Unlike many feminists with my beliefs and my education, I decided to stay home with my four children full-time for 15 years and part-time until the youngest went to college. I involved myself in nonsexist childrearing, childbirth education, breastfeeding counseling, parent education, toddler playgroups, babysitting cooperatives, cooperative nursery schools, school libraries, a campaign to save the local public library, the nuclear freeze movement, mental illness support and advocacy, parent advocacy for playground upkeep and a preschool playroom, a high school group for interracial understanding–the list is endless. When I attended library school and social work school, I naively assumed my qualifications would be obvious and no one would dare to treat me like a beginner. Instead, I was given the responsibility of an experienced worker and the salary, benefits, and respect of a beginner.
I recall one infuriating incident during my first social work placement; my childless supervisor earnestly instructed me how to interview a client with her two year old present. I had frequently run La Leche Meetings with 20 moms and 30 babies and toddlers. Women social workers who had taken very short maternity leaves and worked full-time during their children’s childhood too often acted like all my knowledge had been attained by cheating. I got more respect from male professors. The situation has worsened; women are terrified of taking only a few years off from work. And yet the men who fought World War II left their jobs for several years and did not suffer economic consequences. The government even paid for their college and graduate school education.
When my mom went back to college in 1963 and work in 1968, after having raised 6 children, she was accorded more respect and her experience was more honored than mine was 20 years later. Full-time childrearing is frequently belittled as beneath the time and attention of intelligent, well-educated parents, who presumably should have exploited immigrant women of color to love and understand their children while they pursued their more important jobs.
Remember, things have not changed for the valiant, loving women of color who raise our children and care for our aging parents. I take care of my toddler grandson 3 days a week; my friends are mostly nannies from all over the world. I am often appalled how little highly successful two-career couples pay their nanny; many fail to provide the caregiver with any benefits, least of all health care. They think nothing of calling the nanny on Sunday and telling her they don’t need her that week. As one dedicated women from the Dominican Republic told me, “the more I love the children, the more it hurts my heart.”
Many women with college degrees, graduate, or professional degrees have made enormous strides in most major professions and in the workplace generally. Even nurses and teachers have made significant progress because they unionized. Public librarians and social workers usually make less than any other professionals with graduate degrees, because they are mostly women and they are not unionized.
When college-educated women have children, or have to care for aging parents, they begin to realize that women have mostly gained the right to follow the traditional male life style, emphasizing work over relationships, caregiving, community activism.. As women chose to have children at an older and older age, the realization is late in coming. At that point their lives tend too become too frenzied and exhausting to leave any time for feminism and political reform. My four well-educated, successful daughters are only having their consciousness raised as they begin to have children. You might make over $100,000 a year, but you still will have to pump breastmilk for your infant in the toilet and find somewhere other than your workplace refrigerator to store the “biohazard” of your breastmilk.
The mommy wars infuriate me because they presuppose it is the responsibility of mothers, not fathers, to raise children. In the 70s we believed in equal childrearing, although we fell far short of that goal. Fathers who stay at home with their young children probably face the same discrimination and disrespect when they return to their former career.