Saturday, April 14, 2012

On Staying At Home, Revisited

Right now I'm reading Half the Sky for the second time, for book club.  I read it before, two years ago, and found it incredibly compelling.  It is an in depth look at the plight of women around the world, focusing on sex trafficking and modern slavery, gender based violence, and maternal mortality.

"In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery.  In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism.  We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world (intro, xvii)."

I love this book with my mind, heart, and soul.  It is devastating and overwhelming in scope, but ultimately shows the power and strength of women when they are educated, determined, and equipped to participate in all realms of society.  There are so many devastating problems out there and there is so much work to be done, but there is also so much hope.  Women are talented and strong and courageous and of course lucky and unlucky, good and evil, strong and weak, just like everyone else on earth (all the males, I guess, since there are just the two of us around here.  Generally speaking).

I was raised by strong women.  I just did a silent head count and yes, every single woman in my extended family worked outside the home.  Both grandmothers, all my aunts on both sides, and my mother (one aunt on my mom's side took several years off when her kids were little).  This next generation so far is following suit.  Save for me.

My paternal grandmother was a secretary.
My maternal grandmother taught English at community college.
My aunts are a mixture of teachers, social workers, an office assistant, an early childhood education adviser and former Montessori teacher, a university professor, and a children's liason for the BC justice system.
My mom is a nurse.

My cousins are teachers and students.
My sister is a nurse.

I am nothing.
Except that I'm a mom with four kids, a small (small) business owner, an artist, a retired paramedic, and a women's advocate.  I do occasional doula-ing for my friends.  But there's not really a paid profession for which I can answer I am________ when people ask me the inevitable "What do you do?"

I don't really mind much, because the actual functioning of my life now that I have subtracted work outside the home from it is so much calmer and easier to manage.  I like my kids and find them fun to be with, and although I don't find parenting all that intellectually stimulating, I manage to get that need filled with advocacy work and art, and talking with other adults in my life about issues I am passionate about.  And educating myself on things various and interesting.  And reading.  Oh my gosh, I love reading.  If there were a profession like "Lifeguard" for book nerds, I'd be all over that like a waterbaby is on lifeguarding.  Anyways, I like the balance that leaving BC Ambulance behind has given me, particularly now that I have a handful of kids.

When asked by the school psychologist during testing what his parents do, Matthew started with me:
"She used to be a paramedic but now she has too many children."

As a parent herself the psychologist knew I would appreciate that one.  =)  SO HILARIOUS.

But you know, I'm not generally a fan of staying at home as a theoretical concept.  If women want to (and I do) I think it is awesome that, if they are privileged enough to be able to afford it, women CAN stay home and contribute to society by raising their kids.  I think this is becoming a profession in and of itself that is gaining more recognition and respect in society generally speaking, although there are certainly lots of assumptions and stereotypes out there still that irk me (and you, I'm sure) about SAHMs.  But I think that the world misses out something essential when its women stay at home.  Especially in large numbers.  I don't want that for Amarys.  She's fiesty!  She's miraculous!  She's smart!  I want her to change the world!  I don't want it for me, either.  I'm fiesty and miraculous, too!  I want to change the world, too!  I want to be more than just a stay at home parent.  (Don't we all).  I actually have this secret dream to work for the United Nations as some sort of advocate or translator or speech writer or researcher or breastfeeding expert or champion of women's rights.  Do you think "Stayed home with my kids for five years" will look good on my resume for the U.N?  =P  Actually the answer to that is probably yes.  My point is there is so much in the world that is changing and needs attention or focus, and so much to advocate for, and I want to be right in the middle of all of it.  I wish I could live a million lives, because there isn't time in one life to do all the things I would love to do.

There's been some rumbling lately about "Mommy wars" and mudslinging and partisan rhetoric between democrat and republican in the U.S. and I guess it nudged me to write this all out: that and Half the Sky, because the book opens with the story of a girl kidnapped from her Cambodian village and trafficked in Malaysia and Thailand, who eventually escaped and is now married, has a baby, and runs her own successful business that supports her nuclear family and some extended family, and I just think GOOD FOR YOU YOU AMAZING, TALENTED WOMAN!!  And the whole concept of her potentially staying at home sequestered in her house just because she has a child just seems asshat to me.  She's earning a living.  (So is her husband, he's not a leech).  She loves her kid.  She makes it work.  Period.

Now, I want to share with you a story that changed my life about 8 years ago.  We went to a wedding in Santa Barbara (so gorgeous, and SO FUN).  The woman who was getting married (we were friends with both her and the groom) has a pastor for a dad, so he married them, and in his sermon he talked about his family and how wonderful they were, and how they were his calling in life.  He described how God had driven home to him that as a man he was called into ministry as a dad.  For a pastor to say that is pretty rare, and it shook me and changed my world.  I started to see that for all of us, our family is our primary calling in life and that nurturing them is the best, most honorable, most important work we could ever do.  If at the end of my life my children know I love them, my life's work will be done.  I will be fulfilled.  It will all be worthwhile.  Period.  This is true for men, too.

This story emphasized for me that one's work is always secondary to one's family, no matter who you are and whether you sport a penis or a vagina.  But it also emphasized that one can work and value family, simultaneously.  No one ever said a dad cannot do attachment based parenting and work: so why the hell can't a woman?  How much does the world miss of our talent and spark and unique gifts when we encourage each other to stay at home exclusively?  How much does it devalue that woman in Cambodia who is likely overwhelmingly empowered and happy to find herself a small business owner with a husband and a child after years of abuse as a slave in a brothel?  If she can do it, why can't we?

