more conservative Governments (as we have at the moment). it’s not a lot of money – I know women who’ve utilised it, and there is a social stigma attached. But at least it’s *there*, and I think it’s really important that single parents have the same choice as 2 parent families. The children deserve it.

  2. I agree that it should be about choices and that the choices should be available to everyone. But they aren’t. And there is, as you say, often little respect for the choices some women (and men) do make. I also agree that it is important for a child to have a dedicated caregiver in the early stages of their life. Whether this is the mother, father or a foster parent or whoever. That would be the optimal experience. But unfortunately this can’t always happen and I think most people do the best they can by their kids. I went back to work part time when my son was 3 months old (I was a single parent at the time) and full time when he was 4. When my daughter was born some 9 years later, I was lucky enough to be able to stay at home while my husband went out to work. Now she is 3 and I work part time again, moving towards between part time and full time next year.

    • You’re right; life gets in the way. All most of us want is to do what’s best and that has to include what’s best (or what will work) for the family as a whole. I guess I am a little uneasy though about the concentration on Mother Should Have a Career because I think it – perhaps unintentionally – belittles the effort that goes into being a stay at home parent or caregiver. It is an important job, and not an easy one.

  3. I am a strong feminist and have long been so. But yeah, sometimes there’s some ambivalent stuff coming out of certain branches of feminism towards women who have children, and especially those who choose to stay home with those children. As if that somehow makes us less feminist. yeah, I get a little impatient with that too.

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