my love-hate relationship with feminism

Christina wrote here about staying home after her baby is born later this year. She writes about always knowing she would be home when she started her family and, now that she’s actually faced with it, questioning whether it’s the right choice for her. She links to fellow Nap-towner Frema’s post here about the same topic – staying home after baby. Frema always dreamed she’d stay home, but her reality won’t let that happen. 

Fifteen months after my first day back at work (March 22, 2006, a day that will live in infamy as tearful and difficult), I’m still questioning whether it was the right choice for me. Even though there really was no choice at all – without my income, we wouldn’t be able to support three people. Like Frema’s husband, my Hubby’s college degree and eleven years of experience in “the business” of journalism hasn’t gotten him quite the pay grade that we would need to support our household. I am offended on his behalf. 

 My total abandonment of my principles learned in journalism graduate school to take the first job waved under my nose that had  a 30 percent pay raise means that I am a little bit better off in the salary department – but not much. Because how did I live when I was making $25,000 a year and had six times the minimum student loan payments that I have now? 

We struggled when we were supporting two people and a dog on just Hubby’s income, and that was when we lived in an apartment and didn’t have to pay for things like new air conditioners and new windows and replacement flooring. Or a gas bill.  

I am lucky. I love my job. I have said so many times that if I had had to go back to my old newspaper job after Angel Face was born, a job that made me literally sick to my stomach most mornings, I would have simply refused. Back then, we lived in a smaller city with a lower cost of living and most things overall were cheaper (gas) and we spent less.  

I took the full 12 weeks of maternity leave, all paid (because Angel Face was born at the end of December, I was able to cobble together sick leave and vacation time from TWO years), and I didn’t even think twice about taking it all. It meant a LOT of work just before I gave birth, but I felt my bosses, who were cool about the whole thing, at least to my face, deserved that from me. 

But I still have to tell myself every morning that I’m going to work because it’s the right thing to do for all women, that we can have it all, that I’m working because I want to give my child everything she needs in life (but not everything she wants, because I want to teach her the value of hard work).  

Inside, it reduces me to a quivering mess every time I look in on her in the mornings, asleep in her crib, knowing that I won’t see her again until I pick her up from day care, when she’s tired and cranky and hungry and likely has another scratch or bruise from a squabble over a toy (she’s a warrior, that kid). 

I end up spending about two hours each week day with her. Sometimes those hours are good, sometimes I’m rushing about, trying to fix dinner and straighten up and keep her from drinking toilet water or eating dog food. I value my weekends with her immensely and hate that I’ve had to make (and enforce) a rule that we spend at least one weekend a month at home alone (because otherwise we would be rushing around trying to visit friends and family all the time). 

When I was a kid, until the third grade, I had a stay-at-home mom. I loved coming home for lunch (school was right across the street), baking cookies in the afternoon, having French Toast for breakfast every Tuesday. Once I hit third grade, mom went to work as a teacher’s aide, so she was still home most of the time I was. In high school, she went back to college and earned her CPA license and began to work full time. 

When I was a junior, I had a choral performance and neither of my parents could make it. I was hurt, disappointed and sad. Is that how my little girl is going to feel every day of her life – when the other parents show up to eat lunch with their kids, make mid-day school performances and serve as room mothers? That’s my biggest fear. 

Being a SAHM is such a personal decision, and yet it’s a public one that other mothers have no qualms about criticizing. I am so unsure that I’ve made the right choice and so sensitive about this subject that I take the criticism right to heart. I search my soul (and our bank statements) to see if there’s another way. 

But I’m also afraid of actually having a choice – what if Hubby gets a new job, a great job that pays an incredible amount? What if I actually could stay at home? Would I do it? Would I have the guts to walk away for years and devote myself to my children (because oh, there certainly would be more in this scenario)? The likelihood of this happening is slim, so I don’t devote much time to these thoughts, but I’m afraid of the answers, because what if they aren’t what I think they are?

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12 Responses to my love-hate relationship with feminism

  1. Erin says:

    It’s scary to me how much our minds think alike. Now, obviously there are no babies at this house, but I really struggle with what I’m going to do when the time comes. There’s a reason I never take a sick day…I’m saving those days for my maternity leave. I’m insanely in love with what I do, but I also have the kind of job that leaves me completely exhausted at the end of each day (21 special needs preschoolers will do that to you). I’m not sure if being a SAHM is for me anyway…and plus, how would we afford it. Who can say what the “right” choice is?

    Here’s the thing. You are my mommy idle. I think you are a kickass mom and do an amazing job of working AND raising your little girl.

