Why “disappearing” into motherhood is NOT a betrayal of feminism

My youngest babies are almost 5. I’m coming out of the Little Years. A season of life is changing and I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life. I can already sense the changing seasons. All my children are in school I have more time to focus on my writing. I just finished my first book and I’m ready to start on my second. But may I just say? THANK GOD I WASN’T TRYING TO WRITE A BOOK WHILE MY BABIES WERE LITTLE.

I’m going to say something “controversial” here but I really think it needs to be addressed, especially in light of this recent article which claimed mothers were “disappearing” because….wait for it..they (gasp!) used pictures of their children instead of themselves on their FB profile picture.

This is precisely where some feminists get it wrong (and I say this as a feminist).

84% of women WANT to stay home with their children. Most women WANT to raise their own children. Most women do NOT see it as a “sacrifice” of female identity to throw themselves wholeheartedly into raising their babies.

Instead of berating mothers for talking about strollers at dinner parties, why not understand that when a woman is raising her babies–THAT IS WHAT SHE TALKS ABOUT. Just because I didn’t feel compelled to Keep Up With the Men while I was raising little ones doesn’t make me a “disappearing mother.” What I talk about at dinner parties doesn’t define my feminism any more than the pictures I post on FB.

I am so incredibly SICK of feminists demanding that women Be All Things To All People At All Times. How is this any different than the oppressive patriarchy we all despise? So, I give birth to a human being and suddenly, I’m supposed to follow the feminist rule book about NOT talk about what I pack in my kids’ lunch? Because that’s NOT what the MEN talk about?! Give me a break!

Come on. This is sexist tripe. This is reverse sexism! Feminism shouldn’t require women to act like men, talk like men or be like men. Feminism should CELEBRATE femininity and let women BE.

Yes, I wrote a book. And yes, I am well-read. And YES, I am educated.

But do you know what the truth is? MY CHILDREN MEAN MORE TO ME THAN ALL OF THAT.

There is not ONE book, there is not ONE thesis, there is not ONE damn dinner party that is more important to me than my kids. Real feminism does NOT force me to choose between my career and my children. My children will win every time.

And if I post pictures of my children on FB it’s because my children are IMPORTANT to me. Hell no, I won’t apologize for that.

Also, womanhood has seasons. During the season of young motherhood, I was so BUSY that I couldn’t even hardly catch a breath of air. Now? My children are getting older and yeah, I can write that second book. I can keep a social calendar. I can attend dinner parties. So, what? I’m more feminist now that I’m a “working” mom? Ridiculous.

I will never, ever, EVER regret the ELEVEN years I spent as a stay-at-home mom. Those years are just as much a part of my feminism as my newly emerging writing career will be. I will NEVER regret all the firsts I witnessed. I will NEVER regret “sacrificing” my “identity” for my children during those years. To be honest, it was a pure gift to be able to stay with them. The most precious gift of my entire LIFE was that I was able to give myself wholly to my children during their early years.

And if it meant that all I could talk about for eleven years were strollers, lunchpails, diaper rashes and preschool–THEN SO BE IT. My feminism encompasses the WHOLE of my female experience.

Yeah, it’s nice that I have a writing career now. I’m super happy about it. But I am so thankful that I was able to embrace those early, little years of my children’s lives without feeling pressured by ridiculous, strident feminists to ALSO keep up with everyone else.

I “disappeared” into motherhood and I’m damn proud of it.

  • http://www.fromtwotoone.com/ from two to one

    I feel your fire, Elizabeth. I’m a feminist but not yet a mother, and I confess that I am worried about my identity being dominated by motherhood — which will be only one of the roles I play, even if it is one of the most important ones.

    • Anonymous

      for me, blogging and reading helped keep me from becoming totally out of the game. by practicing a little writing and a little reading each day, i was able to stay current. i think you could do the same, don’t you? :)

      • http://www.fromtwotoone.com/ from two to one

        I think I can, but my husband and I actually may end up switching traditional gender roles with him being a SAHD and me working outside the home. I love, love, love children but I also really find fulfillment and purpose working. Who knows, though. We still have a few years before we cross that bridge.

  • KatR

    My Facebook picture is now supposed to communicate that I’m a fully realized, self actualized human being? I CANNOT POSSIBLY HANDLE THAT KIND OF PRESSURE.

  • Naomi

    As a feminist academic and a mother of two, I also have strong reactions to feminist analysis that comes across as policing women’s choices/profile pics/whatever. I’d like to think that’s not what this writer was trying to say, but, yes, I do think there are much bigger problems out there to worry about.

