learning what it means to be a woman

My friend Aria linked to this post yesterday and the message rang true for me. I'm not usually that vocal about "mommy war" issues. I have no issue calling myself a feminist (I wrote a page-long paper of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 6th grade and never looked back) and a full-time mom (ironic? of course...), and the work that I am doing as a mother, raising a strong, confident, funny girl feels infinitely more important to me right now than the many hours I spent attending meetings to schedule other meetings and sitting behind a computer in an office. I'm not saying the work that I did wasn't important, it just wasn't that creative or meaningful for me. I am so lucky to be able to stay at home, and will readily admit that, selfishly, I want to be here to witness all those milestones and daily occurrences. Staying at home won't last forever, and the time I have to do it is so short and it's going by so fast...I am relishing the days and doing what I can to impart confidence and my own knowledge about the world. I don't think this makes me less of a (creative? successful?) woman or more of a (womanly?) woman. I think it just makes me me.

Mothers who point fingers at other women for making decisions that are either necessary for them and the livelihood of their families or feel right for them and their children, grate on me to no end. 

I appreciate this by Glennon of Momastery:

And if every woman made the same decision, how would my children learn that sometimes motherhood looks like going to work to put food on the table or stay sane or share your gifts or because you want to work and you’ve earned that right. And that other times motherhood looks like staying home for all of the exact same reasons.

As far as I can tell, no matter what decision a woman makes, she’s offering an invaluable gift to my daughters and me. So I’d like to thank all of you. Because I’m not necessarily trying to raise an executive or a mommy. I’m trying to raise a woman. And there are as many different right ways to be a woman as there are women.

So, angry, debating ladies… here’s the thing. My daughter is watching me AND you to learn what it means to be a woman. And I’d like her to learn that a woman’s value is determined less by her career choices and more by how she treats other women, in particular, women who are different than she is. I’d like her to learn that her strength is defined by her honesty and her ability to exist in grey areas without succumbing to masking her insecurities with generalizations or accusations. And I’d like her to learn that the only way to be both graceful and powerful is to dance among the endless definitions of the word woman… and to refuse to organize women into categories, to view ideas in black and white, or to choose sides and come out swinging. Because being a woman is not that easy, and it’s not that hard.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I've done both, and now that I'm working, I realize I need the companionship of other adults. I'm a better mom when I am working for so many reasons -- we're not worried about our finances, I get that adult communication, I have structure to my day that I wasn't able to manage when I stayed at home. But, like the author writes, the mommy guilt is ever present.

I can shush the guilt up today because I had two interactions yesterday with adults who care for my son -- the school nurse (he bumped his head again) and his day care provider. Both described him as "extraordinary and articulate."

I'm very lucky that my boy loves being around others. He loves kids and adults and he too thrives when he gets to interact with a variety of people, not just boring old me.

My favorite moment in the blog post was when the author mentions women kicking each others' asses. I have had several interactions with women who've been outright mean about the fact that I work. After I retracted my claws, I realized it was about misunderstanding and the fact that perhaps their children did better when they stayed at home. It was their truth. I've seen my son blossom into this confident, capable, funny boy and I have his teachers and his day care provider to thank for that. And maybe a little bit of me too.

Aralena said...

I think there's a huge cultural element to these "debates," too. In countries (hi, Sweden!) where maternity AND paternity leave are long and practically required, and state-funded and organized daycare is highly regulated and top-notch, the guilt-tripping and judging is less potent. When you know that you have the legal right - versus privilege - of taking care of your children for the first years of their lives, and that once they've hit a certain age, they'll be taken care of and educated just like every other child in the nation, AND that the job you had before you took leave will be waiting for you the minute you decide to return, you probably have less comparing and judging going on.

This is not the case in the U.S., as you know. It's up to the parent's personal/financial capabilities. This, I think, creates a lot of insecurity in our "choices," which inevitably causes us to judge the choices of others, as a means of assuaging our own ambivalence or vulnerability.

We should be way more pissed off at what the U.S. government is not regulating, than how another Mom (or Dad? Daddy wars? No?) makes do with what she has.