I never thought there would be this kind of response to the “breadwinner” post, but it’s gotten the most comments of any other post on the blog so far (aside from the ones where we’re giving away free cookies) and I’ve enjoyed reading through them all. Your comments and emails have also helped me to sort through some tough rollercoaster feelings I’ve been having as I float through this summer with a lighter work schedule, though Mark reminded me yesterday that I am still working all the time because I still have to tend to matters of our W&S business on a daily basis (I don’t often think of that as “working”, why is that?). As I’ve mentioned before, my schedule this summer is partly by choice and partly because some projects have fallen through. It isn’t easy for me to stay calm and just enjoy some time off though. I have to fight every day to keep from being consumed by worry, depression and guilt that I’m not earning money right now for my family. As freelancers, we often can’t help but measure our self esteem and worth according to how busy we are. I’m trying to break out of that way of thinking.
So what does it say that so many have responded to that post? Many of you feel same way. It’s not easy admitting something that seems so selfish, so petty, but I wanted to validate those feelings because they’re real, even if we do feel guilty for having them. But what I’m also hearing from you and others is that even as breadwinners we often find ourselves taking on more than our fair share of parenting and household duties, just because we’re women.
I need to tell you that I never aspired to be a “supermom”. I may have been called that by others, but I wouldn’t use that term to refer to myself. I fully acknowledge that I can’t do it all, but I don’t have to because Mark and I are equals as parents. I know some women who are real supermoms though. My mom was a supermom. She worked as a nurse full time while finishing her college degree at night, shutting herself in a tiny bedroom in the attic, writing papers in a language that wasn’t her first. Then she switched careers and started making real money, but she did all of this while doing the cooking, the dish washing, the grocery shopping, the cleaning, the bill paying, the financial planning, the laundry and the child rearing. All of it, by herself. She wasn’t a single mom, no, but all of the household and parenting duties fell on her because that’s what our culture dictated. It was her “job”.
I’m not sure how much of our childhood perceptions of our parents comes into play as we become adults and parents ourselves, but perhaps I saw how much my mom struggled as soon as I was old enough to understand and subconsciously wanted something different for myself. I remember feeling annoyed as well, that my brother was never expected to do any chores around the house because he was a boy, while I was expected to wash the dishes and help my mother out in the kitchen because I was a girl. This would even happen, as adults, when my brother would come visit from out of town. We would just fall into those stereotypical gender roles because in our culture, the boys were doted on. Maybe Mark saw something in his childhood too, a kid coming from divorced parents, which made him a lot more open to naturally sharing equal duties (if not more) of parenting and household chores because he sensed something missing in his life. I don’t know if any of that is true, but I would think that it’s impossible to ignore how our childhood factors into our views on marriage and parenting.
I’m becoming more and more aware that we are building these impressions on our young daughters. I believe it’s our responsibility to teach and lead them by example so that their generation can continue closing the gender gap in the workplace, even if they do decide to become stay-ay-home moms. But I also believe that it’s our responsibility to raise sons who become equals in the household so that if they do find themselves as stay-at-home dads either part time or full time, they do so without shame, feeling emasculated or secretly (or not so secretly) looked down upon by their spouses or other parents at the playground (this happens!). Gender equality is complicated because emotions can get involved and it’s so steeped in tradition, history, social, legal and economic systems. It’s also complicated because as mothers, we naturally feel the pull to stay at home with our kids and that’s where the internal struggle begins. I read that in this country, our women are among the most educated in the world, but we’re not as successful in keeping our women in the workforce when they become mothers presumably because our current work culture doesn’t give the support that women need in order to keep working. What do I say when Mia keeps asking me why there hasn’t been a woman president yet? I don’t know how to answer that question myself.
If my girls decide to become stay-at-home moms because it made them happy I would fully support it, but only if it made them happy and not because they felt like they didn’t have a choice. Being a breadwinner or a primary care giver shouldn’t be so stuck in gender stereotypes, but it takes a long time to change those perceptions. I hope my girls have more choices in the future. I hope all parents, both men and women have more choices.