Mother may I?: When will women stop asking for permission?

21 Mar

It’s 2013 and women have not made up their mind as to what it means to be a feminist; whether we want to be celebrated for our achievements professionally, for the social good, as a mother, or as all three – whether we should be working outside the home and whether we should be telling other women how to live their lives according to our individual epiphanies for the holy grail: defining our version of a perfect work/life balance while being excellent mothers. We haven’t stopped wanting validation on how to live our lives within our desired parameters, in many ways we have not stopped asking, “Mother May I?” when shaping our role as women.

It seems we always have a need to espouse our personal beliefs and best methods for parenting unto unsuspecting innocent bystanders and expect them to join the madness of bullying and peer pressure until the world realizes that our mothering skills and choices are superior over anyone elses, as seen in recent stories.

I have no qualms about sharing what works for you personally; stories of self-discovery and joy are always welcome but blanket statements on who should be doing the majority of child rearing and house chores based on the belief that one gender is “innately” better at parenting makes me want to hurl, literally, on their kitchen floor.

I won’t make any attacks on either Kelly Makino, a non-profit employee turned SAHM, or even journalist Lisa Miller; the media tends to spin these gold nuggets of controversy into a frenetic storm so that you can’t help but go into the story already with an arsenal of prejudices. Ms. Makino is in her every right to CHOOSE the lifestyle that best complements her objectives as a mother, good for her and her family for coming to a compromise for the benefit of their vision of family bliss.

But to brand this personal choice made by two women as a trend of an emerging feminist domestic goddess while Dad goes off to work and gets a break from Mommy and the Kids is insulting. Not only because it lacks substantial research (Lisa Miller couldn’t find a third mom to prove her case?), scientific backing of statements made that women tend to have stronger “motherly” instincts than their male counterparts, baseless statements that women tend to be more efficient in the domestic realm (didn’t Lisa mention Ms. Makino’s dirty dishes in the sink?), and also irresponsible in ignoring an actual growing trend: the single parent and same-sex parents. The Boston Globe states that 1 in 4 children in the US is raised by a single parent. The numbers for same-sex parents are harder to identify as given the political and social climate in many cities, this is not a statement nor figure that is highly publicized.

I have friends who are same-sex couples and make wonderful parents, sharing both the responsibility and the joy of child-rearing without thinking about dividing the tasks based on gender identity roles. One parent might have more responsibility due to a higher flexibility at work while the other focuses on higher earning but no one stops to think about who was born with better pre-disposed patience and parenting sentiments.

In terms of the single parent, be it mother or father, how can you dictate that you are being selfish for pursuing a career and relying on supplemental childcare to carry your household forward if you are the sole bearer of that responsibility? I am a big fan of Sandberg’s “Lean In” initiative and I subscribe to the thinking that women’s rights is far from over, we are nowhere near an egalitarian society. I firmly believe that women should always have a personal choice to seek the lifestyle that brings them the most peace of mind and fulfillment and to have the right to define what their role will be in life without fear of judgement from others, especially from other women.

I get snide remarks, sideways glances, “well-intentioned” advice to scale back on my multiple commitments. As a single parent the onus is on me, and only me, to advance my family financially, emotionally, and to create a thriving environment for my two girls so they can grow to be happy (in whichever way they choose to achieve that satisfaction from life).

I have a full-time career that is demanding but also highly satisfying to my professional goals, my social network, my ability to push myself, and let’s face it, to my ego as well. I am highly involved in a non-profit, in a growing parent group that I founded almost five years ago, I am committed to my writing, to furthering my education, to being a good daughter and sibling, and to my social life. My children do not even make the list because items on lists are essentially line items, all of the above, can come and go and change over time; but not my commitment, love and care of my children. They are as part of me and essential and naturally occurring as breathing. They give me life, motivation, kindness, happiness, the ability to admire humanity – they simply are part of me.

I live my life the way it makes me happiest. I try not to judge others for what they choose but I do hope we can all agree on this: embrace who you are and your version of happiness and celebrate the ability to choose how to be a woman in modern society and what kind of mother you want to be including whether you want to be a mother at all.

One Response to “Mother may I?: When will women stop asking for permission?”

  1. David Kennedy April 15, 2013 at 8:28 PM #

    Thinking about this for some time. The issue to me is really one of class. Divorce and single parent families are generally the province of those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale. Sure there are in-roads into the middle and upper classes. But, the affluent do the math and they are less likely to divorce. Financially, women and children do very poorly in divorce. In every predicator of social success — academic achievement, criminal behavior, promiscuity, drug use, economic success — children of single/divorced parents do worse than kids from intact families.

    Thus, in the examples provided, a couple of affluent women are essentially giving the finger to other single parents (mostly moms). Sure the media loves to gin up a controversy. Still, there’s something silly in their thinking they have stumbled onto some profound insight. Further, there’s something cruel how they crow about their decision. In many regards, they are fortunate. Frankly, they don’t seem much like feminists. Simply affluent women who can make a choice and are exercising it. Which is a luxury many women can indulge and other can’t. Don’t fret too much about it. There is little you can do.

    Lastly, I’d note as a man, there are no choices for us. Regardless of circumstances, we are always expected to bring home the bacon, which isn’t a complaint but an observation.

    Cheers!

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