4.23.2009

Did my foresisters forget something??



Since dropping out of mainstream, earn-a-paycheck life my hamster, against common thought, has not gotten a break. In fact, I think I've been working him even harder.

Before motherhood I considered myself a staunch feminist, and after being pregnant, giving birth, and nurturing a child for more than a year I feel more like a post-modern feminist. And maybe I have the term wrong, but it's what I think fits. I now see the world through they eyes of a mothering woman and feminist, and it surprises me immensely that these shifts have occurred. I didn't know this would happen.

The most defining difference between the feminist I was and the mothering feminist I am now is I really think my foremothers forgot to fight for something crucial in the struggle to gain equality with men in the eyes of the law and our society: the idea that the work involved in being a mother, and all things associated with it, are as equal to the things a man does in his job and therefore should gain as much status in our society.

It's great that they fought for the right to do the same jobs outside of the house, but who was fighting for the status of the woman who was staying at home to raise her children? She was considered a non-feminist. A feminist, almost by definition, was a woman who "broke the chains of childbearing" and, essentially, behaved like a man could: free. Of course she always came home to her second shift, but during the day, she had earned the right do what men did: work outside of the home.

I'm not so sure that was such a boon. I really wish they had fought equally as hard to raise the status of woman, in general, that is to say that women are inherently equal to men, no matter what they were doing and that "women's work," namely child rearing and house management are truly noble pursuits and require incredible intelligence, ambition, determination, poise, and a plethora of social skills. Sounds a lot like what you need to climb any ol' corporate ladder, wouldn't you say?

I break my own heart every time I feel guilty for not earning a paycheck. It's the world I live in that has me, as a stay at home mother, in a strata below that of all money-earning people. No one would ever say it to my face, but it's in the socially awkward question, "Do you work?" Hell yes I work. And I torture myself every day over every little decision that is 1000x more important than that invoice you're working on because I affect a human being's life and development. You affect someone's bottom line. Yet, your question is implicit in supporting the cultural idea that working outside of the home is the standard by which to be measured.

I am not in any way attacking working mothers or fathers, I am attacking the utter lack of status my position holds. Working moms are above me. They garner respect. They "do it all." And truly, they do. They work as hard as any man, get paid $.78 to a man's $1, and then they come home and do what I do all day long. I can't even begin to wrap my head around how difficult that must be.

Almost all of my friends have worked out of necessity, a couple by choice. I think it's fantastic that we have the choice to work (whereas a few decades ago our choices were much less), but why can't we have a generation of women who both see themselves, and are seen by others, as contributing members of society, just like their middle management male partners are?

It's confounding. And sad. Really, really sad.

Look at the state of maternity leave here in the States. A woman gets roughly 8 weeks to birth a child and get back to her desk, ready or not. Fathers get zero (which is also deplorable). It's almost as if the 8 weeks off is grudgingly given; a man never takes paternity leave, after all. If she gets her doctor to write a note she might be able to squeeze out another two weeks. If she's "lucky" enough to get a C-section, she gets an automatic 12 weeks to recover. Of course she can also use the Family and Medical Leave Act, but it only guarantees her position, not a continued monthly income during her absence. Who can afford that??

My foresisters really did get (at least partly) what they asked for: to be given the same opportunities as men in the workplace. Too bad we're not men and our babies are babies and need more than 8 weeks with a mother. I cringe inside whenever I listen to a new mom talk about her maternity leave. She is at once wistful, sad, scared, and determined to do what she has to to help her family survive financially. Other moms I know go back to work because of invested work prior to the baby: schooling, position, etc. She's no less wistful or scared. I want to hug her. I can't relate to her dilemma; I am able to stay home and truly want to stay home, $45k education be damned.

If mothering itself was in a higher position in our society a working mom could get 6 months to a year to mother her infant with no penalties whatsoever regarding her job. Maybe she'd come back at the six month mark, maybe the 12, but at least she could manage that decision herself and not some company looking at employee #346-8.

