MOM Art Annex: Exhibition & Education Center

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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

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The Motherhood Double Standard

Mary_Poppins2

For my work, I am the nanny to an adorable “four and three-quarters” year-old boy. He is extremely bright, sweet, friendly, and funny. I pick him up from school five days a week, bring him around to his after-school activities, cook/feed him his dinner, and supervise his bath before going home. With his school being across town from where he lives, we spend a decent amount of time on public transportation. Every time we go on the bus or train, we inevitably make friends with the people sitting near us. The boy I look after (we will call him Alex for the purposes of this blog) loves to engage passersby/fellow commuters in conversations and tell them a funny joke, share the most recent piece of knowledge he has acquired, or get them to try and venture onto his plane of imagination. This also goes for MTA workers that we encounter on our travels. Alex always greets the bus drivers when we step on-board. We have even come to know a few by name. I have found that a fun activity to plan while waiting for buses is to have Alex try to guess whom our driver will be that day.

The other day, per our routine, Alex and I got on a bus and, being that we didn’t recognize that particular driver, Alex asked him his name. His name was Tommy. We introduced ourselves to Tommy and found a seat in the front between a woman and a man who, having overheard Alex’ precocious approach to the driver, were excited to meet him. Cracking up, they remarked to Alex how funny they thought it was that he had asked the bus driver his name. This started him talking animatedly to them.

At one point in the conversation, gesturing towards me, the man referred to me as Alex’ mother. Alex, being the smart little whip that he is, corrected the man and informed him that I was his “caregiver.”

“Ho, ho,” the man exclaimed, sitting back in his seat and looking at Alex, surprised. “Tell me, [Alex], does your mommy work?” When Alex replied yes, the man pressed on. “What does your mommy do for work?”

Though seemingly benign, the more thought I put into this man’s reaction/line of questioning, the angrier I became. I have come to the conclusion that this man’s reaction signaled one of two things: he was either judging Alex’ mom for employing a nanny when she does not work, or judging Alex’ mom for working and therefore, needing a nanny. Either way, both are emblematic of a gross double standard when it comes to motherhood in our society. If this were not so, then surely the man would have asked “Does your daddy work?” too, or even at the very least, “Do your mommy and daddy work? What do they do?” Instead, to him, the presence of a non-relative female caregiver indicates a motherhood gap, which is why his thoughts when to her immediately.

In the end, Alex never lost his cool for a second and went on to tell the man and woman how his mom is a lawyer, which is much more than I can say for myself in the situation. No doubt similar reactions like this will reinforce for him that people think it odd that his mother is partner at a major law firm, works long hours, and is the breadwinner of the family, especially as he gets older. My wish for him is that he will always maintain the same cavalier attitude when he responds, and that he will appreciate that he has a pretty special mom.

Written by: Jenny Nigro, MoM Online Intern