again with the mommy wars

Now that the issues surrounding motherhood and paid employment are back in the news for the umpteenth time, I can't resist an opportunity to put in my two cents. This is a topic I think about constantly, even though I don't post about it much here, other than alluding to it from time to time. Much of the discussion just gets me angry and defensive. A lot of op-ed pieces on the subject just cherry-pick statistics to back up whatever arguments they're making. They almost always leave men off the hook and make a half-hearted call for better workplace conditions and subsidized childcare, none of which will happen.

Here's where I stand: I am a white female with a lot of education. My husband is the breadwinner for the family. We have two children, ages 7 and 5. I earn a little money as a freelance musician, but my primary work is at home, for which I get paid nothing.

The truth is, I am ambivalent about a lot of this. My kids are great and Stuart is a wonderful dad and totally supportive of me and helps out at home. Really, I can't complain about the people I live with (except that some of them still haven't gotten the memo about putting their dirty clothes in the hamper). I love spending time with Daniel and Anya. And fortunately I like to cook and I don't mind laundry too much, so for the most part I don't even find housework too soul-sucking and unbearable. Back when they were in diapers and I  had to spend all day playing hide and seek I just about lost my mind, but things are better now.

Here's the other side of it, though. I wish I were financially independent. I wish I could find more meaningful work doing the things I spent years in graduate school training professionally to do. I wish I could make a name for myself.

I think what I'm really so sick and tired of hearing is how mothers "make the choice" to seek paid employment or not. This decision was essentially made for me. You don't need to know all the details about why and how, but I had both my kids when I was in graduate school. I was pregnant for three out of my six doctoral recitals. I wrote my dissertation with a toddler who barely napped, a growing belly, and only 5-6 hours of babysitting per week because that was all I could afford.  I gave birth to my daughter literally the day I finished my doctorate. Neither one of those pregnancies was intentional, either, and when I ended up pregnant with Anya even the doctors were shocked.

The point of my story here is that I had kids before I had a chance to build a career. I didn't have a choice about it, either. Obviously I wouldn't trade them for anything, but the timing and circumstances do make me feel hemmed in. I had to give up any chance at a real career because I became a mother.

Sometimes people congratulate me for the "choice" I made to be a stay-at-home mom. When that happens, I grit my teeth for a moment, then smile and say something generic and bland about how it's working out well and I'm glad we got stuck in a city like Madison. No one has ever ever said to me "Oh, it's too bad your schedule doesn't allow for more time to perform/teach/write because you always did so well at that!" I never hear that, and as a result, I sometimes honestly feel that those years I spent studying music were just filling up the time until I had babies.


Jessi said…
I get, "Oh, it's too bad you have to work." Which, I mean. Yes. Single mom means single income. I have to work. There's no other way around it. Even before the singleness, not working would have probably meant homelessness for us. But also, you know, maybe I want to work? Maybe working for me isn't this horrible thing that I'm forced to do, but a real career that I take some self worth from? Maybe not, but you don't know when you say obnoxious crap like that.
AHLondon said…
And now that they are getting older? Why not start building that career now? You'd get a solid flow out of it, while most moms who did establish their careers before kids end up taking significant time off as their career starts to peak or go through a crucible of scheduling to do both.
Point is, no matter when you had your kids, it would effect your career. Frontloading kids isn't what most women do these days, true. You not only could get into a music career but could provide perspecitve on an aytipcal timeline. I know loads of women who would be interested in reading that.

Popular Posts