I have practiced “feminist mothering” for thirty six years. Really.
I was at Barnard College just as the modern feminist movement was unfolding in the early 70’s. There, I learned to respect my own choices and to have the confidence that I could accomplish anything I wanted to do. There we “girls” were convinced that we were as smart (actually, usually smarter) than the boys we knew. There we were convinced (as if we needed convincing) that we should proudly feel smart and not hide it. That we should only be with men who respected our intelligence and our bodies.
I had a baby three years after graduating college. I thought I’d work outside the home (by then I had a graduate degree) but I fell in love with being home with my baby, my husband was earning enough for us to make it financially, and so I had the luxury of deciding to stay home. I did not feel my feminist credentials were compromised even as I elected to stay home for 18 years raising my four children. I made a good home, raised my children, continued to stimulate my intelligence, and created opportunities to grow. Of course, I gave up on professional advancement, a salary, and more material possessions. I knew that and accepted it. That, to me, was a feminist choice and challenge.
I didn’t believe that only paid work was worthwhile. I worked hard in my home and I volunteered my time and talent doing many community projects. I developed skills and accomplished things that I would not have, had I directly gone into my chosen profession. I retained the confidence to believe that I was smart, capable, and savvy. I felt that way even when, over the years, “working” women asked me, “And what do you do?” and turned away uninterested and slightly contemptuous when I answered, “I am home with my children.” I was the feminist, not they. I respected my “sisters'” choices. They didn’t.
I raised feminist daughters who had the confidence to tackle whatever they wanted to do and knew they could do it. I always ended the Cinderella story book, not with, “And she married the prince and lived happily ever after” but with some version of, “And she married the prince, got her doctorate in philosophy, found a satisfying job and had a great time raising her children with their father.” My girls chose boyfriends and, later, husbands who respected them, supported their choices, and wanted strong women as life partners. Maybe more importantly, I raised feminist sons to respect women, and not to avoid housework and child care. My sons looked for, and chose, strong women to date and then to marry.
A “feminist mom” is a self-aware, confident mom who is eager to learn from experience. Despite their many accomplishments, today’s young mothers seem to lack confidence in their ability to parent. Maybe they consult too many “experts,” read too many blogs. Maybe being a mother who has professional experience but little experience with children makes a difference–feeling competent in the workplace and totally at sea with a tiny boss who can’t talk and doesn’t come with instructions. Moms today don’t seem to trust their instincts as much as we did a generation ago and they seem to overthink and overanalyze. Sadly, and wrongly, I believe, they don’t trust themselves enough.
My generation of mothers just “went for it” without agonizing so much. We trusted our gut more. We traded stories, tips, and advice and were able to shrug off what didn’t seem right for us. Maybe we benefitted from being with other moms more than mothers are today. We had the park bench, the backyard, the mommy and baby play group. We babysat for each other, ran errands together, served on the PTA together. We learned from each other as we went along. Maybe we had more of a sense of “sisterhood,” feeling we were all in this together and so were not critical of each other.
I am just so tired of the word “judged” in posts on websites about parenting. I think it reveals a lack of confidence, an overwhelming, and surely undeserved, degree of self-doubt. If someone is feeling judged, I think it’s helpful for her to look within herself, rather than strike out at the person who she feels is “judging” her. Most likely, the commentator is offering an opinion on how she sees things, her perspective. It might not be a bad idea to consider what she’s saying and then, if you don’t like it, go on to something else. The real problem seems to be insecurity, not judgment.
And if the “judge” really thinks you’re doing it all wrong–so what? Who cares what an anonymous writer thinks? Or your mother or mother-in-law? They did it their way and now it’s your turn to do it yours. Buck up, young woman! You are a capable, caring parent, highly invested in finding the right way to raise your kid! You CAN do it!
In my opinion, the feminist movement failed us in two ways. Firstly, the expectation was that women would do better if they acted more like men. I think the world would be a much better place if men were more like women. We are better, as a group, at cooperation, compassion, prioritizing, and multi-tasking. I believe that women need each other and are capable of sustaining loving, supportive, nurturing friendships. (If someone is criticizing you or putting you down, stay away from her!)
The second failing of the feminist movement was promulgating the absolutely erroneous belief and charge that we women, beneficiaries of feminism, could, and should, make sure that we, “have it all.” No one, absolutely no one, “has it all.” Certainly not at the same time. It is impossible to have a great relationship with a partner, to raise well-adjusted kids, to have a clean, ordered home with the laundry done and a refrigerator full of fresh food, to have a successful, thriving career, to have the opportunity to travel and enjoy material benefits, and to keep your sanity and your health. Even with your partner’s full participation and/or some other help. Anyone who believes she can keep all those balls in the air at the same time will be surprised that she will be a failed juggler. One, some, most, or all of those balls will come crashing down on your head. And they’ll feel like bowling balls.
A “feminist mom” believes in herself. She is confident in what she knows about herself and her children and in her ability to learn what she does not yet know, and needs to know, to produce a successful product. She knows she’ll make mistakes but is certain she will learn from them and that nothing done with love can be too terrible. She does not let feelings of self-doubt and insecurity overwhelm her. She is able to push aside the metaphoric glances, or glares, of disapproval and disdain.
A feminist mom knows that it’s wise to work towards having “some,” and to hope that, when she is an old woman, she can look back and say, with satisfaction and joy, “I had most, most of the time. And now I know, I had all I could have hoped for.”