Thursday, February 07, 2013

Feminism and the Stay-at-Home Mom: My Story (and a linkup opportunity)

Edit:  this the post that explains why I am doing this linkup.
Edit:  February 15, 2013 article from Christianity Today on work-at-home-moms that fits in nicely with this topic.

I remember a time when I was attending a new church.  After the service was over, I was having a conversation with another woman who asked me a question that flustered me.  She asked, "do you work outside the home?"  I was confused because this woman knew my husband and I did not have children yet.  I remember thinking "Did she really just ask me that?  Why wouldn't I work outside the home?"  I wondered if married women without children who stayed home was more common than I'd thought (as in I thought it probably didn't exist).  

I don't read a lot on the topic of feminism and all of its nuances.  I don't claim to be an expert--or even that knowledgeable--on feminist theory or theology.  I bought a book called Evangelical Feminism a couple of years ago, but it's one of the many books I have that I have not yet read.  The one semester I spent at a Catholic college, I took a class in Women's Studies.  I remember finding it interesting, but I honestly don't remember anything specific from it; it was a long time ago, and since then I've moved around the country multiple times and have had two children.  That's plenty to make my memory not function so well.  However, I do consider myself to be a feminist because I believe that women are people and deserve equality; I have always thought this.  I think women should pursue any career they find they are interested in and for which they are qualified.  I don't believe they must fit themselves into traditional roles just because that could be what is expected of them.

This seems that it might somewhat contradict my actual life, because for now, I've chosen to be a stay-at-home mom/homemaker.  I cook, clean (er, well, I guess that is somewhat debatable), and take care of the kids.  I've been doing this for five and a half years, although during part of this time I did have a part-time job at a college as the Campus Ministry Coordinator at the college in our last town.  The kids take priority, though, which has meant having other people cover for me when I couldn't make it to chapel to lead services, or taking my almost-one-year old (at the time) on our spring break mission trip.  Talk about people being full of grace--he got sick while we were there and they helped clean up after him.  I even had to stay behind one day and take care of him while everyone else went to the work site (on the days I went, my sister-in-law, who lived in that city, picked him up and took care of him, but I didn't want to get her kids sick too).  It was one of those many times where two callings collided and I had to choose one of them.  

I believe that my children are my responsibility to take care of, especially when they are young.  I can't stand the idea of dropping them off at daycare in order for me to work a full-time job (please note:  this is what is best for our family; I am not making judgments on anyone else's situation).  I love when we can snuggle on the couch and watch Daniel Tiger and not get dressed until 10:00, or spend the afternoon baking cookies, or meet with friends at a local coffee shop that has a play area.  My older son goes to school 4 mornings per week and I do look forward to when he stays home on Fridays (partly because then I don't have to get up early to get him ready for the bus).  Being a stay-at-home mom, though, can have its drawbacks.  I stink at keeping the house clean.  I love to cook and bake, but sometimes at the end of the day after answering a zillion and three "why?" questions or playing cheetah or spies or superheros, I don't have the energy for it and it's pancakes for dinner.  I often get bored playing cars or dinosaurs and sometimes I just want to scream at the top of my lungs to get out the frustration that builds up over multiple minor daily events.  

I look forward to the one day a week (usually Saturday) that my husband stays with our children so that I can spend time writing at a coffee shop.  This happens on a semi-regular basis, but sometimes I am not able to do it, due to my husband's job (long hours, 6-7 days per week during the fall, and travel during the winter/spring).  And I am ok when I don't get to go because, ironically, all these years of putting my husband's job first has enabled me to do things I maybe wouldn't get to do otherwise.  It's taken us around the country, and although moving is always difficult, I treasure the friendships I have made and and am grateful for the variety of opportunities and jobs I have had.  Had I only been focused on one particular career of my own, I may have very well missed out on some of these blessings. 

Through all of this, though, I have been careful to make sure I do not lose myself and become only a wife and a mom.  I read.  I write. I spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter.  I read something recently in which a woman had no idea what her own interests were after raising her children.  She'd focused so much on their needs that she had no idea of her own identity.  I am sure this will not happen to me, and I hope that other SAHMs I know will prevent it from happening to them as well.  

Unlike a lot of my other mom friends though, I have only two children and I feel that is plenty.  While I don't want to wish away the time, I do look forward to when they are both in school so that I can pursue some of my own interests more (more writing, maybe finally get that Master's degree).  I sometimes have difficulty at events like MOPS (even though I enjoy going) because the organization as a whole seems to be geared to moms as moms, not moms as individual people.  I admire my homeschooling mom friends, but I know that it is not something I am interested in doing.  

