Monday, August 17, 2009

Can you be a feminist and a happy housewife?

I've been thinking about this for the past day or so, after a conversation that I had with one of my aunts. Because I am a happy housewife, a SAHM, whatever term you want to use - and I still self-identify as a feminist. I don't see the contradiction.

Part of my job, as I see it, part of my "duty" as a parent, is to provide a stable, loving home environment for my children. This includes having a roof over their heads, food to eat, clean clothes to wear and hugs and kisses on demand. Marc and I never sat down and clearly listed out what he's responsible for and what I am, but let's just say - if you plopped my family down in the 1950's, on the surface, we wouldn't seem that out of place. Marc goes to work every day, handles the bills, always knows what's in our checking account and takes out the trash. I do everything else. I nag and occasionally Marc'll do the dishes, or break up a battle between the kids, but for the most part, I handle the day-to-day parenting issues, overseeing baths and meals, changing diapers, I get up in the middle of the night with them, etc. We make all the big decisions together (which means any major purchase gets discussed, any major disciplinary action gets debated, etc) - we are a team, absolutely, with specific spheres of influence and responsibility.

It's not that I'm incapable of earning money to support my family - for most of Jessie's first year, I was the sole breadwinner. And I worked part time from the time she was two until Sam was born when she was three and a half. I know how to lug trash outside on Tuesdays. For what it's worth, I also know how to pump gas and check oil on the car - although I haven't done it in years because Marc does that. But it just works for us this way. I'm proud of what I do - a big part of my self-identity, at this point in my life, is caught up in my "job," - I'm a stay at home mom, a housewife. I feel responsible for the state of my house, I feel stressed and irritable when the house is a disaster, I worry about the care and feeding of my kids on a level that just doesn't occur to Marc, because it's not his "job." He's a loving, devoted parent - and spends a lot of time with his children - but he's not me.

I think I'm VERY good at my job. I work hard at it, I'm constantly striving to do it better than I've done it in the past, I take pride in what I do. I know my strengths and weaknesses as a parent, as a wife, in the same way that I did when I was an employee.

Is this bad? Is this somehow less than I could be? I certainly never planned on being a stay at home mom. Or a housewife - it wasn't an option I ever considered - of COURSE, I'd go back to work after having kids. They'd go to daycare and everything would be great. Then I actually had kids - and oh my gosh, the thought of leaving my tiny baby with someone and not being able to see her for hours on end hurt more than anything. That was before I had a baby with colic and reflux who relied on nursing as the only way to make the pain stop. That was before I realized what having kids did to you - how it broke you open and made you so incredibly vulnerable, because if anything ever happened to them, you didn't think you'd be able to survive - and nobody else would take that same level of protectiveness and care that you would. Nobody else would love your babies the way that you did. That was before I realized that I would do anything, sacrifice whatever I needed to in order to be the one with them.

I'm always aware of how fortunate I am - because Marc understand that. Marc respects and trusts me to know what needs to be done. I don't want to have the house clean because he'll be mad at me if I don't - as a rule, Marc pays no attention to whether or not the floor has been vacuumed or if the laundry was done. I don't sweep and mop because I feel as though I have to be subservient to my husband and make a clean house for him - I vacuum because it's just better to not have the kids crawling around in dirt. I do laundry because I like to have clean clothes to dress them in, not because Marc would yell if he didn't have a clean shirt. If I had a different sort of husband, I might not feel this way - but because there is that level of respect and trust, I don't feel as though there's anything WRONG with me taking pride in what I do, and that includes doing the dishes and folding the laundry.

I'm still a feminist - and don't at all see the contradiction between thinking that women have the choice and the right to decide for themselves and their families whether they should be full time mommies or work outside the house, or not have children at all. I teach my kids about the struggle for women's rights and how boys and girls can do the same things. I've seen first hand that Jess loves to play fight on the bed with Daddy and one of Sam's favorite games is "house" where he takes care of his babies. I love this about them, as much as I love that Jessie loves ballet class, and Sam loves to play "shoot guns."

I think my kids need me at home - I think that I want to be at home with them and if one of us has to go to work fifty hours a week, it should be Marc. Because I'm better at this then he'd be. Because he's better at that then I would be. When I was working after having Jess, I was not as good an employee as I was pre-Jess. My motivation was strictly to get a paycheck and health insurance - I did my best when I was there, but I had a much more important position, that of Jessica's mother, and if she needed me, if she was sick or teething - then that was where I'd be. I had the ability to do that because Marc was at work.

I was raised by a single mom - I know full well the responsibilities of a parent who doesn't have the option to drop everything and rush home when their baby is sick. And I don't judge moms who work, I think we fought so hard to get the right to make the choice - to not be told that we HAVE to stay home with our children. But if that's the choice we want to make, if we're making the choice to do it - that's as much a feminist move as working is. Because the choice is what it's about - and taking pride in what you do, being proud of yourself as a woman with your unique gifts and responsibilities - that's what feminism is to me.

3 comments:

Jessi said...

Melissa,

I'm sitting here with my jaw on the floor because this 100% feels like I wrote this.

I feel EXACTLY the same way as you and believe in the same things 100%. I seriously feel like I could have wrote this!!

Melissa said...

I'm so glad - I always feel better when I'm not the only one :-)

Queen to my 3 Boys said...

It seems like this topic has been on many minds lately. I have seen it posted about EVERYWHERE.

Well written.