The night before last my daughter scolded me for working late.
“Don’t you know that I need you at night?” she cried, wiping her wet eyes against my blouse.
I did, in fact, know. Many mothers talk about their presence in the home, especially in the evening, as crucial to the functioning of the household. This is not because dads don’t parent as well. My husband is a bread baking, laundry doing, practicing instruments with the kids, dishwasher emptier. There is just something about mommy that holds everything together. It’s not as if they spend time talking with me. Often, I’m just there in the kitchen making some food, reading a book, or doing some professional paperwork on the computer. Sometimes being a mom feels like nothing more than being a regulating mechanism. I’ve heard moms talk about themselves as real life thermometers, quietly tuning in to the minutiae of their kids internal states and providing just the right degree of emotional contact to keep everyone’s emotional temperature in optimal range. I’ve also heard moms wonder where they can possibly find the time.The problem is that hanging around the house and using one’s self like a sponge – absorbing and squeezing out everyone else’s feelings – is not a life plan and it takes time. And it violates everything that most women have been taught about feminism. I grew up thinking that women could have it all while being raised by a mother who couldn’t do it all. In college, I read some great books about the subjugation of women, and decided that I was going to fulfill myself as a woman and a thinker and become as amazing as any man ever was.
Only in my case, and this isn’t true for every women, fulfilling myself involved having children – and this is where my troubles began. This is where most women’s troubles begin. This is true not only of well educated professional woman but it is true for all women, for all parents — and every parent’s story comes with disappointment, fear, dreams, contradictions and surprises, not to mention unforeseen obstacles.
The oppression of women doesn’t only originate with unequal pay scales, or dismissive attitudes toward our abilities in math or sports. It stems from the fact that our society is not organized in a manner that supports mothering in particular, parenting in general, or the children who are our future. Women who choose to become mothers and, in a different but equally powerful way, men who decide to become fathers, experience some kind of biologically driven attachment to the children who become their own – no matter how they get them. For the most part, honoring that attachment requires challenges to society. Our society, especially for those who aren’t wealthy, doesn’t honor the validity of that attachment. Nor does it offer its citizens control of the time that protects relationships.