Sunday, January 02, 2005

Expectations and Reality

I was raised with a wealth of expectations. I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I never answered that I wanted to be a mother and housewife -- that was not a correct answer to the question (and not an answer I would have given anyway)! I was bright (still am, I hope) and took difficult courses in high school, went to college, and then three years later, did a professional master's degree at an well-known university.

Last week my women's circle topic was a look back at 2004 and a look forward to our hopes for 2005. Although I had thought about what I wanted to say, it still shocked me a bit to hear it come out of my mouth: I want to be a better mother; I want to develop more routine to my housework; I want to support my husband in his search for a new job. Who is this person? I'm not unhappy with my choices, but they are so at odds with the way I've viewed myself for so long. I identify myself as liberal and a feminist, and when I hear myself say these things I think I sound conservative. But I am not. And I don't know why conservatives have a perceived monopoly on making motherhood and homemaking a profession. The individual tasks I do each day to take care of my family are not difficult, but as a whole, it is a complicated job and a time consuming one. I know how to shop for a week's worth of food for my family. That's not a task that is glorified, but it also isn't one just anyone can do -- witness the men in the supermarket, cell phone in hand talking to the primary shopper (not that I'm saying that no men know how to grocery shop -- I'm just saying that it is a learned skill). I know the rhythm of my children's days, and can usually manage sleep and hunger issues so that the kids avoid meltdowns. Daddy is not as good at this because he isn't with the kids every day. He also isn't always willing to listen to my guidance because he doesn't always value my knowledge. Society does not value the work done by a mother and housewife.

As a liberal, I feel ashamed of saying that taking care of a family is a difficult job that takes some skill and is worth doing well. When I see emails with quotes about the value of motherhood at the end, I assume the sender is conservative. It should not be that way. I'm liberal, and I still believe quotes like this one even though they make me wince:

"The mother is the most precious possession of the nation, so precious that society advances its highest well-being when it protects the functions of the mother."

~Ellen Key

I think sometimes about taking to young women at my alma mater,
and what I would say about the life ahead of them. I'm not sure they would listen -- I don't think I would have. But I would tell them that most women (I think 80%) have children, and that it makes sense to think a little about that and plan for it. They can watch women they work with to see how they handle balancing motherhood and work. I would suggest that considering money and income before children arrive allows for more choices after. If anyone had told me to marry a good provider I would have laughed and said that I would provide for myself, thank you very much. But a husband or partner with a good income provides choices about staying home or working.

All of this feels like disloyalty to feminism and liberalism, but it shouldn't be. Raising a family is work, however it's apportioned between parents and paid caregivers and household help -- the work is valuable and should be valued by all people, regardless of politics. Recognizing the value of parenting and homemaking would allow young people to make more realistic plans about their future, perhaps choosing careers or employers that would make balancing family and work easier.


Debbie said...

Dear Alison,
This morning, I was on a search for blogs or websites on the topic of homemaking, and came across "everyday best". I would like to create a blog or website of my own regarding the subject of homemaking. Although I am quite a bit older than you (I am 53), and at a different stage in my "homemaking", I am very interested in what you have to say, and you say it very well. Homeschooling (a big part of homemaking - whether full time at home or backing up a classroom education) is quite an experience. I homeschooled my daughter Amber fulltime for the first few years (1990-1993), and highly recommend this to others. She is in her first year of college now, and it is still paying off intellectually, not to mention the eternal inner ties that will forever bind us due to this experience. I am looking forward to reading your past and future entries.

Alison said...

Debbie, Thanks for your comments. I don't have many readers, so it's good to hear from one! I hope you start your blog!

Debbie said...

I did get my blog started this afternoon. I think it is listed at the bottom of my profile.

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