Recently, I was trying to post my blog through Pinterest, tagging with words that might lead a person looking for posts or articles on motherhood, parenting or home schooling when I accidentally brought up the “childfree” page. My visceral reaction to what I read was to become defensive and angry. However, as the words sat with me, I started to wonder if what they were saying isn’t exactly what we’ve come to think about motherhood, parenting and family life in the 21st century.
And I truly wonder whether or not many women who are mothers, even good, loving mothers, haven’t bought into this thinking. Many who really want to have babies have decided to put aside our real, grown-up, self-fulfilling lives for a while in order to do our time as moms. It’s as though many of us have bought a whole world-view and philosophy that views motherhood in this light, not even knowing we were doing it. I doubt most mothers would answer “yes” to the question, do you view your time as a mother as a prison sentence? But stop and consider, do we, really? Here are some memes quotes I found about motherhood:
Raising a child in the west today will cost $250,000. Looks like my future will lack travel, hobbies and retirement.
Kids? No way, I am having a life instead.
It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself and make your happiness a priority, it’s a necessity.
“Cinderella got married, had babies, went right back to cooking and cleaning and never went to another ball again. The end.”
I love cleaning up messes I didn’t make, so I became a mom.
I had a mind once, now I have small children.
Childfree: because if I wanted a stretched out vagina and a terrible financial burden, then I’d become a whore with a heroin problem.
It’s great you’re willing to ruin your vagina, breasts and marriage in order to give birth to someone you will love unconditionally for 5-10 years.
In this child-free house…
We do dry clean only
We do concerts in amphitheaters, not school gymnasiums
We do happy hour, dinner out and late movies on random weeknights
We do workouts, long soaks in the tub and expensive chocolates
We do it anywhere in the house, any time of the day,
We do Kitchenaid mixers for decorative purposes only
We do margaritas to avoid neighborhood school children from selling us overpriced, useless crap for their soccer teams
We do Pinterest all day without being interrupted
We do better stuff.
Replacing your own profile picture with a picture of your baby seems like an appropriate symbol for the loss of your own identity since having a baby.
Here’s the message about what it means to be a mother (especially of young children):
- Financial burden
- No life, no self-fulfillment or happiness
- No fun
- Drudgery and housework
- No intelligent thought
- A ruined body
- No sex
- A ruined marriage
- Never doing what you want
- No more identity outside the kids
That certainly sounds like a prison sentence to me. And for many women, motherhood sometimes, or even often, feels that way. It’s as though if you want to be a stay-at-home, full-time mom you must follow the blue print of the mini-van driving soccer mom that does nothing but cooks, cleans, chauffeurs and lives in the suburbs. We are mommy drones living out some sad, real-life version of the Stepford Wives with no thoughts in our brains except a long list of places we need to take our kids and the chores we need to get accomplished. And maybe that’s why parenting, marriage and motherhood feel like a prison sentence. We all have a picture of doing the mom thing in a particular way that just feels like wearing a suit that doesn’t fit. Once you pick motherhood, your choices are all over. Go get the mini-van and sign the kids up for as many of the prescribed activities as we can fit into a 24 hour period. Do this 365 days year. Further, you absolutely must purchase certain clothes of a certain brand and make sure your children have everything that other children have, so that we can make the world fair for all of them and they will never feel different. And indeed, we climb onto the treadmill from which the entirety of raising our children stretches out drearily ahead. If you’re going to be a mother, then this is the one thing you had better do conventionally or you will mess up your kids. There’s a way to be a mom, so don’t let your personality and style ruin it. And when we’re all done and they finally move out, we can get back to doing the stuff we want, after gaining massive debt to send them to the college of their choice, of course. I think this is what we think when we become moms even though we know better.
First, let me address the question as to whether or not having money and being able to do whatever I want is the same as happiness. As the purchasing power of Americans has gone up and our ability to be masters of more and more of our own time has also increased, have we truly become happier? Since the 1960’s when we decided the path to happiness was self-realization, self-esteem and finding one’s self are we truly better off? Not really. What we do is continually throw off one thing for the next, one experience for the next and when they don’t work, we just medicate. This can be either “self” medication or prescribed medication. Don’t take me to mean that having children is the only way to ensure you aren’t some selfish, unfulfilled boozer, because I really don’t. Many amazing people never had kids. Jesus, for example. Yet, he was the least selfish, self-seeking person that ever lived. Mother Teresa is another example. Some famous contemporary folks with no children are Ann Coulter, Condoleeza Rice and Dolly Parton. Not to mention, one of my closest friends from high school. They’re just people, not more or less valuable or happy based on their childless status.
The real truth is that whatever choice you make, by its very nature saying no to many other things. For instance, I chose my husband, therefore I have said no to all other men. I said yes to children therefore I said no to Gucci, Prada and other high-end fashion. But is does not mean I said no to self-fulfillment, fun, travel, intelligent thought, a sexy marriage or a personal identity.
Since I’ve been a mother I have:
Finished a bachelor’s degree with a double major
Earned a graduate degree
Traveled to Europe on an unplanned, last minute trip with my kids
Lived in Asia
Road tripped from Colorado to Michigan and back with my kids while my husband was deployed
Founded a community theater with a friend
Home schooled my daughter from 4th grade all the way through high school
Been the one to teach my son to read
Home schooled my now 7th grade son since kindergarten
Decorated, cared for and created a warm, loving home environment for my husband and kids
Written two screenplays
Adapted a novel for the stage
Sewn and costumed several plays
Directed several plays
Been remarried for 13 years
Stayed crazy in love for 13 years
Lead a Bible study support group for women with deployed husbands
Among many, many other things, but the most important is being the witness to all the firsts and thrills of discovery for my son and as many as possible for my daughter along with the ways I was privileged to support and become a friend to my step-son.
Some stay-at-home moms I know are quite unconventional. I know one woman who traveled the States for a whole year while home schooling (or trailer schooling?) her kids. One Mom lived off the grid for a while and came back on it to live overseas, another mom who takes advantage of cheap and free and does all kinds of fun traveling. A mom of six who was smart enough to home school them all and co-found a theater with me. Not all of these kids are in organized sports (gasp). Most aren’t, actually. I know, this is a betrayal of the ultimate American childhood expectation, put your kids in 600 sports or they will grow up a bunch of sad-sacks with weak abs and no purpose.
I want mothers who have decided to stay at home with their children to be free. Free to be themselves. You are you, being a mother doesn’t make you less you. Be a mom as YOU! Be free from thinking that there is no creativity in raising children. Free from thinking that the creativity it takes to raise children and make a home is less valuable than the thought it requires to earn a paycheck. Free from thinking your body is ruined. Your body did something awesome. It made people, it gave life!
I would like to make it clear that if you love your mini-van and taking your kids to soccer and all sorts of other activities does fulfill you, then you should be freed to feel fulfilled. It’s not a betrayal of yourself, your mental potential or the cause of women’s liberation to be fulfilled by that. Nor is it a betrayal to motherhood to live the stay-at-home mom life in a different way. The best way to be happy with who and what you are is to stop comparing it to who and what you think you should be, especially based on what someone else is. You were created as with gifts and if you happen to have children, you can share those gifts with your kids. You won’t ruin them. You’ll show them the way.