The Feminist Breeder had a great post a few days ago about the problematic recent trend of women, previously stamped with the “stay-at-home mom” label, claiming the designation of “full-time mom” instead.
The phrase isn’t fractious in and of itself; people can call themselves waffle irons for all I care. Hackles get raised, though, when the implied corollary is “part-time mom.”
TFB is quick to point out, both in the body of the post and in response to reader comments, that construing parenthood within an economic model is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, anyway. We can take equal issue with the term “working mom,” as it insinuates that caring for children and maintaining a household is not “work.” (To this end, however, I have seen greater movement toward the WOHM [work-outside-the-home mom] designation, which seems fair enough). The main thrust of TFB’s argument is that, whether one works outside the home for compensation, or within the domestic sphere without compensation, one is always a full-time mom. The characteristics that make a person a mother can’t be quantified in terms of number of diapers changed, number of meals prepared, or even hours of “face time.” Being a mom is, in fact, such a nebulous, highly individuated quality that applying a universal definition is kind of pointless.
Unless you’re down with the Cult of True Womanhood.
And, hey! It turns out some people still are! Check out this comment in response to the TFB post:
I have used the FT/PT distinction in the past, but in a real way I think. For me, the PT mom isn’t the mom who goes to work. It’s the one that doesn’t nurse cause she wants her breasts perfect, doesn’t even try for the natural, vaginal birth because she wants to stay tight, who dumps the kid in daycare so she can have the day to herself even when she’s not at work, and who doesn’t go get her kid out of daycare/school when they’re sick, but leaves them there to get everyone else’s kids sick. It’s those mom’s who don’t seem in it or to care really that get me. In my world those few mom’s that do earn the PT title are the working mom’s also, but certainly not all of them.
First: Plural nouns do not require the use of apostrophes.
(Now that I have that punctuation smackdown out of the way …)
Second: I’m really excited that she included the clarification “in my world,” because this is fabulous anecdotal evidence supporting the possibility of interdimensional and/or interplanetary travel. You heard it here first, arbiters of scientific fact!
In my world, I’m pretty sure the Part-time Moms, as defined above, don’t exist.
This is, in some respects, part and parcel to the fresh versus frozen blueberry debacle that Jen wrote about a couple of months back. What’s the old adage? “You can’t boost yourself up by bringing others down”?
Let’s be honest, though: it can make you feel good about yourself temporarily — especially if you’re really needing to internally justify some choice that is teetering on the razor’s edge of your personal parental standards. “Yes, I let my child eat three packages of fruit snacks for breakfast … but at least they were Annie’s Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks. Have you read the label on [Brand X] fruit snacks? The parents who let their kids eat those might as well just pour high fructose corn syrup down their gullets!”
You feel all superior for a moment. And the moment passes. And you (by “you,” I mean “me”) allow some other ridiculous, kid-related ephemera to gnaw at your conscience.
With her thumbnail sketch of a Part-time Mom, the commenter is really going for the jugular. Birth choices. Breastfeeding. Daycare “dumping.” I think it’s safe to say that HFCS-laden fruit snacks aren’t weighted with the same cultural baggage.
“But, wait!” you shout, “I know someone who works with someone whose sister-in-law is that exact tight-vagina-ed, perky-breasted, blithely baby-chucking succubus that she described!” Or maybe it’s one of those Real Housewives of Perdition. Whoever this Part-time Mom happens to be, chances are it’s probably not someone to whom you are very close, or who you find very sympathetic in general; and vilifying their mothering choices figures into the Supreme Matrix of Identifying More Reasons Why They Are Horrible. Am I right? Yes?
Because, if the person making these choices was a friend, a loved one, a person whose every move and affectation we don’t critically examine with a jaundiced eye, we are likely to process — to even speculate about — their decisions with a lot more gentleness. Gentleness that might look a little something like this:
- Elected to have a medically unnecessary cesarean birth to avoid sexual dysfunction. Maybe she knows someone who experienced urinary incontinence or vaginal prolapse, and associated that with their vaginal birth. Maybe her OB-GYN has told her that she was risking urinary incontinence or vaginal prolapse if she attempted a vaginal birth. Maybe “big babies run in the family,” and no one bothered to dispel the myth that this automatically translates to more pain, tearing and potential for longterm damage. Maybe she wasn’t aware of the physiological aspects of vaginal delivery and postpartum recovery of the structures involved. Maybe she was a survivor of sexual violence and did not want to risk the birth of her child triggering traumatic memories. Maybe her partner made insensitive remarks about not being able to think about her romantically after seeing a baby come out of there. Maybe cesaerean births have been so normalized by the medical establishment in the United States that she didn’t consider all the ramifications of an elective surgical birth; it wasn’t a hard sell; “keeping tight” seemed just as good a reason as any.
- Didn’t even try to breastfeed because she wants perfect breasts. Maybe her medical providers were not supportive of breastfeeding, and did not inform her that new research suggests breastfeeding does not contribute to breast ptosis (although, sadly, pregnancy itself does!). Maybe, even if she was aware of this study, the entrenched lore says otherwise — and dominant beauty standards prop up (no pun intended!) “perkiness” as an ideal. Maybe her partner convinced her that she would not be desirable if breasts were associated with baby-feeding.
