Feminism and the Stay at Home MomKate Allison Granju
Well, a new year has begun, providing the impetus to look back over the previous twelve months and reflect. For me, the last year brought many changes. I turned thirty. I gave birth to our third child only a few weeks ago. And January 1, 1998 marked the end of my first year as a stay at home mother.
If anyone had asked me seven or eight years ago whether I would ever find myself at home with three young children, I would have scoffed. Although I knew that I wanted to be a parent, I was certain that I required the daily stimulation of an office environment and that my children would thrive in the wonderful daycare center that I would carefully choose for them. In fact, I distinctly remember a heated discussion that took place between an older friend (who was already a mother) and myself shortly before I found myself pregnant with my now six year old son, Henry. I argued that young children actually *need* daycare to develop properly. Funny how I knew everything about being a parent before I became one.
Life At Home
My son actually *did* actually spend several of his first years in substitute care while my husband and I pursued school and work away from home. First his paternal grandmother cared for him, and as a toddler, we enrolled him in what I still believe to be the best daycare center in town. Despite these thoughtful arrangements, Henry let us know pretty much as soon as he could express himself clearly that even though there were no special art and craft activities, field trips or expensive educational toys at his house like there were at daycare, and despite the fact that I lack any talent at all for most of the domestic arts, he would still prefer to spend his days at home just being with with me. After several years of denying, through a variety of rationalizations, the legitimacy of what this small person was trying to get across to me, I decided to take him at his word and bring him and the baby sister he had recently acquired home to full time mama-care. It didn't hurt Henry's cause that I was feeling continually overwhelmed and not up to the task of meeting the needs of my children and (at that time) full-time law school. Juggling exams, my own classes, pediatric appointments, Christmas shopping, and even the basics of keeping the kids clean and fed left me exhausted and frustrated.
And that is how, despite my stated position prior to having my babies, I am what I am today: a stay at home parent. I do work my own schedule as a freelance writer from my desk/oasis sitting in the middle of the crayola chaos that is my children's playroom, but mostly I mother. In fact, after some initial discomfort, now when people ask me what I "do", I am pretty comfortable saying just that: "I mother".
Today Women Have Choices
Although there's no way to know for sure yet whether my generation's first wave of parents, in which I include myself, indeed has a trend in the making, I sense that many, many other young women of my age are making choices similar to my own. As I consider my circle of friends, I see lawyers, social workers, writers, teachers and others, all deciding to put careers on hold for the time being and be at home with young children, a practice now so prevalent that sociologists have given it a label: "sequencing". Many of us, as the daughters of the first group of American women who were employed full-time outside the home, have a benchmark against which we can measure our own choices, something our own parents didn't have.
And as pleased as I am with the way my time is structured these days, I sometimes wonder if by spending my days with my own children, I am betraying the sacrifices and hard work of the previous two generations of women who paved the way so that I could pursue a professional life. I mean, did Sandra Day O'Connor, Geraldine Ferraro and even my own grandmother and mother, highly successful journalists who blazed their own trails, work as hard as they did just so that I wouldn't be too tired after a long day at the office to read bedtime stories to my toddler? I have decided that they did. Feminism is all about the power to choose. Half a century ago, it is likely that my current stay at home status wouldn't have been mine to accept or reject. Instead it simply would have been the way it was. That was the case for the brilliantly stifled Betty Friedan, an Ivy League educated genius who launched the modern women's movement when she wrote _The Feminine Mystique_ after finding herself literally imprisoned by societal expectations that she confine her interests to home and hearth. Twenty years later, Friedan re-explored the lives of American women in _The Second Wave_, in which she argued that the assumption that every woman should construct a life centered primarily around earning a wage could be just as limiting as previous social paradigms.
I am well aware that for many mothers, financial imperatives take away their choices. They must work outside the home if they are to feed their children. However, for lots of others, the decision to forgo full-time paid employment for the time being is, to greater or lesser degree, do-able. As a mother and a feminist, I will ring in this new year with a toast to my ability to choose a life for myself and my family and to those women who struggled to give me that opportunity.
About the Author: Katie Allison Granju is a writer living in Knoxville, TN. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Hip Mama, Minnesota Parent, Seattle's Child, Disney's Family.Com and The Knoxville News-Sentinel, among a number of others. She is a regular contributor to Metro Pulse, Knoxville's weekly alternative newspaper. Her first book, on attachment parenting, will be released by Pocket Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, in early 1999. Most importantly she is the mother of Henry, age 6, Jane, age 2 and Elliot, born January 3, 1998. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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