    • Anonymous

      i really dislike girl-on-girl sabotage. let’s let each other make the choices we make and FIGHT for the bigger problems: the patriarchal obstacles that hold us back from even HAVING those choices! thanks, Naomi.

  • http://cuppboard.blogspot.com Elizabeth Erazo

    Love it. Thanks for this!

  • http://www.jenposford.com/ Jen Posford

    thank you :) I, for one, can’t wait to lose myself into motherhood..

  • http://www.quietanthem.com/ Renee Ronika

    I needed this. I’ve just come out from under the “mommy- comparison-and-you-of-course-lose” oppression, but I am absolutely still battling this fight: my writing career didn’t take off in my twenties when I thought it would, I fell into depression, I came out of it and had kids, and now I struggle to balance my children and my writing (and I’m also a professor). Incidentally, my writing career is still not taking off. Maybe I need to take the hint and give it more time. I think my girls will be more proud to know I’ve invested in them like I have than to see their absent mother’s books on shelves at Barnes and Noble (if bookstores are still around in twenty years, that is.). This feels like prophetic exhortation. Thank you, Elizabeth.

    • Anonymous

      thank you for sharing your story, Renee! You inspire me!

  • http://twitter.com/Jess_Reflects Jessica Mueller

    Love this, EE. My oldest will turn 4 soon and my 3rd is due the end of next month and sometimes when I see women writing their books and building businesses I struggle with putting feet on the dreams in my head…trying to be all things in one season. This was good for me to hear.

    • Anonymous

      Then there’s my mother. Her mother worked full-time. Her mother-in-law worked full-time (until age 85!) She wanted to stay home. At 50, she became an ordained minister. Now approaching 80, she says her greatest regret in life is not having realized her potential in work.

      For me, the danger is not in any individual’s choice. It is the insinuation that women in general can be totally fulfilled by childrearing AS work, and that a significant number of women don’t share men’s HUMAN drive to make a mark on the world at large.

  • nella

    Hellz yeah.

  • Nurse Bee

    “Most women WANT to raise their own children”
    Just because some of us don’t stay home full-time with our kids doesn’t mean we aren’t raising them. Just saying….continue on.

    • Anonymous

      Agreed! Thanks for being brave enough to correct my error on that. Thank you, Nurse Bee. XO

  • Melissa

    I can sense the hurt and anger here.
    I believe that I understand what you are saying. I love my friends’ young children with a heart-heat that might truly surprise them.

    But to borrow a phrase from you, wise lady, may I just say?

    I do not have children. The reasons for this are complex. I will leave it there and not blast personal details onto the Internet.

    It is difficult to be in a group of mothers who cannot speak of anything but their children. I am often glad to hear their struggles, their character-forging through their babies and their teenagers.

    But. There comes a time when I need them to be willing to speak of other things for a time, without banishing me to the mens’ corner of the room. I need, crave, women friends, and often it feels as though these mamas have disappeared and left me behind to fend for myself, for their more important pursuits.

    I don’t have an opinion about strollers or diapers. It inflicts deep pain when the thoughtless “when you have kids” phrase is tossed around. Perhaps this is selfish, but I want women’s attention & interest in my small struggles as I try to show interest in theirs.

    And sometimes the righteous indignation feels like it is aimed at me.

    So perhaps there is a middle ground here to be found in grace.

    • Anonymous

      I LOVE this, Melissa. Thank you for sharing it! I’m sure your thoughts resonate with many other women, too. I will say that some of my most long-lasting friendships with women are ones built around something MORE than JUST our children. One of my dearest friends is a single woman with no children at all! :) All this to say, I can TOTALLY understand how frustrating it is when women ONLY talk about their kids. Do you think that this is indicative, though, of women who are not self-aware in general and haven’t cultivated a hospitable spirit? I mean, if I were at a dinner party with you and could see that you were sorta being left out in the conversation, I would make EVERY EFFORT to talk with you about YOUR life and your interests! Does that make sense? Thank you for sharing!

      • Melissa

        :) Bless.

        I am not surprised to hear this. After all, you write about many topics, including but not limited to motherhood. You are clearly able to think about and talk about things other than your children at times.

        It’s difficult to talk about women’s choices with respect to motherhood without somebody feeling marginalized or attacked. But we do need to talk, imperfect though the discussion may be. So I am glad you wrote your indignation in this case.

