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July 31, 2005

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

Amanda at Pandagon links to a post by Lauren at Feministe about the ageless double-bind working moms and stay-at-home moms are in. I've been both a stay-at-home and working mom while married and divorced, in varying degrees. Having a supportive partner goes a long way to making either working or staying at home with the kids a pleasant proposition. I did not have the support of my ex-husband no matter what I did. I have the support of my current husband, and it makes all the difference in the world. I've noticed that the political and media pundits act as if stay-at-home and working moms live in some kind of vacuum - that she alone is responsible for whether or not her kids turn out fine. Those pundits forget that raising children is supposed to be a group effort. While it can be done alone, it's great to have help. I am very grateful to my husband for doing his part in raising his stepson. My son knows who his dad is, and he knows that my husband is not replacing dad in any way. That's one criticism mothers in my situation often hear from fathers' rights activists - we supposedly want our new husbands to replace dad. That is most definitely not true. Any fathers' rights activist saying that either has some doubts about his own ability to properly raise his kids, or he's hiding some ugly secrets he conveniently leaves out when discussing what a great guy he is to his fellow fathers' rights activists on the Internet.

I'm tired of reading about how I am selfish if I work outside the home, and that I'm a leech if I stay at home to raise my son. I'm tired of reading about mothers who supposedly "let" day care raise their children, yet if they forego paid employment to raise their children, they are treated as if they have nothing of interest to add to a conversation. They're damned no matter what they do.

Those who criticize working mothers act as if all of these mothers are pursuing highly-paid careers, and would rather have meetings, business travel to exotic locations, huge McMansions, enough money to buy a new SUV, cell phones, cable TV, and other luxuries. The fact is that most people, male or female, don't have dream jobs. Most people don't have highly paid exciting careers you see in the movies. That's a fantasy. Most jobs are much more down-to-earth and mundane than that. I remember reading somewhere that feminism will achieve its goal when women have the same right as men to be paid the same amount of money to work at a dull job.

I've noticed that these articles point fingers at mothers who work to obtain "luxuries", all the while dumping the kids in day care. The moms, defensive, say they don't buy "luxuries" but "necessities". I don't think moms need to be defensive about this. I'm certainly not. I say, what business is it of some pundit or nosy neighbor to judge me for eating out, buying a new car, investing in collectibles, or buying a new DVD player? It's none of your fucking business. If you don't approve of buying "luxuries", than don't buy them. Just keep your snotty opinions to yourself.

On the other hand, mothers are urged to stay home to raise the kids - as long as they are not poor. Poor mothers who stay at home are called welfare queens. That term might not be said aloud in "polite company" today, but the attitude is still there. One reason welfare reform is successful because it plays on the ugly stereotype of the welfare queen. Taxpayers complain that welfare mothers should work because they - the taxpayer - doesn't want to pay for their children. Guess what - you already are. You're paying for children whose mothers are not on welfare, too. You're paying for their educations, science equipment, school books, teachers, adminstrators, transportation, and sometimes their meals. When those children begin working, they will begin paying towards Social Security that you will use. Maybe when it's time for you to go to Happy Acres Nursing Home, those children you refused to "pay for" should have the option of not putting any of their hard-earned cash towards Social Security. Then you'll see how it feels.

I admit that I prefer working motherhood to being a stay-at-home mom. When I was a SAHM, I was so bored I climbed the walls. I became involved in local theatre groups both before and after my pregnancy, and learned about lighting, scenic art, and makeup. It was due to this volunteer work while I was a young mother that I eventually earned money working on movies, concerts, television, and business conferences. I joined two unions. I commend SAHMs, but it just was not for me.

I have had mixed experiences related to working motherhood when I was a recent childless, unmarried college graduate. Back in the 1980s, I had worked for a company that wanted me to interview prospective employees for a clerical position, but my boss wanted me to find out if they had children. He didn't want to hire a woman with young children. This man's wife just gave birth to a baby girl, and he couldn't see the irony. I reminded him that what he wanted me to do was illegal, but he was adamant. I felt stuck. I was recently hired by the company myself, and I was very unsure of myself. I had interviewed one woman that I liked very much, but she had a young child. My boss didn't want to hire her. He chose a woman I really couldn't get along with, but she was childless. I was very young, naive, and too scared to do anything about this. I left the company soon after this incident. The company folded a few years after I left. I wasn't surprised. It turned out that the company played fast and loose with its accounting. This was years before Enron.

