November 30, 2006 ~ Worth of a Woman
"How do you feel about stay-at-home motherhood? Not necessarily from a feminist standpoint, although that interests me too, but also just from the standpoint of Melissa Davis? I stay home with my 9-month-old daughter, and I absolutely love it. I'm a liberal feminist who feels we should support every mother's decision on this issue, but it surprises me to learn there are still a lot of people who disagree. Also that there are a lot of people who look upon me negatively now, as if I don't have any more opinions or interests outside of my child, as if I must be bored with my life, and can't possibly be a socialized creature." ~ Kate
When I announced Grove's birth on this website, there were a slew of congratulatory messages, of course, but there were also a few people who immediately unsubscribed from the notify list. One of those people took the time to write and tell me why she was unsubscribing. "You're an excellent writer," she said, "but I'm just not interested in baby stories." She also mentioned that she'd miss the wolf stories. ("Why would the wolf stories end?" I wondered.)
I removed her and wrote a polite reply. But honestly? Honestly I was very hurt, and not because I was a mere week postpartum and pretty hormonal. Her message said to me, "Now that you're a mother, you are no longer an interesting person." The "excellent writer" she had loved to read was now just another 'mommy blogger,' ho hum.
I'm not saying that giving birth to another human being didn't change me in fundamental ways. It did. But the implication that all of the aspects of my life that she found interesting and engaging would suddenly disappear now that I was a mother? That stung. Grove had become a part of my life; he had not supplanted it. All of the interesting things that I had done before, I still wanted to do, but with him. I want him to respect and enjoy nature, so I take him on hikes. I want him to value volunteering one's time in service of others, so I take him with me to the wolf rescue when I volunteer. My life is now all that it was, plus Grove.
I was also bothered by the idea that the experience of motherhood is not worthy of consideration. Writing online about rehabilitating wolves or taking hikes in the woods is worthwhile, but writing about this huge, fundamental change in my life? Boring. Not worth the trouble of reading. I understand not wanting a child yourself, but it just struck me as very strange, this arbitrary excising of anyone who does have a child, "Oh, she's had the baby now, time to stop reading."
And the example of the unsubscribers is just one of many. Small talk with strangers so often becomes awkward after I answer the "what do you do?" question. And it's weird, how I often feel like I have to justify it with, "But I used to work with an MFA program at a small liberal arts college," or "But I also have been thinking about getting some freelance contracts," or "but I also serve on the board of a non-profit." And I feel angry with myself for that, but I often can't help it when I see that dismissive look start to come over their face. "Oh, God, let's change the topic before she starts talking about poop!"
That goes both ways, though; I've seen plenty of working mothers get lambasted for their choices.
Kate, I really liked your question. The simple answer is that I love staying at home with Grove. The thought of doing anything else before he's ready to be off on his own brings instant anxiety for me. He needs me right now. I don't want to go work somewhere else. This is my favorite job yet. I am working the most important, the most rewarding, the most demanding job that I have ever had, and I love it. He is thriving.
That said, that period where I was having some postpartum depression was really hard. I remember one day in specific where I broke down in tears and told Morgan, "I don't know if I'm doing what's best for him. Maybe he'd be better off in some daycare where there are other kids to play with and games and all sorts of activities and a wider experience. I can give him only a very small experience; I can give him only what's in me."
Note to husbands: That is your cue to give your wife a hug and say, "Yes, but what is in you is beautiful, and good, and true, and it's what I want him to have."
Morgan didn't say that, though, because he too is a parent with insecurities just like the rest of us. Instead he said, "I worry about that too. I hope we're doing the right thing. But I know that so far he's thriving, so you're doing something right. Anywhere else, he wouldn't get such one-on-one attention. And no one else would give him so much love."
And I feel like I'm cut out for this, that I'm really good at this, that I was meant to do this, yet I still have these raging doubts sometimes. I can only imagine how much harder it would be for someone who feels that she is not cut out for motherhood, that she's going crazy staying home with her baby. Everyone should do what they feel is best for their situation, their lives, their children. And I would really love to see the day when it is just as common for fathers to stay home with their children as for mothers to do so.
I also think that our economy is no longer set up for one-income households. We have had an incredibly hard time making this work, financially, and it's still not always working, some months we get way, way behind. Trying to keep afloat more often feels like drowning than floating. But I also know that daycare in this area costs more than I made at my job.
I do sometimes miss my job. I do sometimes feel inadequate. And I do feel a lot of criticism from "society" that I am not living up to my full potential. And it has been very challenging to maintain a sense of self through all of this.
But I love staying home with my son, caring for him and teaching him. Every day is full of beauty and joy and challenge and creative thinking and so much love. Every day is full of little miracles and laughter and tears. Every day is vivid and messy and heartbreaking and full of awe. Every day I am the world to another person who needs me very much. He has taught me that I can do anything. Anything. Frankly, there are not many jobs that will give you that, but motherhood will, whether you stay home or not.