"Women hold up half the sky" ~chinese proverb

"What would men be without women?  Scarce, sir, mighty scarce" ~Mark Twain

Some other people's thoughts on this topic:
 The Bloggess
PhD in Parenting
Confessions of a High Heel Wearing Hippie Mommy

(can I just second The Bloggess in stating that unless you came out of my vagina (or my heart, adopted love), my name is not "Mommy" and you may not call me that as such??  I go to GREAT lengths to refer to women as women rather than mothers as often as I can on mothers of change, and to refer to my doula clients by their names rather than diminuitively referencing them as "mommies."  This is so important to me, because it drives me crazy to be referred to as "Mom" by people who are not my children).


nancy said...

how about my children's spouses? I feel blessed if the call me mom. kind of like an adopted kid I guess!

nancy said...

wonderful post, by the way. I predict this profession of mommyhood is one of many phases of your life. Feeding into and guiding the next generation of humans infuences our world for MANY generations to come. You ARE changing the world! And I know you recognize this. Another life stage will come (hopefully paid!) where you can use your incredible talents and intellect in different and exciting ways.
I really admire your ability to advocate and be a voice for causes you are passionate about, from you SAHM position....with FOUR rambuctious, adorable kids!

Louise Chapman said...

Okay, not sure if I've been doing something wrong so I need clarification and totally won't be offended!! Are you saying that referring to someone as `mom' is offensive?

When I'm doing a photo session with young families (or extended) there are often so many names to remember so I try to learn the kids names but then sometimes I will say something like `Okay mom, can you....' `dad why don't you...' etc. Should I use their first names at all times?

melissa v. said...

Louise, I'm sure everyone doesn't have the same pet peeve as me, but totally I would not think that was cool if our photographer called me "mom"~I would never say anything because that's just unnecessarily rude in my opinion for me to make someone feel bad about calling me something that is socially acceptable. You know? But it would totally bother me.

But don't necessarily change what you do, especially if you are having trouble remembering names! =) I'm sure I'm in the minority in caring about this!

Louise Chapman said...

All right, no more `mom' and `dad' from me!! Thanks! I think sometimes we have no idea what's rude or annoys people. I don't do it all the time, just in moments where I can't remember a name. From now on, I'll just guess:) Phew, thanks for saving me years of annoying people!

Rachel @ Lautaret Bohemiet said...

Louise, it doesn't bother me at all when people refer to me as Mama, but then, I haven't been a mom for long, and it's something I take great pleasure and pride in. And, of course, almost nothing (seriously, nothing) offends me unless offense is intended (which I don't think it usually is). Just another opinion.

This is an interesting post, Mel. I feel much like you, but on a completely opposite page. I believe FULLY and wholly in my mind that women should be able to do absolutely whatever they want, whenever they want. But if I am honest, in my heart, I feel like women are failing their children if they leave them every single day to pursue money. Now, the way you put it, it isn't about money. And that makes all the difference. When women leave their children so they can afford bigger houses and nicer cars and more fancy stuff, it just feels sad to me. I am not proud of this, because I know that women deserve that choice.

I guess I should clarify that I don't care if it's a man or woman, but I really do feel like A PARENT should parent - in an ideal world. This is a mindset that I fight myself on ALL THE TIME, I really do. I think I am a bid jaded though too because I have a lot of friends (and I mean a LOT) who treat their kids like complete inconveniences, and all the decisions they make (in regards to work, sleep, feeding, etc.) come down to what is conveniet and it makes me wonder why people who just want money, or comfort, or convenience, even have kids. You know?

A key to this, of course, is knowing our kids and what they need. And knowing ourselves and what we need.

And I think you're right that our personal backgrounds really shape this. I come from a long line of really incredibly strong women. Fire-cracker women. Women who are capable of anything. And most all of them stayed home with their kids, as least while their kids were little.

I have worked for my entire life (babysitting when I was little and my first real job at 14 as an admin assistant in the local hospital). I put myself through college. I got two degrees AND worked full-time to pay for them. I did well in my PR career and was the highest paid non-partner at my firm when I resigned to stay home with Bennett. I had a career that I KICKED ASS at, I was paid well for it, and I really enjoyed it. And yet, because money and ego are so unimportant to me, I don't miss it AT ALL right now. I feel like the luckiest person in the world that I get to be home with Bennett. My friends all missed most of the noteworthy things their babies did. I didn't miss a thing. I feel like being a mom is what defines me RIGHT NOW. When I was a paid writer, that defined me (to an extent, but never fully). And maybe one day it will again.

I guess I don't have a point, other than that it's interesting how we both see the same thing so differently, ya know?

I have to work to not (secretly) judge women that work away from their young kids, and I know there are women who feel the same way about me because I gave up a great career to stay home. But you know, only we can decide what is best for ourselves and our family.

You are a woman of SO MANY HATS. I can imagine you filling all of them over the course of your life, even working for the U.N.

Tamie said...

Mel--great post. And it's not like being a SAHM is all you'll ever be from here on out, you know? I'm all about you working for the UN, yo.

Rach--great response. I feel like I can see it both Mel's way and your way, you know? Also, I think you should give me career advice. That is all

Tonya said...

I don't think being a SAHM makes someone not strong. I actually find, in our culture, sometimes it is harder to be a SAHM because you get crap for it, people look down on you and there is a negative attitude about it.

I work my ass off every single day. Going to work, for me, would be easier. I am GOOD at working. I get positive feedback, work is done at the end of the day, etc. Staying home is MUCH harder for me. And takes a whole lot more strength.

Granted, I have five kids, homeschool, my husband works long hours and we typically don't have any help at all. I've pretty much worked without much of a break for 14 YEARS.

I'd call that being VERY VERY strong.

melissa v. said...

Yes! Soon after I published this, I reconsidered the word 'strong' in describing the women in my family. I should have said 'working.' Because I know I am strong, and I stay home, and that strength of personality does not come from external forces. And that the work of being at home is tremendous.

