I am not one of those feminists who think women must be engaged in paid employment to be fulfilled.
I am not one of those feminists who thinks a woman’s highest calling and only pursuit necessary for fulfillment is mothering.
I do not believe in gender essentialism; I do not believe formula freed women.
I am not a SAHM; I just spend the day taking care of my kid.
This might sound like another one of my contradictions, but — oh wait, it is, because they’re not contradictory at all, just nuanced. Here’s the thing: I believe in attachment theory (in about the same the way as I believe in the theory of gravity). I believe breastmilk is a birthright of every child, barring rare and unfortunate circumstances. I believe daycares are not bad, but villages are better. And given all this, I believe the US of A is a really crappy place to raise a kid.
It’s not that I think having a parent at home full time is the best for children: I don’t. I really don’t, actually, and this is one of the biggest reasons why I am not comfortable with that label. But I think the ideal parenting situations — where children are welcome in the real world, where work and life are not strictly segregated, where there are lots of loving family and friends close-by long-term, where the motherbaby unit is acknowledged as one, where the importance of attachment is recognized — don’t exist in my life. Or anyone’s life that I know of. So we have to make compromises; for me, for our family, this is the best compromise for the time being. The Boychick needs to be close to his parent(s), he needs access to the breast, he needs to be a part of someone’s life, observing and learning from the world, and me being with him during the day is the way we try to best meet the majority of those needs.
But it’s not our ideal.
For all the lip-service (and there is much!) that the USA gives to “family” and “motherhood”, we offer an amazing dearth of real, practical support. There is no guarantee of health care for parents or child; no, not even for pregnant women, for all that we supposedly are so against pregnancy termination because it’s a crime against the unborn. The parental leave, when one has access to any, is laughable (if I didn’t laugh, I’d start crying — as I did when the Boychick’s father went back to work at three weeks postpartum, before I’d even stopped bleeding). Only a tiny minority of companies have any kind of on-site daycare available, and disturbingly few are supportive of pumping at work, much less bringing in a sleepy sling baby to nurse while working.
So given the dearth of options available, along with my partner’s high earning potential and my current lack of any, I take care of the child while my partner works. In a sane society, one that didn’t demand everything of women without offering anything to help, I would have more options for paid employment or meaningful pursuits, either in or near my house or where I could bring my child along. In a sane society, perhaps I would be at home still, but perhaps so would my partner; or, it would be understood that this was a short part of my child’s life, and in 3-5 years I would be engaged in other activities. In a sane society, I would not be defined by my family’s choices in my child’s infancy. In a sane society, I would be a person first, a woman second, and a mother third. In a sane society, my work as a volunteer moderator and my studies as a student would be recognized and honored, instead of ignored because they are unpaid and take place outside of 8-5.
But this is an insane society. So I am home (or out and about, but otherwise unemployed) during the day with my child. But I’m still not a SAHM.