*Disclaimer: YES, I know “choosing to stay home” is only a choice for a very few privileged women. It’s actually ok to write about issues that concern middle class women, too.*
Like a lot of mothers of young children, especially middle class ones, I’ve been thinking about that Erica Jong essay about everything that we modern mothers do wrong, and her daughter’s response, and everyone else’s response, and the responses to those responses, and how all of that winds up being trivialized as “mommy wars.”
One of the points that I think is always missing from this discussion is age.
When their first child was born my parents were 26 and in graduate school. When I was born, they were 29 and getting their first academic positions at universities where they would stay for the rest of their professional lives.
When my first child was born I was 35, my husband was 36. He was on his second academic position and got tenure that same year. I was well into my second successful career. I had already had a mini-midlife crisis, getting burned out on my job and moving to the desert for six months.
When I was 26, I, too was completely engrossed in my career. I couldn’t even be bothered to date, let alone consider taking time out to care for a baby. But nine years later, having watched people be laid off from jobs, having been laid off once myself, having exhausted my supply of fart jokes, having had wonderful bosses and miserable ones, the joy of a “career” was a little less joyful.
When I got pregnant with my first child I had every intention of working full-time. I was lucky enough to work out a plan with my company that would allow me to work from home part-time. Then, while I was on maternity leave my company was sold and reorganized and I was laid off.
No, being home full time was not always a perfect, joyful experience. But although I’ve always been incredibly lucky to have meaningful work that I love (yes, even writing fart jokes) working full time was not always a thrilling, mind expanding, world-changing experience either. What’s more, professional life isn’t what it was for people of my parents’ and Jong’s generation. My parents each had ONE job their entire professional life. Who does that any more?
I’m lucky that my skill set and my husband’s tenured status and insurance lend themselves to me working part-time. I chose the mommy track, not because I was in pursuit of perfect children, or because of retrenched political agendas, but because frankly, working life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
No one who ever saw the joy with which I put my kids in their cribs and strollers could accuse me of being an attachment parent. I’ll admit to making my own baby food and using cloth diapers (for kid 1), but again it wasn’t about perfection, it was cheaper and I had the time. I had the time because I worked part-time and had one kid. A possibility brought about in large part because of my age. I now make more money working 30 hours a week than I made working 50 hours a week in my go-go 20s.
I agree with most of what Erica Jong has to say, but my issues with my own 1970’s era feminist mother are just a little too entrenched to not object to her argument at least a little.
Oh, also, I know the “zipperless parenting” referenced in the title isn’t here, it didn’t really fit in with the rest of the essay, but I loved it.