I guess in response to Rachel I have to say that you raise interesting points, for sure. Personally I don't know many people who work mainly for money to have 'stuff,' like you mention, and who leave their kids to do so. I know that type of person is out there but I don't know many of them. And I'd be just as sure to judge a man who does that as a woman, since emotionally distant or work oriented dads cause as much emotional hurt as emotionally distant or work oriented moms do. Kids need both.

I think it helps to live where I live, because you get a taste of both. We don't generally have a big work/stay at home polarized debate because nearly all women here stay home for a year after their babies are born. No one leaves their baby in daycare at 6 or 12 weeks, here. Some women who are self employed don't get official maternity leave because they don't pay into employment insurance benefits, which is where our government provided maternity leave benefits come from. Those women generally take several months off and, frequently, their husbands will take the parental leave for the remainder of the year.

Quebec has government sponsored daycares, which empower parents to return to work after 12 months and only pay $1 per day for childcare. This is fantastic, since many women here in BC stay home precisely because of the cost of childcare, which negatively effects the economy overall. Daycare costs approximately $60 per day in our area; mulitply that by two, plus before and after school care is generally $25 per day, multiply that by two, and I would have to pay $170 per day to work if Brent was also working that day. If I had a job where I made $200 per day, I would essentially go to work for twenty dollars.

melissa v. said...

Anyways that's kind of a side issue. The topic here right now is ideologically supporting women working outside the home. And although I endorse it wholeheartedly, I gotta agree with Rachel that it's hard for me not to judge mothers who work full time and have their kids in full time daycare. I'm all for the village raising a kid, but if you don't see your kid except a smidge each day, plus weekends? That doesn't seem healthy. I guess to be fair I should judge BOTH parents in that situation, that neither of them can work out a part time option, or both of them, or a work from home scenario, or a live in a smaller house, drive older cars scenario, you know? I gotta agree with you there, Rach. I judge those women, too, and I feel like I need to change that but at the same time I question whether it is healthy for the children involved.

Is it better if the kids are with a relative, like the grandparent or aunt? I think so. What do you all think? And why do we automatically put the responsibility for figuring this issue out on the shoulders of moms? It would be great to see dads step up and take responsibility. Not just in the stay at home dad category, but in the 'our kids need a parent, or a relative, around for a good portion of the time, how can we work that out' category.

And on the flip side, how would I feel if this was that Cambodian woman with the small business and a family? Is she exempt from this debate? Presumably she could bring her little boy to her place of business but that's not always practical. Does that make it okay? To take your kid to work with you? That seems like an interesting solution (and I have heard of some businesses in the U.S. supporting a bring your baby to work initiative, until the baby is mobile; we don't need that here because of the 12 month mat leave, but I like the concept of bringing your kids with you when you own a family business or something. It seems kind of like the agricultural model of the whole family working to contribute to the farm or whatever. You work in the fields but your kids are with you, working a bit but mostly playing, learning how farming works, and being with you in the process. Likewise some types of self owned business. But i can't see taking your kid to work with you when you are a paramedic, for example. Or a cop.

Anyways. Some thoughts. Sorry I was silent for a bit, I've got bad carpal tunnel syndrome lately and it hurts to type. I better stop now because my wrists are starting to hurt, but I wanted to respond. =) xo

literal mama said...

I am a bit offended by some of this conversation, especially knowing that I am being judged which feels incredibly unfeminist and unsupportive. I choose to work. I love my job and feel complete and fulfilled when I work. I leave my kids in the fully capable care of quality child care providers and I choose to go and teach other people's children. I don't have to work. We could make do and survive without me working but I like to have some financial freedom. I like being able to allow my son to play hockey, for us to travel, to think about buying a car built within the last decade. These are material things. I grew up poor and without and I know the stress and pain that that caused me. I don't place value on material things but I do want to be able to get to a point in my life that I can have them.

My job is fulfilling. I am making a difference. I am a better mom when I work. I didn't leave either of my children in a daycare environment until they were 3, before that I mostly stayed home and had friends watch them when I did work. I feel really good about the way I balanced being a mom and a teacher. Should I have not had kids because I want to be a teacher? Does that mean that all children should be educated by men, or women without children? What about all the other important jobs that women choose to do? Is it only acceptable for a mom to work if she has to because of finances? There is something fundamentally wrong with that?

I am a feminist, a teacher, a wife, a multiple degree holder, a reader, a writer, a friend, a runner, a coach, and a MOM. And I am good at all of it. And I chose to do all of it. And it does NOT make me a bad mom or selfish.

I fully support all women's decisions when it comes to work and family and kids. I think it's great when families choose to have a parent at home, or home school or anything that works for them. Why do I not deserve the same open mindedness and respect? Because I chose to work?

And for the record, I attachment parented, cloth diapered, breast fed for over 3 years per child, have a family bed and LOVE my kids just as much as a SAHM does.

nancy said...

hard to discuss this without hard feelings!

Rachel @ Lautaret Bohemiet said...

Melissa, you touched on something really crucial when you brought up Canadian maternity leave vs. here in the States. In the States, women are allowed to take 12 WEEKS off, and for most women, that isn't even PAID. It's just how much time you can take and still keep your job. That means women that want to work are forced to send their 12-week old babies to childcare. As we know, when women aren't around their new babies, it affects breastfeeding, which in turn affects illness and overall attachment and wellness. Why this is a problem (besides the obvious fact that so few women end up breastfeeding at all, especially past 6 months) is because it makes even basic parenting choices almost impossible. I know probably a dozen women (no exaggeration) that had plans to breastfeed, co-sleep, be selective with vaccines, and I could go on. Because of the pressures of working, breastfeeding was often the first to go out the window. Same with co-sleeping; it is ALMOST impossible for a mother who needs to be at work early in the morning (or so I hear). Their little ones are sick ALL of the time. All of the time. So they end up having to vaccinate AND TREAT illnesses they never planned on needing to treat, and many of them end up missing so much work that they lose their jobs anyways. It's a huge problem in the States, the way working women are treated. And because of this, if a woman chooses to work full-time outside of the home, she has to do it while fighting against a system that offers no (or very little) support. She has to be willing to compromise on many of her parenting ideals. And it's right here where I guess I feel defensive or protective of the kiddos. I feel like someone needs to advocate for their care, for their health and wellness.

