Before I became a ‘stay-at-home home educator’ I was a ‘stay-at-home mother’, something at least as bad in many people’s eyes. ‘Stay-at-home mother’ is a term I’ve always hated because what has raising well educated children with strong moral values got to do with ‘staying at home’? Aren’t we out in the community all the time? If you’re not in the office does this make you chained to your oven and vacuum cleaner? Although the term ‘stay-at-home’ is better than ‘homemaker’ or ‘housewife’! I have always had very little interest in ‘making’ a home – our house is not the most beautifully kept I’m afraid but it sure is kid-heaven, a virtual playground-in-a-house!
As an interesting aside, a comment on women’s status in the Gulf, you can’t even have your own bank account as a woman, at least as a non-working one (you know how we ‘stay-at-home mothers’ are, putting our feet up all day eating bonbons. What do we need a bank account for when hubby can leave us a few dinars on the hall table when he leaves for work in the morning, to stock up on those aforementioned strawberry dusted champagne flavoured bonbons, ooops, not in Bahrain). And speaking of Bahrain you can’t even have a ‘housewife’ account either which is the only kind of account you might have been lucky enough to have as a non-working woman in other Gulf countries! Housewife account! Can you imagine it! I would never have an account called that just on principle. The ‘housewife account’ apparently gives you a veneer of independence in that the account is in your name, but it’s still somehow dependent upon, possibly guaranteed by, your husband’s account, however much money is in it.
As a stay-at-home mother, I always had twinges of guilt that I wasn’t ‘doing enough’ with my Cambridge degree; that I was letting the sisterhood down by not working. When I look at my Alumnae booklet, I see women doing amazingly awe-inspiring things other than ‘just’ raising their kids and I feel a bit downhearted, even though I know that I ‘just’ raise my kids with all my heart, all my soul and all my might on a 24 hour rolling basis whilst trying to have a rich and varied internal dialogue which I occasionally share with my husband, thereby proving that my brain has not turned to mush but on the contrary is probably more buzzy and stimulating than it ever was when I worked as a CEO in an office. Now that I’m a ‘stay-at-home home educator’, I am fully and finally fulfilled. For me, I have the ultimate work-from-home career especially combined with my writing.
However, this is not enough, possibly even worse, for some feminists who see this child-centredness as threatening to modern feminism. You may be surprised to hear that I do see their point; it’s a very difficult topic that can become a Women’s rights vs. Children’s rights topic. I came across the debate again the other day when I read an article about a French author and philosopher, Elisabeth Badinter. I quote from the ‘Guardian’ newspaper http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/12/france-feminism-elisabeth-badinter, “Thanks to a new coalition of ecologists, breastfeeding advocates and behavioural specialists, she argued, young women are facing increasing pressure to be perfect mothers who adhere to strict guidelines for how to care for their babies. If this “regressive” movement takes hold, French feminism could be set back decades, she argued”. “She says that the new image of the “ideal mother” – one who breastfeeds for six months, does not rush to return to full-time work, avoids painkillers in childbirth, rejects disposable nappies and occasionally lets her baby sleep in her bed – makes impossible demands on any woman who has a life outside of her child”. It’s true. It does. In our case, my husband and I embraced it all wholeheartedly (I suppose that’s meant to make him somehow less of a man, as I am less of a woman or feminist, whilst I think it makes him MORE of a man!) and we made our life our children, home birth, cloth nappies, years of breastfeeding, co-sleeping and all. And we couldn’t be happier. We’ve always embraced attachment parenting and it does seem a natural progression to go from attachment parenting to home educating (and I especially love that home birth was the start of home education!).
But isn’t the point that there are ‘horses for courses’? Isn’t women’s liberation about being able to choose what sort of work one does, how one does it and how one fits children into it, or not? I thought it was primarily about women’s rights rather than women’s lifestyles. I’m obviously very pro women being highly involved with their children and ideally for children, this means, I think, mothers and/or fathers being at home with them full-time. But what would the world look like if all women did this? I do appreciate that, the way workplaces are currently organized, without flexible timing, tele-commuting, job sharing and so on, it means that women usually have to leave their children in the care of someone else, usually not a family member, in order to contribute substantially to their careers. And even if more meaningful jobs were available this way, would women still be seen as valuable members of their company with the same career advancement opportunities as the in-the-office-all-the-time employees?
