Five years ago, I started this blog . I’d been a writer lucky enough to experience a modicum of success in the few years previous to that; I had a six-year-old and a two-and-a-half-year-old with whom I had “chosen” to “stay home.”
Five years ago, I started this blog. Five years ago, I set out on an exploratory, (semi) exposing journey. My rule of thumb for it?
We all behave as if the choice about how to talk about motherhood is easy, lies either in sentimentality or its inverse, some wry jocularity. I have to believe that the truth is more complicated than that, that it resides elsewhere, spreads and deepens, shifts and shimmers; watery enough to both sustain and drown.
I suppose I’m adding my voice to the cacophony because it still seems laudable, to wade through the bog of motherhood in search of that watery elusive truth. To figure out a way to talk truly about this messy business of mothering, called women’s work for so many millennia.
I now have an 11-year-old and an eight-year-old. “Mommy Blogger” has become a disparaging descriptor. Five years ago, we were debating whether a parent (usually the mother) should “stay home” with small children. We debate it still. (Most recent example: The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In, in this week’s New York Times Magazine).
I don’t personally know a single solitary woman who has had children, a single, solitary woman who either “opted-out” (ie “stayed home”) or “leaned-in”(ie focused on the workplace) who says she likes this conversation, so commonplace in our culture that it has come to be known as the Mommy Wars. So… why is it, once again, a five-page story in the New York Times? Up on Salon? Being tweeted and Facebook Liked?
Well… we have three choices.
Choice 1. We actually secretly like slamming other women for the choices they make, loathe as we are to admit it.
(Subexhibit 1 in service of this: the hoary old “stay at home moms are suffocating and they’re scarring their children” argument, which Betty Friedan first made 50 years ago. The comment section for the New York Times piece is particularly rife with this one.)
Choice 2. It’s the “media” who perpetuate this story, not us.
(Uhh, folks, I hate to break it to you, but we all, each and every one of us, are the media now. Have you thought about the concept of free content lately? And even if we aren’t all generating content, media has always been a cultural mirror. It reflects back to us ourselves. Because, umm, those people “in the media”? They’re just like you and me.).
3. Asking this particular question this particular way — should someone stay home with the kids? is it wrong to stay home? is it wrong to focus on career? — has not gotten us anywhere. It’s still not getting us anywhere.
The truth is, until we figure out a way to clone babies and nurture them in incubators a la Brave New World, somebody stays home with the kids, for a little while at least.
Even if the “home” is actually a daycare facility.
Even if the somebody is not related to those children by blood.
So… what if we asked a different question, or a different series of questions?
How much do you value the person who provides you with child care? (You can ask this question whether you outsource care or provide it yourself). Is that value monetary? How much is it worth to you a year? 200K? 100K? 12 bucks an hour? Five bucks an hour? Nothing?
Five years ago, I started this blog. I’d been a writer lucky enough to experience a modicum of success in the few years previous to that; I had a six-year-old and a two-and-a-half-year-old with whom I had “chosen” to “stay home.”
We all use elegant, high flown language to talk about our reasons for doing anything. This is mine: in part, I chose to “stay home” with my children because I’d spent the previous fifteen or so years working a variety of jobs, some of which could be labelled professions, but some of which could just as easily be labelled shitty. I had performed each and every one of them in order to keep my intellectual bandwidth free for something else: my writing.
The fact that the thing I most wanted to do with my life had very little financial value attached to it put me in an interesting position vis a vis the life/work balance question. Before I had children, I had already been the person who stayed home with the children while career women went off to work. Before I had children, I had already been the person who swept the floor and unloaded the dishwasher while career women went off to work.
Did those career women value me?
What do you think?
They were grateful to me, yes. Some of them had affection for me.
But if I am completely and utterly honest, I don’t think I can say that they respected me. Underneath the gratitude and the affection I suspect they harbored the niggling feeling that I was not living up to my potential. I had an advanced degree, for God’s sake!
I know, I know. We’re so tired of the Mommy Wars. Our very souls are tired of them. O.K .then, let’s ask some different questions.
Like, how much do we really value the people who serve as the warm bodies in the room with our kids? Do we really believe our kids need warm bodies in the room with them? Or not?
Maybe they’d all be better off being raised by wolves.
It is interesting that you should write about this now, Katherine. Yesterday, at Legion Pool, I watched young mothers with their babies and was wistful for that sweet time in my life. Yet it was also very difficult–I, like you, though I taught part time, was the person staying home. I’m glad I did, although I also didn’t always feel valued. Of course not–artists seldom make much money or get much respect. I would listen to my peers talk about work, and their salaries, and their personal trainers as if listening to aliens. Now, with a daughter who is 27, I worry about the choices she will have to make in order to continue her career and have children. There is no easy answer, and I don’t think things have gotten any better.
Sara, thank you for your thoughtful comment. And for your advocacy for Legion Pool, so new generations of young mothers with babies can continue to enjoy it (I watched earlier generations there, eons ago when I was a high school student). You’re right, there isn’t an easy answer. Maybe that’s why the question continues to come up.
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