Many working moms are able to do this very thing, especially if they have family or close friends who can help care for their young. But many are not, because the system in which we are operating barely allows for it.

Rachel @ Lautaret Bohemiet said...

Literal Mama, I hope that I can undo some of the offense I caused (if it was me that caused it). That is the last thing I would want to do. I guess I was making my comments in defense of SAHM moms, because in our culture, I feel like we are on the shitstorm end of the stick ALL THE TIME, both personally and in the media and in the way our culture devalues us. I should clarify that I DO NOT judge women for the simple act of working outside of the home. I guess I call into question the motivating factors, especially when women so casually give up things they hold dear, such as breastfeeding and other things like that, so that they can afford certain things. Many women are so trapped by the "American Dream" and the expectation to have multiple cars and big houses and nice close and hip baby gear that they don't even realize they have a CHOICE. And this carries over into nearly every aspect of American Life, not just people with children. I feel the same way about people that work non-stop and hate their jobs, and never stop to realize that they would barely even NEED to work if they were willing to sacrifice in other ways.

I certainly don't feel like women are bad or wrong, especially if they have made sure to ENSURE that their children's needs are met. I can assume that pretty much anyone that reads Mel's blog is A) smart, B) cares about their kids, C) makes informed choices, etc. So a lot of what I am saying simply won't apply to anyone in this forum. But it DOES apply to a large percentage of the American population.

I know incredible mamas who work, and who have taken great care to see that the people caring for their children are mirroring their ideals, are feeding their children responsibly, are bonding with them, etc. Know what I'm saying? But I also know a lot of women who simply hand their kids off to the center with the lowest prices by day, and then turn on the parenting at night, without ever seeing the disconnect. I hope I have clarified what I've said. Again, I meant no offense or disrespect to the thoughtful, wise, free-thinking moms out there, which I know all of Mel's readers to be! Though much of what I said and feel may be true, I certainly would never apply it to EVERY working mom. Never ever.

And Mel, in regards to why men aren't held to the same standard, I can only speak for myself here, but even I don't hold Cam to the same standard as myself, if for no other reason than breastfeeding. I believe in feeding my baby on demand, whenever they want and need it, for nourishment, for comfort, for a whole host of reasons. This is something a father can't do (at least, well, Cam can't!) And most moms and dads bond with their kids in very different ways. For instance, I couldn't leave Bennett over night (yet) if my life depended on it. I would be a wreck. I wouldn't sleep. I would ache without him. Cam goes on business trips all the time and doesn't give it a thought. Does he love Bennett? Hell yes! Does he miss him? Sure! But we have a different bond with him. On that note, if I am gone for longer than a half day or so, Bennett calls for me, misses me, needs me. Cam can be gone for a week and the same doesn't happen. That may not be the case with all kids, but in our case, I am Bennett's main person. I'm his stability. So it makes sense for me to be the one home with him.

literal mama said...

Rachel-thanks for your response. As a working mom, I feel the judgement and lack of support every day. I don't know if it's because of the community I live in or because we're in Canada but here, I am a minority. I feel good about my decisions but am constantly astonished by the way I am treated by many SAHM's. Most of my best friends's, including Melissa, are SAHM's and I love and support them. They make the brave decision to change their lives for their babes. I think it's a perfect balance to have communities with both working and non-working moms. I need the SAHM's to volunteer in my son's school when I can't. At the same time, all mama's who send their kids off to school, need to know that there are teachers like me who will love their babes when they're away from home (although I teach high school, so not so much with the babies). We need all kinds of moms.

This is where we have to be careful. We need each other. I need to feel supported and not judged. I fear that when I walk onto the playground to pick up my kids, the other moms are judging my choice to work. Your comments reenforced my fears. I always try to convince myself that it is my imagination, that it is just narrow minded women that judge working moms. That all the women with similar parenting styles as my own would never judge my choice just as I wouldn't judge theirs. But to read that you do judge the working moms is hard to hear.

I would love to see a time when we can stop hurting, judging, criticizing, and gossiping about other moms and instead we spend our time building up the women around us and supporting their decisions.

Caryn Ouwehand said...

Wowza. Quite the debate here. obviously one that hits many nerves.

I fall somewhere in the middle here, working gradually more (starting at 10 hours a week when Sy was 12 months) to today (where I am working 20-30 hours a week with a 4 year old.) I guess I just want to also state the opinion that 'judging' for any reason really just serves to put up barriers, and put walls up between individuals, so yeah, I think steering clear of such terms is important.

No one woman can completely understand another woman's walk, and so I think what actually bugs me at times is a strong opinion IN ITSELF on either side of many of these maternal debates.

Work or don't work. Just love your babes. And love other Moms doing what they are doing.

melissa v. said...

I think you guys are so wise and great. This type of conversation is important, though not so important that people should be hurt by it. Conversations like this remind us to examine our judgments and assumptions, but mostly just reminds us that we're on the same team.

I know I'm a firm believer in women fully participating in all facets of society. I think this is really important. I also think family is really important. I think pretty well all of us agree there! And I think the three links I put in this post pointed out similar "stop the war!" themes; The Bloggess actually thinks this debate is on its way out (I think she's wishfully thinking).

