Monday, October 29, 2012

Reflection of Motherhood


Being a mother is something I've always envisioned in my future. When I was a little girl playing with dolls I frequently played the mother “role.” When I started having play dates with other kids I would often play the mother. Even in high school I loved working with kids and would often feel that “maternal desire” to have a kid of my own some day. But, more recently I have questioned the root of this desire. When I came to Colgate I started taking women’s studies and sociology courses. I learned that I have been, to a certain degree, socialized to be a mother ever since I was given my first doll. When I finally embraced my feminist identity in college, I started thinking about what was expected of me as a student, woman, and feminist. I questioned whether my desire to become a mother someday was something I learned or something ingrained in my biological makeup. I questioned whether it was acceptable for me to be a feminist that would love to be a stay-at-home mom in the future. Furthermore, I wondered at what age and at what point in my career would it be best or acceptable for me to become a mother. All these questions and more have been swirling in my head regarding what it means to be a feminist mother.
One thing I don’t think we talk enough about is what it means to be a feminist father. I attended a Women’s Studies Brown Bag in which there was a panel of fathers who to a certain degree identified their parenting as feminist (see Gloria's post below). One of the prominent observations I made was that none of them had really given much thought into what it means to be a feminist father. In fact, it was mentioned a few times that they were unsure as to why they were asked to be on this particular panel. They all talked about how they were more involved in their children’s upbringing than what is “expected” of fathers in our society and that was looked upon favorably. However, they all realized that even though they didn't do much in terms of child rearing, they did more than what was expected of them, which is not something mothers get praise for. One of the dads brought up a cartoon that highlighted the fact that dads these days are doing more than their fathers and they are getting praise for that. Moms, however, are doing “less” than their mothers and are made to feel guilty about it. I thought this was a very interesting observation about the privilege fathers have in our society. Fathers get praise for the things they should already be doing, whereas mothers get very little acknowledgment of all they things they should and already are doing. If a father is absent in a child’s life because he is working that is socially acceptable. If a mother is absent in her child’s life because she is working that is socially unacceptable. I think this speaks a lot to the emphasis we place on motherhood that should in reality be placed on parenthood. 
All this information keeps on swirling in my head and questions keep forming as I try to look towards the future. Should I look for a partner that will actively engage in equal parenting? What am I willing to compromise on if that isn't possible? Should my career search be based on whether or not I can have a family in the future while working? Is it alright if I want to be a homemaker? That being said, the thing I want the most are options. I want the option to either find a job or stay at home. I want the option of having a family when I want a family. I want my options to make the best and most informed decisions on what will eventually shape my future. I want a life with a partner that will support me in terms of my career and play an equal role in parenting. Am I asking for too much?

-Michelle Van Veen '14

15 comments:

  1. Michelle, I definitely feel the same struggle that you've written about here. I think you really got to the heart of the issue when you wrote that the emphasis we place on motherhood should be placed on parenthood. Mothers are expected to perfectly balance work and family, while fathers are only expected to focus on work (and if they spend more time with their family they are praised as overachievers). Parenting should be about balancing and sharing responsibility, not blaming one group for doing too little. We should be able to accept that each family has the right to figure out what works best for them.

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  2. Michelle, this article made me look back on the roles that my mother and father played in my life when I was a child. My mom was a stay-at-home mom until my brothers and I were in elementary school, and then she worked a variety of jobs that allowed her to be home shortly after we got home. My dad worked, but as a teacher he spent every weekend, break, and evening with us. So in some ways I think my parents played traditional roles, but they also both did quite a bit of parenting. I think that this exposed me to the idea that parenting is a job that needs to be shared equally. And yet, all of my friends had stay-at-home moms and dads who worked the majority of the time. This exposed me to the traditional idea that mothering plays a bigger part than fathering. I think that when I am older, I will start to sense the tensions between the traditional role of a mother and what I want to do. I do not know exactly what I will want, but like you, I believe that having the opportunity to do whatever it is that I want is the most important thing.

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  3. Michelle, Sarah, and Tess, I think you all bring up important questions and points to consider. This issue of the traditional stay-at-home mom is being discussed in today's world more than ever. I think this is because women are making strides into the work force and are no longer satisfied with the previous male breadwinner philosophy. I believe as this philosophy begins to disintegrate it forces discussions such as this to arise. When I interviewed my grandmother last month she made it clear that even though she was one of the few women of the time to work while raising her family, her income was "fun money," while her husband's income was to support the family. I think men and women today are more willing to accept the idea of a woman being the main provider for the family. TV shows are beginning to show this, for example in Parenthood in one of the families the wife is the lawyer while the husband is a stay-at-home father. Examples such as this show change is happening but equality has obviously not yet been reached as you three have already discussed.

