I am a stay-at-home mom. I am also a feminist. Do these things inherently negate each other? They don’t have to and I am learning how. And it’s hard and real.
Let me start off by saying that I recognize being a stay-at-home mom is a kind of privilege. I was not always ‘privileged.’ (Even typing that word kind of makes me want to barf). I grew up in a home with both parents working full time to make ends meet. I’m not talking about having parents that were a cardiologist and an engineer; but actual, legitimate struggle for every dollar, to make the rent, and to put food on the table kind of parents. I have a dad that was in and out of the picture for most of my formative years. I was a latch-key kid. Is this a sob story? No. Were times tough as a kid? Sure. But childhood is always a struggle, regardless of socioeconomic standing.
As tumultuous as my childhood was, it was also wonderful.
I grew up with a freedom that I feel that many of my ‘privileged’ friends did not. I never had a fear of spending the night at a friend’s house. I loved playing outdoors until the sun went down. I would often walk, bike, or rollerblade across the city to visit friends or run errands, unsupervised. I learned to cook, do laundry, and keep a clean house long before many of my classmates were rudely forced into doing so on day one of college.
Conversely, I remember being lonely many afternoons waiting for my parents to get home from work.
I remember feeling angry at my mom for never being able to attend my elementary school programs. I was sad that my mom could never volunteer in the classroom. I was ashamed that we lived in a different area than my peers and as a result, I couldn’t participate in team sports prior to high school because car pooling, not mention cost, was out of the question.
My mom was my mentor. She struggled to make ends meet as the breadwinner of the family and raised a family while doing so, with class and grace. I knew, even as a child – wholeheartedly – that my mom would have been at every one of those events, volunteered her heart out, and paid for every stinking activity, had she been able to do so. I am proud of my mom. She taught me empathy, independence, the value (and realities) of hard work, sacrifice, generosity, pride, and how to be humble.
Today, I find myself in the extraordinary position I never thought I would be in: a stay-at-home mom.
I had worked in some form or another (officially and unofficially) since I was 10. (No child labor laws were broken; I would address envelopes and answer phones at the dental office my mom worked at during school breaks/days off for minimum wage – hardly child abuse). I didn’t know how to not work. So when my husband approached me before our first child was born and said, “Y’know, it doesn’t make sense for you to go back to work,” I struggled. Seriously. I was scared and nervous.
As mentioned, I had never not worked.
I had provided for myself for such a long time. I was fiercely independent. Not that my income was anything to boast about (far from!), but having to completely rely on someone else was something I hadn’t done since I was a little child – and now I’m in my thirties. I felt like I was turning my back on being a feminist, going back in time. I had this strange notion that you couldn’t be a feminist without struggling, without working. How could I ‘just sit at home’ all day? (Which to think that this was my view of a stay-at-home mom is totally laughable now; having 3 little kids and days where I wish I were anywhere but at home! Oh, naïveté!)
Let me be blatantly clear, I do not want to come across as being flippant for my current station in life – I am so thankful, incredibly fortunate, and truly blessed to be able to be with my children all day, every day. In fact, I often fear that I over-stress how incredibly fortunate I am to those who inquire about “what I do” that I may come across as being ‘snobbish.’ When in fact, I’m just trying to show how truly grateful I am for this opportunity. Equally, I have also had to learn to stop answering that same question with, “I’m just a mom,” as if that’s makes me less than someone who has a ‘9 to 5’ job.
It has taken some time, but I have learned that I can uphold my feminist ideals and be a stay-at-home mom.
I now have the amazing ability to teach my sons the things I have learned on my own as well as the wisdom I learned from my mom. I can teach my boys that ‘strong’ is not exclusively a male attribute. Additionally, as the kids get older and are in school, I will have the opportunity to do the things I mentioned my mother could not. Through this, I now have the ability to spend time helping a local charity I am passionate about.
I have realized that I can finally stop feeling guilty for my privilege as a stay-at-home mom; I can still make a difference, still contribute.