However, I wish more women who wanted to stay at home did, enabling themselves to by downshifting their lives, in necessary. If only the women who wanted to stay at home with their kids, but think they won’t feel worthwhile, realized how much satisfaction their family life could offer – some very intelligent women really get great satisfaction being creative at home; doing arts and crafts with the kids, gardening and cooking from scratch. That’s not my thing, I am very sorry to say, but I do have a much richer intellectual life now that I have the headspace to think rather than having my head full of profit and loss accounts and how to motivate staff in the office. I am much happier now than I was when my head was constantly invaded by mundane but nagging worries from the office. I rarely watch TV and then only DVDs and spend most of my time-after-the-kids-have-gone-to-sleep reading. I never had the intellectual energy to do that when I was working and not because I was intellectually exhausted but because I was intellectually numbed by my work. Now that I’m home educating, I’m going to have so much fun learning alongside the kids. Just this week I’ve been learning so much about the solar system with Edward. I hadn’t realized Pluto wasn’t even a considered a planet anymore and there are two new ones! I feel so ignorant!
When I opined that perhaps more women who wanted to stay at home could do if they downshifted their lives, I realized I might face a chorus of disapproval. But the downshifting might not be as painful as it sounds when you factor in the cost of childcare and evaluate what the salary is being spent on. How much of the second or even combined family salary is spent on necessities and how much on compensating, materially, the adults in the family for the hassle and stress of work? How much is spent on the perceived need to have status symbols in the workplace? How much is spent, materially, on compensating children for the lost time together? Friends tell me that they work so hard and then they feel they need to ‘treat’ themselves to make up for everything they’re missing out on and so tell themselves they ‘deserve’ that really nice pair of shoes and matching handbag (after all, they need to look good in the office) or the unnecessary, expensive toy like a third radio-controlled-car-they’ve-bought-this-year. The friends I’ve spoken to realize this is slightly ridiculous; that they then end up working in order to afford these ‘treats’, these compensations and say they can’t afford not to work. But if they didn’t work, they wouldn’t need to compensate, in all sorts of ways. Fortunately, my kids won’t judge me if I don’t walk into the morning’s lesson wearing high heels (when was the last time I wore those!) and carrying a Gucci briefcase. And they can definitely live without any more radio controlled cars. And anyway, lessons themselves are going a bit out of the window with my new unschooling ethos.
I just hate the idea of women leaving their kids, to be cared for by people unrelated to them, who are therefore not what you’d call devoted to the them, whilst they work in a boring, pedestrian job in order to pay for things they tell themselves they need (and this is not rent or food we’re talking about) in order to make use of their higher education and to have some status in the outside world. We’re not talking about the female rocket scientists, doctors, nurses, teachers or war correspondents here, doing really world-shaking work. I think that is a much harder judgement to make. Is there more justification for kids’ rights to be sacrificed for women’s rights in this case; where the world as a whole would really be worse off if they weren’t working long hours? But for the average woman, like myself, and the average job, and I call a business CEO an average job, which I would be doing if I weren’t ‘at home’, surely both the world and women would be better off with us being available to our kids full-time? If women had more status for ‘just’ being home raising their children or managed, as I think I have, not to care about such meaningless outsider status and focused on their own satisfaction, perhaps more women who don’t do rocket science could stay at home whilst those that do really compelling work carry their sisters’ flag and show ‘em what women can do? More happy children might grow into more morally sound adults who would raise the status of full-time/stay-at-home mothers (let alone home educators).
Did you see how I equated full-time mother with stay-at-home mother? Before I became a home educator I liked to call myself a ‘full-time mother’ instead of a ‘stay-at-home’ mother which drove 60 hour working week women crazy – but I mean, what were they? They can’t have their cake and eat it. You can’t be a super-high-flying lawyer and call yourself a full-time mother, even if biologically you are. You aren’t mothering in the important sense, cuddling, reading to, saying, ‘Say please and thank you to the nice lady in the library’ all that many hours a week. You can’t split yourself in two, although I’m sure it sometimes feels like it. Yes, of course Dads could stay-at-home full-time instead but they don’t on the whole and most don’t want to either for a whole gamut of reasons.
I’m afraid it’s down to us, ladies, to work out how these kids are going to contribute to Carlo Ricci’s future “peaceful, democratic and humane world”. We’re the ones who have to decide between career and children, in terms of hours of influence on them. I don’t want to be anti-feminist, but as a child advocate I have to ask, “If you want kids, if it’s not your husband or family, who do you want raising your kids and how?” Is it right for feminism to be at the expense of children? Can’t we do a better job of shifting our own, if not Society’s, definitions of success and happiness and status? And make stay-at-home mothers, let alone stay-at-home educators on par with those women at least working more mundane jobs that most women do, if not on par with female rocket scientists? I don’t feel that attachment parenting or finding satisfaction at home with my children is regressive, as Elisabeth Badinter contended. But I do think it’s hard to be a rarely-at-home career woman and good mother, if you think that mothering involves spending enough time to really influence and bond with your child. Staying at home with your kids and then, especially, being responsible for educating them, IS progressive and as feminist a career as any other. So, let the comments fly! I’m always very happy to hear them!
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