It's just all so confusing. I'm not a journalist. I'm not much of a debater because I can never remember sources or dates or pages. I haven't linked to anything in this post because I want it to be truly just from my heart and gut. I wrote papers on this in grad school, I read blogs and articles about working moms, breastfeeding vs. formula (which affects most greatly working, breastfeeding mothers), daycare vs. staying at home, and a myriad of other mother- and woman-related issues. I feel the feminist movement forgot something and I'd like to change that. I'd like to exalt the position of mothers, be they stay at home or working, to that of any other wage-earning person in this country. With that kind of basic, intrinsic equality, everything else would fall into position. On a theoretical level, if we are handed equal status before we ever earn a dollar, then why wouldn't we be given equal pay once we decide to work for someone else?


Update 4/28/09: PhD in Parenting wrote two (I think) related articles about these same issues. She's far more eloquent and diligent in her research. I felt I couldn't even bring up Hanna Rosin's inflammatory articles in my post. She knocks them out of the park. PiP also addresses maternity leave in Canada. Check them out here and here.

56 comments:

  1. Well said! I too have struggled with this but my life experience has taught me what is best for me as a mother. My eldest was in daycare and I was a working mother. I swore that if I had more children I would stay home. I was given that opportunity and I am at home. It's not easy and each day there are more and more skills that I have to use. I thought grad stats was hard. HA! Try potty training folks. rofl...

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  2. I totally respect both sides of this issue.

    I have kids that range from 17 to 15 months and I've worked outside the home, been a stay home mom and worked part time. It is all so hard, it should all be respected.

    I do believe as women we are our worst enemies sometimes. We judge and try to make ourselves feel better no matter what choice we made. Let us be happy with whatever choice we made.

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  3. That "Does she work" question comes up for me all the time. I get a little tired of saying, "Yep, harder than I do, raising our kiddo," but it's worth it for the awkward silence that follows.

    It's better when someone just asks, "What does your wife do?" Then I get to say, "We're lucky enough that she can be with our kiddo all day while I'm at the office."

    I'm glad you're thinking about this, Jess. It makes me realize that it's a little ridiculous to ask, "Does your wife work?" It's an innocuous question until you think about the meaning of the words. Either the answer is yes, or they want to know if my wife sits around and lives a life of leisure while our kiddo is in daycare. I know I've started asking that question a whole lot differently over the past year and half.

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  4. I'm always pleased when I hear "Does she work outside the home?" in lieu of "Does she work?"

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  5. Great post! Here in Canada, women get 1 year paid maternity leave. (At least it's that way in the Federal Government)It's great, really. I took one year off with my second son, but only 6 months on mat leave with my firstborn, because my job wasn't that secure at the time.
    I know how difficult it is to be a stay at home mom. I admire stay at home moms, because truth be told - there is NO harder job. It's a 24 hour a day job! There are so many things you are doing in one single day as a stay at home to 1 or more children. Taking care of them alone is no easy task; and then if you're cooking, or cleaning? I don't know how you or others do it. I'm lucky in the sense that my family (mom, mom-in-law, grandmother) babysit daily for me and help us out a lot. Even with all that help, it is hard. I do enjoy coming in to work, though - it's nothing compared to the work I do at home, and in a sense, it's my 'break' time. In my perfect world, I'd work 3 days a week only, though. That would be great.

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  6. Great post. You are right in everything you say - the state of maternity leave provision in the US is disgusting. We are lucky here in the UK to get up to a year, but we still suffer from the problem of low status for stay at home mums. I am 9 months into maternity leave and wondering how I will manage to return, given that I care for my daughter in quite an attached style, as I gather you do. If I go back, I will feel guilty. If I stay at home, I will be wasting my education. It's a conundrum that so many have faced.

    cavemother.blogspot.com

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  7. Stopping by from SITS. Mothers of the world UNITE! You are so right. Moms work harder than anyone else I know, and they don't get raises and vacations, and weekends off. It's the toughest profession you'll ever love. :)

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  8. I agree. Although it's also up to us to choose the right partner who is going to support us fully to. I don't believe that mothering and household work IS womens work. In a time when both partners can go out to work, then both partners should be splitting any parenting and household chores equally.