I was talking about this with Brent and he pointed out that what Rachel was criticizing doesn't correlate with working outside the home, and perhaps that consumerism or excessive materialism is the root of what is negative rather than working per se. None of us want to send an over consumeristic message forward into the next generation.
But as Sara said, it isn't wrong to want decent things. Hell, I worked extra long hours in 2008 so we could go to Hawaii. That wasn't the cheapest vacation we could've gone on, sheesh! But I liked it and thought it was worth every extra hour I worked for us to go. Also, I like nice towels. I like a vehicle newer than ten years old (mainly because they fall apart so fast! Yeesh). I like my current house! I like my stuff.

I also think that the age of kids has to be considered; Rachel brought up babies 12 weeks old in daycare. A baby has different developmental abilities than a two year old. By two, a child is much more able to understand where her parents are when they are at work, and to handle a daycare environment. Attachment parenting is important to lots of working parents, including myself after child #1, #2, and #3, and is totally possible.
[I used to get up for work at 4:30 a.m. and coslept with my kids. It was rarely a problem for us]. For a period of time I worked 70 hours per week to support us while Brent was in Saskatchewan gestating his inner cop. I was still an AP mom. Even if I hadn't been, I would still have been a good one. But I don't think 70 hours a week plus absent dad would be healthy long term. Does that make sense?

I don't know what that translates to and it certainly isn't a universal statement. I just wanted to point out that there's a top threshold of separation for family members, before it is unhealthy. The younger the kids, the lower the threshold. You know?

Also, on the flip side, kids do quite well in daycare, in my experience. There are better daycares and not so great ones, but in general in my experience daycares in my area are great places, and kids do well and flourish in them; of course their family is still the central emotional anchor for them, and daycare is a supportive and fun environment for them to be in while their parents are working.

It also merits pointing out that although I admit here to having harboured judgemental thoughts before, it doesn't mean I think those are OKAY. I also have those kinds of judgy thoughts about some SAHMs. And then I tell myself to get OVER myself and stopit. Because generally all that judgyness comes from feeling inadequate somehow, myself. Like when I get judgy about skinnymom in front of me in the grocery lineup, you know? I hate her. Because I still look pregnant. Mrmph.

Plus, those judgy against certain full time parents are in the lawyer type of jobs, routine 70+ hour weeks type of jobs. But should women not have those jobs? That's ridiculous.

Wouldn't it be nice if those jobs had more decent hours? Sigh.

Anyways. That's it for now. xo

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

As a work-at-home mama with a work-at-home partner, I feel like I have no horse in this race — that is, the Mommy Wars(TM), the SAHM vs. WOHM battlefield. Here's what I've discovered, from my place of neutrality: Both sides are judged. Both sides are talked about like they're crap. So if you're in one, you're sure everyone hates you; but everyone in the other camp feels the same way.

And I want you to know, in case you haven't intuited it, I love you all. I think SAHMs and WOHMs (and WAHMs, and dads of all flavors) are people first and foremost, and by and large we're good parents, and we're making the choices that work for our families.

That said, it is disgraceful the way some countries (cough, U.S., choke) don't support working parents, particularly women. So sometimes "choices" are necessities. And it's up to each family to decide what a necessity is, and even when to make choices outside the realm of necessity. I'm cool with that.

My husband and I get to stay home and do work that feels meaningful to us, which I really love (both elements). For a long time, I wondered (in a judgmental way) why more parents didn't drop their career plans and forge a self-employed path like ours. As I've gotten to know more people, and get my head out of my own rear end, I've come to realize the incredible diversity in people's goals, interests, plans, resources, etc. Who am I to determine what's best for any other person or family? I'm nobody, that's who. So I feel fine now in sharing how we do things, but I also feel fine in letting other people discover their own paths.

I'll say I also feel guilty, still, for the time I spend working and not doting on my young ones 24-7. I don't think my husband feels the same guilt for the hours he reserves for work.

I'd like to bring in a historical perspective. For millennia, humans lived with what I'd like to consider work-at-home parents, and there was very little variety. If you were a hunter-gatherer family, and then even later, with the advent of agriculture, a farming family, you had to scratch out a subsistence and try to reproduce and raise the next generation. There was no other way. Of course, you had more support for doing this, in the form of other family or tribe members invested in the same outcomes. (I wonder if the Cambodian lady fits culturally into this model?)

Only with the rise of industry did men or women start leaving the family in large numbers to work away from home, and that's done some weird things to the family setup over the last few centuries (which is a blink, in human-existence terms). And only with the rise of the middle class could such a thing as a SAHM even be defined. I should point out that it's also bound up in patriarchy, in an oppressive sense, which bothers me. Not that I think women choosing to stay home are endorsing patriarchy (some are, but staying home is not a statement in itself), but that the very origins of encouraging women to stay home was to keep them in the "domestic sphere" and put them in charge of matters that suited their otherwise inferior brains. This is b.s., of course, but every time I hear people in authority or with a loud voice (especially men) proclaiming the superiority of women staying home, I think back to those early, stupid justifications of why women should stay home.

I should also point out that, evolutionarily, our infants have not caught up with our cultural shifts. This is why they still do best if attached to a caregiver with breasts and affection for the first few years. It's not personal, or political — it's biological. It can be overcome when necessary, but it's a challenge, yes?

Rachel @ Lautaret Bohemiet said...

Lauren, as usual, you brought in a lot of great points. And Mel, that hubby of yours... he's totally right. I think I did veer my portion of the debate a bit into the realm of consumerism. I did that because we are discussing women who make the CHOICE to work outside of the home. Single moms and women who come from families who have no choice aren't really the focus of the debate, because the debate is about choice. My greatest hope is that mothers consider their children's needs at least as much as their own when making that choice. Some do, and some don't.

