Well, the latest crazy statement by a political commentator has made its way through the blogosphere today. Since it is such an integral part of my life, I feel compelled to comment.
Here’s the basic info: Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, said Ann Romney wasn’t qualified to talk about women struggling in the economic downturn because she “hasn’t worked a day in her life.” Naturally, this opinion has ignited the ire of many women, stay-at-home moms or not. Rosen made this comment while trying to make the point that because Ann Romney hasn’t held a job in the paying workplace, she can’t be qualified to have an opinion about economic issues that affect women, and can’t be a useful advisor to her husband. First, I must point out that it isn’t necessary to be the one in the family holding down a paying job to be concerned about how the economy is going and how it affects your family, no matter how much money your primary wage-earner makes. Second, and the real ignition for the fire, the comment then belies Rosen’s derisive attitude toward women who choose to stay home to raise their children.
I always find it a little absurd that women who are generally of a liberal slant, who shout about the need for women to be able to “choose,” such as about their own reproductive lives, then turn up their noses at women who make a different choice than they would in family matters. “Choice” implies that there are varied options available, and that it is an individual’s right and privilege to decide among those very different options. It also implies that any of those options are ones that should be respected by others. But in our society today, if a woman chooses an option that others frown on, that woman is often derided and called “old-fashioned.”
I am a mother of four, and my daughters’ ages are in a wide range, almost 16 down to nearly 5. I have two teenagers, an elementary schooler and a preschooler. They have very different needs and schedules and temperaments. I chose from the beginning of my reproductive life to be a mother who would stay at home with her children, and I have held to that. Over the course of 16 years, I have worked part-time out of the home (15 or 20 hours at the very most) for perhaps 3 years total, when financial realities have indicated that my income would be necessary. Right now, I work from my home office on the computer for pay for maybe 5 hours a week. The opportunity to copy edit online has been quite welcome, has added a little extra income, and has kept my skills fresh. I feel blessed not to have to leave the house to do it. I also have various projects I do in the hopes of earning pay from them in the future and/or because they are intellectually and creatively stimulating and satisfying. I also feel blessed that I have the freedom to be able to pursue these projects.
There is no doubt that our economy right now has forced many families, two-parent or otherwise, to make decisions they wouldn’t otherwise have made. Both parents might have to work outside the home; single parents have to work. Wives may work and laid-off husbands stay home with the kids while they continue to search for employment again. It’s not a happy time. Even in brighter economic times, families made decisions that were either “modern” or more “old-fashioned,” according to their needs and wants and interests. Sure, I’d like to see more women able to stay home with their children, at least not working out of the home 40 hours a week, because I personally believe it benefits the kids when that situation is possible. But I know how it feels to just be home with the kids ALL THE TIME. Getting out of the house to a job where you’re appreciated, patted on the back, given breaks and more immediate gratification than a 20-year-long project is definitely an enticing prospect. And a paycheck? It can mean college tuition for your kids, a car that isn’t 15 years old and in the shop every other week, or just a reflection of a job well done that other people in society relate to and recognize. But mothering at home full time? No paycheck, no regular gratification, no guaranteed breaks, no good reason to put on a nice blouse and makeup.
But we still live in a society in which women are just not that great at respecting each other’s choices. Hilary Rosen is just a case in point. Why can’t we just admit to ourselves that we’re all very different and have very different backgrounds, life experiences, needs and wants, abilities, interests, weaknesses, and capacities? Whether we as women are married or not, have children or not, we are going to see the world in very different ways. We also aren’t just polarized to one “side” or the other: we might be working full time but wanting to stay at home; we might be staying at home with kids but really wanting to get out into the workforce. Or we might be working outside the home part-time or working from our home offices. There are a variety of flexible options available so we don’t have to be “one side” or the other: full-time workers or full-time stay-at-homes. (At the same time, our society definitely needs to figure out ways to make more truly flexible options available to both women and men to support families and children.) So we can’t expect everyone to make the exact same choices we do.
I know it took me ages to get used to being the mother of an infant, then a toddler and an infant and then more. It just made me crazy to be at home 24/7 with a very demanding little human being. I wanted to get out and work, do something for me. Even now, the demands of a home and husband and four daughters of varying ages can at times be super-stressful and overwhelming. And my own expectations of what I’d like for my daughters, what I’d like to be able to do for them, are usually more than I’m possibly capable of fulfilling because of time and energy limitations. I can’t possibly be in the high school band boosters and the elementary school PTA and the middle-school PTA and work from home and do my projects and volunteer in church and be in charge of other things and write a book and make muffins every day for breakfast and four-course meals for dinner and shop for food and clothes and do laundry and clean. I can’t be two places at once, which sometimes comes up with four kids. Choices must be made, and they’re rarely easy ones. It’s all about balance and constantly reprioritizing and rebalancing.
At the same time, despite how different we all are, I know that any mother, working outside the home for any number of hours or not, faces similar concerns and struggles to keep balanced, to keep all her balls in the air. So why in the world should we criticize and demean and make nasty comments, rather than using those energies to support each other in our choices and figure out ways to make our society better for everyone? Let’s let “choice” mean something.