Triticum Turgidum

Lying Dormant and Waiting to Bloom Since 2005

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Location: The Prairie, Illinois, United States

I am a beauty-loving ambidextrous higher-order primate who learned transcendental meditation at 7, statistical analysis at 23, tap dancing at 30, and piano at 35. I tolerate gluten, lactose, and differences of opinion, but not abuse. Or beets.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Son of SAHM

My husband, that is. Me, I'm the daughter not of a stay-at-home mom (a.k.a. SAHM) but a working MOTHER. As my former colleague Susan Douglas points out in her insightful and hilarious book The Mommy Myth (coauthored with Meredith Michaels, 2004), the rhetorical use of the word "mother" for moms who work out of the house is not accidental. Stay-at-home moms, working mothers. Soccer moms, welfare mothers. Moms are warm and fuzzy and dedicated to their children. Mothers are cold and distant and inaccessible. (Didn't we all call our moms "Mother" when we were pissed at them? "Yes, Mother." "Whatever you say, Mother.")

As Douglas and Michaels point out, governmental refusal to support pro-parenting policies like day care and parental leave force parents (i.e., mothers) to become the sole caregivers of their kids. We have become so deeply mired in the mother-is-best rhetoric that our knee-jerk response is, "Of course! Who is better qualified?" I have heard many women boast with righteously arched eyebrows that they plan to quit their jobs to become SAHMs, as though this is the only way to raise a kid properly.

Well, let me ask ya this. If you were starting a business do you think you'd have the best chance of success by hiring a single, young, completely untrained employee and having her do all of the necessary work in utter solitude?

The religious right has done a great job ridiculing dems such as Hillary Rodham Clinton by attacking the notion that it takes a village to raise a child, but let's be honest: it does. Think back to your own childhood. Did every single important lesson and moment of inspiration come from your mother? (If so, I hope she was a member of Mensa.) Didn't you have teachers or neighbors or relatives or coaches or clergy or mentors or older siblings who made a big difference in how you felt about yourself and what you wanted to do with your life? Lucky me, I did, and they were all monumentally important.

One of the saddest aspects of the pro-SAHM rhetoric is that fathers are almost completely omitted. My dad was extremely important in my life, though he did work long hours and I would have loved more time with him. As a working woman who may or may not (hear that, family? may or may not) have a kid in the next few years, I can't imagine settling for a life in which I am with the kid 90% of the time and Dad only gets 10%. Not only do I want my own Son of SAHM to share the work load--otherwise, why not just be a single parent?--I want my kid to have a rich relationship with his or her dad. My husband is a kind, loving person and has a lot to offer. He's also much more sane than I am, so really, it's in my kids' best interest psychologically to spend as much time with him as possible. (I'm kidding!--sort of.)

I certainly don't mean to rip on SAHMs. I like cool SAHMs. I admire women who say, "Yeah, this is what I want to do right now. And lucky us, we can afford it." But righteous SAHMs who buy into the republican rhetoric that there's no other way to raise a kid and therefore stand in judgment of working moms can kiss my office-chair-imprinted ass. They push the myth that children resent their working moms. Well, I'm sure some do. Kids are self-centered. They also resent the fact that they can't eat frosting for breakfast. But, speaking for myself, as the daughter of a working mom, I didn't grow up wishing she didn't work. She was smart as hell and would have been driven insane by a life at home with the three of us. I knew this at a very young age. She needed adult interaction, and lots of it. So do I.

(This is not to say that SAHMs aren't smart. Quite the contrary. One of my concerns is that the increasing number of talented women leaving the workforce represents a large-scale brain drain. The idea that brilliant minds will raise brilliant children who will go out and conquer the world is encouraging only if we assume that the girl children won't abandon their careers to raise children of their own. And many careers are difficult if not impossible to reenter after a multi-year leave of absence.)

The worst part of this whole thing is that women are pitted against each other, SAHM against working mom, as though the struggle were solely between us and has nothing to do with the extremely uncivilized way our government treats its citizens, especially its females. If you can force your citizens into battle with each other, you don't have to worry about them banding together and attacking you for being the real source of the problem.

Remember that awful Bruce Cockburn song "If I Had a Rocket Launcher?" Bruce wanted to fire it at "torture states" who attacked poor countries. I sympathize, but I think Bruce had it all wrong. If I had a rocket launcher, I wouldn't fire it. That would be wasteful. Do you know how expensive those things are? Instead, I'd sell it for millions of dollars and use the money to subsidize safe, effective childcare programs that families of all socioeconomic backgrounds could use. But that doesn't make for very good lyrics.


Blogger katiedid said...

