Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Who Is Going To Cook?

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to have children at some unspecific point in the distant but not too distant future. Also for as long as I can remember, I've been aware that I had no idea how logistically it was all going to work out. I've always wanted to have children while I was "young," and many years ago I imagined I would have been married with 4 children by now. It's laughable in a cute way, this idea that we can plan with such specificity our fates, and the timelines by which they will materialize.

From my wiser vantage point at 33, I can't imagine having children now, let alone 6 years ago. It's incredible to imagine myself as a mother with a six-year old. What kind of person would I be now? Would I be sitting at this desk in this law firm? Living in New York? Feeling delighted about the most perfect purple bag that I purchased a week ago with my cousin on a perfect shopping day? Be dating the man I'm currently dating?

Probably not. Or, perhaps if all those things were destined to happen, perhaps they would have happened regardless. In any event, I think there is no doubt that I would be quite different in certain respects, such as how I spend the majority of my time, the thoughts that take up space in my head, my plans for the future. I'm under the impression that having a little creature depend on you for their existence is a fundamentally life-altering experience. One that turns the world colors, to be sure, but a colorful existence is not all rose-tinted and purple sparkles. It also includes slashes of flourescent organge and splashes of mule-puke green; colors I could do without in my daily existence.

Some things I could do without might include cleaning up after someone other than myself, becuase to be quite honest cleaning up is not my favorite thing to do. Nor, is doing dishes, cooking, or managing a household. Could I do all of those traditionally female jobs? I suppose so. Do I think it's essential that someone do those things? Yes. Would I be happy if they were my primary responsibility? I am not sure, but I have a strong suspicion that the answer is no. I do not want to be placed in a cage, gilded and covered in satin pillows though it may be. I want to be free...

Clearly, there is a certain element of my being that is fluttering around like crazy at the moment, freaking itself out about imaginary shackles that may never materialize, thinking about freedom and liberty and individuality and independence and experiencing flashes of exploding fireworks behind my eyelids at the thought of anyone wanting to imprison any human being - especially ME - into a box with a preordained shape called "woman" that is not me, that is not a woman in the full, whole, human sense of the world, but woman sucked dry of her essence and straightjacketed into a collection of chores men would prefer not to do. I do not want to be straightjacketed into anything. I want to be loved for who I am. Period.

Someone is flipping out and needs to r-e-l-a-x. Someone needs to enjoy the moment and have another conversation about these things before imagining that the pnly current available option in the current scenario is: Housewife. Otherwise known as SAHM. Relax Buttercup, relax. Nothing is preordained; at least not in this department. These are things people discuss. These are things about which compromise is supposed to be reached.

Amidst all the fluttering, I've been challenged - really for the first time - to imagine how exactly I envision raising children. I want a full life that includes a relationship, family, children, friends, me-time, and fulfilling work. By work, I do not mean that I necesarily need to or want to excel at a specific career. Rather, I want to do work that fulfills me, something through which I can be challenged and stimulated mentally, and through which I can contribute to the world. Ideally, that work would be in the area of women's human rights because that is trully what I am passionate about. I don't want that passion to die at some point in the future because I've fallen in love and decided to have babies.

I guess that to the extent I have envisioned things, I've envisoned me being busy, walking down an urban street on my way somewhere, with two little girls with long braids at my side. They are about 6 years old, creative and smart, and so is their mommy (smart and creative - not 6). It's a pictue of a whole woman, who is a mother, but also an individual with passions and goals - passions and goals that I imgine would serve as good examples for her children.

What I do not envision is giving up my passions, staying at home in isolation, devoting 24-7 to the needs of a little human being with no respite, having no time to myself, and suddenly becoming June Cleaver. It's not going to happen. In order for me to become June Cleaver, I would have to do the equivalent of giving myself a lobotomy and replacing my brain with a totally different woman's gray matter. I just don't see it happening.

But, if the woman and the man both want to pursue their passions, and if they both want children, and if the man only wants to contribute 25% to childcare and managing the household, what is a woman to do? How do couple's balance these things? And, why are there so many Stay At Home Dads who experience statying home not as imprisonment, but as liberation? Is it because for SAHDs, it's clear that it was a real choice for them, and that no one forced them to assume a predestined role based on their gender?

