Tuesday, January 21, 2014

one of my issues

I was listening to one of the Dallas talk-show hosts yesterday (I am in the Dallas radio market).

He was talking about the story that's come out on Wendy Davis, that apparently she was not the "poor single mother" she claimed to be. And he also pointed out that she "ditched" (his word) her kids with her then-husband, so she could go off to Harvard Law School. (There are several fairly well-respected law schools in the North Texas area).

Anyway, it got me thinking: this is one of my problems with modern feminism, or perhaps, a lot of modern attitudes. The concept that what you think of as your own fulfillment, your own happiness, is paramount, and that those who might depend on you don't matter so much. While I don't think Davis' kids were abused or neglected in the situation they were in, still - it would have been unhappy for me, as a child, to be told, "Mommy needs to go away for a while to go to school."

But I do think that's a "modern" attitude - that those who are depending on you, be they children, spouses, or other significant others (like aging parents), if they get in the way of your doing what you want, you scrape 'em off and move on.

Don't get me wrong: There are situations where you need to call in help. For example, with aging parents, if one of them develops dementia, or even just needs a round-the-clock care giver, it's probably a bit much to expect that of one person. But to lightly make the decision to put them in a facility, because it's easier for you to fulfill your dreams then....no.

This is something I've thought about. My parents are both closing in on 80, and while right now they are both in pretty good health and definitely of sound mind, if something were to happen - well, I'd see it as being two choices for me: first, I could quit my job here, move up there to be closer to them, and hope I could find sufficiently flexible employment as to be on hand to help them. Or (and this is what I'd think I would do, if they would agree) moving them down here, buying a small house close to mine, and being available as much as possible to help.

(Yes, I have a brother. But he has a family of his own depending on him)

I also think that some of the feminists are far too quick to dismiss stay-at-home parenting. I was thinking about this yesterday: my mom chose to stay at home with my brother and me when we were kids. Luckily, my dad earned enough money (and I think in some ways it was easier, in the 1970s, than it is now). Yes, they made sacrifices: we never went on 'fancy' vacations, we didn't get cable television until I was in college, we didn't have expensive clothes. But my mother wanted to stay home for my brother and me. And she will probably never fully realize how blessed we were to have her make that decision. I knew if I had a bad day at school and was sad when I got home, she'd be there, and she'd be willing to listen to me. Or if I got sick at school, I could have the nurse call her, and she could come right away and get me. And in the afternoons, after I got home, I could sit down at the kitchen table and work on my homework while she prepared dinner.

It made a huge difference in my life knowing that she was there and I could rely on her, that she wasn't going to have some meeting or conference or other duty that complicated things.

But I also realized yesterday: even though she may have said "no" to some things by staying at home (no to an outside career, no to her own paycheck, no to whatever prestige her working might bring), she also got to say "yes" to a lot of other things, things that mattered to her. First and foremost: a few years ago she mentioned to me that shortly after I was born, my dad said, "You know, I'm earning enough that we could hire a nanny and you could go back to work" and her response was "I didn't have a kid just to give her to someone else to raise." She didn't say that as bragging; it was more an explanation of why she chose that.

And I understand that lots of families today would love to be able to do that, but can't, either because there isn't a sufficiently good "breadwinner" job for one person, or because of taxes, or because of cost of living. And that's too bad.

But she also had time to do other things - she had a huge garden when I was growing up (and that supplied a lot of the vegetables for our family - so we ate better and also saved money. And she canned or froze all of the surplus, so we had at least tomatoes and frozen corn and beans into the winter). She baked all our bread. She sewed. Those are all things that saved money for the family (that was back in the days when it WAS cheaper to bake bread at home, or to sew clothes). But they were also all things she enjoyed, and she got to do them.

I don't have kids. But I do work full time. It's a good week when I can find an hour or so, in total, to sew or knit. And gardening? I set out each spring with huge plans but once summer classes start up, forget it. I don't get around to weeding or tending as I should, and as a result I don't get as many tomatoes as I might, and I've never even tried corn, knowing the attention (in the form of regular irrigation) it would need here.

Yeah, some feminists would claim my mom's gardening was somehow oppressing her. I don't remember it as that - I remember her taking a lot of pride in how much her garden produced, in the unusual stuff she could grow (one year she even attempted cauliflower, which is kind of Gardening Level: Expert stuff). Life is full of trade-offs, and by saying "yes" to some things, you say "no" to others, but also, by saying "no" to some things, you get the chance to say "yes" to other things that might matter even more to you.

I'm really glad my mom made the choice we did. As I said, my brother and I were immeasurably blessed by it. But I also think now, as an adult, that my mom was probably blessed in some ways, and blessed in ways she would not have been out in the workforce. And it bugs me when people belittle women who have made that choice, because they are blinding themselves to that fact.

1 comment:

Kate P said...

Your parents sound awesome. The resounding theme of your post is sacrifice--a very tough concept for us as imperfect human beings. (My political science professor would say, "Love ultimately IS sacrifice.")

Feminism (at least militant feminism) seems to try to make the promise that women can get everything they want, easily, and without having to sacrifice anything. I don't think that's possible.