About Me

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Concord, California, United States
I am a sometimes-writer, everyday mama, creative failure and experimental cook. I am interested in living a beautiful life, spending time with my family and making things that I can feel proud of. When I'm by myself I'm usually outside. Don't bother calling because chances are that I didn't bring my cell phone because I couldn't find it. If you see me walking, it's because I lost my keys and if you see me with only one child... I'm probably in big trouble.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Le Conflict

I've always considered myself a feminist.  Back in my 20's, when I was less comfortable in my skin and constantly in a battle for my rights and my equality, I was loudly a feminist.  But, as I've gotten older and settled into life, become comfortable, made choices and learned to respect and tolerate the opposite choices of my friends and peers, I have started to speak instead of scream.  I've stopped labeling myself a feminist and started to just be who I am.  I used to use the word "feminist" to define myself.  And now I use other words too.  One of them happens to be mother.  And none of the words that I use pay my bills (feminism didn't either).

I imagine that many people from my past would be surprised to learn that I became a stay at home mom.  Some might even think that I would be miserable in this role.  After all, feminism is largely seen as a movement away from stay at home parenting and towards career.  Men had more choices and rights.  Now women, generally have as many choices and rights, so a failure to utilize this freedom must be an oppressive backlash to progress, right?

So, before I get to the heart of this post, I want to preface it with two questions.  1.) Is it wrong to feel as fulfilled by traditional career-parenting as you would be by a career outside of the home?  2.) Does gaining financial benefit from an action make you realize it to a greater degree?  For instance, if I enjoy writing and blog every day am I less of a writer than someone who is equally productive but is paid for it?

Now to the point:

I catch up with my friend Julia on the phone most mornings.  She's one of the most intelligent women I know and over the years we've seen each other through many twists and misadventures.  We are both currently mom's and stay-at-home parents.  Julia and I discuss a great many things.  We enjoy talking about the books we read, our husbands, crafting ideas, our writing and, of course, our children.   When I have a problem, Julia is one of the first people I go to and I often feel that she bounces interesting, thought-provoking conversation off of me, to which I am very grateful.  Our conversations are often conceptual, rather than being about day-to-day goings on.

Today, she expressed a distaste for an article she read in this months issue of Marie Claire.  It was in interview with Elizabeth Badinter about her new book called The conflict.

Elizabeth Badinter is a french feminist and probably a pretty smart (though in my opinion, ass-backwards)  firecracker.  The premise of her book is that women are crazy to give up economic independence and return to stay at home parenting.  The movement towards green parenting (breastfeeding, cloth diapering, homemade baby food, co-sleeping) is oppressive and will have harmful effects on families as a whole.  In a nutshell, she believes that women are giving up their identities as women and as PEOPLE by giving up their jobs and staying at home with their children.  The relationship between man and woman will be harmed and strained by the relationship between mother and child and the relationship between father and child will be strained because the dad will not have as much opportunity to be present for the child.  The child is also harmed because it has spent too much time being nurtured which is unhealthy toward the development of independence (as an attachment parent, this is ludicrous to me). When the children grow and women have a few free hours in front of them, they will be nothing because they have identified as only mother's.  They will not be able to get their careers back and their children will not need them as much (or worse!  WILL need them as much) and they will be barren of purpose in the world, unable to be true members of society.

I'd like to address this under the canopy of my experience.  I'm only one person and I am only responsible for and representing myself... but I also think that I'm a rather common person  and my experiences are reflective of a great many people.

Growing up, I was never driven towards a career.  I deeply valued relationships (somewhat passionately).  I loved socializing and participating in creative actives, but there was never truly anything that I wanted to be when I grew up.  I am a hard worker and everything I do is done 110% and to its full potential, so it isn't an issue of drive.  One thing that I have always loved is caring for people.  Naturally, it's what I do and what I'm good at.  I find great fulfillment in nurturing.  Though, I wouldn't say that parenting came easily or naturally to me, it was something that I embraced, worked at and continue to work hard for and feel incredibly fulfilled by.  I absolutely love spending my time ensuring the happiness of my children.  When they were little they slept in bed with me... right there between Jay and I.  I extended my breastfeeding with Bunny and did not with Lila and never felt pressured to do it or oppressed by either feeding method.  I used disposable diapers.  I didn't make my own baby food more than a few times.  I laid down with them to go to sleep and still do if they want me to.  I walk them through their homework.  I work with them on their projects.  I read to them.  I play with them.  I cook with them.  I craft with them.  I'm at field trips and I'm in the classroom and I'm at every event that I know is happening in the school.  I'm screaming my face off at sporting events, holding cold water and a healthy lunch.  I hold them when they cry and I celebrate their accomplishments.  I have watched them closely for 8 years and I have been pushed to my limit and grown and struggled and worked HARD for my children.  I am proud to say that I am a good mother.  I'm not going to be insane and suggest that in order to be a good mother you have to do what I am doing.  I am saying that I am doing what I am doing and I know that it works for myself and my family and I am proud of the work I do.  