  2. Christina says:

    Its been a few weeks and Im still thinking about it. I know I am leaving my current job but it is still in the back of my mind all the time. I think what Im really afraid of today (subject to change) is admitting if I get bored. LIke you said its such a bone of contention with all moms, working and those who dont. What if Im not fufilled, enough? Hard pill to swallow. However, I am trying to bite my tounge as I know that Im so blessed to have Mikes income. Things will be different since my pay is our play money so less play but serisouly I need to shut the hell up,
    Thanks for the ping. and the view inside your world as you leave your sweet one behind every day.

  3. The truth is that every single study says that day care, rather than stay at home parenting, is better for a child’s development (social, mental, emotional). Then the question becomes: are you selfish enough to put your child’s well-being behind your desire for her constant attention?

    It’s a little harsh, that question, but true by the research.

  4. Erin says:

    Not to be a pain in the ass, but research say that quality child care can be good for a child’s development…and it’s true, especially in our type of society. But, it’s that whole “quality” issue. As someone who has studied child development at length and who has witnessed a LOT of REALLY BAD childcare, the quality issue is key. Not easy to find, and even harder to pay for when you do….but completely worth it.

  5. luvmogo says:

    Get OUT – Get out of my head! 🙂 I am with you. My husband is the one who gets to be home. He stays at home during the day and slings lattes and mochas at night. I’d really like to see the reference for such studies that say that day care is best for children. I bet there are just as many reputable sources that say just the opposite. I am not a SAHM I work becasue I have to but there really is no way I can deny that it would be better for MY girl if I were at home. WIsh I could do it, and secretly afraid I wouldn’t be able to hang if I did. Luv the post.

  6. Anna says:

    What a great post – it sums up everything I have been thinking/feeling. I like being back at work but I feel guilty about liking being back !! I think if I ever had the choice ( it ain’t going happen anytime soon) I think I would still choose to work – at least part time. Having regular adult conversations helps to keep me sane.

  7. Wacky Mommy says:

    It’s just such a personal choice, how we parent. And sometimes, as you’ve pointed out so thoughtfully here, it’s not a choice at all, to work or not to work — it’s what you have to do so you do it. And please — we all “work.” Some of us just don’t get paid for it.

    I’ve been staying home with my kids for ages and thank God for blogging is all I can say. I don’t know what I’d do without my online community.

  8. Frema says:

    Amen, luvmog. We can use research to support whatever we want. I’ve seen research that says childcare can make children more aggressive in school. Is that a reason NOT to send them? It’s a personal choice based on personal circumstances.

    Michelle, it sounds like you and your husband are doing great for your family. The nice thing about kids is their adaptability and ability to go with the flow. (I think) as long as we love them and tend to their needs, they will thrive.

  9. Sarah says:

    I’m not sure with how familiar you are with our southern ways, but I had a “bless your heart” moment this morning that applies to this.

    I ran into a lady who sympathized with me on being pregnant during the sweltering summer months, and then she said.. outloud, and in her big girl voice.. “but my husband let ME stay home during MY pregnancy. BLESS YOUR HEART.”

    All I could do was say, “Well, massa say I’s got to work, so workin’ I be.”

  10. Pingback: The Anvil Tree » Bless MY heart?! Oh no.

  11. Pingback: Lede Me On » Blog Archive » Feminist redux

  12. Christina says:

    I totally get this. I have written about this. I have felt this for 2.5 long years. I think about this from the time I wake up until the time I fall to sleep (poorly most nights…) I have come up with schemes and plans and ideas about how to save money so I can stay home. So I can have a full time EXCEPTIONAL nanny. SO I can be there for my son all the time.

    I want to be there when he comes home from school one day and bake cookies and curl up on the couch just because. I struggle every moment with having a job and leaving my child with someone who is not me all day long 40+ hours a week. I get jealous of people who work part time, do not work at all, or work from home. HOW? I wonder and yet I do not have these choices. I do not have flex time, part time or work at home options.

    I make good money as does my spouse but if one of us were to stop working we would be SOL. SO I work. The reality is there is not much choice for many women and that is frustrating and tiresome and sad. I long for the chance to go from WM to SAHM but on the other hand like you I wonder how I would survive being only a mommy. Because I also like being in control of my own destiny. I like working, I like colleagues and adults and not playing with legos all day long. I love bringing home a pay check and showing my son that mommy works hard for the things we have in our lives because my SAHM did not teach me the value of that.

    I would likely have baby #2 by now if I were a SAG+HM but the thought of going through what I have been through with my son and daycare situations appalls me so I wait to have baby#2 and I think I may likely wait myself right out of having another one (I will be 34 this year AND I do not want to much time in between kiddos) because I cannot quit my job and stay at home just like that.

    I feel lucky to have my son and he is charming and handsome and smart. I am happy with our current day care situation (after three shitty ones) and I am mostly happy with life at long last. BUT I still worry and wonder… and hope.

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