    I don't have kids but I do have part time step kids and my partner and I share all parenting duties and housework. It works for us!

    LBM xxx

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  9. Very thought provoking post. I totally agree that we lost something when the stay at home lifestyle was pushed aside. I enjoy it and would not trade it for anything.

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  10. You're very right-people have absolutely NO respect for stay at home mothers-we really are treated as "less than" moms with outside employment. I don't see why-especially not when I've only gotten 12 hours of broken sleep in the last 93 hours because I was too busy taking care of my husband and our five year old, 20 month old, and 5 month old to close my eyes for more than an hour at a time.

    Good thing I'm too exhausted from living the "easy" life of a SAHM to be really angry about it. ;)

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  11. Amen to that, sister. I am a stay-at-home mom whose job was eliminated when I attempted to extend my maternity leave, because I wasn't ready to return to the workplace after 8 weeks. I became a stay-at-home mom then not by choice, and with the economy downturn, I wasn't able to find another job that paid well enough for me to work outside of the home. I've come to appreciate being a stay at home mom, but you're right, the position is certainly not exalted. I dread the "do you work" question in social situations. Thanks for sharing your two cents on this one, they were totally worthwhile.

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  12. Here in Malta its a bit better we get 3 and a half months paid maternity leave and we can get a year off unpaid and hold our position. Even fathers can take the year off. However that said, you are right staying at home seems like you are a lesser woman when in reality you aren't. You prbably are better coz u can give uality time to your child whilst working you get snatches and a lot of guilt! But due to society, not every woman can stop working and that is a big shame!

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  13. Congrats on your SITS day.

    This is a topic that I have more thoughts on than will allow in this comment box, I think. ;o)

    In a nutshell, it's shameful what "feminism" has done to the attitude towards motherhood.

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  14. To hell what anyone else thinks. When you are happy with your choice, whatever the choice, then I am happy for you. No judgments.
    I agree with the second commenter, that we are sometimes our own worst enemy. Worrying about what others may think...feeling guilty...blah!
    Make a choice and own it. That is all that's important.
    Anyone that has something to say about it...needs to get their ass out of your hula-hoop and worry about what's in their own.

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  15. AMEN SITSTA!!!!! While I agree with the sentiments of the feminist movement--that women should be recognized for their importance in our society--I believe that the movement got it wrong to say that we are the equal of men. We are not to be compared to men: WE ARE UNIQUE IN OUR ROLE AS WOMEN. As women, we have amazing gifts and capabilities which help us to fulfill our callings, the most important being the shaping of our society through the rearing of our children. Where will our hard work and education pay off more: in the workplace, where there is always someone who can do it better than us, and even if there isn't, what is the longevity of our impact there? or in the home, where our children will be raised to contribute to our society as conscientous moral human beings who will then go on to do the same in their homes, the effects of which are like a stone thrown into the water, the ripples extending beyond our scope of vision? I think that's true impact. So, SITSTA, I say, rock on wit' your bad self!!

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  16. Amen! I have to agree with you that the women who came before us should have fought to gain the respect of all women and not just for the right to work out side the home. In some ways they cut their noses off to spite their face. Better to demand respect for the valuable job you are already doing AND the right to work outside the home, if you so choose. I've always been a stay at home mom and I'm grateful for that. I have not once regretted or second guessed my decision. Like you, I can not imagine how much more difficult my job would be if I had a second job outside the home. Great post.

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  17. Great post, lots of good points. Maybe someday things will change, but I'm not holding MY breath.

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  18. It is a constant struggle for us moms, huh? As a working mom, I wish I could be home more with my little one, but yet, I also enjoy my job. A perfect scenario for me would to work part-time, but if I did that, I'd end up doing full-time work for part-time pay.