To all the SAHM, many of whom are my friends, am I totally off here with this rebellious anxiety? None of the women I know who stay at home, all of whom are wonderful, intelligent, dynammic individuals and incredible moms, would do it unless they wanted to, I believe. So, they must not experience it as imprisonment. Maybe it's because they worked through all of these questions and came to a decision that worked the best for them. I, however, am just on the brink of considering these incredibly complex issues, and haven't the foggiest clue as to how to resolve any of them.


No Nonsense Girl said...

Relax buttercup!!! I can see myself have kids one day but I can't see myself be a SAHM, not at all.

Hang in there

Sammy b. said...

Geeze, Buttercup. That's a lot of angst. I'm sure your other readers are wondering, as I am, what brought this on.

I suppose as a current SAHM, I should offer my input here. There's no easy answer. Some days it is pure bliss; some days it is a prison. But even on the days when it feels like prison, I know it is a prison in which I freely chose to incarcerate myself. It wouldn't work otherwise. If I were doing this because my husband expected me to, or because I thought society expected me to, I would have gone insane a long time ago. I think you are overblowing this "predestined" thing just a little bit. I have an equal number of SAHM friends and WOHM friends. In our parents' generation, sure, there was a lot of societal pressure for moms to stay home; in my opinion it just doesn't exist anymore, even in the red state in which I live.

Look, you are lucky enough to have the means to mother any way you want to mother. You can hire a wonderful, loving, full time nanny/housekeeper to take care of your children while you and your husband work, as many wonderful mothers do. You can also find a job with hours you can live with so you can spend as much time at home as you want, and still get that housekeeper to clean so you don't have to. You are about as lucky as a potential mom can get, because you have so many options.

You will be a great mother as long as you are happy. That means doing it your way, which you absolutely can do. That doesn't mean you won't be sad some days b/c you aren't seeing as much of your kids as you want, or sad other days b/c you're seeing more of your kids than you want. There is no doubt in my mind that you are capable of balancing your family and your work in a way that is fulfilling both for yourself and your family. It can be done.

Dutch said...

dude, you need to go to overanalysis rehab.

assuming all these things about how you're going to feel about being a parent is like assuming you're not going to like the taste of pickled herring. you might be right, but then again, it might be delicious.

Buttercup said...

I agree that I should relax, that I could possible benefit a great deal from overanalysis rehab, and that I am luck b/c I have the means to mother any way I like.

However, I see this motherhood/parenthood thing as a partnership, so how I parent my children is not just up to me. It will be up to me and my partner - assuming I have one. And, if your partner envisions parenting one way and you envision it another, things become complicated. They become angst-filled when you realize that you have no clear picture of how you want things to be. I think that's what I've realized, and that's what I've started to think about. I know what I don't want, but I'm less clear on what I want, on how I envision the logistics playing out.

I don't want to stay at home 100% and I don't necessarily want a partner who will stay at home 100%, so it seems to me that there has to be some kind of solution in the middle, but what?

Starshine said...

"I think that's what I've realized, and that's what I've started to think about. I know what I don't want, but I'm less clear on what I want, on how I envision the logistics playing out."

Great point. I think getting clear on what you want will really help you when you discuss these things with your partner. When Hubs and I got engaged, we read a book together that addresses these issues. It had a checklist of household "chores" and that type of thing to go through to discuss who would do what. Much to my surprise, both of us were pretty much open to sharing nearly all of the responsibilty. (For example, we each do our own laundry.) And I was surprised that he wanted to do the grocery shopping and most of the cooking! Yea!

What I have found to be the greatest and most reassuring thing in our relationship is that we both really want to see each other flourish in our lives and in our career desires. That makes me feel a lot of peace about having kids together. He doesn't want to see me wither when we become parents (and vice-versa).

Try not to worry, Buttercup! I think that having more of these conversations with your significant other will help you to resolve some of this angst. :)