This is our final Tradition Month post about the varieties of ways women shape their lives around children and work. We’ve discussed the Work-From-Home Mom, the Stay-At-Home Parent, and now daycare. While we’re wrapping up this discussion for the moment, we always want to hear more from you about shaping your life balance. Childless? Childfree? Daycare with a corporate job? Currently a single mom? Send it in, we want to discuss it all.
by Meg Keene
Babies and Writing Don’t Exactly Mix
When I first announced I was pregnant, and that APW wasn’t changing or shutting down, many people commented that they were “continually amazed by my energy and my ability to do it all.” My reaction to these comments was one of confusion. I mean, I assumed we’d all watched our share of babies (this has proved to be my first incorrect assumption), and knew that while babies are great, babies and writing don’t exactly mix. And secondly, I thought we all knew the answer to the question of how you do it all, right? Also incorrect.
The short answer, which seemed obvious to me at the time: help.
The long answer, which I’ve since realized is perhaps not that obvious: help. Or more specifically in our case: daycare.
But there is a reason that people were leaping to the wrong conclusion about what we’d do after the baby came: the ball is being hidden on childcare. The puzzling thing is, I don’t know why. Families that have two parents who work full time have help of some form or another. They just do. I don’t want to be the one to burst the bubble, but it’s a fact. More than that, families with two full time, working parents, assume you know they have help, because have you ever MET a baby? But the trends of entrepreneurship and telecommuting, mixed with the current cult of motherhood, have muddied the waters. We’ve taken to pretending that if you work full time from home, you can do it while bouncing a baby on your hip. We’re being asked to suspend our disbelief and pretend that women, particularly entrepreneurial women, are able to do it all. And by do it all, I mean literally Do It All, all of it, At The Same Time.
I’m Calling Housewife
The Feminine Mystique, the feminist classic about the destructive myth of the perfect middle class housewife, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary earlier this year. I read it early in my pregnancy, expecting a fascinating feminist period piece, and was gripped (and troubled) by its immediacy. Because the new feminine mystique is of the “whole mother.” The one who keeps her kids in her own care, makes organic pureed baby food, has a small urban farm in her back yard, runs a full-time business, and keeps an impeccably decorated house. Now, all of those things are pursuits I happen to personally enjoy. I love me some business running and baby wrangling, have a recently planted garden, think my house is pretty cute, and might even (ask my husband to) puree some baby food. But I don’t do all of these things at the same time. I work on making the garden and the house awesome on weekends, I wrangle a baby morning and night, and I work during the day. While my kid is at daycare.
I can’t count the number of articles I’ve read about professional bloggers, women I’m friends with, that just flat out get the assumptive facts wrong. There is the “Better Homes & Bloggers” post, “The Feminist Housewife“ article, the recent “Mommy Business Trip“ travesty, and the Mormon Housewife piece. (Which is possibly the most offensive?) While I’m interested in questioning the feminist implications of the “new domesticity,” there is danger in confusing cultural trends with actual people. The women discussed in these articles happen to run businesses focused on motherhood or women’s lifestyle—in some cases, awesome feminists businesses focused on motherhood or women’s lifestyle. Unluckily for them, that means that while I’m a small business owner, they’re housewives—even though we do exactly the same job. The articles always start with the premise that these women are living some sort of vaunted June Cleaver existence, living and documenting their perfect domestic lives, while staying at home to raise their children. And you guys? They’re not. Many if not most are professional women whose businesses happen to focus on motherhood. They sometimes do crafts for the same reason I sometimes do crafts: it’s in the job description. They by and large have full-time childcare and run a business that supports their families (often as the primary breadwinner, at that). But here is the weird part: they’re forthright about having childcare, yet the world somehow wants to assume that they don’t have help.
Last week, at Mom 2.0, I heard Rebecca Woolf speak. Rebecca was one of the women misrepresented in “The Feminist Housewife” article, presented as a mommy to her husband’s professional. She talked about how she recently wrote a (beautiful, must-read) post about having help, because even though she’d mentioned having a full time nanny over and over again on her site, people somehow missed it (or, to personally editorialize, perhaps they didn’t want to see it). They thought she had some secret that they didn’t—and that would be a serious secret, since Rebecca has four kids and a full-time writing job.
And the way we think about mothers and work is truly fucked. We’ve constructed a no-win paradigm—a jail for mothers. Women who stay at home with their children are deemed ”privileged,” and then roundly dismissed as unimportant. (Even though caring for children is hard and important work, whether it’s done by a parent in the home, or a childcare provider.) When women work, and their partners are deemed able to support the family, their work is deemed a “luxury.” (Somehow it’s never the partner’s work that’s a luxury.) And for women who work because they have to work, to feed and house their children? Well, our worst judgment is reserved for them—the women not properly providing their children with “options.”
And while mothers are damned before they even begin, they’re doubly damned by the pervasive myth of the woman who does it all. It hurts everyone: in the public eye, out of the public eye, writing about motherhood, or working at lawyering. It puts the onus of childcare on women and their careers, while letting men totally off the hook. Continue reading Reclaiming Wife: In Praise Of Daycare