MOM Art Annex: Exhibition & Education Center

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When Men Mother

Last week, I wrote about the so-called “Mommy Wars” — the stay-at-home mom vs. working mom clash — and profiled some very strong opinions on the matter (my own included). However, I see now that my approach was lacking a crucial voice. I failed to capture the perspective of a growing force on this scene: stay-at-home-dads. Big mistake, I realize.

One lazy Saturday a year or so ago, I decided to blow off cleaning my apartment by surfing Netflix. I happened upon a movie called What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Registering its name with the very popular parenting book that shares its title, I tuned in. It turned out to be one of those rom coms with a thousand famous characters whose lives run parallel to one another until they eventually intersect. About a half hour in or so, I recognized a scene that I had caught on some preview either at the movies or on TV. In the scene, a line of some of Hollywood’s most famous male comedians at Central Park or the like, each with a baby strapped to their chests in a papoose, line the horizon in a formidable manner. Between their looks and the punch lines, there’s no mistaking – they’re dads. Tasked with taking care of their little ones during the day, they’ve shed the image of the “Mr. Mom’s” of yesteryear. They’re not replacement moms, they’re dads. There are masculine overtones in their strict adherence to guy code…or should I say dad code? The message is clear: toting around snotty-nosed, poopy-diapered babies should never mean that dude stuff be sacrificed. And like any boys’ club, newcomers had better fall in line or GTFO.

20th Annual At-Home Dad Convention

20th Annual At-Home Dad Convention

This must be what Jessica Bennett is talking about when she says that culture is starting to catch up to a very real social phenomenon in her article “The Brotherhood of the Stay-at-Home Dad” featured in the New York Times. The prominent image of the article looks a bit like that scene in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. A bunch of dads lean in together at Central Park, babies strapped to their fronts and smiling kids on their sides. Years ago, this element of public life would be unheard of. Yet, here we are today with movies where comedy’s biggest names are endorsing this lifestyle and, as in the case of Bennett’s article (which appears in FASHION AND STYLE, no less) there are entire conferences where stay-at-home dads convene. Scrolling the Internet, you see blog after article after essay of stay-at-home-dads chronicling their experience as an emerging class in society. In a culture where women are increasingly becoming the primary breadwinners in their families and private child care is just so darn expensive, these messages are suggesting that stay-at-home dads are here…and for the long-haul.

So though I failed to include stay-at-home fathers in my last post, I won’t make that mistake again. If there’s anything that I’ve gleaned from the Liz Pardue Schultz’ piece that I wrote about last week or Jessica Bennett’s post this week, it’s that parenthood is tough, regardless of how you spin it. Parents need the opportunity to connect with each other over shared experiences, whether it is through an annual conference for career dads or an outspoken blog post. Though not a parent myself, I can attest to the isolation of raising kids. As a nanny, I don’t get moments with co-workers to swap stories over the water cooler. It’s me and baby. (Don’t get me wrong, like I imagine most parents would say, I love this about 95% of the time. But there are times that feel lonely.) That’s why excluding an important voice is a big no-no. Every caregiver deserves the right to be heard. ~ Jenny Nigro, reporting in for M.O.M. Social Media

See also link to the 20th Annual At-Home Dad’s Convention [CLICK]

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Waging a (Mommy) War

Housewife

Well, the mommy war is certainly being waged out there, folks. And the battleground is splashed across online media. Proof? Check out Liz Pardue Schultz’ piece in xoJane: http://www.xojane.com/issues/being-a-stay-at-home-mom-is-not-a-job, which was then picked up by Time: http://time.com/3744591/30-day-minimalism-challenge/ and commented on by Salon: http://www.salon.com/2015/03/16/stay_at_home_motherhood_isnt_a_hobby/

Originally published in xoJane, Schultz’ article appears as part of the “Unpopular Opinion” column. She begins by offering the disclaimer, “Alright, calm down. Before you get angry, you should know that I was a stay-at-home mother of my daughter for five years.” She then dives into her focus of the piece: the dismissal of the notion of stay-at-home parenthood as a career. “Being a stay-at-home mother to your own kids is not a ‘job,’ no matter how difficult it is or how hard we work. Period. Getting to do nothing but raise a person you opted to bring into the world is a privilege, and calling it anything else is ignorant and condescending.” Schultz doesn’t stop at calling stay-at-home motherhood a privilege, though. She eventually calls “SAHM” a hobby: “No, Stay-at-Home-Mothers, choosing to create your own little person upon whom you’ll spend all your time and energy is a hobby. It is a time-consuming, sanity-deteriorating, life-altering hobby — a lot like a heroin addiction, but with more Thirty-One bags.”

Okay, heroine metaphor aside, I can see how she came to the idea of stay-at-home motherhood as a privilege…in the sense that it is a phenomenon reserved to the few that can afford to live/raise children on a single caregiver’s income.   But, in some households, stay-at-home parenting becomes the solution to expensive childcare options. In this scenario, it is neither a privilege nor a hobby. And speaking as a nanny whose profession is, by definition, to take care of children for a living, this makes me feel a certain way. What about us, the people who get paid to do just what this woman is defining as not a job, but a hobby – especially the comrades in my field who are career nannies and housekeepers? Where does this leave us?

Written between the lines of these essentializing statements about stay-at-home-parenthood is the frustration of a woman who is tired of mothers complaining about a job that she feels they knowingly signed up for. Sure, okay, we get that. People have been complaining about other people complaining since the dawn of time. But there is a huge difference between saying that and calling your peers “unemployed, self-righteous idiots” (note: this is especially reserved for the women in the author’s mothers’ groups who have uttered the phrase, “Mothering is the hardest job in the world!”). I can understand if she’s felt alienated by comments here and there of parents espousing their method of child rearing as the best. But in an effort to call out the “martyrdom”, she comes off as a bit self-righteous herself (and isn’t that just a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black)? But, I think, the most undigestable nugget occurs when she talks about a friend that had trouble conceiving and to whom she lent support. Schultz writes that when she finally was able to get pregnant, she had the audacity to complain about her difficult pregnancy (gasp!). Why shouldn’t she have that right? Just because she sprung for expensive fertility treatments in order to be able to get pregnant, she shouldn’t be able to complain about nausea and gas, just like other pregnant women do? Despite claiming to have loved The Feminine Mystique, Schultz missed a key lesson in feminism: a woman’s body (and her associated rights to make complaints about said body) is (are) her own.

Perhaps the thing that we should take from this is that motherhood looks (and feels) different to each person involved. When it comes to motherhood, one woman’s struggle could be another’s triumph. It’s not up to one singular voice to dictate the experience for everyone who they believe to be in their shoes, even if it winds up in the “Unpopular Opinion” column.

Written by: Jenny Nigro, MoM Online Intern

Photo credit: Creative Commons