      • amie

        Elizabeth, you are not at the parties full of mothers that I have been to. The most memorable moment was several years ago at a friend’s baby shower among a large group where I only knew the new mom and one other person. A woman next to me asked about my children. I said I do not have any. She asked my about my husband, I said I was single. She said this: “I really have nothing to say to women like you” and turned to the woman on the other side of her for an extended conversation. I wished for a black hole to swallow me up. That was the most blatant incident. Usually, it is more subtle. But those of us without children are constantly told how inferior we are in groups of women so that all the mommy talk begins to feel like nothing more than reinforcement of that idea.

        • KatR

          Ah, Amie. Reminds me of a gathering I went to about a year ago, when after saying that I was not married and didn’t have kids, the woman I was speaking to replied “I’m sorry”.

        • Kaylietess

          I’m so sorry this happened to y’all. I don’t understand why someone couldn’t have asked what you have been reading lately, where you work, or what you do for fun. I am a stay at home mom and it is easy for me to slide into mommy conversation because that is currently my job and my passion, but thank you for reminding me to be aware of others’ passions and interests.

      • falfie4

        I can totally relate to what Melissa is saying. I was actually really bitter against mothers for a long time because I felt so ostracized. I’ve worked through it now for the most part. I think the friends I have are pretty considerate and would not want anyone to feel left out. But, I think when your entire identity is wrapped up in one thing, that’s what you talk about, and I kind of do think that’s a problem. I see it as being similar to Christians who are so engrossed in church life and Christian culture that they don’t know how to have a conversation with people of other faiths. Yes, our identity as Christians should be our top priority and all consuming, but I am more than just a Christian. I am a daughter, sister, friend, counselor, lover of nature, musician, beer connoisseur, baker, ect… I don’t want women to be men. I want women to be women who embrace ALL of who God made them to be. And, as Melissa said, I NEED them to be that.

        • Melissa

          This whole discussion also reminds of things I’ve heard single ladies say about their friends who get married – that they lost their friends to a new identity. I know it’s probably much less consuming then the multi-year world of children, but the experience has parallels – feeling left out at dinner parties of all married people, talking about all wedding stuff all the time, or being asked constantly about dating prospects.

          Le sigh. Why are friendships with women so hard? How do we learn to belong to each other?

  • http://www.lara-thinkingoutloud.blogspot.com/ Lara

    Amen, Amen, Amen and Amen!!!

  • http://www.heretichusband.com/ Heretic Husband

    Good lord, what is the big freaking deal about facebook profile pictures? Mine features me carrying my daughter in a sling, does that mean I’m “disappearing into fatherhood”?

  • Sue

    Elizabeth, I read hear often and have never commented before, but I just want to say, this piece is RIGHT ON! I stayed home for 13 years (until my littlest went to kindergarten too) and then started a new career as a grad student. I love my studies, but nothing compares, nothing, to the great delight and blessing of being able to stay home and spend all those years with my babies. I’m a feminist too, and always have been, whether I was making pb&j’s and reading curious George, or taking classes and reading theology, philosophy, et cet. Thanks for speaking out!

  • http://twitter.com/FeministBreeder TheFeministBreeder

    Motherhood changed my brain chemistry entirely. I never even wanted kids. But having my kids changed ALL of that, and ALL of me. Talking about birth and breastfeeding has actually become my career. Staying home with my kids every minute wasn’t something I could handle, personally, but I’ve been criticized by those same “feminists” you’re probably referring to for fighting for maternal & child health. Being a mother is a HUGE part of my identity. And that is NOT “anti-feminist”.

  • Red

    I so agree with you that women should not have to act like men, and that women should raise their children as they choose without being judged.

    On the other hand, I am so torn about this subject in general.

    I know lots of women who stayed home to be moms and truly loved it. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Growing up in a religious community I ALSO saw some moms who were extremely unhappy staying home full-time, and were unhappy that they had nothing else to think of but young children all day, but didn’t think they had a choice. Conversations about not disappearing into motherhood might have been helpful for them at that junction in their life.

    Both perspectives are okay. Both perspectives deserve to be validated.

    Perhaps instead of looking at the end result (does this woman disappear into motherhood or is she asserting independence, etc.) we should rather look at WHY women make the decisions they do (is this mom staying home because she enjoys it? Is this mom working because her friends will guilt her about being “lazy” if she stays home? Is this depressed mom choosing not to work because people have told her she will “ruin” her child by not being there for him?) Etc. Decisions should be about what’s best, not about perceived guilt.

    Like I said, I can sympathize with both sides of the aisle here. I don’t think anyone should be guilted into acting like a man. That’s silly and anti-women. At the same time, I think there’s a lot of rhetoric (esp. in the religious community) that persuades women to idolize a certain level of constant caregiving, regardless of what is healthy for that particular woman and her particular husband. One woman might be fine with it, but another might desperately need to hear something else.

