Recently I attended the second birthday of my nephew. This kid, along with my other niece and nephew, are my favorite kids in the world. I don’t have any children of my own, and my future as a parent is uncertain. I love these kids more than anything, and feel honored that I get to be a part of their lives and watch them grow into themselves. There’s a great sense of duty attached to the title “Auntie Tine” (pronounced ‘Teen’) and I take my role in their lives seriously. I also love that my nephew associates me with getting pizza. I’m completely on board with it.
I also love my close relationships with their parents, particularly their mothers. I respect my girl friends and their husbands so much, and stand in awe of them as they navigate parenthood. I love when they share with me what they are learning and how they handle the challenges of creating and then raising tiny humans.
The day of the party was beautiful, full of doting family members and friends. My bestie Kai is a brilliant and creative party thrower; she adorned the back patio with beautiful decorations. Pictures from our wee man’s last year and his day care accomplishments were proudly displayed. There was great food and good conversations abound. To my delight and surprise, friends of Kai’s, (Molly and Brian) that I hadn’t seen in about 5 years attended, having recently moved back to the East Coast. It was a wonderful day of celebrating and reconnecting.
As I was talking to Molly and catching up, I asked her what she was doing with her days. She confessed, rather uncomfortably, that she was staying home with her son full time.
I have noticed this before in other friends, and even family members who have made a similar decision. There’s a sense of trepidation for women (and men!) when they reveal that they are staying home to raise their children.There’s a hesitation before answering, “So what are you doing?” and feeling as though they need to explain their choice in detail. It was as though she was bracing for a judgement that I would dole out about her choice. It’s an unfortunate fact, especially when it comes to parenting and raising a family, people tend to like to insert their two cents. It’s not always valuable, and it is also very apparently causing increased anxiety that most new parents don’t really need.
As a feminist, one of my deepest beliefs is that women have the power to make decisions for themselves. This includes whether or not they wish to stay home or go back to work after having a child. It also includes whether or not they wish to become a parent at all! The beauty of feminism is that it’s not exclusive. Feminism is about equality, and respecting other people and their ability to make the best choices for themselves.
My response to Molly was thus: “That’s amazing. It’s so great that you’re able to be there for him everyday. It must be magical getting to see what each new day brings, and see how he is growing. You’re working hard everyday to keep him alive and thriving, and that is no small task. I really respect what you’re doing!”
She immediately relaxed and laughed. “Yes, exactly! Thank you!”
We went on to talk about why she feels nervous telling people she stays home with her child instead of working, and how/why people still tend to respond negatively to stay at home mothers. Molly is a talented illustrator, and spoke excitedly about a commission she recently finished. She spoke of wanting to do more, of how her and another mother in her neighborhood were going to give each other hour long breaks watching each others little ones during the day so they could work on various projects. We talked about feminism and how it applies to stay at home mothers as well as women who don’t want to be mothers. The foundation of feminism makes it so that it can encompass all these values, and provide support and encouragement to them.
We all bring things to the table that are valuable; whether you’re a stay at home mother, or someone who does not want to have children. There doesn’t need to be a great divide.
As a society, I think we need to take these moments to encourage parents in the way they make decisions for their families. Whether someone is a parent who stayed home or chose to go back to work, or those who don’t have the luxury of staying home with their children, or someone who doesn’t wish to be a parent, there needs to be support and understanding for people’s circumstances.
Conversations like the one I had with Molly make me even more excited to begin classes for my masters degree in Women and Gender Studies. I’m starting in January, and I’ve never looked forward to school like this before. All challenges will be accepted.