Raising Parents: Teaching Our Kids that Parenthood Is a Noble Career
Last week, I read this post by Penelope Trunk that basically stated that the whole Marissa Mayer thing at Yahoo debases people for wanting to be parents. I don't know that I agree with that. The part of Penelope Trunk's post that really stuck with me, though, was the idea that not everyone is created the same way, not everyone wants that career, or maybe they want that career but being a parent is their priority in their thirties. Penelope goes on to state in this post, that many girls/women only want to work part-time and should be prepared for home life.
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, the whole Women's Liberation/feminist movement was in full swing. Moms went to work and fed their families convenient microwave processed crap dinners. Elementary school kids went home to empty houses and thus, the term "latchkey kids" was coined; teens ran around the streets unsupervised. Girls were taught that we should not want to stay home and raise babies, that we would not live up to our potential and never be respected if we wanted to be stay-at-home moms; we should work hard and excel and want to wear a hideous business suit with shoulder pads and a shirt with a Peter Pan collar and a little bow-tie and show men that women could do what they can do. I grew up completely believing in all of that and having a list of career dreams.
Then I had a baby and the whole world twisted on its axis when I decided that I could not, no how, no way leave this precious, beautiful, perfect, vulnerable baby in a nursery with eight other babies where she was just a number. I wanted to be the one to pick her up when she cried and feed her and make sure her diapers were clean; I wanted to coo at her and cuddle her and I would sacrifice anything for that -- heck, I would cut off my arm for her!
I was not alone. The result of Gen X growing up with career moms who were seldom home is that more moms either are working part-time than full-time or would rather work part-time than full-time. We have also created everything from Baking with Baby classes to Baby Gym classes to lessons for almost everything under the sun, not to mention all kinds of fun play places or learning places for birthday parties and day trips. I think there is a direct correlation between a generation of parents who grew up with their parents being more absorbed in career than family and this generation's desire to do something COMPLETELY different for their own children and entertaining them every waking minute. Personally, I don't think either is completely healthy... everything in moderation, people, everything in moderation.
It seems that some bloggers' children know exactly what they want to be when they grow up and I am always trying to get an idea from my girls of what they may want to do. I observe their interests, we talk about different careers. I would love to find them mentors... if only I knew what they were interested in doing. Sometimes I wish I had a crystal ball that could tell me what they will be when they grow up so I know if we should really go full-tilt with science or devote more time to art or find a mentor for something. But my girls really seem clueless as to what career they want when they grow up.
The one thing they do consistently say, however, is that they both want to be moms when they grow up. They know what kind of houses they want and how they want to decorate their houses. My girls both like to help in the kitchen and neither really minds helping to clean the house. They like rearranging furniture and organizing a room. Allie now has gerbils and fish that she meticulously cares for as if they were her babies; after less than two weeks she has the gerbils eating out of her hand!
I cringe when I think of what I say to my girls when they tell me they want to be moms when they grow up, "Well, that is nice and you will be a great mom, but what do you want to do to earn money?"
It is so ingrained in me -- a stay-at-home mom -- that being a mom is not a worthy goal. Being a mom is not good enough. Being a mom is second fiddle to a career; because, really, you should want a career. But, you know what? I think a lot of girls just want to be moms. It's what they were born to do. Sure, maybe when their kids are older they will get a job or even start a career, but it's in their DNA to want to take care of houses and babies and their husbands. What if it is NOT in their DNA to want a career?
The MONEY Question
The real question is: Will they be able to afford to stay home and raise a family? On the one hand, I want to prepare them that they may not be able to afford to stay home. On the other hand, I have observed several women I know who feel they have to work. Now, really, I don't judge them, they can live however they want and I will still love them, but I often wonder if they gave up their designer clothes and weekly shopping trips, their fancy vacations and their fancy SUVs, their gym memberships and mani/pedis, eating out several nights a week and $300 haircuts, how much money would they save and would they then be able to stay home? As a society, we have started to look at spa days and fancy vacations, heated leather seats and designer clothes as necessities rather than luxuries. At what expense?
When women routinely stayed home and raised families, they didn't expect to wear designer clothes and Italian pumps (unless they were socialites), their weekly shopping trip was to the grocery store (or maybe they went daily), their family may have had one car, their friends gave each other home permanents and they didn't need a gym membership after running around after a toddler all day, and who would pay for a manicure when you had dishpan hands or who needed to eat out when you were home all day and could cook just as good as any restaurant? Families stayed together, divorce was less common, there was not as much teen pregnancy, you didn't hear of school shootings or kids dying on playgrounds from being bullied. I know, some people are going to say that things were hidden behind closed doors but those things are probably still hidden in today's society... And sure, some women were unhappy, but don't fool yourself, in today's society some moms are completely stressed and unhappy working full-time, even if they have recognition and autonomy and all that good stuff... they wish they could be home smelling their babies' heads and sitting around the table talking about their kids' day.
So, how do you do this? What do you tell your girls?
I am still not sure, to be honest. Jason works very hard for our family and we sacrifice fancy vacations and designer clothes and heated leather seats so that I can stay home with our girls because that is important to us. My girls have grown up not expecting expensive shoes and clothes and weekly wardrobe updates, so maybe they will be okay with making those sacrifices when they raise their own children. I hope their husbands can earn enough that they at least have a choice to stay home. But, at the same time, I want to encourage them to pursue their interests and think about a career to fall back on... for when their kids grow up... just to have something to brainstorm and dream about.
I think all children, boys and girls, those with big career aspirations and those who want to be stay at home parents, should be encouraged to:
- help clean the home and do projects with the family around the home
- do laundry
- prepare meals
- learn to budget money
- understand sacrifices and priorities, the difference between necessity and luxury
- be encouraged to pursue their interests
- have opportunities for interest-led, self-directed learning
- as they get older, be part of conversations regarding issues in our society and how we can change things/make things better
I think as a society we need to change how we view parenthood. One parent has to work and in my opinion, one parent has to be willing and able to be completely committed to their career and whatever their career entails -- long hours, business trips, meetings at crazy hours, etc. In my opinion, in order for one parent to be able to devote themselves to a career, the other parent needs to be able to be there for the kids all the time, to listen to the kids, to prepare meals, to drive them to lessons, to give them a hug, whatever their kid requires; the kids need to know they can count on that one parent consistently.
My Grandpa had an expression, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." Why does that not apply to parenthood anymore? Why not raise our kids to believe that being a parent and doing it well is a noble career choice?