It is, at times, like I am straddling two different worlds, belonging in both and belonging in neither.  It can be a lonely feeling.  And yet, I am not alone, because I know that I am listening to God's call on my life and am trusting Him (yes, I am a feminist who still refers to God as Him.  Old habits die hard, right?) in guiding me on paths that I could never have imagined for myself.  

Sometimes--maybe a lot of the time--I think we are all too hard on each other.  There are feminists who are outspoke about everything, it seems, and while they are much more knowledgeable and give me a lot to think about, its sometimes seems there is a lack of humility or grace or patience, qualities that I think I have grown in only because I have experienced being a SAHM.  And I think many SAHMs need to learn from feminists and not fear them in order to be more than just a wife or a mom; they need to cultivate their own identity apart from their husband and children, because, some day, they will need it.  

I don't think feminism and traditional roles need to be in opposition to each other, rather, I think that they can work together (I almost said complement each other, but I don't really want to go down that road right now!), for those reasons expressed in the prior paragraph.  In my own experience, choosing to have children and stay home wasn't an easy decision.  I didn't particularly want to make such a drastic change in my life; I didn't want to sacrifice my own wants and needs.  But I did decide to have children and my boys are such joys (well, most of the time!).  The cliche about not knowing what you are missing out on is pretty true--whether you like or dislike other people's children, it's a different story when they are your own.  

It is great that feminism has helped to make this a choice for me.  I didn't have to have children just because that was what was expected of me in my role as a woman.  I don't have to continue to have more children.  I was able to get a college education, work some, start a master's degree.  I was never directly told "you can't do that; you're a girl" (there was one, indirect time when I heard a sermon about elders and it was clear they needed to be male, but that's it).  Because most people in my life didn't see women as secondary to men or having to have specific roles, there have been many things I have been able to do and accomplish.

And because I am able to stay home with my sons, I have a lot of time to spend with them to teach them and shape them into the people they will turn out to be, and I am directly affecting their lives rather than spending 40+ hours per week away from them (again, this is not a judgment on women who do work full time).  

There is so much more I could add to this for myself.  There are so many stories to be told of women who are living in both of these worlds, some way or another.  I can't even begin to imagine the many varied and unique stories that will be told here through this link up.  So, please, add your story.  Add the story of someone you know.   Or, simply add your thoughts on how the two connect to each other.  The linkup will be active until February 28, 2013, and I'm going to try to tweet every time someone adds a new story (depending on the amount of them).  

I believe in equality, I believe women (and men) should strive to discover all that they are created to be, and live life abundantly.  Do you feel the same?


Rachel Heath said...

"It is, at times, like I am straddling two different worlds, belonging in both and belonging in neither. It can be a lonely feeling." I wrote nearly the same sentence in my own post and then ended up editing it out... but yet, I know exactly what you mean. I feel very In The Middle, and often like both groups reject me for not being extreme enough. I have feminist friends who look down their noses at me because I was married at 21, had a baby at 25, and am pregnant again. I have evangelical friends who look down their noses at me because I work out of the home, believe fiercely in birth control, and wouldn't dream of homeschooling. (and I'm another feminist that uses the male pronoun to refer to God... to each our own!)

Kelly J Youngblood said...

I was thinking about this a lot last night. "in the middle" isn't something I just feel in this situation, but in others as well. It's common for me to feel as if I don't quite fit in to something. I definitely see it in churches because I've been to so many different ones, so I've picked up theology and practices from all of them.

Jessica Clemmer said...

Thanks for hosting this link-up Kelly...I'm very excited to participate and be able to be part of a much needed conversation about a vital topic.

Jessica Clemmer said...

It's amazing how much i feel exactly the same way...not extreme enough for either side... I actually hesitated in posting my own thoughts on feminism earlier this week on my blog for this very reason! Winding up here by a complete random trail has been quite ironic and timely. So nice to know I'm not the only one feeling this way!

Jessica Clemmer said...

Yes! Exactly...

Kelly J Youngblood said...

Great! Thanks for participating; I've got yours open to read as I'm getting dinner ready ;)

Trischa said...

Thank you for posting this. I've been thinking about the topic of feminism for some time and why I feel it is so important. I appreciate that you respect both moms who work outside the home and full-time moms and explain that feminism is in line with both choices. I'm glad I found your blog and look forward to reading what else you have to discuss on this issue.

Kelly J Youngblood said...

Glad you have been thinking about it. I think a lot of people think that feminism is a bad thing, and while of course there are extremists (as there are in anything, really), I think the point of it is equality.