I ran across a couple articles today – actually, I ran across one that linked to the other. The first one is this piece called “Too Smart to Be A Mom?” by Carrie Lukas over at Acculturated. That piece was written in response to this column in the New York Times called “I Wanted to Stay Home With My Son. So Why Would I Lie About It?” by Jessica Levy. Levy’s article details her experience of taking a two year leave-of-absence from her successful career to raise her infant son. And while that is something she chose to do and is happy about, she’s also aware of how that could negatively affect the progress she’s made in her career. Particularly when she sees former classmates achieve accolades, like making the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. And she feels like maybe she really is missing out on these grand and wonderful achievements -after all, anybody could change diapers or mix baby formula and make sure her son is safe and take care of. Surely there’s a quality daycare somewhere that would take Levy’s baby while for the day while she climbs the ladder of success. Right?
Lukas responds to Levy’s worries quite beautifully –
Levy knew which path the smart woman, the one who is modern and values her independence, is supposed to take. The answer has been drummed into her head as a part of her formal education: She is supposed to be charging up the hill toward professional success and economic power, rather than pushing a stroller along the well-trodden trail of motherhood.
The problem for Levy is she doesn’t want to. She selfishly (in the best sense of the word) wants to spend time with her beloved son. Clichéd as it sounds, Levy’s struggle is between her feminist head and her womanly heart.
I’d bet that Levy’s been schooled in the feminist literature that tells women that children do just as well raised in full-time daycare as at home, so her son won’t be any better for her time spent with him. She’s undoubtedly fully versed in the data that suggests that taking time out from a career can result in a permanent loss of income. From this perspective, her leave of absence from her job is nothing but an incredibly costly, self-indulgent vacation, which she will sorely regret.
Yet this feminist lens misses much of the story. Levy could take a look at literature that suggests that her baby actually will benefit from her attentions and consider strategies for earning more after she returns to work, if that’s her primary goal. But she’d be better served by reconsidering the framework that she’s been taught for evaluating the value of her time and pursuits.
Levy craves the kind of feedback one gets from teachers and bosses: the report card filled with ‘A’s, the positive performance review. The sometimes-grueling monotony of mothering—the constant cycle of feeding, changing, soothing, which is anonymous and un-applauded—offers few such tangible accolades. She poignantly describes a precious first kiss from her son as a desperately needed sign of her success, her positive “performance review.” And indeed, such moments should be savored. But ideally, our culture ought to encourage people to enjoy those moments not because they are accomplishments or serve a larger purpose, but simply because holding your loving baby, actually living that moment, is satisfying in itself.
Reading through both articles kind of hit me in a way that most political pieces really don’t. Because I’m definitely in that same age group as Levy is – the young, highly educated Millennial woman who’s been told that she could do whatever she wanted (and sure being a mom is on the list of options – but it’s so much more exciting to be a CEO or a professor or a business owner or a politician or a celebrity! Being a mom is hard and kids are so gross! And you’re just wasting that college degree you worked so hard for!) But I also look at women like my mother and both my grandmothers who stayed home to raise their kids – and part of me wants to have the same impact on my own children as they did with theirs. Sure, my mom was also a key component of running our family’s ranching business, so she was able to be the mom and the business owner in tandem with my dad and that’s a unique opportunity that many women don’t have. Mom even has a college degree and she was able to put it to good use. The fact that Mom is a college graduate inspired me to work toward going to college and to do my best while there. But still – Mom was always Mom first. The business stuff came second.
I just think it’s sad that young women are told that they have a choice – but the social expectation is that they choose career over family. Certainly, they could do both, but if there is a conflict (and more often than not, that’s a reality that most families have to deal with) – society expects them to choose the career. Because what good is women’s rights if you don’t turn your back on the tools of the oppressive patriarchy? Right?
Feminists keep going on and on about “gender equality” and that if you believe women should have a choice, then you should identify as “feminist.” But until feminism fully embraces and celebrates motherhood as an career choice equal to that of a CEO (not just in terms of monetary value – because there is SO MUCH MORE to having a fulfilling career than piles and piles of money), I really don’t want to hear about it. I’ve had enough of feminism saying that motherhood is a degrading enterprise for women – particularly women who’ve gone to college. Personally, I think kids can benefit from a highly educated mother. It’s not about the money or accolades you get from your knowledge. And I think kids internalize things they learn from their parents more than they do things they learn from teachers and professors – no matter how good or well-meaning those teachers are.
I could go on about this (like I said – this struck a nerve with me today) – but what do you all think? What are your experiences in this regard?