Please note: this post was written before I moved my blog to WordPress. The comments I reference in the post are no longer found at the bottom of my current About Me page. You can find them here on my former About Me page where my blog originated.
I never had any intention of writing a post like this – certainly not this week, maybe not ever. I started this blog back in October as a hobby. My goal was to spread some happiness and share ideas that might be helpful to other women like me. I wasn’t interested in tackling issues that were too deep because life is serious enough already. But over the weekend, I received my first real “hate” comment on my blog. (View both comments at the bottom of my former About Me page.) I knew it would be coming at some point, but it did rattle me a bit. I was immediately sweating when I realized the comment was not the typical sweet one but rather as harsh as they come. Apparently this reader’s parents forgot to teach her about the Golden Rule.
I know you can’t please everyone, no matter how hard you try. But I guess I thought the haters I might attract would be those who disagree with a well-intentioned mommy tip I share, or let me know that I was using the wrong type of paint on the chairs my kids and I finished (because we really didn’t know what we were doing!)
But my first hater attacked my choice to be a stay-at-home mom because I have a Harvard degree. In that initial moment, I was stunned and deflated – but mostly I was angry. Angry because this woman had missed the mark in so many ways – it was almost laughable, really. And I was angry because I couldn’t believe she felt that she had the right to tell me – someone she’s never even met – how to live my life.
Being the eternal optimist that I am, and after the outpouring of support from my family, friends, and readers, I decided that I was going to turn this negative experience into a positive one. From the comments that were sent my way (most notably on my blog’s Facebook page), I realized this is a topic that women could benefit from discussing more openly. Every single one of us has a different story, yet at the root of it all, we women are all trying to make sense of our place in the world – without being judged and without feeling guilt for those choices.
I hate to mention this anonymous reader too often, because perhaps creating a stir like this is exactly what she was intending. I really don’t want to give her that satisfaction. But I feel the need to highlight a quote or two for this discussion, and truly, she is the catalyst for this post. She told me, “… you are contributing to a culture which values a woman’s ability to sort laundry rather than have an enriching career with the education she’s pursued.” I don’t see it that way. I am sorting laundry, yes. But if I was working full time, it’s not like that laundry would do itself. As one reader wrote on my Facebook page, “I sometimes do feel that I am using my education to fold laundry, but I remind myself that if I were ‘doing it all,’ I’d still be folding laundry after an exhausting day of work AND running around. I’ve chosen a life path that allows me to do anything rather than EVERY thing!”
Any woman (or man, for that matter) who has ever stayed at home with their children knows that we are much more than housekeepers. I do believe it’s the hardest job there is (despite my anonymous reader telling me I “need a serious reality check” for thinking so), and many women who go to work each day admit that it can be a relief to hand off a screaming child so that someone else can deal with the stress for a while! Another reader wrote on my former About Me page, “My husband is a pediatric oncologist/hematologist. One would think that might be one of the hardest jobs in the world – who wants to tell families that their children have cancer on a routine basis? But if and when my husband is trying to get work done at home, he doesn’t last more than 10 minutes. He looks at me, shakes his head, and says, ‘I don’t know how you do it. This is impossible.’”
All day long, I take care of my thirteen-month-old – my fourth daughter. I feed her, change her, and basically keep her safe and alive. As I’m writing this, she is crawling around me while Sesame Street plays in the background. I suppose some could criticize me for not giving her my undivided attention at all times (and perhaps even for having the television on), but I pause every now and then when she seeks my approval. I say, “Wow, you’re so great!” in my most animated voice, and she seems more than happy with our exchanges before returning to her toys. She is learning to busy herself without needing someone else to constantly entertain her. At one point, she comes up to me while hitting her mouth with her hand – the sign for “eat.” Without the need for crying or a tantrum, I instantly know she’s hungry, so we walk to the kitchen together, and I tear up a piece of bread. She takes it from my hand, piece by piece, and feeds herself so she can work on developing her fine-motor skills. When it’s clear that she’s done, she returns to her toys, and I go back to writing this post. Even in these small everyday exchanges, there are teaching moments.
