Over the weekend we hung out for a few hours with some of my husband’s coworkers and their kids. One wife is a very pregnant stay at home mom of two toddlers, and one husband is a stay at home dad of a toddling soon-to-be older brother. I’ve hung out with the female coworker and her husband and child more, and their child is closer in age to our baby. I am very impressed with him for staying at home with the kid.
When I first went back to work I had baby in day care three days a week and watched him for two, hoping that’d ease my transition back. But those two days were SO HARD- it’s constant, mundane, brain-draining, frustrating physical work that’s incredibly, ridiculously rewarding. (See photo)
And being alone with a little one all day with no adult interaction is rough- it was hard on me and it was hard on our marriage (which is awesome I highly recommend marriage by the way). By the afternoons I was itching to work, but when I was at the office I was aching to be with my sweet little baby.
Aside: I have no thoughts on “having it all” except that the phrase doesn’t make any sense to me. My hormones and heart want to be with my baby ALL THE TIME, and my mind and exercising body do not, and unfortunately all these things go together so it is impossible to have all my desires met. Probably my wants will evolve as my child ages, and as I get more children, and I get older and my career moves, but right now it is impossible for me to have all the things I want.
So, my sexism. When I’m with the SAHM, I take it for granted that she stays at home, watching two handfuls and running the household (she does EVERYTHING in that home) and even gardening and raising chickens. We chatted about cooking and pregnancy and adapting to our new bodies and making friends. Whenever I talk to the SAHD, I feel in awe that he stays at home, and we talk about the frustrations of hanging out with a little one all day and strategies to not go crazy. Thus there are two sides to my sexism:
- I do not feel in awe that she stays at home. I assume that she does not go crazy or feel frustrated or feel any sort of internal struggle with all the things I said above about having little ones. This is totally unfair to her and speaks deeply of my cultural assumptions (women can stay at home and don’t feel all the things that I feel and also I am a woman so this really doesn’t make sense). Also, she’s got two kids so she has it way harder than him.
- I do feel in awe that he stays at home. This is unfair to him- it implies that I think staying at home is so hard on him, and further implies that maybe I think men can’t handle it. Also, it’s the only thing we talk about vs. a wide variety of things I can talk to her about. I’ve now put him in a box with one interesting thing to discuss (his dadhood) vs. being a full human being with other thoughts.
I realized this on our way home from their place. What do I do to fix this? The clear answer is that I need to treat every person as an individual of individual circumstances, and treat each person with respect. But while that abstraction is well and good, I need more concrete action items to get better. When I talk to SAHDs, I won’t say things like “I’m so impressed that you stay at home” and instead I’ll talk to them like human beings. When I talk to SAHMs, I’ll try to invite commiseration on how difficult raising kids is (you have to tiptoe here depending on how close you are with a person, b/c I’m not a SAHM but I could be if I chose to so anything coming out of my mouth could be seen as judgmental). Hopefully these actions and saying these words will eventually change my internal attitudes too.
This all reminds me of a great essay I read two years ago, which I highly recommend. Also, if you change one letter in the dude’s wife’s name, you get my name:
“Meanwhile, Jen is always wrong. At home with the kids, she’s an anachronistic housewife; at work, she’s ditching her kids to nurture selfish professional ambitions. Somewhere, lurking at the root of this all, is the tenacious idea that men should have a career, whereas women must choose between a career and being at home.”
Other thoughts that should make their own blog post but aren’t because the next posts will be on baking (hopefully) or math (that’s ok too): I was very eager to read the NYT op-ed titled “What Makes a Woman?” but it was a bit more defensive and less full of brainstorming of collaborative solutions between cis and trans women than I was hoping. On a similar note, my friend recently posted about her friend’s blog about being a trans*dude , which I’ve started reading and I agree with what she said “I’ve learned so much reading it!” I still have a lot to learn (like I don’t know why that asterisk is there in trans* but I’ll find out).