This article got me thinking about the role of the mother and especially society’s conception of the stay-at-home-mom. The article, and many like it, works off of two basic assumptions:
- People should cling to their individuality. It seems like the biggest fear of people, especially women, these days is to lose themselves in the role of the mother or wife. Going one step further, it makes the assumption that a woman’s identity is held within her sexuality. In order to maintain her identity a woman should exercise, wear make up, do pelvic floor exercises, and basically maintain the flirtatious, vixen attitude she had before having children. She must be a woman first, and a wife or mother second. It says very little about her being a human first, and a woman or wife or mother or whatever else in whatever order she prefers.
- SAHMs should feel privileged to be able to stay at home. They should not compare their labor to “actual” work, and they should feel guilty that they do not contribute financially. Most of all, they are not allowed to complain about their duties, or claim that they feel stress. Taking this further, there is the subtle claim that work within the household is worth less than work outside of the household, and that money is the biggest contribution you can make to your family.
These assumptions, and all of the advice that comes out of them, continually irritates me. Truthfully, I usually click right past these blog posts and move on to something that isn’t tinted with anger and/or guilt. But sometimes I can’t help myself. Sometimes I stop and read these and wonder if this is really what people think about life.
First of all, I want to say that I do feel extremely privileged that I will be able to be a SAHM. I realize that for many mothers now days that is not a choice, especially all of the single mothers working hard on every front. However, I think it is a choice for more people than recognize it as so. The idea that a family NEEDS two incomes to survive is absurd. There is the option to move some place cheaper, to cut back on expenses, to curb the consumer lifestyle and to get your basic needs covered through one income. Yes, not having the latest Apple products, or not sending your child to a summer camp may be a difficult choice to make, but it IS an option. From what I read this is becoming more difficult in America, and perhaps changes are needed on the societal level. If we are a society that still values the nuclear family then we should allow for basic family needs to be met through a single income. If we no longer value the nuclear family then we need to start making other arrangements for the raising of children so that everyone can continue providing just enough for themselves.
With all of that being said, just because I recognize my position within the home as a privilege (which should be a right) does not mean that I intend to feel guilty about it, as if working within the home is less difficult than holding a job outside the home, or as if I am somehow worth less than working mothers and fathers. I refuse to agree that a homemaker does not know what stress is. Balancing budgets, creating family schedules, learning about nutrition and gardening are all fun things, but they can all be stressful. If you dislike your job so much that all you feel is stress and anxiety towards it, perhaps you should look into a different job instead of claiming that those who enjoy their societal role don’t know what stress is. However, here we come to the big question: Is being a mother an actual societal role anymore?
It seems like it isn’t. Adults are identified by their jobs, and jobs are narrowly defined by the money they make. It is valid to be a housekeeper or a nanny, looking after someone else’s children, but it is not valid to claim working within your own family as work. Perhaps it isn’t fair to claim “mother” as a societal role. After all, there are plenty of single individuals struggling to make ends meet on their own, with no one to share household duties with. These people seem to hold a disdain for, “breeders,” who would dare to claim that one income should support not just one person, but four people, while one adult does nothing except manage a home. Maybe they have a point. Maybe we have equalized ourselves right out of the definition of family. If so, I am quite sad.
The other part, that a woman must at all times maintain her individual identity outside of her familial roles, just seems tiresome to me. People keep claiming that a woman should be able to support herself, in case her husband leaves her. She should not get lost in the relationship with her husband, and she should not get lost in her role as a mother. As an extreme there are women who have c-sections just because they do not want to change their sex lives. Perhaps a bit more normal is the idea that a woman needs to keep separate bank accounts, have a source of income, and maintain her sexuality through fashion and makeup so that her husband always wants her and she will be desirable if he leaves her.
To me it seems like this is just operating from a stance of fear, constantly planning for the worst case scenario. When I got married I gave up my life as an individual. It was scary to consider before I met Nikola and yet it is the most relaxing, wonderful sensation now. We agreed that we would love and support each other forever, and I choose to believe in that. That means I have no problem combining finances, working to support his income efforts, or earning an income while he manages things at home. We decided to form a household, and to put that first. That means that I honor our household before my own fears and insecurities.
Finally, I have to ask when being a woman meant being sexy and made-up. I feel like so much more than a piece of fashion. If I never have sex again I will still feel like a woman. Bearing children is a part of being a woman, for some people. Cooking is. Painting is. Writing is. Living, breathing, loving is. Being a woman is not about high heels and a fancy bag. It is not about wearing make up. It is not about having a tight pelvic floor. It is emotions and desires and interactions. “Be a woman first, so you can be a better mother,” is just bad advice. Instead, allow being a mother to become part of your identity.