April 29, 2004

to stay at home

In the comments (I do love comments) on my wrap party post, some people very kindly reassured me that I have nothing to be ashamed of telling people I'm now a stay at home mom, that Iím doing something important and should be proud of that. And they/you are right. I know that. I didnít always, but I do now. But itís a complicated thing for me, and not ever easy. Even now I look at women who tell me theyíve decided to leave their high powered jobs to stay home with their kids, to be there during the formative first years and I think ďThatís amazing, what a gift youíre giving your children, but how do you keep yourself sane?Ē

I love Damian, obviously, I love him truly and deeply but I also feel restless when I spend too much time being a mom. I need to work. I need to feel like Iím doing something important for myself. For me this means writing. Itís a compulsion and a need. But even if I didnít have that, Iíd still need something. When I left editing, I was so tied in knots about losing my income-producing dignity, I got a series of debilitating migraines, something like half a dozen in the space of a week. For months Ė no, years Ė I walked around feeling like half a person. I had had such a hard time with the concept of marriage, the ancient echoes of woman as chattel, woman as servant, woman as owned object. And now here I was, not only wed but financially dependent.

Itís been hard, these past years. For a long time, I thought financial success from my writing was just around the corner. In retrospect itís fairly obvious I was never really meant to be a screenwriter and even if Iíd been suited for the craft, itís next to impossible to break in Ė at least the way I was going about it. Like winning at Lotto, as Toni said to me today. And that was hard and even heartbreaking. Because I want an identity for myself thatís not just parenting.

This is what it comes down to in the end, I think. I choose to be a mother. With time the role has become integral to my sense of who I am and what I have to offer in the world. And because of Damianís issues, I know my time at home has been of tangible value. Iím more at peace with it these days, which is why I was able to tell those high powered producers and directors that I stay home with my child and leave it at that. Iím so grateful that our finances have allowed me the freedom to shepherd Damianís development in a more hands-on way than I could have as a working mom. It has indeed been a gift. But it still doesnít fit with my self-identity, it still doesnít quite work. And thatís the crux. I know thereís far more widespread acceptance of this path now than, say, twenty years ago, when you were seen as turning your back on everything your feminist mothers worked so hard to gain for you. But I was a teenager in the seventies when feminism was new again, and those are the values I absorbed. And this stay at home mom thing? Itís not an easy fit. Better now but never wholly natural.

Posted by Tamar at April 29, 2004 10:07 PM

When you made that comment in your party wrap post it made me smile. I recently made a comment on an online mothers' group about the image I still occasionally get of stay-at-home mums, of which I am, most of the time one. The image of myself I still occasionally see in the eyes of passersby, as I walk around a shopping centre with Liam in the middle of a weekday. The image that makes me cringe at myself, for thinking it. And also makes me cringe at myself for being seen that way...

I know that staying at home with Liam is great for him, and that it doesn't make me in anyway less valuable, successful or intelligent than I was as a full time worker. I also love doing it, as long as I get sometime to write/study as well. But that doesn't stop the occasional cringe.

Anyway, most of the other people in the group posted comments about being totally comfortable with their stay-at-home-mom selves, and they probably are, so it was nice to hear someone like you - an obviously great mom, and also a great, intelligent, thoughtful writer - express a similar feeling.

Posted by: Kay at April 30, 2004 02:09 AM