Betty Duffy

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Stay-home Moms: the new Creative Class

From a letter to a friend of mine:

I'm not saying that women all have to be stay-at-home BettyCrockers. In fact, I have yet to meet a woman who really relishes all the crap (literally) taking care of kids involves. My sister and I were just talking last night about how annoying it can be to have literary or scholarly ambitions at the same time we want to offer our kids the best foundation for life we can think of. She actually does home school her six kids, but just turned down a teaching position at Old Dominion University near where she lives, because her husband's in the navy and she can't schedule around his schedule. But hey, we get to stay home, write poetry and novels we'll never send out, and read them to each other over the phone. This is a luxury and I personally wouldn't trade it for the world (though I wouldn't mind actually getting published). Doesn't make me any more or less Catholic. In a different set of circumstances, I probably would get a job--indeed, I've had one before.”

I have a complicated relationship with feminism. I am vehemently pro-woman. But as I’ve mentioned before, feminism’s pro-woman is not my pro-woman. I’m told by people who seem to know what they’re talking about, that there are a variety of “feminisms,” yet I’ve always been on the wrong side of the feminism du jour.

Can’t I say that I’m a feminist who is pro-life and anti-contraception, and who really wants more women to stay home during the day, so I have some Momrades with whom to play Bridge, drink Bloody Marys and eat mixed nuts? It seems disingenuous. So while I’m happy to vote and if I ever have another job, pay would be nice [though I am in a field (writing) where beggars can’t be choosers], I can pretty confidently say that I’m not a feminist. I’m over it, and I’ve been over it since, like, the nineties.

And yet, I have had countless conversations with women, who are educated—usually an unfinished graduate degree to their credit—who feel a knee-jerk reaction to apologize for staying home with their kids, while they simultaneously espouse feminism as the bearer of many great opportunities (of which they choose not to take advantage).

At this moment in history when motherhood is no longer the logical outcome of a sexual relationship (a fact related to feminism, homosexuality, and contraception), staying home with our kids is just another "lifestyle choice" on par, or even less than other more "dignified" careers. What I argue now, is that the advent of many modern conveniences has opened up the aesthetic liberation of stay-at-home motherhood, giving it a new dignity that I find preferable to any other career I might have pursued.

It’s taboo to mention that I happen to have some time on my hands. I’m supposed to be so harried and frazzled that I have no time for showering, and any spare time I must fill with excessive doting on my children. The truth is, I can be as harried as I want to be. If I want to run around with all five of my kids to soccer practices and PTO meetings, I can do it, and make my life, and the lives of everyone around me something akin to hell on earth. I can polish the toilet every day with a toothbrush, but no one’s life actually depends on my doing these things.

Therefore, if I manage my time correctly, I can read, write, cook, pray, clean, sleep, and still have a hefty chunk of time to spend on my kids. The stay-at-home mom struggles less with being overworked, than with a kind of boredom or intellectual acedia. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Without a room of one’s own, without a housekeeper, without a lot of money, without sacrificing the well-being of one’s kids, the stay-at-home mom can exercise the freedoms of the creative class, if we allow ourselves. My room of my own is my head, and I inhabit it with varying degrees of contentment all day every day. All I have to do is put my findings down on paper.

I for one am going to quit thinking of myself as a witless nobody confined to a life of vacuums and diapers. I prefer to think of myself as a British aristocrat without the quail eggs and castles. I spent some time with a group of wealthy British Socialists at Oxford, who brazenly proclaimed that their Oxford education was solely for the purpose of finding interesting things to say at dinner parties. So here, my blog is my dinner party. My unfinished graduate degree is a lifetime supply of quail eggs.

In summation: Motherhood already has an inherent dignity because it is the biological design of women to be mothers, but in a worldly sense, mothering our kids is a pretty good deal. What I want to know is why we are still apologizing for following the natural design of our hearts and bodies? Why are we still yearning to be the workhorses of the boardroom, the bedroom, and the kitchen? It feels counterintuitive.


Jus said...

this is lovely......I will respond via e-mail in the next couple of days .....when I find time to climb out from under the four children I am homeschooling and the dirty kitchen ;) Of course on a day like today I will likely leave the kitchen and play outside in the sun!

Kristin T. (@kt_writes) said...

I can really relate to your love-hate history with feminism. And I really love this: "my blog is my dinner party. My unfinished graduate degree is a lifetime supply of quail eggs." Lovely writing, and a lovely way to live your life.

Betty Duffy said...

Jus, I know: "Speak for yourself, woman." Really, I'm looking forward to your thoughts.

Kristin, thank you.

jenX67 said...

I thought I commented on this post. Maybe I had to move on b/f I completed it. This is a great piece of writing. It's complicated. I've been both. SAHM and working outside the home for many years. Both are lonely adventures at times. Both are physically demanding. I have so much to say about this. I hope I can find the time one day as I have been on both sides of the fence.

Tertium Quid said...

Nice post. TQ (Pentimento's blogging friend)

LazyBones said...

I just recently found your blog. I consider myself an agnostic, but having been raised Catholic, my mother tells me I am a lapsed Catholic, and can never be anything but (unless I return to the fold). I'm thoroughly enjoying your posts, but especially this one, as I, too, struggle with feminism and its depiction in popular culture. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.