Monday, February 03, 2014

confronting my own sexism about the value of motherhood

When I found out I was having a girl, I didn't feel especially excited. In fact, I felt a teensy bit disappointed. I felt like, "oh, she'll probably grow up to be a stay-at-home mom like me." Don't get me wrong, I am fairly confident that my future daughter will be lovely and awesome; I think this is more about my feelings about what it means to be a mom.

I feel like I shouldn't feel this way. I know, objectively, that being a stay-at-home mom or any kind of mom is a big sacrifice, and moms are awesome for sacrificing themselves for their children, and that many mothers find their lives rewarding and worthwhile. I also know that being a mom will be messy and full of cleaning and child-wrangling. It seems like a lot of work that doesn't get accolades. Moms who brag about their kids are seen as annoying, and whining about momchores is seen as kind of petty; there's very little outside recognition for being a successful caretaker. I guess since I've never experienced being a mother myself, I don't have the feelings of "I love [my] children and this is so rewarding!" All I have right now is what I see other moms doing on mommy blogs and on forums and most of the time it doesn't sound especially exciting to me? It sounds like thankless work that is never over.

It's hard for me to admit that being a mom doesn't sound all that fun/cool/rewarding because I know lots of people who are moms, and some people who would like to be moms but aren't. I am grateful to be pregnant, but I still feel anxious about becoming a caregiver. Parenthood feels like a big self-inflicted burden. I'm not just anxious, I'm a little scared. I know that I'm going to mess up in my future parenthood, and all my research and study can't substitute for real-life experience.

I'm also subject to "worldly" arguments/trolls that women who stay at home and have kids aren't contributing to the world. Of course women who raise children are contributing to the world--where else is the next generation going to come from? But I feel like the way parents affect the world through their children is harder for me to appreciate than someone who works and "makes a living." Someone working at a job affects lots of other people every day, but the effect is small in comparison to the effect a mother has on her children. But men in this situation get to have careers and be a parent who affects their children deeply, which doesn't seem fair. But fathers (or whichever parent is away most of the day) might not affect a child as much as that child's primary caregiver (maybe they do?)?

When it comes down to it, I'm afraid of change. I'm committing myself to becoming a mom for the next 18-30 years, depending on how many children I have. One thing that has cheered me up is knowing that many women pursue a career after their children are grown. Having a child doesn't mean I'll never have a "real" job again, and some women work while their children are still growing up. Although if I were to go back to work, I'm not sure what I'd do. I'm confident that if I had a job, I would do well at it, but my various job experiences don't point me towards a specific job title. Even if I wanted to get a job, I'm not sure if I could get one.

TL;DR: when people ask me if I'm excited to have a baby, I guess I should say that I am excited--but I'm also nervous and anxious about it.


Andrea Landaker said...

Yeah, I kind of understand how you feel. (wow, that troll is... just... sad. I mean, is backpacking in Asia really so much more important than shaping a human being into a healthy, good person?!)

I remember having a sort of existential crisis as a teenager talking to mom, "So, wait, if I do grow up and have kids, the most important thing they do is... grow up and have kids?! like forever?!). And, there are some important things that might be hard to do with kids (scientific discoveries and new art styles come to mind).

But, other than that... the most important things in life are the things that help other people. Often these are the jobs with the least recognition and the dirtiest work (hospice care, teachers, social workers, therapists, nurses, etc. Though some art and science also helps a lot of people.). But, if you think about a lot of jobs... what's the point? Other than earning money, I mean. Like, "yay, we helped our company make a frobzit for $x less than last year!" Or "ooh, I found a cynical-yet-hilarious point of view on this topic, my article helped the internet become 5% more jaded!" :-/

Also, you are right that it's not the end of doing-things-other-than-raise-kids-forever. The first few years are intense, but pretty soon you get good at it and used to being in charge of other people's lives, and there's time for other stuff. :-)

Gah, rambling... anyway, you're right, it's time for changes, but in the end, I think they are good changes. :-)

Rachel Helps said...

thanks Andrea :-)

G.K. Hall said...

That is indeed an exceptionally obnoxious "online troll" you found! I disagree with what she says, and I used to consider myself "a feminist" (before I found "considering myself" one thing or another itself somewhat obnoxious). I find it funny because I was just thinking to myself, not in these exact words, but her words do quite well, that with a full time job "you will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional." I'd like to be backpacking in the out of doors too rather than grading papers in a portable classroom with tinted windows! So, there's the problem that the author makes mothering a stale reality and the working world illusory, when one could have just as easily seen stagnation in employment and idealism in childrearing. More irksome, though, is the "worldly" nature of her arguments. That is the perfect word for it I guess! The article is riddled with words like "milestones" and "accomplishments." Is not the need to "contribute to the world" itself worldly? The need to "give back" (or, in this author's words, do "important work") is no more than a shabbily-disguised need to take more. To desire to say, "I'm more of a success because of the things I've done." Neither labor nor mothering was meant to raise one above humility. The "labor" that they both involve implies humility. I delight in health and beautiful kids, but I don't care who's led a more fulfilling life, the doctor or the mother. So there's an arrogance to worldliness. But ahh, I wasn't going to leave a long comment! (Don't want to become a troll myself, or participate in online trollery!) I just can't stop once I start!

Anyway, reading this post as I am confronting my own qualms about entering the workforce, I find myself wondering if I am giving up being a parent! Then every time I consider that oh, maybe I can do both (which, single with an aide salary or first-year-teaching workload, I certainly can't), I realize that's the wanting-more in me speaking, and then I try to say no to that. This is NOT to say that your fancies are as greedy as mine; I can easily imagine a genuine wish for a career and children, but it doesn't seem to work that way in me... No one can do everything I guess.

At any rate, I'm sure you will make an exceptional parent.