This weekend, the editor-in-chief of Australia’s “most read” magazine Stellar (inexplicably found within the pages of other magazines), wrote an op-ed about how it should be illegal to be a stay-at-home-mom.
Only when the female half of the population is expected to hold down a job and earn money to pay the bills in the same way that men are routinely expected to do will we see things change for the better for either gender. Only when it becomes the norm for all families to have both parents in paid employment, and sharing the stress of the work-home juggle, will we finally have a serious conversation about how to achieve a more balanced modern workplace. Only when the tiresome and completely unfounded claim that “feminism is about choice” is dead and buried (it’s not about choice, it’s about equality) will we consign restrictive gender stereotypes to history.
First, I’m going to take a deep breath and count to Hail Mary.
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Next, I’m going to direct your attention to the fact that Sarrah-with-two-r’s (which, as far as I can tell, is the opposite of Anne-with-an-e) specifies that she is only talking about women with school-aged children. In fact, she is such a proponent of paid parental leave that she supports a scheme to guarantee women six months of postpartum leave at full salary. I applaud her for this, because it’s hard to bond if you’re separated from your baby. I also recognize the difficulties this presents for employers, who are being asked to pay one person for work that isn’t being done, and will have to find and pay another person to do the same work. I don’t know how to resolve that dilemma, but I’m super happy that I’m not the one responsible for trying.
Growing up, I never wanted to have kids. The idea of spending my days wiping noses and bottoms and picking Cheerios out of my hair was … unpalatable. Truthfully, I considered “mothering” a job for women who didn’t have the intellect or talent to make a go of professional life.
In college, though, I made some terrible mistakes (that certainly didn’t speak well of my particular intellect). Luckily, these resulted in an unplanned, life-saving pregnancy and a subsequent unplanned, equally life-saving marriage. The cognitive dissonance was a lot to handle. In short order, I had gone from being a dyed-in-the-wool child-hating feminist to a wife and mother. In fact, I owed my life to the very fact of that wife-and-motherhood. So naturally, I spent many years resenting the hell out of it.
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Because being a stay-at-home mom is literally the hardest thing I have ever done. It does indeed require a particular intellect to balance the schedules of seven people, factoring in doctor and dentist appointments, extracurriculars, basic nutrition and hygiene, homework, spiritual and moral development, and emotional health, all while budgeting, keeping the house in order, making sure everyone gets dinner every night, and that we all sit down together at least a few times a week. Truth be told, I was often jealous of my husband when he left for work, because it seemed like such an unimaginable luxury — to leave the house and go to a job, with adults! To have quantifiable work that began and ended! What bliss!
But outsourcing the work I do every day is out of the question. It would cost about $75,000 a year to hire someone else to do the work of a stay-at-home mom—and that’s a conservative estimate.
And what about those incalculable costs? What does it mean to have a mother waiting for you at home? To have a parent walk you through your homework at night, make you dinner, listen to your stories, bathe you, brush your hair, read you a story, and tuck you into bed? I know you can’t quantify the emotional and psychological benefit of that. Do we really want both parents to “share the stress of the work-home juggle” so we can achieve equality with men on their terms?
Why is pumping breast milk in the office still an issue?
Here’s the brutal truth: men can never have equality with us, because they can never do what we do. As Camille Paglia said, “Feminist ideology has never dealt honestly with the role of the mother in human life.” In ignoring this fundamental truth of female existence, some feminists have devalued the vital, life-giving, life-sustaining role that is unique to women alone.
My husband can’t take an extended amount of time off work to give life to a brand-new person and sustain that life for the next year. Likewise, he can’t keep track of the lives of seven people while working a full-time job (plus overtime, for funsies!). This is all daunting for me, and I only “work” part-time. With all due respect to Sarrah-with-two-r’s Le Marquand, she’s delusional if she thinks it’s feasible for a family to outsource all the work that mothers do in exchange for a pittance of a paycheck that will barely cover the cost of childcare.
And she’s delusional to see that work as meaningless or oppressive. It is vital work. My husband goes to work so that we have the means to live—I take those means and turn them into a life.