I know children who do thrive in daycare. They love the stimulation, the friendships, the variety. I also know children who suffer greatly. As much as a mother may feel the need to "get out" and be around grown-ups, she may have a child who is deeply introverted and needs one-on-one time at home more than another child who doesn't. When we discuss a matter of choice like this one, I just feel like it is our duty as parents to consider the entire family when we make our choices. That may seem like it's asking a mom (or a dad) to give up some autonomy. And, well, yeah. It is! But I think that's okay.

I really do think this is a "debate" worth having. I really do! Nearly all of the cultural changes that have come about in our societies have done so when debates like this began taking shape. Nearly every major life decision that I personally made (such as how I would birth, becoming a doula, caring about women's issues, etc.) came about because at some point, in some venue, I was exposed to a debate. I believe that debates are one of the finest forms of education. They are different than a person simply reading an article and hearing one side. A debate allows for true and honest human-to-human interaction, it allows for personal perspective to be shared, which we can all learn from. If done right, it is healthy and productive. That's not to say that people won't walk away being a bit bristled and maybe even hurt. They will. But I think that's okay too. I think those feelings help steel our convictions or change them, depending on what needs to happen for us. I can't count the number of times I have had a debate where I took one side (and maybe even felt super offended by the "other" side) only to eventualy agree whole-heartedly with that formerly opposing side! (The debate of circumsicion comes to mind, right here with Melissa!) I am so thankful for that debate. Thankful that it gave me a chance to hear REAL LIFE accounts (not just read an article) and thankful that there were ladies who cared enough to NOT spare my feelings, and who cared enough to educate me so that I could ultimately make a life-impacting decision, years later, for my son. Know what I'm saying?

I think this was a great blog post, Mel, and it has been a great "debate". I do feel bad that people do feel personally offended. I do. But please don't discount the merit of what has been shared here because of such offense. We all grow and come away better when we are able to debate in a meaningful and healthy way like this.

Does anyone agree?


tamie marie said...

dsThis morning I typed up this super profound comment, and then somehow it didn't get posted. I am bummed. I must now resort to a somewhat less profound comment. Oh well.

What I was trying to say in that comment is that it's because of conversations on Mel's blog that I am as compassionate as I am toward mothers with small children (and I'd say I'm *very* compassionate towards them/you). It's because of all I've learned on this blog over the years that I feel like I can kind of understand what it's like, without actually doing it. At least to the extent that I can withhold judgment and extend compassion.

My main point is that, in my experience, it's by lots of listening to people that we understand them, and in understanding them we experience compassion, empathy, nonjudgment, and etc. I've learned tons about mothering from this blog. Sometimes I wish everyone on the planet had a blog so that I could see from the inside what it's like for everyone to be themselves....if only everyone was as open as Mel, I bet we'd all judge TONS less, because we'd see how tricky it is to be each person. You know? (Of course, this would also mean that everyone would need to be as self-aware as Mel....but also, there's no doubt a lot of pain associated with not being so self-aware.)

In my experience, I've never changed in a good way because of someone's judgment of me. But I've often changed in a good way because of someone's acceptance of that.

Having said that, I do think there's definitely a great place for debate. I think about the spanking debate we had a few years back. It was tough, but I think we all moved our positions a little bit and understood each other better. And circumcision is another good example. And abortion. And lots of other stuff. So.

melissa v. said...

Wow, so much to say...

I guess I will start with @Rachel~ you have some really great points, and I don't disagree with your point of view, in particular about how valuable it is for children to be with their parents. But to say that a working parent doesn't PARENT is not at all accurate. I know what you are trying to say (at least I think so!), in that a child should be with one parent or the other if possible. But I would say that although this is ideal, it is not realistic. There are some poor childcare options out there, but in my experience (limited to my area, of course), mainly there are just a whole bunch of 'styles': more nurturing ones and more institutional ones and more structured ones and more homey ones, etc. We have used a bunch of options; family, friends, students, a home based daycare, and trading off between myself and Brent. There are pros and cons to all of them. Having family means you feel beholden and like you can't ask for family to babysit for something small like going on a date or something if they help you out when you work. Friends, ditto. Friends and family have availability issues. Students are generally short term and not around in the summers, plus you have to clean your house for them to spend the day in it. (sounds silly, but it is hard to leave your house clean when you are parenting and then leaving for work, etc). Home based daycare means the hassle of drop off, someone else's schedule (our provider always left at 8 a.m. sharp to walk her own kids to school), and knowing your kid is not with family, not getting one to one care, and generally not 'intellectually stimulated' (not that we ever cared about that, but some do). Trading off between spouses means you pass the baton, and life is chaotic, and you miss your spouse.
Alternately, staying at home means thousands and thousands fewer dollars in income each year, more financial stress for our family, a huge career setback for me, having to say "No, we can't" when our kid wants his 9 year old birthday party at Chuckee Cheese or the swimming pool (not, "No, we think you shouldn't," but actually "No, we can't." Which is different. Quite). It also means intellectual boredom for me, a limited example for my kids as to the broad range of options for women, and fewer built in examples that I have a mind and a life and a being outside of them, much as I love them.
My older kids actually beg me to go to daycare because there is one in our town run by a Tae Kwon Do school and they are DYING to go too. Hysterical; they have no idea what they are actually rooting for, but still! They do beg to go to daycare =P

To be honest, I felt the least guilty trading off with Brent, but I liked the home based daycare the best. It was simple, easy, I never worried about my kids when I was at work, our daycare was run by an amazing woman who used to teach preschool and who has the gentlest, sweetest spirit and just loves kids. When I first met her I thought NO! For various judgy reasons, but within about five minutes I knew YES, this was the woman for us. She just felt exactly right. And my kids LOVED her house. They made homemade pretzels and crafts and played in the sandbox and water table, and walked twice a day to her kids' school. They ate lunch there, and they took the bus with their dad to and from, so that was a huge adventure. It was awesome.

melissa v. said...