  • Red

    I think the other thing that troubles me is how there is virtually no discussion about this as it applies to fathers. (Not talking about your blog, EE, talking about culture in general). To me, it seems strange that there is this base-line assumption that men don’t have enough responsibility for their children to ever feel torn about their life roles.

    It is, frankly, depressing.

  • Dana Boyle

    Nicely written, and I agree with you that there is a certain element among us, usually older, but not always, that expects us to do what they did because they fought for it, and they don’t realize that while they’re wanting us to kiss their asses for making it possible for us, we’re resenting them for the expectations they’ve added to our plates.

    That said, THEY are only 16% of the women out there, based on your own statistics, wherever those come from. If 84% of women want to stay at home with their children, then most of us agree with you. It’s the minority who probably have more masculine tendencies and want to prove something about how like a man they can be.

    I will close with something Eunice Kennedy Shriver said directly to me when I met her at 18 and she asked me about my goals in life and I only listed to her my career ambitions, and then when she asked me if I wanted children I said oh yes, I want 5, as if that was just a side dish. She said, “I am going to tell you what my mother, Rose Kennedy, mother of President John F. Kennedy, said to me when I was your age. You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once. Appreciate all the seasons of your life, and appreciate what you have when you have it. Give yourself fully to it. Make no apologies for it.”

    I think that’s sound advice and I’ve been following it. Sounds like you have, too!

    • Kristen Rosser

      You know, most of us who have worked outside the home while our children were young didn’t do it because we had “masculine tendencies and wanted to prove how like a man we could be.” And it wasn’t that we didn’t want to be with our children. For some of us it was economic necessity. For others it was that we were unhappy trying to be full-time stay-at-home moms. Or it was both. Or some other reason. I kind of doubt whether you meant this the way it sounded– but it doesn’t help stop the Mommy Wars to fire back a salvo against other moms who are, like stay-at-home moms, just doing the best we can.

  • K

    Feminism shouldn’t require women to act like men, talk like men or be like men. Feminism should CELEBRATE femininity and let women BE.”

    I agree that feminism should mean women getting to confidently be whoever on earth they want to, but – to make sure I’m not misunderstanding – what exactly do you mean by “femininity” here?

    To be honest, as someone’s who’s female but who finds gender about as meaningful as hair color, I cringe whenever I see feminists talking about Acting Like Men, as if a sort of social/career behavior actually *is* male-owned. To me, the point is that it’s neutral behavior that man have owned but that women now get to too (yay options!).

    • KatR

      Yeah, I’m reading these comments about acting like men, and I’m wondering what that even MEANS. Football and barbecuing? I can name several women right now that I know who are into both.

  • Kara Murano

    I love this! I finished grad school last June and my husband and I had a baby placed with us for adoption 6 short months later. I stay home with him and I have gotten a lot of interesting reactions and people saying I am “throwing away my education.” I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to stay home when my babies were little so I don’t feel like I am giving up anything but rather gaining time with my son. I blog & read & write but most of my day is filled with caring for my little boy and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

  • Aprille

    I really really loved this post!

  • Wendi

    Thank you for this post! I was taken aback by the “Disappearing Mothers” article…and really just felt it was over the top….I mean so what if a woman posts a picture of her kid as her profile pic on Facebook? That’s what SHE wants to post and is obviously something SHE is proud of at the time! It is foolish to think that because a woman posts her child’s picture on Facebook as her profile picture, that she has no other life or sense of worth outside of her children. It’s what has value to HER at that time! Not to mention, that Facebook is different things to different people. I don’t think most of us use it ” to create a social persona”, but rather to connect with others and share the things that are most important to us.

  • Janis

    What about those of us who use a picture of one of our pets as our Facebook profile? What does that say about us? :-)

  • http://evenonesparrow.blogspot.com even one sparrow

    Wow, this is AWESOME! You totally hit every nail on the head. Thank you for expressing this so clearly. I am totally tweeting it.

    This past summer, I put my daughter in daycare for two days a week so I could spend more time writing for my boss. Although I enjoyed the work, I *really* missed my baby girl and was really happy when we decided to end the temporary arrangement. It is such a gift and joy to be home with my daughter, to witness her ever-changing, to play, to give her good naps, etc. I know not everyone gets to do this and it’s something I both chose to do and we had to do out of necessity (I generally don’t make enough to pay for daycare anyways, so it made more financial sense for me to stay home).

