Motherhood Used to Offer a Way Out

I was sorting through old papers and came upon this piece I wrote in 1995 when I was just beginning to compile thoughts for my Childless by Marriage book. It feels so dated now.

I know most of you come from a completely different world from the one I grew up in. I was raised in the 1950s and 60s in a Bay Area housing tract where most of the homes were occupied by WWII vets, stay-at-home moms, and their children. But in this piece, I describe how I really wanted the life my mother had. A full-time housewife, she never had an outside job after she became pregnant with me. Her days revolved around taking care of us kids, my father, and the house. She may have wanted more out of life, but she didn’t push for it, fearing my old-fashioned father would not like it.

I know, I know. Who these days would let a husband determine what they do with their lives? Not me. Both of my husbands watched me go back to school for more and more education while working one job after another and writing and playing music on the side. I got the household chores done, too, but they were not top priority. We needed the money, but even if we didn’t, no man was going to tell me to give up my career.

What if we’d had children? My only reference is my youngest stepson, who lived with us for eight years, from age 12 to 20. I worked. His bio mom worked, too. He was pretty self-sufficient and didn’t expect a whole lot of parenting from me. He didn’t mind if I was watching him and making notes for an article at the same time. He could cook his own macaroni and cheese while I ran off to take a class or cover the school board meeting.

Anyway, here’s some of what I wrote 24 years ago:

Before women’s liberation, life was so simple. Not necessarily ideal, but simple. Women got married, had children and stayed home caring for them while their husbands worked.

Only those who didn’t have husbands and babies had jobs. As soon as they got married and got pregnant, they were released from the paid labor force. Many a mother of baby boomers quit working before the first baby came and never worked for money again. She had earned her discharge by producing children.

(Let me stop to note that in some families, the mother had to work because they needed the money. My husband’s mother always had a job. She sold Avon products on the side. Her husband and sons survived, but it was common for the stay-at-home moms to believe working moms could not possibly be good mothers.)

Fulltime motherhood wasn’t a bad life—once the kids were old enough to go to school. An efficient housewife could get all her chores done before lunch and spend the afternoon knitting and watching soap operas until the kids came home from school. Or, if so inclined, she could volunteer, sew, shop, write books (my dream), or hang out with her friends as long as it didn’t interfere with picking up the kids after school and having dinner on the table at 5:30.

These women were financially dependent on their husbands, of course, and that could be difficult if the men weren’t generous, but during their prime years, they had their days to themselves.

Women who wanted careers could not also have the husband, kids, and home with the white picket fence. It was assumed the old maid schoolteacher and the lonely librarian had failed to find husbands, and the stylish woman running the Macy’s dress department had lost her true love to another woman.

(Note that I paid no attention in those days to same sex couples, single parents, or blended families. I also didn’t mention couples who disagreed about whether to have children. It wasn’t up for discussion in those days.)

Today things are more complicated. You can have a husband and a career at the same time. You can have the home and the kids, too. You can have everything—and take care of it all. But what if you don’t want the career? What if you’d like to stay home? You need the children as a way out. I’d never dispute that motherhood is the hardest job in the world, and the most important one, but there’s no commute, no dress code, no set hours, and no boss. It’s real life.

There’s no law against staying home without children, but is it fair to let the husband bear the whole financial burden? Non-mothers have no excuse for not working. So you slog off every morning, crawl along with the commute traffic, do your job all day–often with no contact with the natural world for eight or more hours–then join the commute again until you arrive at home and start your other job by making dinner. Is this our punishment for not having babies? Couldn’t we just have the time off anyway?

Oh my God. Did I really write this? I was really brainwashed to be just like my mother. I thought I’d stay home and write books between chores while the kids were at school, and all would live happily ever after. Life is a lot more complicated than that. I’m pretty sure it always was.

If a man was saying all this, people would call him lazy, worthless, a slacker. But why can’t a couple reverse the roles and have the father stay home with the kids? Does any of this make any sense in 2019?

How about you? Did you ever wish you could have children so raising them could become your full-time job? Did that always sound more appealing than anything the outside world had to offer? Or do you worry about how you would handle motherhood and a job at the same time?

Check out this article. Turns out a lot of people these days think stay-at-home moms are lazy while others think kids do best with Mom at home. https://www.verywellfamily.com/research-stay-at-home-moms-4047911

What do you think?

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In the past, I have mentioned that I’m open to guest posts that fit with the mission here, and I still am. Contact me at sufalick@gmail.com if you have an idea to propose. We’d need about 500 words. No pay, just lovely readers who care.

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