Yesterday Michael came home from work and started telling me about this case he’s handling at work, and how the Ninth Circuit granted his (client’s) petition for rehearing, which means he gets to go up to San Francisco and argue before eleven judges. Very exciting stuff. Then he asked me about my day. ”Oh, I had a very productive day,” I said. ”I did three loads of laundry, took Finn to speech therapy, baked some Christmas cookies, gave the baby a bath . . .”
More and more lately, the shape of my days – the monotony of them, the veritable triviality of them, the drudgery of them – is getting me down. I know I’m not supposed to say these things, right? As a stay-at-home mom, the proper thing to do is to sing from the rooftops in exaltation about how wonderful and magical my life is as a housewife, and as a “mommy blogger” (if that’s even what I am; I’m not sure), I should be honing my photography skills so as to document for all the world just how wonderful and magical my life is.
The reality is, however, that I’ve been spending an awful lot of time lately feeling like not much more than a servant. Everybody in this house wants something from me all the time, and most of them complain about what they get from me. I am here to do for, to serve, and to listen to (not be listened to). I am a pair of hands and a pair of ears.
Do I sound bitter? I guess I am.
On the one hand, I do feel extremely fortunate to be able to stay home to raise my kids. I know that not everyone can do that, and there was a time when I couldn’t financially do it either. On the other hand, lately I can’t help but question the choices I’ve made. I don’t think they’ve been the wisest choices.
I read this book recently, Why Have Kids by Jessica Valenti. I couldn’t put it down, and it left me feeling angry and depressed. The premise of the book is, first and foremost, that motherhood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Can I get an Hallelujah? It’s not. I’ve known that for a long time. It is a lot of monotony and drudgery. There are, without a doubt, moments of bliss, of transcendence, but those moments are fairly rare – rare enough to be noteworthy, certainly. It’s mostly a thankless undertaking. I guess the rewards come later, when the kids are all grown up, and they turn out to be decent, productive members of society. Then we can sit back and say, “I guess I did a pretty good job.” (In truth, though, so much of how they turn out is out of our hands; if they turn out to be assholes, do we take the blame for that? I guess in that case, the whole endeavor will have turned out to be a complete failure.)
Valenti also posits in her book that, basically, we mothers have been duped into believing that motherhood is the most important job in the world by a paternalistic society that really, even in this progressive, enlightened age, wants to keep women at home where they belong and let men continue to run the world. Even the push to breastfeed, she asserts, is a way to keep women tied to the home and the children, and to limit their choices. I can see truth in this: while I’ve always been rather militant about breastfeeding, it can’t be denied that formula was created in the first place as part of Women’s Lib – a way to open up women’s options. And while we as a society push breastfeeding, we certainly don’t make it extremely easy to breastfeed out in the world – especially in the working world.
Is motherhood really the most important job in the world? That’s like saying, “Maintaining this house that I built, that nobody asked me to build, is the most important job in the world.” I’m only raising the kids that I chose to have – I’m not doing society any favors. Perhaps one of my kids will grow up and contribute something truly amazing to society – and in that way, it will be a blessing to humanity that I bore and raised that child. But it’s not likely. Let’s be honest: the vast majority of our kids will live average lives and will not leave a lasting mark outside of their own families.
And really, is doing laundry the best I can do? Am I dazzling anyone with my baby-bathing skills?
Motherhood certainly doesn’t utilize my best talents, and in fact, it probably, more than anything, exposes my failings and shortfalls.
The truth is, I’ve been turning these thoughts over and over in my head for a while. It’s hard to write this stuff and not come across as ungrateful, and even unloving. I love my kids, okay? I do. They are my whole world. I guess that’s what’s getting me down. They are my world.
What happened to me along the way? Who am I? I had no idea when I took on this gig that my entire identity would be subsumed by my kids. I am a mother. I am a mom. Outside of that, I don’t know anymore.
I think I should have had fewer kids. I think I should have kept working outside the home – at least part-time. Not only have I lost myself, I’ve made myself completely financially dependent on my husband (which I swore I would never do after my first husband died and I sold our house, paid off all our debts, bought a smaller house for me and Kevin, and started over fresh). I’ve sacrificed my earning power. I’ve been out of the workforce for ten years now, and it will be at least several more years before Scarlett is in school and I can possibly find part-time work. By then I’ll be in my fifties (!!!), and I won’t be qualified to do anything that will earn as much as I earned before when I worked. It’s frightening when I think about all the what-ifs.
And it’s not just about money. What am I teaching my own daughters about independence? I’ve started to think that maybe I’m not such a hot role model for them. And maybe everyone in this house would appreciate me a little more if I weren’t here at everyone’s beck and call all the time.
But for the time being, I’m stuck. I feel stuck, anyway.
And that’s the thing: it’s a goddamn myth that women can have it all, do it all. No, we can’t. If you want to stay home to raise your kids, you sacrifice independence, earning power, and possibly your sense of self. If you work outside the home after having kids, you’re engaged in a constant, never-ending, exhausting juggling act, and it’s likely that you won’t get the kind of practical support you need at home or in the workplace to feel like you’re giving your best self to either.
I don’t have a tidy wrap-up for this particular post. So, that’s it I guess.