    Someday the kids will all be at school, grown up, and then I will continue living in my own identity — the same one I had before they were born, while they were home with me, and the same one I’ll have when they’re off doing their own things.

    In fact, God has totally used this time to develop other aspects of me. Whereas I used to pour my heart and soul into acting, now I have turned to writing because it’s more feasible than running off to rehearsal every night. Had I not had kids and stayed home, I might have never discovered this other part of my personality. I also learned that, despite my best intentions, I am NOT a gardener. :) Good things to learn.

    Thanks for this post!!

  • http://somewiseguy.com/ ThatGuyKC

    BOOM! Be loud and proud to be a mom. All biological limitations aside I could never be one. Keep rockin’ it. Your kids are blessed to have you.

  • kc

    some of the comments seem to imply somewhat confusion about what feminism is. It’s not trying to act like a man or choosing between work and parenthood.

    Feminism is about supporting and fighting for social justice for woman which includes equal pay for work, an end to discrimination in employment and education, the right to choose reproduction options and access and coverage to woman-related health care.

    in developing countries, it’s about ending woman’s physical and social oppressions –the abject poverty of single woman households, the end of woman being traded and married off as pieces of property, of very young girl children sold into sex slavery….

    All the big issues which are usually decided at government levels, in contrast to the individual personal decisions like motherhood or SAHM, etc.. that woman make for themselves every day. :)

    • Anonymous

      The part of it that is a problem for me is the notion that women, by virtue of our “natural” maternal drives should unilaterally be able to demand that our male partners support us financially.

  • http://bramboniusinenglish.wordpress.com Brambonius

    That article about facebook pictures is extremely dumb. As a father I’ve used photos of my dauhther as a fb avatar, as wel as photos of me, abstract drawings, cartoons, plants and animals… And in another situation I might have been a stay-at-home dad…

  • Heather

    I LOVE this!

    All of the working mothers I truly know well (all three of them!) heartily wish they could be home all the time with their small kids. I know I would too if I had kids. I have never understood why (in your great phrase) giving birth to a human being and then training them to be a good human being is not considered meaningful work. What on earth?

    And the whole “keeping up with the men” attitude, well, I just won’t start. I used to stress over whether my husband drove more often than me and how that made us look. Which seems beyond silly now.

    I will say, though, that I’m in favor (for completely different reasons) of people’s FB photos being of their own faces. I’ve had a couple awkward moments where I think I’m talking to a friend from high school whose last name has changed because she married, but I’m not sure if it’s her or someone else with the same first name because her profile picture is a baby… yeah. But this is coming from someone who ended up opting out of Facebook anyway, so maybe everyone else did fine with it!

  • Mary

    I don’t think “feminists” are demanding anything. I’m a feminist, and when I sit around with my feminist friends we talk about canning and pickling, our families, the cost of health insurance, and the latest episode of Portlandia-what we don’t do is bash other women’s choices (and some of those feminist friends are also SAHMs). Similarly, I live on a block with SAHMs, WOHMs, laid off moms, working part time moms, and women who are childless by choice. I’ve never felt that my choices were attacked or denigrated by any of those women. We are all making the best choices we can, given our varied circumstances. The only time I come across women putting each other down is online or in newspapers and magazine. I think this is another example of the way that online dissemination of deliberately provocative points of view make the world a worse place.

  • Sarah

    I found this very thought provoking – so much so that a rather long comment that was in danger of becoming tedious is clearly destined to be a cathartic post on my own blog about giving up a career in law to be a full time parent. Suffice to say I cannot agree strongly enough that we should all as human beings and as women respect & love one another enough for there to be room for us to all be different and make very widely varied choices. I don’t want to be defined solely by any of my life choices although they do of course inform my conversation during any one phase of life. And to anyone I’ve ever bored by talking too much about any of those phases (I tend to get passionate) I do apologise – next time we meet how about I listen to you a bit more?

  • http://www.servingjoyfully.com/ Crystal

    I have been saying this very thing since going through grad classes at a liberal university. I was really appalled at the treatment I received there as a SAHM. The point of feminism is supposed to be a movement against oppression, not to impose a different kind of oppression. It’s ridiculous really.

  • colleen police

    i just realized i never thanked you for this post. i’ve shared it with a few people, and they were so encouraged and delighted with it…as well as myself. i just linked to it on my blog. Thought i’d let you know :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cheryl-Chamberlain-Duwe/556705504 Cheryl Chamberlain Duwe

    “Feminism should CELEBRATE femininity and let women BE.” Brilliant!

  • http://www.mydevising.com/ Claire Westbrook

    Love this.