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  4. Like I'd bet everyone who attended this brown bag thought as they listened, this brown bag got me thinking about my upbringing. My parents are both well-respected doctors with their own private practices. Neither of them have (at least in my lifetime) worked five days a week, they are both of the attitude of working more hours on certain days and then having afternoons or full days off. While my parents had different responsibilities in the house, I would say that they were of equal status in my household. I really liked what you said that there is an "emphasis... place[d] on motherhood that should in reality be placed on parenthood." I would definitely say that in my household it truly was a situation of parenthood.
    The second thing that I am sure everyone thought of was how they wanted to raise their own children (if they want to have children). I do believe that for me part of that decision requires that I find a partner who will help me raise the children. I am forced to wonder what I will do once I have children. My mother became a fully-certified doctor just after giving birth to my eldest brother and decided that she would only work 3 days a week in order to be present in mine and my siblings' lives. However, many professions do not offer that luxury, and I can't help but think that choosing a profession based on the possibility of such flexibility is incredibly useless. While I have no intention of quitting my job as soon as I get married, I am not sure that I will not become a stay-at-home mom once I have children. My question is: am I being anti-feminist by even considering becoming a soccer mom?

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  5. Michelle, I too have struggled with the question of being a mother. I wonder whether or not it is something that I myself truly want or if it is merely something that I have been raised to believe is expected of me. It is interesting that as children, girls typically,are a bit obsessed with the notion of parenting. Girls are taught at an early age how to care for something when they are given things like dolls. When on the other hand, boys are typically given toys such as cars and blocks that do not necessarily foster a nurturing aspect. So because of this, I too question whether it is my choice that I want to be a mother or whether I am just a mere product of my upbringing. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the Brown Bag on feminist fathers but what stuck with me from your reflection on the Brown Bag was this idea of praise and lack of it. I did notice, but never really realized the kind of praise men get when they take on a role that is considered more maternal in their child's life. It is baffling that when women do that same thing or even more to some extent, they receive little to no praise because it is what is expected of them. The need for this idea of parenthood instead of motherhood is clearly apparent in order to foster a society in which both men and women can be praised for their equal roles in parenting.

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  6. I have always wondered about the origin of my desire to be a mother. I believe that it is a combination of being socialized to want to be a mother, but also that it is biological. I know that I want to be a mother when I am older; if I do eventually became a mother, I want to consciously make decisions about which roles my partner and I will play in our family and work. I believe that one of the mainreasons that mothers naturally become care takers is that they must spend the first few months with the baby to ensure the baby’s health. The father, however, does not necessarily play a critical biological role in the baby’s life. I believe that this slippery slope is responsible for women taking on the care taker and stay at home motherly role, while the father falls into the role of the breadwinner. Before we can change this, we must be cognizant that we naturally fall into these roles; only then can we actively delegate roles so that both parents play full parts in their children’s lives.

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  7. Michelle, I find your question of being both a feminist and a stay at home mom to be especially interesting. I feel that most people believe that feminists need to rise above the stereotypical role of being a mother and assume an important job or position. However, it is also my belief that being a mother is the most important job a woman can have. I recently interviewed my mother for my women's studies paper and her response to a similar question was that doing what she loved and spending time with people she cared for was always more important than making a statement in the world. While my mother gave up becoming partner at her law firm to become a stay at home mom, she believes it is the best decision she has ever made. Being a feminist is not about needing to put down men or gain power over them, it is about recognizing the fact that women should have the same opportunities as men, even if at times they choose not to seek them.

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  8. Michelle, just as Sylvie said, I struggle with the decision of being a mother everyday. For some reason I am constantly wavering between being in love with the idea of being a mother: already thinking of my children’s names, loving the time I spent with the kindergarteners that I used to coach, and fawning over adorable baby pictures. And then on the other hand, I think that I can’t even begin to consider being a mother until I have a solid career, and even then I wonder if my motherhood will interfere with my career. When I discuss this issue with my sister, she is appalled that I am even considering not having children, as she sees it mostly from a biological perspective; that she wants to have children in order to further her genes first and foremost, but also because she loves the idea of mothering. Before reading this post which made me really meditate on the idea of being a mother and why I waver so much, I had not realized that it is ok for me to feel both ways about being mother. All my dissonance shows is that I have the power to be a feminist mother. One that has children when she is ready, one that demands that her employers give her the necessary time off, and one that teaches her children to be themselves.
    Just as Renee mentioned, I too thought of my upbringing. My mother is a stay at home mom while my father works, and my father was very involved in my upbringing but he was never commended for being a feminist father. I think it is getting more and more normal and maybe even expected for fathers to be involved in their children’s lives. In fact, I recently read that both men and women have become more involved in their children’s lives and for both parents to work. I am hopeful that the next generations of fathers will continue with this ongoing trend and continue to spend as much time with their children as their wives.

