A battle within: the stay at home mom vs the feminist.

Confession time. I am not always 100% on board with this whole "Stay at Home Feminist" thing.

I know, I know....

It's the name of my blog/Twitter/Instagram. I have claimed this moniker as ME. It is, as the marketing world calls it, "my personal brand". And yet, while I embrace this label that I have given myself and all the tongue-in-cheeky-ness that it implies, I have to be honest and admit that sometimes there exists within me a kind of battle of the two seemingly opposite sides of myself. As integrated as I think these two parts of me are, the "in-fighting" and negative self-talk that can happen from these two can be downright nasty at times.

The Stay-at-Home mother and housewife goes on and on about how I should DO more with the kids and around the house. More baking, more reading of books to the kids, more cleaning, more timely folding of the laundry, more crafts, less TV and iPads. She's can be a very demanding bitch and has obviously been spending way too much time on Pinterest, comparing all the way I am doing things to some kind of perfectly photoshopped vintage/retro/modern ideal of motherhood and housewifery.

And then there is the Feminist. She seeing things from a different angle and wants so much for a different world for her children. She gets upset that I am not doing more "active" activist work and wants me to find a way to "lean-in" and make some real changes for women in our world beyond just learning to play the game according to the current status quo. I know that there is a part of her that looks at the Stay-at-Home Mom and sneers at the level of privilege that she has and tells her that she just can't - absolutely CAN NOT - speak for other women who do not have it as good as she does.

Some, or all of these thoughts live together in my head at any given time and on any given day. Depending on the circumstances of the day, it can be an ugly battle that leaves me paralyzed with feelings of complete inadequacy in either role, or there can be an arbitrary truce and a certain level of acceptance that exists between the two.

I know what some of you are thinking, "Whoa there Natasha, how could YOU feel like this? You are supposed to be all, "Rah-rah-women can choose to do whatever they want-that's what Feminism is for!" and now your saying this? You are sending some serious mixed messages here! What is up with that?"

Let me try to explain.

A few weeks ago, I saw the CBC documentary "The Motherload". The film takes an in-depth and new look at the subject of working mothers - the current issues, challenges and triumphs that come from trying or having to do it all and that ever elusive utopian world called "work-life-balance". A lot of the film hinges on Anne-Marie Slaughter's 2012 article in The Atlantic in which she pointed out all the reasons "why women still can't have it all". While there were plenty of people who argued and disagreed with her take on this "motherload" phenomenon, I found most of her arguments compelling and very similar to my own.

"I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can “have it all at the same time.” But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured." 

Except I do not think it is just America's economy and society, it is our whole world. I have written about this before, about how there is no winning (read: having it all) in a game where one group of players has ALWAYS gotten a head start or where the playing field is always tipped in favour of one side.

One of the most strikingly true lines from the film is one from York University Women's Studies professor Andrea O'Reilly, in which she points out that "motherhood is the unfinished business of feminism." This statement is undoubtedly at the very core of a lot of the issues surrounding modern feminism today. And because most theories of feminism were based on the "unencumbered subject", I believe that this is why there exists this general feeling and misconception that feminism is done, that we've "arrived", and that there is no need for a continued movement towards equality for all women.

I need you to know that whether this is the third or fourth wave of feminism or modern feminism or whatever you want to call it, it is decidedly NOT done. And not just because women are not leaning in to more high profile corporate and political positions, but because we've been sold a version of equality that simply can not exist within the framework of our current society.

In the film, Slaughter says that she receives emails from women all the time who have some version of the same story that goes along the lines of "I had a promising career, I got married, I had children and then LIFE happened. I felt like such a failure, like I had betrayed my younger self." These sentiments gave me great pause while watching the film and made me think that we are doing a major disservice to our daughters and young women when we don't actively talk about motherhood as part of their life plans or career paths. Statements like the one above, obviously felt by many women, actually hurt my heart. And while I know that these women are not necessarily saying that becoming a mother was a failure, in our world that values the primacy of work and what we "do" versus who we are, motherhood just doesn't quite fit the bill of valuable work. Not only does it not compare to our paid work, women who are mothers are often penalized for this 'life happening' as well. In Ann Crittenden's 2001 book The Price of Motherhood, she points out that:

"We talk endlessly about the importance of family, yet the work it takes to make a family is utterly disregarded. This contradiction can be found in every corner of our society.

First, inflexible workplaces guarantee that many women will have to cut back on, if not quit, their employment once they have children. The result is a loss of income that produces a bigger wage gap between mothers and childless women than the wage gap between young men and women. This forgone income, the equivalent of a huge "mommy tax," is typically more than $1 million for a college-educated American woman."

and

"The idea that time spent with one's child is time wasted is embedded in traditional economic thinking. People who are not formally employed may create human capital, but they themselves are said to suffer a deterioration of the stuff, as if they were so many pieces of equipment left out to rust. The extraordinary talents required to do the long-term work of building human character and instilling in young children the ability and desire to learn have no place in the economists' calculations. Economic theory has nothing to say about the acquisition of skills by those who work with children; presumably there are none."