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  19. This is an issue close to my heart. I have been on both sides of the argument - being a stay-at-home-mum for 3 years, then being the sole earner of the household for nearly 5. Now I am back at home after being made redundant. And I LOVE IT. It is work in its own right, it is demanding, challenging, sometimes boring, sometimes thrilling, but always worthwhile. The snag: Unpaid and deemed unworthy.
    I think the only way forward is women connecting over this issue. Don't wait for men (who are, generally speaking, the ones in power) to do anything. It is on us to rally women from both sides of the presumed divide to fight for the right to choose: The right to choose motherhood and being a housewife as a CAREER!

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  20. Stopping by from SITS and this is one of those topics that really gets women going (lol). It would be much better if we supported each other instead of judged each others choices.

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  21. People equate equality with sameness. Yeah, we're all created equal, but sameness between men and women does not celebrate the diversity, the differences that make each sex so incredibily wonderful. I don't want to be a man. Yeah, I'd like the man's pay check, but, gee, I want to stay home and raise my sons. Diverse job, diverse requirements, diverse benefits. Some benefits are glaringly apparent like salary. Most aren't. I kind of feel sorry for my guy, not being able to slow down, see the first moments, live the funny moment, not hear the re-tell, shape minute by minute, day by day the person they will become. It took years for my 4th son to tell my husband he loved him,too, because I was the mom-star made his world shine.
    I think we need to stop looking at our roles in an equating kind of way. The best things in life are not salary-related.

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  22. Amen!

    You've managed to put down in words exactly how I feel! (and more eloquently than I could ever do).

    There are days when I feel conflicted by my decision to be a SAHM. The really good thing is that my husband (my trusted best friend) is very supportive of me staying home. I wish I could have a little part time job just to get out of the house and earn a little fun money. But my sweet girls will only be little once and I'd hate to miss this precious time all because I want to have a little fun money.

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  23. amen sista!!!

    we are all stuck between a rock and a hard place. i only hope one day we'll be treated with the respect we all deserve...both working moms and SAHM's.

    happy SITS day!

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  24. Girl...you are preaching to the choir! I am a SAHM who feels on a daily basis that I should return to work. The guilt of losing my $50,000 income a year prior to having my twins, haunts me everyday. Regardless of the importance of the job I do here at home. And you're right, society plays a HUGE factor in that. However, with twins, daycare/preschool would run us about $1200 a month! A MONTH! With the state of the economy and unemployment as it is...I'd be lucky to find an office job making $2000 a month. Let's all do the math here! The amount left over when you factor in work clothing, gasoline & taxes...I'D BE PAYING SOMEONE $1200 A MONTH TO RAISE MY CHILDREN TO BRING HOME $600 A MONTH! It's disgusting.

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  25. I've always had a problem with "equal to men". To me, women are so superior, why would you want to be equal. Women, before the feminist movement, controlled the home and purse strings, in most families. They determined what went into their childs minds and bodies. They taught and earned respect from the home and outside the home. When it was determined the only way for self respect was to go out into th work force and be equal to a man, I think so much was lost. That's not to say, that if you have to work outside the home you shouldn't be paid the same dollars for the same work, but I think the children of our world would be so much better with more home working SAHM's! I mean, if you think being a SAHM is easy work, just do it for a couple of days and see the demands and stress and of course the joy and love. Great post! Hope you have a great SITS day!

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  26. Um, you may not be a journalist or researcher, but WOWZA, you said it, sister. And I loved every word. Good stuff, Hammy.

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  27. I completely agree that feminism has missed the mark in making sure that all women are seen as equal whether we choose to stay home or not. It's crazy that we are still seen by some as lazy and stupid because we choose to stay home. I hope that I can see this change in my lifetime but I'm not too hopeful.

    Happy SITS Day!

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  28. Thanks so much for this post! It's everything I have felt and not been able to put into words. YOU ROCK!

