Respecting the right to choose

Don’t get the wrong idea – that title’s not a reference to the abortion issue. Not going there.

A blog post in On Balance spurred some thoughts on the ongoing conversation (argument? debate? discussion? knock-down drag-out?) regarding the choices of women with children to stay at home with them or be employed. Along the lines of a comment I made in a post a few days ago, this is a “choice” that has to be seen in one’s socioeconomic context – there are many, many women who don’t have it. If they’re single parents or have partners whose income just doesn’t stretch far enough to support a family, they will most likely be working for a paycheck and making the necessary accommodations for their children’s care and well-being in their absence (at least, we hope they’re making those accommodations, but that would be another place I’m not going today).

The thing is, if I understand accurately, one of the goals of the feminist revolution was to give us all access to more options, including the more traditional ones concerning caretaking of our families and homes.

I know that many SAHMs feel that they are making the best choice for their families, and hopefully for themselves as well, but many employed moms would say the same. One of the arguments made in The Feminine Mistake (second link below) is that women shortchange their own financial security – both short- and long-term – by a choice that effectively puts others first, and if their domestic situation were to change they could be seriously impaired. And it could change – divorce, death, and disability don’t just happen to other people.

As for me, I’ve always been pretty sure I wasn’t temperamentally suited for stay-at-home motherhood, and I really admire my friends who have undertaken it. Given that, the fact that I’ve been employed for most of my son’s life was at least partly a decision to count my own needs, but there’s no denying my family benefited financially (and I would argue in other ways as well, since it was better for me personally). And then my domestic situation did change, and my years building my career experience allowed me to relocate and support myself on my own without much agony. Notwithstanding the fact that my stepkids are both school-age and only with their dad and me part-time, I wouldn’t stop working now, and my employment helps my new family too.

Especially if we’re even the slightest bit insecure about any of our choices – and who’s not, in the big scheme of things and considering all the alternatives? – we do tend to feel comforted and validated by those who are going the same way we are, and may feel defensive about and challenged by those who aren’t, and it seems to me that this underlies a lot of this “mommy wars” stuff (and yes, I won’t argue that the media certainly underlies most of it.)

The Mommy War Machine – washingtonpost.com

The Feminine Mistake – Leslie Bennetts – Mommy Books – New York Times

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