The choices that I have made were not obligatory.  I might be a cookie cutter stay at home mom, but I am truly doing what comes naturally and feels good to me.  And I love my life.

What feels restrictive and oppressive to me is the claim that I am not doing enough.  I feel squashed by the assertion that my role in the world is not important enough and that I am only a mother because I don't have a job.  Last year, I got a job because I needed to have one.  I worked hard.  I believed in my job.  I loved the people who I worked with.  I worked hard, before, during and after work.  But my heart was with my children and I eventually stopped working because I wasn't able to do what I loved to the extent that I wanted to when I was working.

It is true that I am a mother.  I am also a writer.  I am an artist.  I am a gardener.  I am a wife.  I am a friend.  I am a crafter.  I am a baker.  I am an adventure seeker.  I am an advice giver.  I am a listener.  I am an event planner.  I am many things and though being a mother is probably the most rewarding, it does not define me.  If I had to call myself anything, it would be "a work in progress."


  1. I've been thinking a lot about the issues you raise here.

    My mom was a SAHM, and I'm incredibly grateful for that. She wasn't a helicopter parent by any means, but she was always there for me.

    I, too, used to define myself as a feminist, but now I'm just Jessie. I know that some people believe that feminists are not women who choose to stay at home with their children. But to me, it doesn't matter what women do -- what matters is that we now have a choice. And we can choose to do what's best for our families, whatever that may be.

    I disagree that with Badinter (though I haven't read her book...yet) that the movement toward (back?) a more wholesome (for lack of a better word) environment for children is a bad thing. I think that children need to see hard work, healthy options, and need affection. Sleeping next to your child doesn't harm them. It provides comfort when they need it. Making their food from scratch doesn't harm them; it nourishes them.

    I do see a problem with women who lose their identities, but that doesn't always happen with children. I've seen women lose their identity with a relationship as well. If a woman can show her children that she is an independent thinker, and keep some things (hobbies, arts, etc) for herself, and show them that not 100% of her being is for her partner/kids, then that's a good thing. I do think we need to have some things that nourish US, which, in turn, helps us become better mothers.

    I think. I don't know. I'm struggling with balance right now. I'm struggling with my work (teaching part-time), being a wife and a mother, and finding time for myself (to write, read, etc). But that's all a part of life. And I'm sure I'll figure it out.

  2. I am excited to read this book, though even just her commentary about it makes me angry.

    I think that there is a type of stay at home mom who is somewhat oppressed. She is the woman who is at home because she can't afford to pay for daycare. Economically it makes sense for her to stay at home because her earning potential is not as great as her partners. I feel sorry for her.

    But in the same breath, I think that a woman who is enslaved to a job and would like to be at home and can't be because she can not afford it, is also unfortunate.

    I think that the real restriction happens when people pass judgment on the parenting of others and project their feelings about a lifestyle onto the person living it. Intolerance is not the mark of a wise person.

    As terrible as I think that it is to say, "you are a bad mom if you don't breastfeed." Or "you are a bad mom if you put your baby in day care." Or, "you are a bad mom if you vaccinate." Or, "you are a bad mom if you don't vaccinate." Or, "you are a bad mom if you let your kids watch the disney channel" or "you are a bad mom if you let your kids eat hfcs.." I also think it's terrible to say that you are bad WOMAN if you don't want to balance parenting and career.

    If find it a sad commentary on our values.

  3. ps. Jess, I remember that struggle. You are at the beginning with a new baby on the way and a toddler. That's sort of the worst of the worst as far as "time for yourself" is concerned. There's no way around it. But, I am here to promise you that in a few years you'll look back on this time and long for it a little bit. You'll have all the time in the world to read and cook and write... and you'll enjoy it... but you'll miss the days when you could pick both of your children up in your arms and carry them around without even hurting your back. hahah...

  4. "The child is also harmed because it has spent too much time being nurtured which is unhealthy toward the development of independence". I guess my 1yr old and 2.5yr old need to stop getting hugs and start getting jobs?!?!? I think she might be pointing out an extreme, but who's to say that the same won't happen if Mom works fulltime and Grandma takes care of the kids. Anyhoo I thought teaching a child how to do things is teaching them how to be independant, but what the hell do I know, I thought being an at home mom is a career. Guess I've lost my mind as well as my identity.

  5. hahahha... It's my understanding that Badinter believes that staying with your child in the day or breastfeeding for more than a few months is harmful to the child because the child should be able to know he or she can rely on someone who is not his or her mother.

    The concept that working with your family inside of the home is not a career is bewildering to me. It perpetuates the idea that stay at home moms are sitting around, bored, eating chocolates and watching soap operas.

  6. I so totally agree with you and are right there with you. :)