Sunday, April 08, 2007

What Mistake?

So I read this article this morning in our newspaper about a new book called The Feminine Mistake and for some reason it just really raised my hackles. The author, Leslie Bennetts, is a journalist. And essentially what she does is boil the entire subject of whether to stay home with your kids or not down to economics. Which, in my opinion, is not only incredibly short-sighted, but ultimately, trivial in the larger scheme of things.

I know there are some who would read this and say, “How can you say that family and personal economics are trivial?!?” I can say that because it’s about choices. We all make choices based on what we want or need our lives to look like. If you want or need your life to be about spending the money you make, you make choices to support that. Bennetts' assertion is that everyone should make the choice to make their lives about economics because that is the safe way to live. What my problem is is that she equates familial safety with money. Not with quality of parenting. Not with emotions. Not with happiness on any level. Just money. It all boils down to the economics of life.

And while I am not so naïve as to say that she’s completely wrong, I would say that that is so very irresponsible on several levels. First, her assertion ultimately would lead a woman to believe that choosing to live in a one-income family puts herself and her children in danger. Second, her assertion implies that without a career and an income independent of her husband’s, that her life is not only unsafe and unstable, but also somehow less worth living. Third, she terms choosing to stay home with your children, “a willfully retrograde choice,” as if that choice warps a woman back to when she had no voice, choice or will. I deeply resent all of these implications.

Not only because I am essentially a stay at home mom. But because I am woman, who chose to become a mother, who chose to put my children before my career, who would not have it any other way.

I have been working the entirety of my motherhood. But by my rules the majority of the time. Even when I had an office to go to and a boss to report to, I always made it clear to that workplace (and myself) that my family was my top priority, in all cases, without doubt. And the career I chose made it financially impossible to send my children to full or part-time daycare. So they were with me most of the time. The challenge I would offer to Bennetts is to try to do both. Be a stay at home mother and have a career at the same time. With little to no support. I don’t know anyone who could have done it better than I have.

What I know is that I have done right by myself, my children and my husband by making conscious choices about the priorities in my life and what I need and want my life to look like. Bennetts' assertions are irresponsible because it, once again, puts the entire onus of familial success on the woman instead of spreading it out to all parties who are invested in the success of all American families.

Instead of fueling the mother-guilt fire, what her time would have been more productively spent on would have been an in-depth look at how we as a society must do more to enable familial success. By offering more affordable childcare. By offering mothers and fathers more opportunities to makes choices that feed and nurture their lives instead of sucking them dry. By offering less myopic educational choices so that children are encouraged to learn in the way that ensures their success instead of force feeding students and then banking their entire academic self-esteem on their ability to regurgitate. By demanding that we as a society do more to take care of each other.


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