Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My White Flag in the Mommy Wars

I've been reading some reviews of Elizabeth Badinter's "The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women" and at the same time feeling so much in agreement with many of her points, yet feeling that we would never be able to have coffee together. I would agree with her that women can have it all, but as someone I read years ago put it, "just not all at once".

Like this French philosopher and feminist, I am an educated woman and also a mother. I think mothers should be able to choose what kind of family life they want to have for themselves and their children. We are both alarmed by the burden of guilt that mothers are carrying today. However, our viewpoints diverge when it comes to parenting philosophy. She feels that the cause of feminist equality as a societial value is more important than the decisions of an individual mother, that when one mother makes the decision to stay home, she's making a choice that when combined with all the other mothers who make the same decision leads to an aggregate weakening of the strides made by previous generations of feminists. She believes that all women need to be in the work force. She sees natural labor, breastfeeding, cloth diapering, and making homemade baby food as forms of modern maternal slavery. Bottles, convenience products, vaccinations, and childcare are the means of feminist freedom in her mind, and many young women are abandoning them in favor of a cult of all things "natural".

What Badinter seems to not see is that fidelity to the cause of feminism also robs women of the right to parent the way that some of us wish to. I have been home full or part-time for the last 8 years. I like to work. I like the feeling of earning money and contributing to our family's financial health, but working isn't the only way to do that. With small children in my home and a husband in school, I felt that my efforts would be better spent in trying to make the most of my husband's stipend rather than getting a teaching job and watching my paycheck go to daycare expenses and feeling less control over the quality of our family life. Now that my husband has a job that allows me to stay home full time, I continue to manage our resources carefully so that I can stretch our budget to fit our growing family's needs. My plan is to finish up a master's degree by Spring 2014 and get back into teaching when my children are all in school in Fall 2016, and for now I am reasonably content to be at home. I don't always like my choice, but I ackowledge that it's mine and live with it.

The problem is that women are becoming so polarized on the issues of motherhood. Instead of providing support to all women to parent the way that works best for their families, many women are quick to engage in the "Mommy Wars", with women like Badinter on one end of the spectrum and the hippie Earth Mommas (for lack of a better term) at the other end. The moms in the middle of all this are left feeling guilt and pressure and alienation from all sides. I find myself there too!

Traditional feminism relies on a degree of "choice" that denies the nature of women and motherhood, I would argue. It requires that women be unencumbered by their families, and these requirements come from other women. It requires a control over one's personal life that just does not exist with small children, who are creators of chaos and do not operate on anyone's schedule but their own. Guilt among working moms is common, as is the pressure to get quality time with their children and to be successful in their careers.

On the other side of the Mommy Wars is this trend toward natural parenting. In its extremes, it reveres and glamorizes all that is natural (although let's face it, asbestos is natural) to such an extreme that either alienates mothers or draws them into its tractor beam of guilt. Pressure is common in this demographic as well, as is rampant fear. It reminds me of Charlie Brown's Christmas Special in which he is diagnosed by his friend Lucy with "panto-phobia, the fear of everything!". Women like me have enough free time to Google all kinds of scary things, and we either become paralyzed with alarm or become empowered to find solutions. I am careful to make sure that my interactions are about empowerment as mothers rather than a monolithic movement based on mutual guilting. I see some young moms determined to embrace all that is natural in order to follow this doctrine of Good Motherhood, and I want to say to them, "you're wearing yourself out for nothing! Enjoy your baby, and do the stuff that actually helps your family". Natural parenting at its best empowers parents to find non-corporate solutions to the common problems that young families face, and its environmental and social impact can be powerful when it is spread by positive example and not by pressure, guilt, and fear.

Feminism at its best empowers women to make the choices that work for themselves and their families as well. It involves women speaking out about their needs at work and making sure to support each other in getting those needs met.

I don't view my life as maternal slavery at all, even on the days when I've handled more poo than I'd care to elaborate on. It's my way of parenting with the least amount of guilt. I see my life as voluntary service of my family, training them to become independent and thoughtful people. And it will be voluntary service of my family that motivates me to go back to work some day. As I sit and breastfeed in my bathrobe while typing, I'm looking forward to it!

Friday, April 13, 2012

My Sanity Clause

Today has been one of those tremendously productive days, although you wouldn't necessarily know it to look at my home.

I chatted with my best friend, who is really one of the most magnificent people I know. I miss her all the time.

I folded and put away about 6 loads of laundry. I lost count.

I made pizza, and behold, it was very tasty.

I thoughtfully read some articles by Elizabeth Badinter, and I saw her point yet felt that she had missed THE point entirely. More on her later.

I made a real plan for weekly and monthly home management. There are several weekly tasks (mostly of the food and laundry variety) that are now in my iCal and my iPod, and I will see them every day and know what the plan is. I have specific days for shopping, for the library, and for scheduled appointments. I also have a little 10-30 minute chore for each day of the month, and those will show up on my iPod as well. It's all kind of a loose variation of the Flylady idea. We also have a chart on the wall with pull-off cards with jobs that need to be done every day (ish).

After a month of intermittent illness, I want some peace and sanity, so I spent a lot of time writing this plan. I'd call it my sanity clause, but everybody know there ain't no sanity clause ;).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Of Biohazards, yelling at strangers, and peeing in a cup

M is ill with an icky gastro and respiratory virus. Her doc was worried that with the high fever, she might also have a UTI, so he had me go to the lab and get her urine tested. I forgot to put either stroller in the van. I had a baby carrier but left it in the car, thinking it was in the diaper bag. The carseat is very heavy, so I carried the baby in, planning to put her in the Boba carrier once I could take her light bunting off. M walked in fine. An idiot in a truck had to stop short because he clearly didn't plan to let us walk across the pedestrian zone safely but then realized that might end in his incarceration and thought better of it.

We got the lab paperwork from the peds office, registered, and headed toward the lab. M screamed at a stranger who tried to talk to her, and frankly he deserved it. He told her to stay with her momma, but she was afraid to walk to me because he was between us. I told him "She's afraid you're going to harm her. Keep walking!". Thankfully we got right in at the lab. I got back to the lab bathroom and realized I didn't have the carrier or any place to put the baby! She was in a light bunting, and I put a light blanket down on the floor in the blood draw part of the room and put her on it.

Then I turned my attention to M, who had a diaper on because of the tummy trouble she's been having. Turns out the diaper was full of trouble. I cleaned her up and got her on the toilet for a urine sample, which I was to collect midstream. She balked at this but eventually produced 2T of urine. Baby E meanwhile had fallen asleep on the floor. I tossed the floor blanket, packed up our whole mess into my backpack, and went out to tell the lab people that we were successful. M started screaming again that she wanted to blow her nose, but she was frustrated that she couldn't get it all out. Meanwhile, the lab people were ignoring us, which is hard to do with a screaming toddler. Finally I said, "Hey, she peed in a cup!". Then M got a serious case of ambulatory refusal, and I ended up walking out to the car with both girls (total combined weight of 45lbs) all the way to the car. That urine better be ugly!