As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Stay-At-Home Feminist


I’ve watched a few great videos about feminism lately, including one by UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson and another by Laci Green.  They both made powerful points about gender equality and stereotypes, and sought to de-vilify the word feminism in order to move forward with the necessary work that still needs to be done to improve the condition for women around the world.  Both were excellent, and you may be wondering what someone like me can add to the conversation?  Hasn’t everything already been said?

 
The answer is No.  Because for all the talk of equal pay, equal work and equal opportunity, one voice is never heard – the stay-at-home mother.  Too often we fall into the trap of reducing the role of a woman to how much she can contribute financially.  What does that mean for a person like me?  You may say it is a victory for feminism because I chose to be at home, but I’ll tell you that it’s not a choice that came without opposition.  And it is completely because the world sees my value in what I can contribute to my household income.  In the western world choosing to be a stay-at-home mother is not an easy choice because it is not talked about, and often not encouraged.  If it is supported it is only silently, as you will notice that many of the popular feminism speeches make no mention of stay-at-home mothers.

 Let me share a bit of my story with you.  I went to University.  I was the first from my family to complete post-secondary education, and I am very proud of that.  I had a great part-time job when I graduated, and my company offered me full-time employment upon graduation, but with no financial compensation despite the fact that I had worked there for a year and earned a Business degree.  My boss assured me that if I put in my six months, he would arrange a performance review for me and make the case to the company that I was a good worker and that I would leave if I did not receive proper (and fair) financial compensation.  That performance review never happened, so I began applying for new jobs.  This made my boss angry, so he started taking responsibilities away from me and giving them to my coworkers because “if I was going to be leaving, it didn’t make sense for me to be doing them.”  When I did finally get a government job, he berated and ridiculed me during my final weeks of employment, warning that if I left the private sector for the public sector I would be answering phones my whole life, playing receptionist instead of climbing the corporate ladder.

He could not have been more wrong.  Within six months of being there, I had earned two promotions, a significant pay increase, and was working my dream job of Publications Specialist in Communications.  It was so satisfying to run into my old boss shortly after and deliver the news personally that indeed, I was not a receptionist.  I loved my new job, and there was no shortage of opportunity to climb if I stayed there long term.  But I was also a newlywed, and I desperately wanted to have a family.  Shortly after being in my new job my husband and I conceived our first child. Our little boy was born before I celebrated my first anniversary in the Communications department, and I couldn’t have been happier.

If it were up to only me, I would never have returned to work after my maternity leave.  Because even though I loved my job, I loved being a mother more.  For as long as I can remember I have dreamed of having a family, and that dream included staying home with my children when they were young.  But as my maternity leave dwindled, this proved to be difficult.  The fact is that in order to stay home, I would need to forgo the salary we had built our life upon.  My husband had only just finished his post-secondary education, and we had significant debt to pay down.  As much as I hated it, I needed to go back.  So I made the toughest decision of my life.  It broke my heart.

I continued to have children about every 1 ½ years, and I continued to work.  I loved my job, but still never wanted to go back when maternity leaves were up.  I measured my mat leaves in terms of how much time I had left at home – the first six months were bliss, but the last six months were always clouded with the knowledge that I had less time at home than I had already spent.  Those were the hardest years, and I did it for seven years until the birth of my fifth son, when I finally left the workforce to stay home permanently.  The biggest factor in this decision was thankfully not finances (because truthfully, if that were the case I would still be working).  After my oldest son had a challenging experience at school, we decided to homeschool.  And so I left the workforce for the same reason that I entered it – to do what I believed was best for my family.

But – here’s the thing. As a modern, educated, successful woman, I had to explain myself to people in terms of why I would do such a thing.  Among my Catholic friends I was welcomed and encouraged.  But in the mainstream world I was often looked down on, condescendingly and patronizingly.  “What do you think you’ll do all day when you’re home?” someone asked me, “won’t you get bored?”  People ask regularly, even now that I’ve been home for four years, whether I miss working, and how I am fulfilling all of my skill set at home.   Although I was an excellent worker during my career (and my performance reviews were all stellar), I very often heard the phrase, “she’d be perfect if she didn’t keep having babies.”  You can see it all over peoples’ faces when you tell someone you’re not returning to your career in order to stay home, that they think you’re wasting your skills.  And I’m certain when people meet me, they’d be far more impressed if I told them I was an executive than when I tell them I am a homeschooling mother of six.

As an educated woman, too often I’m made to feel like a sell-out to an old, outdated view of femininity, and the feminists don’t speak up for me.  They don’t speak, in all their essays about job equity and gender stereotypes, about the value of a woman completely separate from her financial contribution.  In a world where femininity is reduced to how much money you make, I am placed squarely at the bottom of the totem pole.  This is not right.  I have as much worth as any woman CEO, politician, author, celebrity or athlete.  My contribution to the world cannot be measured in dollars and cents, but in the hard work I do every day for the common good and in this way, I am not unlike any other woman living on the face of the planet.  World – stop pigeonholing me into your idea of success.  When we speak of feminism, let’s not only talk finances, or education, accolades or worth that can be measured on a piece of paper.  Let’s talk about womanhood as a whole, and preserve the integrity and essence of equality – which is freedom.  The freedom to not be defined in narrow terms.  The freedom to choose to pursue a career and be compensated the same as any other person doing the same work.  The freedom to learn, to thrive, and to succeed.  And also, the freedom to choose to be home with our families, raising our children, and contributing in the most unacknowledged way to the success of the world.   When my daughters are grown, I want them to have the freedom and ability to dream as big as they dare, and sore to the heights of whatever path they choose.  I want them to be able to be doctors, scientists, executives, humanitarians, scholars, educators and Moms, and I don't want them to feel that any of those choices are less than the other.  I want them to make their choices in complete freedom, and to be supported as women no matter what.  This is equality, this is justice for women. 

My dream job

4 comments :

  1. Beautifully written and I couldn't agree more, I chose to stay home and not because I couldn't find a good job.

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  2. I love this so much. Thank you for speaking up on such an important subject: the worth of women, regardless of the role they fill. This has always been near and dear to my heart; as the one vocation on the list of ever-changing possibilities, that *never* wavered for me, was the desire to be a stay-at-home mom. I know very well the backlash, however passive-aggressive it may present itself, that SAHM's receive. It means even more to me now that I am "disabled"; because if my worth is centered on what I can offer the world financially, right now, it would equate to nothing. And we both know that isn't true.

    It has been an uphill battle learning from The Father that I am not a sum of my abilities. We are called to love; and that-- THAT I can do, no matter where I am, or what I am doing. I cannot WAIT until I can care for my family again, and God-willing, grow it! But until then, I will do my "job" here, in bed, for as long as my recovery takes.

    Oh, and re: the line, "And I’m certain when people meet me, they’d be far more impressed if I told them I was an executive than when I tell them I am a homeschooling mother of six." You'll have to count me out on that one! You are an every day hero to me, and I mean that with all sincerity. I admire you greatly for the job you do, and the mother you are to those beautiful children. Your example is invaluable, and just as necessary as the example of an executive in any other field!

    Thanks again for a great post!

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  3. A provocative and well informed post!

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