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  9. I really enjoyed this piece because I think that it addressed something that I have been thinking about throughout the semester in my Women's Studies course. As we have continued to learn about more feminists and feminist issues, I have felt that there has been conflict because in some ways feminism rejects traditional feminine roles, but in other ways celebrates them. I think that this difficult balance is coming through in your post. More than that, I think that you have summarized a large part of what feminists are striving for: choice. Should women become mothers? If they want to, then yes, and it is celebrated. If not, then that is also an equally accepted option. The challenge is deciding if the choices that we make are our own or if they have been so heavily influenced by society that they have formed without us really knowing.

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  10. As many people have stated above. I've felt the traditional pressure of being a mother as well. I've even wondered about "What if i got pregnant at a young age? Would I keep the child? Abort it?" The female body was given the opportunity to bare children and I think it is the women's choice whether or not to do so. I know as a girl growing up, I've wondered what it would be like to have children, feel the unconditional love that our mother's have shared with us -not only mothers, but fathers too. I want to feel the connection of a child inside my womb and I want to be able to shape my child's life, helping them to understand what so many of us don't, that women, like men have a choice to do things and that our world isn't just male based.

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  11. We are clearly all at a Colgate to get an education, and hopefully to use this education in some positive way in our futures. Is it a waste then to throw it all away to just be a mother? I think its hard because we are now taught that in order to be successful women we need to be able to have the amazing career and children and a happy husband. All of these things are very hard to juggle. Stay-at-home moms are now looked down upon in society, and I don’t know if this is necessarily a good thing. I know that when I was growing up , stay at home moms were really important. Those moms came on field trips and picked us up from soccer, those moms are necessary. There are definitely some benefits to growing up with a mother who is around to take care of the home and the family. It was also interesting how she talked about how dads that pick up some of the motherly jobs are so highly praised. I get that this may be a little annoying, but I do think that it is a necessary evil. If they are not praised for their behavior they might not continue to do it. Positive reinforcement never hurts and I think praising people should never be something we think is bad. Yes, they may just be doing what they should be doing but its better than not doing it. And if they are the minority doing it they are taking a leap of courage and I think they should be praised a little for taking that leap.

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  12. I honestly think that these are incredibly difficult yet normal questions to be asking of ones self as we come of age and start to have to make career decisions. As ridiculous as so many of the expectations and societal norms are, I really think the best we can do for ourselves and our future families it make choices that we believe whole heartedly in. The idea that there is a right path for women, whether that is staying at hoe with kids or working, needs to be removed. Women should be encouraged to do what they feel is right for themselves and not worry much beyond that. I think that the feminist father brown bag shows us that men have the ability to harness their desires while women are expected to adapt to what people around them may need or want them to do.

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  13. I think my favorite part of your post, Michelle, are your question of "Is it alright if I want to be a homemaker?" and that you want options; specifically the OPTION of finding a job or staying at home. While mothers that are forced to give up careers and work as stay at home moms are undoubtedly oppressed in their own ways, mothers who choose to be a stay at home mom AS their career should certainly be neither pitied nor belittled. My mother, who has been at stay at home mother since 1989 and has taken care of children since, will defend to the grave that the challenges she faces, both inside and outside the home, are equally and difficult and legitimate as any paid career. While she did in fact give up a teaching career, raising kids can become a full time responsibility in itself, aspecially when a woman has little help from her partner. It's not surpriseing that so many of the responses by females here are in agreemtn, because we have come of age in a particularly interesting time. It is not only encouraged but expected that we go to school and become successful in careers, but where does this leave our status as mothers in the future? We feel like we have 2 options- give up a career to raise children, or hire a nanny so that we may excel outside the home. Both warrent criticism and both warrant consequences; we are damned if we do and damned if we don't. Our best bet is to look to female role models in our field but, especially in light of today's brown bag on women in science, this can sometimes be limiting.

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  14. I agree with many of the comments above with regard to feminist striving to establish choice as the status quo, as opposed to traditionally submissive or dominant gendered expectation. I feel as feminist mothers and fathers this is the structure we are always challenging and this is what I find most complicated - how do we work to make institutions reflective of such choices that are consciously made within individualistic/isolated households/familial units. I feel this structural shift needs to occur and I think it is heavily dependent on males/feminist fathers to continue to tell their stories and emphasize that what they are doing are basic responsibilities of a father and a husband because of the strong connection/influence between cultural expectations and structural institutions that continue to favor (white) males (in reference to Dr. Moore's lecture).

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