Were there downsides? Yes. Was it 'just like home?' No, of course not. But from the ages of 2 years old and 20 months old, Ayden and Matthew did very well there, part time except for the six months Brent was away. We still see them around town, and miss them. It is like we expanded our friend circle, except it involved paid work.

The only reason our kids were not in an institutionalized daycare, which was actually my first preference, was because by and large they do not accomodate shift workers. I liked the higher accountability in an institution or daycare center as opposed to the home based daycare. Before/after school care or daycare centers are great options, too, from the ones I toured and the ones my friends used, and the one my aunt owned/ran for years.

I would venture to say that although yes, we need to respond to our childrens' individual personalities and not force them to do xyz, (a) with love and support, children can learn quickly that you will return after the work day is finished, and that you are the central anchor point in their lives, and that they are capable of being separated from you, and (b) children rise to a challenge as well as being nurtured to a new developmental level. It is not wrong to challenge an introverted child to be with others during the day. Or to lovingly encourage a shy child to go to daycare.
Yes, you have to be responsive and sensitive! If something is truly not working out, you have to be flexible to change. But it can be surprising how well kids can adapt to a predictable routine separation for work, and to a childcare environment, either a nanny, a grandmother or aunt, a home based daycare, or a daycare center.

Bennett doesn't feel comfortable if you are not around because he is not accustomed to it as a predictable pattern in his life. He is accustomed to Cam going away for work, and therefore not worried about it (plus the boob thing; you are right that the boobs make us rather necessary to have close at hand rather than gallivanting off on trips). In watching my own kids, I saw them get used to saying goodbye to me and seeing me come home. It was predictable, and they were proud of my work and thought it was amazingly cool that I worked in such a noisy vehicle and did such crazy stuff. I wasn't gone every day, but it was often enough for it to feel normal and predictable for them, you know?

melissa v. said...

Plus I felt amazing and wonderful about being a mom when I had one child, too. I was on top of the world, and I couldn't understand how anyone parented in any way other than responsive and attachment based, and why anyone would want anything more than the miracle of being a mom. And then I had two.
Two is awesome in all kinds of ways but frequently I hear from other women that this is the hardest transition; from one child to two. This was my experience, also. I was suddenly outnumbered, suddenly drowning, suddenly hated parenting because I suddenly failed and SUCKED at it every. single. minute. (or it felt that way).

After we adopted Matthew I stayed home for only 4 months of my 12 month maternity leave. I went back to work in order to keep my sanity, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made for myself. I felt like I got kicked in the ass and fell off my own parenting balance so hard, it knocked the wind out of me to the point that it took me years to recover as a parent.
Falling THIS hard isn't universal, but finding parenting much more difficult with more than one child is nearly universal. Part of the solution CAN be working. Balancing time together and time apart. Balancing feeling inadequate with feeling like you're GOOD at SOMEthing (your work, provided you feel good at it).
And parents who use childcare still PARENT. We are still the anchor in our children's lives, and the safe place they come home to.

I don't actually personally know any children who 'suffer greatly' solely as a result of being in daycare. I know some who suffer lots of emotional struggle or instability because their parents are estranged from them, emotionally or physically distant, or volatile and unpredictable... but that has nothing to do with daycare. You parent your child the way they need you to because you are in tune with them (or not; in which case you don't, I guess). Sometimes that might mean changing your work or childcare situation, but most times it won't.

I guess I see the same example you placed whereby the needs of the whole family need to be taken into account, and view it from another angle (keeping central the child's individual personality and needs). I would say that any one rigid thing cannot fit all families, or all women, at all times. It isn't always 'best' for parents to be the only ones to care for kids; it is great and good, but not 'best' or only. There's more than one way to skin a cat, essentially. Lots of great ways. Not that I've ever skinned a cat...

melissa v. said...

@Caryn, you are the first to raise the interesting option of part time work. This can be a really great option, one that my mom employed, and can keep one with a professional foot in the door so to speak, and a personal balance at home.

On some levels it is great, and for myself I like a balanced life with nothing overrunning it or taking over everything else, so part time can be great for that. For some though, it means career suicide to scale down to part time. Or I had a friend whose company had ZERO part time positions. Actually the RCMP has only 15 part time positions in ALL OF CANADA. That's 60,000 members, and only 15 part time spots. So if you are a cop and have kids, it's full time or nothing, dude.

It also means that companies take a hit, and society at large takes an economic hit.

But families generally get the best of both worlds if at least one parent works part time. So great!

Also, judgy is uncool, and you are right about extreme positions in either direction being off putting; they rub me the wrong way too! I'm always like, C'MON, fer SERIOUS PEOPLE?!??!! With both sides. But I have the least patience with militant stay at homers. It's such an argument of privilege. Only wealthy classes can afford to even HAVE the debate over whether to stay at home or not, which renders the debate ridiculous in my mind.

melissa v. said...

@Lauren; I love your perspective and appreciate that you offered it. Particularly the historical context for the necessity of separation between work sphere and home sphere, I think you are absolutely right.

"And I want you to know, in case you haven't intuited it, I love you all. I think SAHMs and WOHMs (and WAHMs, and dads of all flavors) are people first and foremost, and by and large we're good parents, and we're making the choices that work for our families."


Also, the loud voiced men you mention, who tout the benefits of SAHMs and all manner of patriarchy make me want to shoot myself in the eyes. Twice. (((shoots with finger)). That is all.


melissa v. said...

@Tamie, you are so right about compassionate discussion being so imperative to growth within our ideas. I've always loved a good 'class discussion' so to speak, and part of why I like to blog is that I can learn so much from what others have to say about things. And I thought this was pretty profound:

"In my experience, I've never changed in a good way because of someone's judgment of me. But I've often changed in a good way because of someone's acceptance of that."

