I went to college. I am a voracious reader. I used to be a news junkie, and watch all the shows, and go to dozens of movies a year.
So why did I never, in my 30-plus years on the planet, receive any clear and believable messages that being a full-time, stay-at-home mother is a fantastically rewarding job that I should have considered pursuing at a younger age?!
I learned early on that I could be an airline pilot, a doctor, or President of the United States, but I don’t recall any enthusiastic advertisements to the effect that being a wife and mother is ridiculously fun, not to mention a hell of a lot less stressful than a paid job? Why weren’t there any pamphlets at the college-and-career center itemizing the rewards of an M.R.S. degree? How come no one ever casually mentioned, “You should plan ahead to ensure that you are married and having babies by your late 20s, because that way you’ll have time to fit in multiple pregnancies before your ovaries give out and your pubic hair turns gray”?
I’m serious. I love(d) being a modern educated feminist career lady. It was empowering and I certainly wouldn’t want to not having a choice to work, but now that I’ve been the stay-at-home mom of a toddler for over a year, it turns out to be absurdly great (at least for me personally)–not to mention powerfully fulfilling in a primitive, archetypal way I never expected. I’m a wee bit disgruntled because while maybe I was just intentionally obstinate and oblivious, I feel like I grew up in a world where stay-at-home moms were relegated to “unambitious, unsuccessful loser” status.
Maybe that part is true. Maybe women who drop out of the rat race for the suburbs are losers, at least according to the clear and cutthroat law of modern corporate capitalism. Fine, I’ll take that note: I’m a sad little quitter, but sheesh, how come people are always advocating yoga and medication as the path to personal enlightenment, but no one ever once told me truly radical, confrontational things like this:
“Your kids are the most interesting people you will ever meet in your life, and you will value every minute you can steal to be with them, even the minutes when they are simultaneously biting you and pouring a gallon of milk on the floor.”
Or maybe, “Surrendering your income-earning power and therefore ceding some control in your marriage to stay home is worth it, because trading work and money for freedom and time is worth it. Staying at home is often described in terms of sacrifice, but what if we used the word gift instead of sacrifice? What if you are being given a rich life at home and in your community that far exceeds both your income-earning potential and the emotional rewards you would garner from success at work?”
What we call “civilization” is an array of collectively agreed upon conventions that are subject to the whims of any given community’s ability to agree. People frequently change their minds about the role of women in the world, but so far no one has managed to abrogate the biological truth that women (collectively, not necessarily specifically) are supposed to make babies. That’s not oppression nor is it a value judgment, that’s just how mammals work. Everything else that we are entitled to as women in 21st century First World countries is genuinely wonderful, and I’m truly grateful to have been born in the post-Enlightenment era. I am also deeply grateful for the intellectual and physical and emotional sacrifices of my foremothers, but how the hell did we lose track of so many realities about the baby-making?
I feel like somewhere along the way, women of my era lost the ability to make eye contact with their own biological femininity. Ignorance is bliss until one day you’re knocked up and then without warning or preamble you see it all so clearly, and you stare a thousand-yard stare, and you sit down hard in your chair, and you say, “Oh.”
And then it’s you who are the newborn babe, and the learning curve for this new kind of womanhood that you never entertained before is sharp and cruel, and… after thinking this through, I guess what I’m articulating is a wish for more positive talk about parenthood to young women.
If you don’t hate having kids, if you do find blessings in being a mom–blessings that aren’t available elsewhere in your world–and if you can find any charity in your heart for the role of the unglamorous mom in these sleek ambitious cities of ours, tell a young friend. She might thank you someday, for being the one who freaked her out, made her confront her crap, and led her, slowly but surely, to her babies.