If you read Kate’s birth story, you know that not only did I get pregnant (and lightning fast, first month off birth control!) but my baby is healthy, happy and awesome.
Loving Kate is easy. Finding myself after going though the one-way door of motherhood is another story. I don’t question my decision to be a mom. In that, I am certain. But I still wrestle with questions about my identity as a woman, a mother and a feminist. As if switching from being devoutly childless weren’t a big enough identity shift — I’ve gone from career-woman to stay-at-home mom in what feels like the blink of an eye.
My decision to stay-at-home is multifaceted. As someone who has worked many years in the childcare and early education systems, I have some strong opinions. If you get quality childcare, hold on to it with all your might! It is out there (I like to think I offered some back in the day), but it is hard to find. And that uncertainty feels more real to me with the experiences I’ve had. (Please know, I do not think childcare is bad or that families who use childcare are bad. It’s just something that personally makes me nervous.) But the primary reason was the economy. As a freelance writer (and aspiring author), my income is unpredictable. And in the depressed economy, even part-time jobs in my field have all but dried up. (Indeed, many of my journalist friends have been among the faceless jobless here in Las Vegas, by all standards the hardest hit city in America with the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the nation.) Promises for work that waited for me in late 2007 or even 2008 are now ghosts. So, looking at the cost of quality childcare and my income potential, the math was pretty strongly weighted. Even in the best scenarios, I might not always make more than childcare costs. My husband has a stable engineering job, with medical benefits, so it makes sense for him to continue working outside the home.
So, that’s the nuts-and-bolts of how I came to be a stay-at-home feminist.
But just because the decision was the practical and logical best-choice for my family, doesn’t mean it has been easy for me. The transition to becoming a parent is profound and life-changing. But at the same time I was becoming a mother and trying to figure out all that means, I was also losing a very big part of my identity: work outside the home. And after countless arguments, articles, books, blogs and more, if there’s one thing our society gets freaked out about its the role of women, and specifically mothers. You’re a terrible mother if you work outside the home. You’re rejecting feminism if you stay at home. I am not telling you anything new when I talk about the tension women face regarding this single facet of life. Our lives may be full of a whole constellation of stars, but this one issue is like the black hole that swallows everything else!
At first, I admit the mantel of stay-at-home mom chafed. I was uncomfortable with all the baggage that title had. Forget worrying about mom-jeans — I had become the epitome of momness! I live the stereotype! My husband goes to work every day and I stay home with the baby. I cook. I clean. I clip coupons (well, in this economy, come on…). I do the shopping. I run stuff to the dry cleaners. And change diapers. Feedings. Baths… All of it. I do all the stuff that women for generations have fought to get out from under! I live the lifestyle that feminists have railed against in waves!
And so the biggest question of all became: Does being a stay-at-home mom erase my feminism?
Does it erase my Women’s Studies minor? Does it erase all the conversations I’ve had with my husband for the past 13 years of marriage (19 of knowing him) in which we’ve both worked to build a fair and equitable, as well as loving and passionate, partnership? Does it erase the work I did in the newsroom? The organizations I’ve supported?
This is where the practical choices we’ve made as a family cause a lot of friction with the feminist ideals I hold true. Because, regardless of what anyone says to me… Hell yeah I’m still a feminist! And so is my husband. And we are definitely trying to raise an empowered, intelligent girl who questions the status quo.
But when I’m waiting in line at the grocery store at one in the afternoon, exchanging small-talk with the other stay-at-home wives, it’s hard to always believe it. My beliefs are the same — maybe even more ardent now that I am raising a girl. But to the casual observer, I’m just another college-educated, career woman who has opted-out. If being a woman is all about the balancing act to stay on the tight-rope, I feel like I have fallen off completely.
Now, this is not to say that I regret my choice. There are some really rewarding things about being home with my daughter every day. For instance, I saw her roll over for the first time. And I get to cuddle her and make her laugh all I want, which my husband misses terribly. And I still feel solid in the practicality of our decision. It’s important to be as financially stable as possible (especially in this incredibly iffy economy). And in the end, this time in my daughter’s life is going to be very short. I can’t believe the first six months are already gone!
But there are definitely times when I feel like the world, and especially feminism, has left me behind. This is definitely where the personal meets the political. None of us gets it “right” all the time. There is no right. But for now, I’m the stay-at-home feminist. And, I’m happy.