My other three girls are typically in school, but my third is also next to me today – home sick with a fever and dozing quietly. I’m grateful that as a stay-at-home mom, I don’t have to jump through hoops to work out care for a sick child – or figure out a way to stay home from work myself and have a colleague or two irritated by my last-minute need to cancel meetings. All three of us are still in our pajamas even though it’s past noon now, and I haven’t brushed my hair (or my teeth) yet – nor have I looked in the mirror, for that matter. The breakfast dishes still sit next to the sink, and I haven’t even begun to think about lunch. Wait, did I even eat breakfast? Throughout my day, I will probably do 3-4 loads of laundry, return emails, order my desperately-needed groceries online, send a birthday card, clean up the mess that still remains from having the whole family home over the weekend, and continue to take care of one sick child and another one who is just learning to walk and talk.
Since I can’t run any errands today with a daughter home sick, I won’t be forced to get dressed until it’s time to pick up my older two girls. When they jump in the car, they will surely be bubbling with stories of their day. More often than not, at least one will tell me about something someone at school did that was unkind or hurtful in some way. This will occasionally be directed at them, but typically it’s something they have witnessed. Usually it’s innocent enough, but they are always seeking my take on the event to help them process it. We discuss how they could have helped the person being targeted, or maybe I just explain that I think it was a misunderstanding.
I could go on about the ins and outs of my day as a stay-at-home mom, but you get the picture. And honestly, many of you reading this are quite possibly in the same boat – your daily life may sound much like mine, so you really need no description. To some, we may just be “sorting laundry,” but we all know that our role is much larger than that. My girls will only be young like this once. Being home at this stage in my life is enough for me. I know I matter.
This week’s cover story in New York Magazine, The Feminist Housewife—Can Women Have It All by Staying at Home? by Lisa Miller, fell right in my lap the day after my lovely reader thought it was her place to tell me how I was a disgrace to women everywhere by “squandering my education”. The article states that “Feminism has fizzled, its promise only half-fulfilled. This is the revelation of the moment… a cause of grief for some, fury for others.” Clearly this anonymous reader is in the “fury” category. But truly, to some extent, I can understand it.
Those women who came before us fought for the right to vote, for equality in the workplace, for respect as thinking, capable individuals. So now, according to Miller, at a time when “American women are better educated than they’ve ever been, better educated now than men,” in fact – women who still ultimately make the choice to stay at home are often viewed as wasting the efforts of feminists, almost as if we are letting the women of previous generations down.
So where do we go from here? Are women supposed to seek a career, then, just because we can? Many women enter their twenties ready to take on the world. We have images of ourselves “doing it all” and doing it well, too. But sometimes dreams change, and when you get there, it may even feel like a nightmare for some.
Stacy Morrison, editor-in-chief of BlogHer (a network of 3000 blogs for and by women, of which this blog is a member) is quoted by Miller as saying that women today feel “that the trade-offs now between working and not working are becoming more and more unsustainable.” Miller writes, “…what if all the fighting is just too much?” What if not all women have the ambition to prove their worth in the working world? What if a woman has “a more modest amount [of ambition] that neither drives nor defines her?”
I have come to realize that I fall in this category. I am proud of my past accomplishments, but I don’t feel the need at this stage in my life to continue to achieve outside the home. I believe that my daughters (and my husband) currently need me more than the workplace does. I know I am giving up the chance to earn a big salary and a pat on the back in exchange for a thankless job with no sick days, no pay, and little respect. But there’s no place I’d rather be. So please don’t judge me for staying at home because I don’t judge those women who work (either by choice or necessity).
In Miller’s article, she interviews Kelly Makino, a self-proclaimed “flaming liberal and feminist” who surprised even herself by her choice to become a stay-at-home mom when her husband took a position that required more travel. Makino says, “I want my daughter to be able to do anything she wants… but I also want to say, ‘Have a career that you can walk away from at the drop of a hat.’” That is exactly the choice I want my own four daughters to have. The dreams they have now may change once they get to where they’re going. And that’s okay – because whatever they choose to do with their lives is a choice I will be thankful they have – and one I will fully support.
I know my own dreams have been in constant motion. I went off to Harvard thinking I would become a doctor. But when I got there, I started to worry about all that comes with it – the schooling, the long hours, the unpredictability. I knew I also wanted to become a wife and mother one day, and I was beginning to worry about how I would balance it all. So I took a different turn, and I wound up in Manhattan post-college with a job for which many recent graduates would have given anything. But my college boyfriend and I were managing a long-distance relationship, so my heart was never really in New York. We eventually got engaged, I moved south to be with him, and we married just two summers after I had graduated from Harvard. When I went to my 5-year reunion, there were only a handful of us who were already married. And to my knowledge, I was literally the only one there who had become a parent. I had my daughter strapped to me in a Baby Bjorn throughout most of that weekend.
