I am a feminist. I believe firmly that a woman's "place" is wherever she wants and needs to be. (I wish very much that we lived in a world where that were possible for all women). I also believe that happy (reasonably) well-adjusted parents make happy, (reasonably) well adjusted children, regardless of whether those parents work outside or inside of the home. So why is it that I find it so difficult to answer the question: "What do you do for a living?" I find it equally distressing to respond to the ever present: "So, when are you going back to work?"
I hate the word housewife. I hate the word homemaker. These words are so loaded with patriarchal bullshit that I can barely utter them in any seriousness, much less use them to describe myself or what I do. Yet that's the check-box that applies to me. And because of it, I get dismissed by the folks at the bank, the car dealership, and occassionally, other parents. It feels like a pretty limiting check box. But what else do I call myself? How can I encapsulate what I do, day in and day out, without sounding either overly-simplistic or self-denigrating?
I have a master's degree in Gender Studies. I'm a nerd and I love researching and writing. In fact, it's one of the only things I've ever been really good at. I always thought I'd be an academic, and was planning for a return to school for my PhD immediately following the birth of my son. But things didn't quite turn out that way.
Being at home with my son was a real learning experience! Some days were amazing and I felt thrilled and gratified at being able to witness and guide the growth of this little being. Some days were horrendously frustrating and tiring and what I couldn't wait to get "back out in the world." All of the days (and often nights) were long and challenging. But when that first birthday rolled around, and it came time to look at putting Boy-o in daycare, I simply couldn't do it. The very thought of it made me want to cry and throw up at the same time. I just wasn't ready to let go of my role as stay-at-home mama. When Boy-o was just shy of two, I started to feel a bit suffocated, and decided to look around for some part-time work outside of the home. And then, I got pregnant with Girlio. So - I've been out of the paid workforce for almost three years now. But not out of the workforce.
To say I keep my household running would be an understatement. I make it possible for my partner to focus on her paid work because of all of the behind the scenes work I do. Cooking, cleaning, child care and sock washing. (It is invisible and undervalued work, but work nonetheless).
I don't deal in the economies of paychecks (at least not mine) - I deal in the economies of scraped knees, band-aids, juice boxes and swing pushes. I struggle each day to instill creativity, love of life, respect for the earth and for humanity in my children. I am working my ass off to raise children who will not be sexist or racist or homophobic, who will value difference and do their part to make this world a better place. I do this while struggling not to let my identity become subsumed in the world of my home and children. Some days are better than others. There are many days when my cats rubbing against me for attention at the end of the day makes my skin crawl, because if one more thing "needs me", I will die/cry/spontaneously combust. And seldom a day goes by when I don't find myself wishing I had more contact with a world outside of child raising, more money, more time on my own, more positive feedback to nurture my sense of self and importance in the world.
But this I know for sure. Child raising is labour. A labour of love, most certainly, but labour nonetheless. Hard labour. The hours are crap, the pay is worse, and the acnowledgement from the world around us pretty non-existent.
What do I do for a living?
I'm a teacher and a doctor and a therapist and a laundrymat. I'm a playgroup leader and a chef and a nutritionist. I'm a personal shopper and a cleaning lady and a librarian. I'm a taxi driver and a soccer coach and the occasional jailer. I'm the CEO of this operation, and I'm pretty good at it. I'm up to my eyeballs in laughter and tears and dirty diapers and snotty kleenex. I'm on call 24/7. Fit that in a check-box.
When I am going back to work?