Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Ramble: Choice In Motherhood Versus Choice In Fatherhood

motherhood fatherhood choices

Motherhood is an extremely political issue these days, apparently.There is, of course, feminist motherhood and then the arm of feminism that sees motherhood as something that can, in our current society, drag women down. There is the irritating political focus on family in general and also telling people what family should be. Nursing versus not nursing is another area of motherhood that has become political... is it better? How long is too long? In public? Nursing and working? And so on. There is plenty of debate as to whether women should stay home with children, and whether that's a better choice or just one choice. Is daycare bad for our babies - with it naturally being big mean mama's fault/feminism's fault/etc. that baby is in daycare in the first place.

So much of politicized motherhood is framed, as you may have noticed, within the context of choice. Particularly the choice, if one can call it that in most situations, to go back to work, or not. I am of course not suggesting that choice plays a big role in most women's return to the workplace - I do know some women who are happy to go back to work, and more power to them because they're doing what's best for their families and for themselves, but I know plenty like myself who trudge back into the full-time workforce filled with regret and sadness. But people do like to frame it that way: "Oh, if you were more frugal, you wouldn't have to work (ha.)" and "If you hadn't been negatively influenced by X, Y, and Z you'd find some way to stay home with your children (ha.)."

Huh. It's hard not to go off on a tangent when the topic comes up, so let me hit another one while I'm rambling... Whether or not a mom goes back to work after having children has to do with much more than her ability to mend clothes and whether anyone has tried to convince her she can have it all. It's personal, situational, and should be anything but political.

But anyway, what's on my mind today isn't politicized motherhood, but rather all those pesky choices. A range of choices, as you probably know, that causes all kinds of wonderful mothers all kinds of terribly anxiety because the message coming at them from all sides is YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. Doesn't really matter what choices you make, because there will always be tons of people out there who think you ought to be making other choices.

Epidural natural birth homebirth hospital unassisted birth keep the placenta stay home go to work breastfeed but not in my face use a bottle cloth diaper disposables rice cereal at four months six months breastmilk only baby signs sleep training cry it out babywearing attachment parenting independence blah blah blabbity blah.

ANYWAY, here's where I am going with all of this: I was suddenly struck the other day as I was talking to a good friend who is torn between going back to school for a masters and going to work and staying at home for a while longer to spend time with her little one before making any decisions in that regard that at least some mothers have the freedom to make these kinds of choices. My friend said something along the lines of "How can I be thinking about going to work or school - my daughter will only be a toddler for so long and I don't want to miss any of the good stuff."

BAM! My mind was blown! (Okay, not really, but close to it...) 

Here I am, after working from home for the Babby's first two years, in a professional setting, miles away from my child who is right now having a great time without me. And that is exactly where the BabbyDaddy has been almost every single day since the Babby was born.

Sure, there are a lot of dads out there who would much rather be in the office than deal with the day-to-day duties of raising a child, but it happens that the BabbyDaddy is not one of them. In his ideal world - which happens to coincide nicely with my ideal world - we'd both be home with the Babby instead of in offices. Maybe working from home, but since this is an ideal world, maybe not working at all. Just enjoying each other and the Babby and doing the sorts of things people do when their only responsibilities are their own.

But stepping back from the ideal life, the whole point is that the BabbyDaddy has been missing that good stuff that moms don't want to miss or are conflicted about missing or can't imagine missing for the entirety of the Babby's existence. Because he makes more money than I do, it was never even an option on the table. And since I was and am pro-nursing - a choice I made, I should add, without any input from the BabbyDaddy, not that making the decision solo is necessarily the right thing to do - it might not have been an option on the table even if I had been the one making more money. Mothers are expected to make so many of the choices in childrearing, and some people are frankly surprised when fathers even participate!

I'd love to see more options for fathers, frankly. Let them make some choices, too, and reap some more of the benefits of parenthood at the same time. Flex time arrangements. Better paternity leave options, or some split parental leave that families can use however works best for them.

It helps to think of the choices in motherhood versus the choices in fatherhood when I'm feeling down on myself for even having to be at work and not being with the Babby during the best hours of her day. Because when mothers have to make the tough choices, I think many of us tend to forget that there's a father there (or perhaps another sort of partner) who wasn't even offered a choice when his child was born and after a day or a week was already missing those magical moments that we make the most of or try to make the most of or wish we were making the most of every day.

I don't know what the takeaway is - all I know is that it's definitely cause for pause and definitely makes me think. Did your husband or partner ever consider staying home or express a desire to?

P.S. - I wrote a guest post at Marlie & Me that is somewhat related to the theme of this post. And unlike my ramble here, my guest post there is a lot more organized and well-written!


  1. Well said! I know my hubby would love more time at home with our daughter but he has to shoulder the pressure of being the sole breadwinner. I would happily job share with him so he could get more time at home and I could get out of the house for part of the day.

  2. Wouldn't flex time options for families be awesome, Teresha? Both parents could get some grownup time, keep their careers moving, bring in some $, all while knowing that the person caring for their child/children was mama or papa!


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