Not much has changed since she wrote that more than 12 years ago, except that now, not only is the pressure on for mothers to "lean in" and have it all at work, they are expected to be doing it all and doing it all FABULOUSLY at home too. If you are a women who had decided to stay at home with your children, it can sometimes feel like the pressure to be the "perfect" mother is just as great as the pressure to climb the corporate ladder and break the glass ceiling. From how to feed your baby, to what to put on their bums, what kind of school or 'un'school you choose, to what are considered 'essential' mommy and me classes, to getting a nanny or to sending them daycare, and for all the major and minor decisions made each and every day, motherhood has become a veritable rat-race in and of itself.

And in both the work and the home front women are paying an increasingly high price for being in these races. In Arianna Huffington's new book Thrive, she points out that,

"... women in highly stressful jobs have a nearly 40% increase risk of heart disease and heart attacks compared to thier less-stressed colleagues, and a 60 % greater risk for type 2 diabetes (a link that does not exist for men, by the way). Women who have heart attacks are almost twice as likely as men to die within a year of the attack, and women in high-stress jobs are more likely to become alcoholics than women in low-stress jobs."

The statistics are not that much brighter for mothers either, with upwards of 20% suffering from postpartum mood disorders. Katherine Stone of Post Partum Progress Inc. reports that,

"...more mothers will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses this year than the combined number of new cases for both sexes of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. This is not to minimize these other terrible diseases, of course. I simply want to illustrate just how prevalent postpartum mood & anxiety disorders are."

The pressure these days to have it all, be it all, and do it all are too much for our bodies and our minds to handle and it is a no-win situation for everyone involved. And yet, I can't help but wonder, as my two sides battle it out in my own head, how much of this pressure is coming from ourselves? We live in the era of the "cult of busy-ness" and 24/7 connectivity and 10,000 hours to mastery (Ha! I just calculated and I've been a mother for just over 60,000 hours! I am SO the master of this! -insert sarcastic eye roll here-), and putting our lives on display via social media for all to see (and criticize). And then we wonder why, for some reason, it is never, ever, enough?  We are a time-starved people living in a world of scarcity that is often of our own doing.

My question is: are we in fact the creators of this scarcity and if so, how do we change that?

Do you know what landed me in the hospital 26 weeks pregnant with my first child with a blood pressure hovering around 200/100 (normal is 110/70)? Because one hour before my OB appointment, I had gotten into an argument with a work colleague about a rather important event that we were planning. My life changed in an instant that day. My blood pressure would not go back down without medications and complete bed rest and I had to take an immediate medical leave from work.

That was my first AHA! moment of motherhood and it was a scary-ass wake up call to the reality that would now be my life. One responsible for the safety and well-being of not only myself, but of this other person I was growing inside of me. In essence, motherhood made me look up. Look up from my self-centred, looking-out-for-Number-One, how-do-I-get-ahead, life and see the world in front of me. One that sadly, as Joan Williams, law professor at the University of California Hastings, says in the Motherload film "was never set up for women."

So what is a woman to do in a world that is not set up for her? How does one reconcile the need to be a valuable, contributing member of our economic society and also one who is nurturing the human capital that will one day be valuable, contributing members of said society?

I don't know that anyone has the answers to this just yet. Slaughter thinks that a woman in the White House will affect changes, but I question this as a blanket solution. Other women have held the highest offices of government in other countries before and still the world has not changed significantly for women. Sheryl Sandberg thinks that women need to lean-in and actively seek the higher paying, higher ranking jobs we want, but she forgets how she got to the place she is in now, in part by hiding the fact that she was sneaking home at 5:30 to have dinner with her children.

In THIS world, one has to make compromises. For me, the decision to stop working was made for me due to medical circumstances, but the decision to STAY at home after my children were born was all mine. This is the compromise I made. My former career, for this new version of my life. It's one that I would likely make again and one that in hindsight, made me realize how much I was trying to play the game of "work/career" with a set of rules that were never going to let me win. So, yeah, I forfeited the game and 'opted out'.

And so the two sides of me sometimes get into a bit of a kerfuffle with each other over this. I strive to be an example for my own children of living a wholehearted life and valuing myself and my work, both as a stay at home mother and as a feminist, but the guilt of not being the ideal or "perfect" version for either of these sometimes still gets to me.

Today I came across this post from Karen Walrond, photographer and blogger extraordinaire, and someone I had the pleasure of both meeting and hearing speak at Mom 2.014 last week. Here's what she had to say about comparison.

"I believe that comparison -- that is, comparing yourself or your work or your art with another person('s) -- is ultimately and almost without exception a waste of time. In my opinion, when you compare yourself with someone, you're comparing all of you -- your work, your thoughts about your own work, the effort behind your work, your thoughts about yourself -- with the appearance of someone else or their work at one instance in time, having no knowledge of its context. In other words, comparing yourself or your work with anyone else or their work is inherently an unfair comparison. It should be avoided. Besides, I do believe that it is patently impossible to create effectively in someone else's voice -- the inevitable result is disappointment. Accepting that you will do what you do differently from everyone else is incredibly freeing, and should be lived whole-heartedly."

This made me think... do you know what I do differently from everyone else?

I do this whole Stay at Home Feminist thing differently than anyone else. I know that in however small the ways may be, I AM affecting change. I am giving a voice, my voice, to other mothers and women in the world of feminism and beyond. And I am going to do my darnedest for the rest of my life to make sure that motherhood does not remain "the unfinished business of feminism".

n~

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