Nobody could believe I was a mother at the age of 27 in that crowd. Most were still seeking higher degrees or working their way up the corporate ladder. To some extent, I felt a little like a teenager who got knocked up and derailed her life before it really got started. But that feeling came from my own insecurities, I know. Nobody made me feel like my choices hadn’t been good ones. Quite the contrary – many former classmates were tired of still being in school after all those years, and those in the work force were becoming annoyed by the “face time” they needed to put in to show their superiors how driven they were. They felt ready to “start their lives” already – just as they thought I had done.
My anonymous reader, amongst her many choice comments, demanded to know how I arrived at the name “Harvard Homemaker” for my blog. She accused me of “bragging” and being an elitist with that title: “How does having an esteemed degree from the [sic] perhaps the most prestigious school in the country make you more qualified to do your job as a homemaker?” she wrote. It doesn’t, lady. I never said that it does. You inferred that all by yourself, and you also connected the words in a way that I never intended.
Perhaps the name comes from me finally owning the choices I’ve made and being proud of them – no longer apologizing for attending Harvard, becoming a young mom, and then (gasp!) deciding to stay at home. Almost right from the start after graduation, I chose a life of domesticity. I went against the grain in some respects. Maybe that choice could even be viewed as commendable because I didn’t let society tell me what I should do with my hard-earned degree; instead, I chose a path that I knew was right for me and my family.
I’m the Harvard girl who became a homemaker. That’s where my blog’s title comes from. Simple enough. I really didn’t think it was that confusing. And just because I don’t have a high-powered job doesn’t mean I have “wasted” my degree, despite what my reader thinks. An education is never wasted. Ever. It’s a ridiculous statement to say otherwise.
Back in college I took a class where we had to conduct an experiment. We were expected to make a hypothesis, carry out the experiment, and then analyze the data. My college sweetheart (now my husband) had already graduated and was living across town in Boston. When I went to visit him, I always hopped on the bus and took the straight shot down Massachusetts Avenue to his apartment. Since I was on the bus each way a couple of times a week, it was the perfect place for me to study people’s behavior in a group setting. I wanted to see what choices people made when finding a seat.
Think about what you do when you get on an elevator. Let’s say there is one other person in the elevator when you enter. Do you go stand as close to that person as possible? No. You will position yourself as far from that person as you can. A third person enters; that person will then center herself between you both, and so on. We are programmed to respect one another’s personal space. But what happens on a bus when there is someone in every single row? How do you choose your seat?
I guessed that when forced to sit right next to someone, people would be most likely to choose a person of their own race. Wrong. I found that overwhelmingly, people chose to sit next to members of the same sex, regardless of race – particularly among women. As time went on, I began to watch for it. I would sit with my little notebook slyly open, and I would chart everyone’s movements. A woman would walk down the aisle, her eyes darting around quickly as she surveyed her fellow bus-riders in search of a seat that would make her feel most comfortable. She wanted to feel safe among a sea of strangers. Almost every single time, she found that safety alongside another woman. It was fascinating, and I couldn’t help but smile at the phenomenon.
I want to get back on that bus. I want to return to a place where women instinctively support one another in this wide world of ours, because if we can’t figure out how to do that, how do we expect the men in our lives (and in society) to stand behind us? Makino stated in Miller’s article, “I feel like we are evolving into something that is not defined by those who came before us.”
Perhaps we women are finally reaching a point where we can “have it all” but respect that the term all means different things to each of us. We can be grateful for the pioneers who came before us, allowing women the right to choose their own path. We can accept the notion that at any point, our needs and the needs of our family may change, and we can always re-enter the workforce or leave it. We can understand that until we’ve walked a mile in another woman’s shoes, it’s not our place to pass judgment. And we can agree that in the end, we simply need to be happy.
I’m on that bus. The seat next to me is open, and I welcome you to take it.
You can find more of my “from the heart” posts here:
P.S. As always, I welcome your comments below. I think this is a subject we could all benefit from discussing more openly. This post was originally published here on Shareist where my blog originated, and there are many wonderful comments at the bottom of that page (including a touching apology from the “hater” herself! I thought that was very brave of her to reach out to say she was sorry.)