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  29. Hi, I'm stopping by from SITS. Nothing like hitting a hot button! I have been a SAHM for 20 yrs. now! It does get better/ easier when you get the long view of seeing your children turn into fine young adults. I love your hamster reference, I think a have more than one running in my brain...
    @cheapchichom

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  30. I wrote a post about this topic just last night. I do feel stay at home moms are under appreciated...but at the same time, in my social strata, I also feel that I'm looked down upon for going back to work. There's no winning here. None.

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  31. Well, I think YOUR article was wonderfully eloquent; perfectly articulated! I agree wholeheartedly. I was so moved by this article, I'd love to feature it as part of a "Guest Writer Feature" on my blog. I've never done this before. I've always kinda hogged the spotlight to myself, but I feel very connected to your writing and your ideas and would love to share YOU with my readers. Let me know what you think of this idea. Your SITSTA, Jenn @ rookno17.blogspot.com

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  32. Well, said. I concur with Heather of the EO. WOWZA about sums it up. I completely agree with you.

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  33. I appreciate that the feminist movement gave women a choice, but there will never be equality. That said, I also believe women were fed a line of shit with the 'you can have it/do it all' mentality. I don't think it's possible!

    I know I'm going to sound ridiculous here, but back in the day when women were homemakers we didn't have the violence in schools that we do now, kids weren't running the streets all hours of the day and night and getting into trouble, they were fed dinner at a decent hour and not eating dinner when they should be going to bed to get a good night's sleep for school.

    I'm all for women having a choice and I am supportive of women who work. I've been on both sides of this issue and both are equally difficult.

    What I don't like is being made to feel like I'm not a contributing member of society because my career choice has me at home raising my kids and organizing my spice drawer alphabetically.

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  34. Funny how thing turn out....
    I never wanted children.....I wanted my career.
    2 years into a marriage I wound up pregnant....I felt it right to quit my job, give up my dreams and stay home. The first was so easy, such a good child, I went along with my husbands wants and had a second. I never went back to work....we didn't need the money, I had a trust. And all the time it was my choice to stay home. But I always felt small when that question came up......Do you work? It still bothers me. It bothers me because I know what they are thinking when i say I haven't a career. People are very condescending and all the while they are thinking you, me, we are selfish, lazy and worthless. Yeah yeah yeah....there is nothing harder or more important than the job of motherhood. yeah....right....
    You know it. I know it....but the world doesn't believe it. And it also ticks me off when I spend more time working at home, doing it all, than I or anyone else, has ever, out in the work force yet they get all the credit, pats on the backs, awards, bonuses, etc. Knowing how it truly is out there; how the average person puts in 4 hours of actual work in a 8 hour day, while a stay at home mom puts in 24 hours no pay, is just so unfair. And moms that work outside, most always dole out chores to family, so it is a misconception that she is "doing it all".

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  35. Very well said. Loved this post. I've worked "part-time" since my son was 3 months. And always felt pulled in both directions. I felt like I had a full time job on both ends and only "part-time" to get either done. There's no good answer, but to be proud that staying home to raise your little humans is a job worthy of IMMENSE respect and praise. And those of us that realize the respect it deserves need to lead the way in showing it!
    ***Ally
    Happy SITS Day!

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  36. Wow - nicely said. I have to agree, and admit that even though I'm still in college, I keep my own hamster running with thoughts of the same regard... when I have children of my own, I know I want to be home with them like my own mother was with us (she had her own business from home, but the point being... she was there). So I find myself thinking about all I'll need to do, all the hard work and achievements i'll need to make outside the home ASAP once I graduate so that I can do the same hard work and make the same achievements INSIDE the home when the time comes :)

    Women - we truly are damn amazing.

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  37. Hello there. My but you do have your hands full and seems like some deep thinking going on. Thanks for sharing. Love your writings, congrats on SITS feature, and in only a few months, great.

    Looking forward to reading more. Will follow, come and see me at
    www.samwich365.com
    www.spitnglue.com

    Keri

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  38. I had this Ah-ha moment myself. Well said.