"The idea that brilliant minds will raise brilliant children who will go out and conquer the world is encouraging only if we assume that the girl children won't abandon their careers to raise children of their own." I love this, it's quite right.

I had a SAHD, and I consider that a tremendous gift to my brother and I. We know our dad much better than any of our friends, and I like to think we are much better people for it. Dads have the capacity to be just as awesome as moms at nurturing and guiding in my experience.

9:20 AM, July 06, 2005  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

This is a great topic. Now that my children are grown, I work out of my home, and would be a SAHOBM (stay at home old biddy mom.) I always had my career, and worked from the time my children were less than a year old. They grew up fine, well ajusted, both went to college, and now, the real issue, will one get a job! Now, I do not think that has anything with me not being a SAHM, but perhaps there is a nexus that I am unaware of at the moment!

But I am a SAHDL (stay at home dog lover.)

11:19 AM, July 06, 2005  
Blogger mreenymo said...

One of the most intelligent people I ever had the pleasure of loving was my maternal grandmother, Marie. And, she was a SAHM not only for my mother and uncle, but for me, also. While my divorced mom worked, this wonderful woman nurtured, played with, put up with and loved little ole me. To me, my grandmother represented the best in all SAHM's, indeed every mom: She was kind, thoughtful, reassuring, comforting and unconditionally 'THERE' for me.

(Yes, I was a spoiled brat, but she didn't seem to care, it was a minor detail.)

In any event, as I raise my children, I try very hard to emulate my gram. Typically, I fall way short of her standards.

Why? Not because I work, but because I think that mothering is a gift. Some of us have it, and some of us, like myself, just keep trying.

I believe that as long as women (and men for that matter) view parenting as a "gift" to their children, it will not matter if they work out of the home or in the home. All of the struggles and juggling that they have to endure as a parent will be put into perspective, as they see how that gift, their children, blossom and grow.

12:05 PM, July 06, 2005  
Anonymous SuburbanSue said...

Great topic, K. You've made a lot of excellent points, particular when it comes to the SAHM vs. working mom wars (which remind me of the breastfeeding moms -- there's an acronym for that as well, "BFing," -- vs. formula feeding moms wars). I think women need to be supportive of other women and their choices, period. Why the need for all the guilt-tripping and finger-pointing? Why do moms feel this need to be competitive and critical? Why not harness some of that energy and apply it to efforts that would benefit all women and children (such lobbying for a paid parental leave policy similar to Canada's --they get a whole year off!).

Oh boy. I can't wait to hear what you'll have to say when (or if) you have a child and join a mom's group or playgroup. That's when things get really ugly. "Is your child potty training yet?" "Who painted the mural in your child's bedroom?" "The XYZ expensive preschool is the best; we're on the waiting list. Oh, you're going to the park district preschool? Well, I suppose it's too hard to get in anywhere else now." Grrrrrr.

For the record, I'm neither a SAHM or a "working mother." I'm neither, yet I'm both. I work three days a week in an office. The other two days of the workweek, I'm home with the kids. I can completely understand the strong desire a woman has to raise her kids herself, and not just "have a baby so someone else can raise it," as a cousin of mine once said. But I also understand a working mom's need for adult interaction and a desire to actually do something with her college degree, to achieve something other than raising a child. I'm torn between both of these sides, which is probably why I settled for a compromise -- I work a little, and stay home a little. Is it a perfect solution for everyone? No. But it seems to work for me, at least some of the time.

Here's the dilemma. Once you have a child, you have a strong, burning desire to be with the child -- yet just as strong a desire to get away from it. You can't stand the idea of someone else raising your child, yet you yearn to still *be* somebody, not just Little Jimmy's Mommy. You want to witness your child's every smile, every small triumph (learning to walk, rolling over, their first babbled words); yet you feel yourself losing your identity if you don't claim at least a small piece of your life for yourself (and you long for sleep, solitude, a break from the whining and crying). You get the grandparents to watch your kids so you can have an "overnight escape" with your husband -- a chance for some child-free time to reconnect -- and you spend the whole time talking about the kids and feeling vaguely guilty for leaving them with someone else. No matter what you do or where you go, you just can't stop thinking about your children. This ongoing struggle, for me, is what motherhood is all about.

12:33 PM, July 06, 2005  
Blogger Atreau said...

I'm a product of a working mother as was my Mom where my Dad's mom was a SAHM but it doesn't really matter much because my Dad was the caregiver in my family. Where my Mom working or not never really wanted to be a parent. She did spend a year being a SAHM after I was born.

I never resented my Mom for not being a SAHM, I resented her more for having kids when she didn't really want them.

2:06 PM, July 06, 2005  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

These are all such brilliant and touching commnets. I wish women could be so open and honest and forthright and supportive with each other all the time. Thank you all for your comments.

