Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Amazing, Invisible Mama!

She was having a hard time. She was the mom of a 5 month old baby, and for the first time in a very long time, she wasn't sure that her work, her life, was valuable enough. This mama, who I will call Mama (actually, it is her real name!), posted on one of my favorite listservs, and I immediately knew I had to respond.

Here's part of her post:

"I have been struggling with the idea of my identity now that I am not working and letting my husband support me...I have always had female role models that worked and worked hard outside of the home. I don't really want that for myself (I think)...I know that I am working hard as a mom, but it just seems unfair for him that he has to be gone and at work so that we have the
luxury of having a family. Is this just the way it works and I need to get used to it? Seems so
domestic role-ish, which is not how I pictured my life being going into my thirties."

Here's what I told her. Some folks said they liked my response a lot, and the truth is, I liked it! So here you go, faithful blog readers:

Dear Mama,

I can totally relate to your struggle.I have a 5 y/o son and a 2 y/o daughter. I have been working for $ since I was a teenager and I really miss bringing home a paycheck for my work. I have been a full-time working mom and a part-timer work-at-home mom, and my
feeling is that, if you have kids, you always feel like a giant piece of taffy somehow.

The one thing I wanted to tell you is to be kind to yourself. Becoming a mom is a huge journey. Those tensions will keep...they're not going anywhere and you will both have time to reflect upon them and also relax into them as time goes on. Some days you will feel like a freeloader, other days like a complete badass who makes the world turn! I have a feeling that when it's time to go back to work, you will know it, and you will know what the right next step is.

You should know about about Marilyn Waring, who in the 1970s was elected to the New Zealand Parliament at the age of 22. She went on to work on a budgetary committee, in which capacity she learned all about the ways that countries calculate metrics like GDP and GNP. She
discovered that, all across the planet Earth, women's work is invisible, in an economic sense. She wrote some books, including one called, "If Women Counted," and she's now a public policy professor.

I bring this up because sometimes I feel like my work doesn't count, like I've fallen off the map of life somehow, because I don't go to a "job," and because my "customers" ignore and/or scream at me a lot. Because my work involves being patient and often, sitting on the floor, one could imagine that I eat bon bons all day. Though in reality, I work my tail off.

If you feel this way too, you have good reasons! A woman can work hard, producing goods, i.e., children who will become productive members of society, and performing services, like taking care of family members, helping neighbors, running the PTA, etc., and yet at the end of her life, she may be seen as a drain on the system because all of that work doesn't "count." I had a friend who had to go work at her husband's store so she could rack up some $ toward her Social
Security, because "all" she had done before that was raise three kids!

It's a crazy planet, this Earth! Our society is a giant funny mirror! We're all mixed up!

I loved reading the book "Parenting for a Peaceful World," by Dr. Robin Grille. Grille argues that, throughout history, every advancement in democracy, social justice, and better treatment of the
environment has been preceded by an improvement in the treatment of children. Reading this book reassured me, beyond doubt, that the work we do as parents is the most important work of all in the grand scheme.

I recommend that you spend some time thinking and maybe journaling about what would make you feel that your days are productive enough to "count." Especially since it doesn't seem like it's your DH who is complaining. You get to decide what "enough" looks like! You are the one who gets to find a million bucks in the smile of your little cutie-booty.

1 comment:

pat said...

Nice one, Trish. I teach a life skills course for refugees who are on their way to the US, and many of the women were stay-at-home mamas in their homeland. Some of them have university degrees, and hope to use their degrees to begin working outside the home. But others didn't go to university, and were pressured into the housewife role by some serious patriarchy bullshit in their homeland. I make a point of telling these women that if they are able to and want to, when they get to the US, the skills they learned while taking care of kids, meals, cleaning, and home improvement will all be marketable skills they can use for paid work in the US. My words are met with relief, warm smiles, and also, especially from the men in the class, skepticism. So you keep telling 'em, and I'll keep telling 'em too.