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  39. I completely agree. I think that the job of mother is far more important that most any other job out there whether it is held by a man or a woman. As a single woman with no children, I definitely think I've got it easy. I admire the women who are able to stay home and take care of their children. I am exhausted at the mere thought of all of that work. I think I'll go back to my desk job and relax. ;-)

    Visiting from SITS.

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  40. I love how you look at things... and I think you have a very valid perspective.

    www.americantribal.blogspot.com

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  41. Great post, and well written. I appreciate that it's from your heart, yet I can tell it was backed up with a lot of study.

    Keep writing...

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  42. Well said. Sometimes I can really kick myself for leaving The Netherlands and choosing to raise my child here in the US. It's not that Holland has the status issues worked out, they don't, but maternity leave is 16 weeks, the government subsidizes every child regardless of the parents' income, and working part time does not cost you benefits.

    But. I DID choose to leave so suck it up. It feels good to rant a little, though.

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  43. I feel blessed beyond belief that I am able to be a SAHM. I wasn't able to with my oldest so I have lived both sides. I am lucky that my husband answers that question well too. Yes, she does! And hard work it is!!

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  44. I just quit my job today (or rather phoned in to advise that I will not be returning from my maternity leave). That call was tough to make. Really tough. I spent a lot of time considering so many bits and pieces and one of those pieces I will admit is my loss of status. I have just left a semi-high-paying job to be a stay-at-home mom with a blog. It's very new to me (approximately 4 hours new) so it'll take me awhile to get used to this. I have to say that I agree with what you say. I'm sure I have more to say on this...I just need to mull on it awhile.

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  45. Alex Fitzpatrick aka Ma What's 4 DinnerOctober 20, 2009 at 6:28 PM

    Amen! We are mothers, the most important and overlooked job on the planet. One that I found I appreciated so much more once I became one and realized it truly is the only 24/7 job on earth.

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  46. Stopping by from SITS to say YES YES YES. You took the words out of my head and put them down in a much more organized manner than I ever would. :)
    WHY do I feel weird when my four year old daughter tells me she wants to be a mudder(mother) when she grows up? Why can't I just be happy about that? Because I was brought up to think it was my right, no, my PRIVILEGE to get out there and work. So I better get out there and use it! Gah. I'm totally brainwashed.
    So I'm right there with you--another conflicted mama with a college degree getting all dusty on the shelf.
    Well said, indeed. :)

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  47. Oh I needed to read this, too!

    I've been getting really down on myself about not earning a paycheck lately, and my mother (who was a SAHM) keeps reminding me that a mother's work is just as honorable, even though the pay sucks. My problem is that I've been spending as if my former pay is still present, but that's another topic entirely and is pushing my hubby to say things along the lines of telling me to go get a job... Eep. He's the one who insisted I be a SAHM to begin with because he doesn't want our daughter raised by daycare, but it's really taken its toll on our financial budget, you know. I think one day, when she's in pre-school perhaps, I will likely go back to school/work anyways. Not because I don't find worth in being a SAHM, but because I have the urge to spend like a working girl and my pockets just aren't lined like one right now. Sad, but true.

    Great post.

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  48. Damn, now my hamster is going crazy. It is absurd that the value of a mother's work in the home is not recognized. Just wait until the number of stay at home dads increases and then all of a sudden it will be considered valuable. Society has a long way to come in terms of gender equity.

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  49. My sister in law's maternity leave just came to an end and I can see how heartbroken she is to be leaving her son at daycare. :(

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  50. Good post. It really is one of the toughest questions. I am a 3rd generation working mother. My grandmother, aunts, mother, sister, and nieces have all held full time jobs while raising our children, so there was no question that I would ever stay home. I don't think I seriously considered it as an option since by then I was the primary breadwinner. And my children got by just fine - they are 27, 20 & 11 now and all are fine boys who are doing well, but I look back now and wonder why I didn't fight harder for that choice. And I think the status thing you are talking about was a big part of it. I just couldn't see myself in that role. It's definitely food for thought. Happy belated SITS day.

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