So true. In feeling judged, we shut down. If we remain open and attempt to re-engage, and continue to feel judged, I think this is the most painful type of judgmental situation to survive. But if we remain open, re-engage, and are met with empathy and an open minded ear, like Literal Mama did here, we can actually engage on a deeper and more meaningful level than if we all agreed, don't you think? That's where I would truly have a chance to grow in my ideas, when someone came back and said, look; this is how I work it, and here is why, despite how you erred in judging me.

You know? Yup. xo

Rachel @ Lautaret Bohemiet said...

Mel, you bring up a lot of very compelling (and awesome) reasons a person would want to work outside of the home. And that is exactly what I said originally. I really truly only feel that the problem is in the pursuit of money. My original statement was that I do feel like we are failing our kids when we leave them "to pursue money, but if it isn't about money, that makes all the difference." The reasons you listed are great, and every person has to individually weigh all of those pros and cons.

The thing is, I know people (I think we all might) who cry when they have to leave their babies (especially at first, because keep in mind, in the States, that happens at 12 weeks - if you're lucky enough to even have that much time paid off). They feel wrong about leaving their babies. They feel sad to leave their babies. But they never realize that they don't HAVE to.

I disagree that it's a discussion of wealth, because in the most impoverished places, women stay home with their children. I can almost say across the board that of all the families I know that CHOOSE to have two working parents, they have money. Nearly all the families (like my own) who CHOOSE to stay home do NOT have much money. Not at all! I made double what Cam makes. When I quit working, our income didn't cut in half. It cut into 1/3. But it was my choice, so I deal with the consequences. For me it is worth it. For US it is worth it. If I wanted to live in a big house or drive nicer cars, or go on longer better fancier vacations, I would HAVE to work. I would have to. And the problem I have (in general, not just in the issue of parenting) is when people let their desires for posessions or monetary gain dictate major life choices without even realzing it.

Rachel @ Lautaret Bohemiet said...

As for children being damaged in daycare, our experiences must be totally different. I find that people can find gems among care providers, but certainly no one takes as much care with our own children as we do. I have two ex-boyfriends and two friends (girls) who were all molested by childcare providers, both in more formal settings and in-home. While I was pregnant with Bennett, a co-worker found out one of her sons was being abused by his daycare provider's son. Click on any news site on any day (at least in the States) and you will find instances of child abuse in the hands of care providers. Just today I read about the teachers who were abusing autistic children at their school. It made national news here, but I know from having friends who work at DHS that it's not that uncommon. I really can't say what the percentage is (I used to know it) of children that are abused (whether sexually or physically or emotionally) outside of the home, but it's fairly hight here in the States. There is also a LOT of research that states that the best care a child can receive is with one or two consistent adults (whether it be parents, grandparents, a family friend). When we leave our children with others, we aren't there to protect them. And I know, I KNOW we can't always be anyways. But in my mind, until my son is old enough to advocate for himself and at least verbalize to me the treatment he is receiving, I don't personally feel comfortable leaving him with many people.

Are all care providers bad? OF COURSE NOT. But if I have a few care providers over the course of Bennett's life that are great... great! It only takes one to fuck him up for life. I don't want to make it sound like I'm basing my decision solely on fear. But protecting him and giving him the best shot at life that I can is really important to me.

If there is anything I have learned in my life, it is that we can never really know anyone, but I'm going to be damn sure to know the person caring for my child as well as humanly possible. I would venture to guess that most people reading this discussion feel the same way and have thoroughly vetted their child care providers. At least, I hope so. Maybe having friends as social workers has really warped my brain, and my experience. I don't know.

melissa v. said...

@Rach, sorry if I got off on a tangent and forgot to acknowledge that you DID in fact say that your objection applied only to working for consumerism rather than other reasons. I remembered that you did say that, I guess I just followed the rabbit warren of my thoughts without actually remembering to show that I heard. =)

And as for the daycare thing, all I can say is that if what you describe were my paradigm for daycares, I wouldn't use them either.

I'm surprised that you disagree with my assertion that the SAH/WOH argument is classist; this is generally acknowledged as true in the feminist theory I've read (Jessica Velanti comes to mind). Perhaps it could be argued that in North America it is classist, but in my experience most impoverished women work in some capacity, and do not stay home with their children in the sense that we are defining it here. Either they eke out a meagre agricultural existence, pick garbage and sell it, beg in marketplaces, steal, or sell their bodies, or what have you, but they don't 'stay at home.'
Those who do would be your fundamentalist types whose husbands don't allow them to work, and who are frequently uneducated and have little to no opportunity to 'create' or find work. I'm thinking of specific examples from Half the Sky, where stories of women who used to be sequestered and abused are managing to become entrepreneurs because of micro loans. And more respected members of their families and communities.
Also I'm thinking about the WHO research which indicates that educating girls to a minimum grade 5 level raises the economic stability of a community, lowers its birth rate, lowers its infant and maternal mortality rate, and produces a generation which values education for ITS children, passing that along. Education empowers girls by giving them an economic foothold, and something to give back to their community. A way to utilize their previously untapped intelligence for the better of themselves, their families, and their communities. The result is positive for everyone involved, and includes women contributing economically in a way that is unavailable to them prior to being educated. But prior to them being educated I've seen with my own eyes in India, Thailand, Cambodia, Russia, etc, that poor women don't 'stay home.' They simply don't have the educational resources to turn from garbage picking to a viable, income earning skill, trade, entrepreneurial venture, or social service.

Rachel @ Lautaret Bohemiet said...

Great points, Mel.

For anyone who wants to read a lighter side to this ol' debate, this link is pretty funny. Warning: must have a sense of humor!