Suburbansue -- I love what you wrote: "Once you have a child, you have a strong, burning desire to be with the child -- yet just as strong a desire to get away from it." I wish more women felt they could be honest about desire #2. It seems there's this pressure to project a blissed-out identity all the time. That's crazymaking.

3:10 PM, July 06, 2005  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

I really need to check for typos before I post.

3:10 PM, July 06, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*eats bonbons in frayed, stained robe, slippers, greasy hair and ketchup-encrusted fingers and reads blog while providing rugrat with sliced apples, two fishsticks and milk* (okay, not really, but that's my mental image of myself) I miss my office chair imprinted butt! --giant vat of Perlier Ambre owner

9:30 PM, July 06, 2005  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

Hey GVOPAO -- aren't you a WAHM (work-at-home-mom)? WAHMs occupy the borderlands between working mothers and SAHMs.

Anyway, you NEED to be at home. By your own admission, your toddler is a sometimes-charming, usually dangerous drunk who needs to be watched at all times. :-)

8:11 AM, July 07, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, I'm a bigtime WAHM. We rock. But it's not much of an option for the puuuuublic at large. Child unit going to pre-school in fall--mom unit will now have to procure more work. Which leads to the question...what happens when they're in school? Do I go back, or do I continue to build my at-home envelope-stuffing and teddy bear assembling business *smirk*? Hmm. xo

4:42 PM, July 07, 2005  
Blogger Urban Chick said...

and to top it all (although you do not state it as such, i guess it's implied): this issue has been woefully neglected by the feminist cause...which leaves (in your words) "women are pitted against each other, SAHM against working mom" - this is terribly sad

when i had my kids, i wanted to read about women who had grappled with this choice, but pretty much all i could find in the parenting section of bookshops was patronising twaddle (hold your baby like this! don't give it a taste of chocolate until it turns 18! you get the picture...)

i also agree that it would be nice to hear more SAHMs telling it like it is (e.g. occasionally mind-numbing drudgery)

for anyone interested, one thoughtful book i DID find was 'on becoming a mother' by rachel cusk (UK journalist) - more honest than any others i saw

and i TOTALLY agree about the brain drain thing - i'm not sure our workplaces can afford this in the longer run esp in the developed world, where most jobs are in the (typically female-dominated) service sector

only other thing i'd add is: being a SAHM is WORK! just unpaid and with really bad hours!!

3:46 PM, July 08, 2005  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

ITA, Urban Chick. It's one of the reasons I don't like the term "stay at home mother." It totally glosses over the work involved. IMO, anything you have to PAY someone to do in your absence is a JOB. I'd rather hear a SAHM describe her occupation as "full-time childcare" than "stay-at-home-mom," because the latter implies leisure and privilege. While it IS a privilege to make enough money on one income to allow a parent to do full-time (unpaid) childcare, it doesn't make the job itself leisurely. The job itself is NEVER leisurely.

9:43 AM, July 09, 2005  
Blogger Niobium said...

SAHMs fit into two catagories for me: the ones who are doing it because they want to, are qualified to stay at home and raise a child, and the ones who are doing it because they are attempting to justif their choice for having children in the first place.

The second group drives me insane as they whine constantly, throw tantrums (like their children), are completly miserable, and totally dependant on their men for all things: food, clothing, shelter.

Two of my sister-in-laws are in this group, and both of them think that womyn who work and have children are bad mothers and should have their children taken away from them. They, of course, have exceptions: their own sister who *chooses* to work and their mother who was a single mother to 5 children (with the help of her mother and brother). They are also Shrub loving upper middle class Bible thumping Catholics who think they are entitled to 9000/sf McMansions in gated communities and the poor and working class derserve to be that way. Neither have work skills that could support their way of life if their husbands were to be maimed. As a matter of fact, both would be better off if their husbands died because then they would get life insurance money. If not married, they would be flipping burgers at McNarly's.

My neices and nephews are obnixious, bratty, overly entitled snot nosed creeps who need a good lesson in what the word "need" means. On the other hand, my neice whose mother works is warm, friendly, funny, and well adjusted. She is a pleasure to have around.

I view my SILs and womyn like them as lazy womyn who refuse to take responsibility for themselves and their in/actions. Do I think motherhood is difficult? Yes. Do I think that these two womyn, and others whom I've met like them, chose to have children so they wouldn't have to get a job and support themselves? Yes. Do they actively parent as a SAHM should? No. That is why I think they are lazy.

As you can see, I have strong opinions on this subject.

6:46 PM, July 13, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"womyn" - laugh!

4:47 PM, July 27, 2005  

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