- Dumps her kids in daycare, even when they’re sick (or questionably sick), even when she HAS THE DAY OFF! Maybe …
Oh, hell. Let’s make this personal. That particular facet of the Part-time Mom mythos is me. My kids are in daycare because I work (outside the home, for compensation. Yes). I work, among other, more esoteric reasons, because I have two post-secondary degrees, greater earning potential than my (brilliant, capable, undervalued-by-whoever-determines-salary-standards) spouse, and carry the family’s benefits. I place enormous value on the quality of care providers we have engaged, but I am faced with certain financial and location-related limitations. I miss my children and worry about them when I am at work, but not to the point that I cannot fulfill my basic, job-related obligations and call into question my ability to work.
And speaking of: when you (again, read: “I”) have two children under age five, both of whom are being monitored for chronic health concerns of varying degrees of severity and are still susceptible to all the crud that gets passed from grubby hands to mucous membranes and back again, it is more alluring than the One Ring to just stick them in a clean diaper, hurry them out the door and hope that that 3:30 AM bout of diarrhea was their last. Or give them a dose of infant’s Motrin and a popsicle and hope the fever goes down. Or run the humidifier all night, squirt some saline mist in both nostrils and hope the torrent of nose-gunk dries up. Because let’s just say the theoretical boss? While generally very understanding and accommodating and willing to try to frame your experiences in child-rearing in the same terms she uses for wrangling her three dogs … sometimes she seems a little skeptical that a small humanling can really be sick so often.
Finally, we’ve come to the bit about leaving children in daycare when the mom doesn’t have to be at work. Like one of those obscure-ish holidays (“Oh — it’s Presidents Day?” [scratches head]) when daycare is still open. I admit that this one has given me some pause in the past. If you love your kids so much and are always lamenting how little time you get to spend with them, why don’t you take advantage of an opportunity to do just that?
First, the quick, brush-off: “Because most childcare providers charge for days when the child doesn’t attend, anyway, so I’d be ‘losing’ money.”
Then, the slightly more considered response: “Because an odd handful of days each year isn’t going to make enough of a difference in my or my children’s perception about the amount of time we spend together.”
And, at last, the truth comes out: “Because I am a big introvert and need to be alone with my thoughts (someplace other than my car) every once in a great while.” (When this time alone with my thoughts does happen to fall on Presidents Day, I promise I’m contemplating the rich history of our nation’s executive office from sun-up to sun-down, though).
So. My radical idea is this: treat every mother — even the Part-time Mom, doing everything “wrong,” who doesn’t “seem in it or to care really” — with the same gentleness, the same regard as we would a friend or a loved one. Imagine that flat caricature into three-dimensionality. Do not falsely conflate child abuse and neglect with straying from (sometimes equivocal, and definitely culturally relative) best parenting practices.
All of the knowledge we have, as parents, and all our strongest convictions, weren’t acquired in a vacuum. I know that proponents of some parenting styles like to promote their approach with claims about biological essentialism. But, uh, I don’t think that implying that a person is fundamentally, like, contravening nature is going to win a lot of converts. Instead, we’ve got to knock off the “smirking from on high” act and spread the wealth a little bit.
How does one do that? Well, like this:
- Jen has had a positive experience with cloth diapering.
- Jen shares her positive experience with cloth diapering.
- “But isn’t it messy/stinky/costly/time-consuming?” ask the people who have never known a world without disposable diapers, or who ruefully recall trying to sun-bleach pre-folds on the clothesline in mid-November, thirty-some years ago (that would be my mother-in-law).
- “Why no!” explains Jen, “And here’s why … . Oh, and here are some other advantages to cloth diapering, too …”
*Jen does not demonize them when they turn around and buy an economy-sized box of Pampers, in spite of her persuasive argument.
She knows that they did not invent disposable diapers and saturate the market with them. She knows that they did not pour millions of dollars into touting the convenience of disposables, and downplaying the post-consumer impact. She knows that they did not set the price of disposable diapers, so that an $8 weekly expenditure seems less costly than a $200 start-up investment in cloth.
And she also knows that, by confidently speaking to her beliefs, she has planted a seed. While her advocacy may not tip one person’s opinion in her direction, it might do just that for another. This is how the snowball starts rolling.
Share away, then. Talk frankly about those most taboo, most feared aspects of vaginal delivery and breastfeeding with expectant moms who trust and value your opinion. Problem-solve by suggesting feasible ways in which they can strike a happier (for them) balance between work and family life.
And, simultaneously, start attacking the right monsters. Hint: they aren’t the “Part-time Moms”.
Question the widely accepted employment practices that serve as barriers between parents and children trying to form mutually healthy relationships. Think about whether you would be willing to brace yourself against whatever fall-out arose from adopting Canadian-style maternity leave benefits as a national standard (including protests about funding sources and the perceived legitimacy of mothers “taking a year off”). Expose the artificiality, and misogyny, of aesthetic “ideals” that commodify and co-opt women’s bodies and that teach us to always and only value form over function.
If we truly care about effectuating longterm change, if our goal is truly improving the quality of life of mamas and children, this is how we slowly inch our way there.
If we only want to “cast stones” at those whose parenting acumen isn’t up-to-snuff, though … we’d better be prepared to hunker down in a hermetically sealed, concrete bunker (certainly not a proverbial glass house!) for the rest of our parenting days. And take lots of Valium.