I was inspired to write this post by a few things. There seem to be an amazing number of articles out right now about parenting and feminism or parenting and gender inequality. Beyonce had something to say on the subject and Stephanie Sprenger’s blog post on raising feminist daughters has been inundating my facebook feed. Just this morning I was met by an article, the first in a series, on NBC on how women are “still trying to do it all.”
Finally, I was led to write this post because my own mother is retiring this week. It’s kind of hard for me to believe that she has been doing her job, her second “career” for 20 years. After all, I still think of her as a stay-at-home mom and I was 14 and in high school when she went back to work full time. How could all of that be 20 years ago? She can’t be that old. I certainly can’t be that old.
As I’ve written many times before, my thoughts and feelings on the idea of “feminism” and what that means to women, especially mothers, in our society are complex and varied. It’s impossible to put them all down in one post and I’m planning several posts on the subject. What I wanted to write about is spurred on mostly by what Stephanie Sprenger had to say. I, myself, am not raising girls. I have only boys and so can’t understand what the moms of girls go through, right? Well, that’s a subject for another day. The point of view I do have is that of a girl who was raised by a feminist mother…a feminist mother who gave up her job and stayed home to raise my sister and I. Can that be? A feminist stay-at-home mom who had very little “me time”? Yes, it can absolutely be and it absolutely was in my house.
I didn’t know until I was making the decision to stay home with my own first baby that my mom hadn’t planned to be a stay-at-home mom. I was frankly shocked when she told me that she had planned to go back to working for her family’s real estate company when she was pregnant with me. But when I was born and her flexible hours plan didn’t pan out and she found that wanted to be home with me, she left the company and the working world. My mother didn’t go to yoga or meet her friends for lunch but we did watch Days of Our Lives religiously each day at 1:00 and there was always a stack of books at her bedside that she was working on reading. Not that yoga or lunches are bad. I do those things. But my mom just wasn’t that kind of mom. She went to baby group and led La Leche League meetings. She took us on nature walks in the local park and to feed the ducks at the pond. We had an entire library of books about crafts for kids and we did most of them. She read us ridiculous amounts of books and made tents out of blankets and chairs. We spent a lot of time at her friends’ homes playing with their kids. There was very, very little time that my mother didn’t spend with us.
Yet, I’ve always, always seen her as a “whole” woman. I didn’t need her to go off to an office or to social events to think that she had her own life. She was confident in everything she did, or at least that was what I saw. When my sister started 1st grade, my mother took the first paid job she had had in 9 years; she became the cafeteria manager at the small Catholic school we attended. She was working, but we actually ended up seeing her more than we had before because we now saw her at lunch as well. I know that the job was stressful for her. It was hard to work outside the home and inside the home. But again, this wasn’t something I necessarily was aware of at the time. I thought it was cool that she worked at school. My classmates liked her. It was mostly very good. But even though she was working, I still thought of her as a stay-at-home mom. If people asked me if my mom worked, I think I would have answered “no”. She was home with us when we were home.
Feminism was not a dirty word in our house and it was one we grew up knowing. Yet my parents didn’t teach us to be “strong women” or that we deserved to be equal to men. My parents taught us to be strong people and that everyone was to be treated equal. They taught us to help those who needed it. My parents led by example. Although my mother was home and my father was working 2 jobs, I never, ever thought of them as anything other than partners. This idea was cemented in my mind when my mother went back to work full time. She felt that she needed something, she had a calling, and she became a social worker. She now worked longer hours than my dad, who picked up the lunch-packing and dinner-making and homework duties. But it didn’t surprise me, it was how I expected it would go. They were partners, right? Somehow when I was growing up, I missed the part where girls had to fight to be equal. In my world, they were equal so I never expected, or settled for, anything else. My mom stayed home with us and gave up a lot to do it. She didn’t have a lot of time for herself and then she went back to work and did a job that I was and am proud of. In my mind, she did it all.
I purposely didn’t ask my mother for her point-of-view on this. I’m sure it differs from mine. But for the point I’m trying to make, her point-of-view doesn’t matter. It’s what I learned from the way she raised me that matters–it’s the picture of her that I have in my mind from when I was a little girl. My point is not to say that mothers shouldn’t have “me time” or that they shouldn’t work or that they shouldn’t raise their little girls to be feminists. Mothers should do all of those things. My point is that there is no one way and that, maybe, just maybe, we’re overthinking this. Maybe projecting confidence in what we do as mothers and as people, no matter how it is that we spend our time, is the best way to raise strong little girls and strong little boys. Maybe being partners in our relationships will show them that men and women are equal and then maybe when they are adults it will be true. I don’t have the answers. My mother didn’t have the answers. I didn’t turn out as self-assured as she had hoped when I was just a little girl. But she gave me an excellent example, a lot of love, and any support that I needed. Both of my parents did. I don’t think I could have asked for much more than that. It’s what I’m hoping I’m giving my own children. I hope I’m raising feminist boys by example and most of all I hope there is no need for the word “feminism” when they’re raising their children someday.