At my first job out of college, I worked with a woman who became pregnant, and she took full advantage over our boss's fear of a lawsuit to run roughshod over her co-workers, most notably me because when she wouldn't show up at work, I was stuck with all her work on top of mine. I had talked to my boss about this - we got along very well - but he was scared he'd face a discrimination lawsuit if he fired her. She did eventually clean up her act after a couple of chats, but I was still angry that she found a way to dump her work on me. She became pregnant again almost immediately after giving birth to her first child, and she quit her job a few months into that pregnancy. My work load immediately dropped to a more comfortable level, since my boss hired another secretary.

I've had my own experiences with motherhood while I was single and childless that left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Since having my son, my attitude has changed. I think with age, experience, confidence, and wisdom I would have handled those two situations much differently.

It seems that quite a bit of the motherhood discussion is due to boneheaded comments by Rick Santorum. He said that birth control is harmful to women and society and it's "not a healthy thing for our country." He recently wrote "It Takes A Family" and is presumably on a book tour. Sure, take away a woman's ability to decide when and if to bear a child, and once she bears the child, don't give her any social support. Don't give her adequate child care or maternity leave. The United States is one of the only countries (the other is Australia) that does not provide adequate maternity leave for mothers. According to media reports (see previous link for one), "The United States and Australia are the only industrialized countries that don't provide paid leave for new mothers nationally, although there are exceptions in some U.S. states. Australian mothers have it better, however, with one year of job-protected leave. The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, provides for 12 weeks of job-protected leave, but it covers only those who work for larger companies. To put it another way, out of 168 nations in a Harvard University study last year, 163 had some form of paid maternity leave, leaving the United States in the company of Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland."

Posted on July 31, 2005 at 08:23 AM | Permalink

Comments

We need family grants and social wages. Good luck getting that out of either of the two mainstream parties, though. Thanks for an interesting post, Trish.

Posted by: DP_in_SF at Jul 31, 2005 12:31:01 PM

brilliant, as usual.

You know the more I think about statements by folks like Santorum about how unnatural the modern family is compared to the "traditional" one, the more I think how unnatural the perfect "father knows best" or "Donna Reed" family of the 50s was to previous generations. Back in the day, families didn't really live as discrete nuclear family units but in extended families. It was more the village described by Hillary Clinton than the parents alone (primarily the mother as described by Santorum) who helped raise children.

If you go to previous eras you'll find extended periods in which "well connected" families frequently had servants which handled the majority of the child care (I think the wives did needle work or something); families that were not affluent had working moms and frequently working children.

Taking a look through history, it would seem to me that the "traditional" family is something that has never been stagnant for long and is continuously evolving.

Posted by: Ol Cranky at Aug 6, 2005 11:52:57 AM

"You know the more I think about statements by folks like Santorum about how unnatural the modern family is compared to the "traditional" one,"

I think Santorum is the unnatural one here. Just a few years ago wasn't he the one screaming about how mothers should be at work, no matter how young their kids, because it showed a culture of responsibility or some such crap.

Now less then a decade later, he's telling them to not work and stay home to raise their kids.

All I have to say is MAKE UP YOUR FREAKIN MIND MISTER...

Posted by: NYMOM at Aug 6, 2005 12:24:02 PM

"It was more the village described by Hillary Clinton than the parents alone (primarily the mother as described by Santorum) who helped raise children."

Ummm mothers have ALWAYS raised their children.

ALWAYS.

This is spin put out recently by gender neutral feminists and fathers rights advocates who wish it to appear that historically this is a NEW thing, that mothers raise their own children.

Mothers have ALWAYS raised their children.

AND even in most other parts of the world today (including the great patriarchies of China and India) they STILL DO.

Posted by: NYMOM at Aug 6, 2005 12:33:27 PM

"It was more the village described by Hillary Clinton than the parents alone (primarily the mother as described by Santorum) who helped raise children."

Ummm mothers have ALWAYS raised their children.

ALWAYS.

This is spin put out recently by gender neutral feminists and fathers rights advocates who wish it to appear that historically this is a NEW thing, that mothers raise their own children.

Mothers have ALWAYS raised their children.

AND even in most other parts of the world today (including the great patriarchies of China and India) they STILL DO.

Posted by: NYMOM at Aug 6, 2005 12:35:49 PM