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Serfdom, motherhood, marriage and me

February 25th, 2004 · 8 Comments

Last Wednesday the girls and I went to the library. I had two purposes to accomplish, two items on the “to do” list.

One was taking the girls to Library Story Time. As Abigail and Michaela listened to the librarian, I caught up with an acquaintance, another mother, whom I hadn’t seen in months. We used to be a part of a playgroup together. While we chatted about our children, each of us with two girls 3 and under, I felt we had much in common: juggling mobile babies and bigger girls. Then the topic changed to work: she was looking for a nanny and looking for a job, about to return to work full-time. As we started discussing employment experience, I started to realize how this acquaintaince and I inhabited Different Worlds as moms. She had made one choice and I another.

After Story Time, we went upstairs where I accomplished Mission #2: copying Caitlin Flanagan’s essay in current issue of The Atlantic Monthly: (now on-line!) How Serfdom Saved the Women’s Movement which I’d heard a bit about in Jay McCarthy’s post earlier this month.

Reading and reviewing this essay as well as the accompanying author interview The Mother’s Dilemma , sifting through what Caitlin Flanagan spoke and wrote, has changed me, who I am in my daily life as wife and mother. Thoughts have been simmering inside me for days, and I’ve been avoiding writing this piece, knowing that it will be intense and lengthy. Yet I have to describe what I read and what I’ve lived, where I’ve been and where I find myself now, pages and days later.

Note: in this piece I will refer to the article as HSSWM and the interview as TMD .

Much of the article discusses feminism and nannies, two topics I do not consider myself experienced enough to discuss. I’ve never had a nanny. And I don’t think I’ve ever considered myself a feminist. I have read Naomi Wolf and Betty Friedan: back in high school I found The Feminine Mystique lying on the floor of our family’s laundry room.

What I feel I can discuss is how this essay and her interview have left me confused about Caitlin Flanagan’s personal beliefs regarding her own life. While she has a sharp tone, critical of other writers, in black and whites, she paints a muddled portrait of her own experience, with lots of grays, expressing ambiguity and ambivalence about the choices she has made as a woman.

She criticizes other women writers:

Once read in this new light, the book—couched in the know-it-all, smarty-pants tone one expects from the one-two punch of Andover and Harvard, with a little New York Times pomposity thrown in for good measure—becomes as silly as a Bazooka Joe comic. HSSWM

For someone in Ann Crittenden’s position, seeing a string of zeros on her Social Security statement can be a “dramatic reminder” that society does not value and honor her hard choices—leaving The New York Times! exposing herself to snubs at cocktail parties!—as highly as it should. HSSWM

Her [Naomi Wolf] dreams of parenthood, apparently formed while tripping across green New Haven quadrangles on her way to feminist-theory classes, were starkly different: HSSWM

Caitlin Flanagan is grateful her own mother stayed at home with her:

When my mother died, I gave a maudlin eulogy about all the days we spent together when I was small, shopping at Hink’s department store and eating peeled apricots and lying down for naps in the big bed under the gable window of her bedroom. I probably should have found something more estimable to say about her, but in the days after her death all I could think about was what a wonderful thing it had been to be raised at home, by a mother who loved me. HSSWM

I have the most wonderful memories of my mother tucking me into bed every night, lying beside me and reading to me. […] I’m glad my mother wasn’t at business dinners all those nights. TMD .

She says that making a home for her children is important to her:

Making a home for my sons—one where the parents love each other and treat each other kindly, and where they can learn good values, and know that they are important and that our family is strong and unshakeable—that is the most important and honorable work I can do. TMD .

I guess I missed the memo about work being the most important thing in life. […] I sort of drifted along from one thing to another: college, graduate school, teaching. And then I had babies and started making a home—and that’s when my life really began. TMD .

Yet she describes the stay-at-home life as tedious, depressing and unhappy:

That so much of the day had been tedious and (truth be told) mildly depressing was itself a badge of honor. Unlike those women parking their kids in day care while they went to work, I was a mother virtuously willing to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of her children, and being rewarded with the ultimate prize: I wasn’t missing a moment of their fleeting, precious, and unrecoverable childhoods. HSSWM

Women’s choices, says Caitlin Flanagan, are difficult and anxious:

But I felt anxious about the whole thing—very, very anxious. HSSWM

But now, of course, the situation is so fraught with four decades’ worth of female advance and retreat that almost any decision a woman makes about child care is liable to get her blasted by one faction or the other. HSSWM

But how so many middle-class American women went from not wanting to oppress other women to viewing that oppression as a central part of their own liberation—that is a complicated and sorry story. In it you will find the seeds of things we don’t like to discuss much, including the elitism and hypocrisy of the contemporary feminist movement, the tendency of working and nonworking mothers to pit themselves against one another, and the way that adult middle-class life has become so intensely, laughably child-centered that in the past month I have chaperoned my children to eight birthday parties, yet not attended a single cocktail party (do they even exist anymore?). HSSWM

One of her main complaints about the stay-at-home life is the “drudgery” of dogwork (or s***work, an even stronger term with vivid connotations)

“I mean, who’s going to do the s*** work?” she asked angrily. “Who’s going to make the pancakes?” HSSWM

Quoting Joan Didion’s unparalleled 1972 essay on the movement :

Cooking a meal could only be “dogwork,” and to claim any pleasure from it was evidence of craven acquiescence in one’s own forced labor. Small children could only be odious mechanisms for the spilling and digesting of food, for robbing women of their “freedom.” HSSWM

Caitlin Flanagan mocks one writer who states that work = identity:

Joan K. Peters is the author of a highly regarded book called When Mothers Work: Loving Our Children Without Sacrificing Our Selves. It proceeds from an assumption dear to many women’s hearts: “I argue that mothers should work outside the home,” she tells us at the outset. “If they do not, they cannot preserve their identities or raise children to have both independent and family lives.” (Good news for sweatshop workers and their children everywhere—Mom’s identity as an underpaid seamstress is vital to healthy family functioning.) HSSWM

But staying at home with children is boring and hard for the “beautifully educated”. Activities include watching daytime TV, tidying the house and making cookies. She states she would rather talk to a working mother than a mom who stays at home. Days at home caring for her children fill her with resentment and frustration.

It’s hard to be a beautifully educated woman, used to the power and autonomy of work, and suddenly be plunged into the Romper Room of round the clock mommy-hood. I must confess—and you’re never supposed to say this—I’d rather sit next to the working mom at a dinner party than the at-home mom. The working mom would have more to say that would be of interest to me. TMD .

The other day, I was early to pick the boys up from school, so I went to the parents’ lounge to read a book. Slowly the room filled up with five or six other mothers. They were all at-home moms, and they were all in charge of a class Valentine’s party. They were talking about the cream cheese and jelly sandwiches they were going to make, and the heart-shaped cookie cutters they were going to use, and they were talking about how to deal with the teacher’s decision that they couldn’t bring any candy to the party. Listening in on the conversation as an outsider, I could see how a working mom might make fun of them—it certainly wasn’t the kind of conversation you hear at important places of business or in hospitals or universities. It also made me see very clearly why some women say they simply have to go to work or they would sink into depression. TMD .

I had expected, merely upon the simple fact of giving birth, to be magically transformed from the kind of woman who likes to spend most of the morning lying on the couch reading and drinking coffee and talking on the telephone to the kind of woman who likes to spend most of the morning tidying up and thinking about what to cook for dinner and inviting other mothers over for a nice chat. It didn’t happen. Play dates—a sort of minimum-security lockdown spent in the company of other mildly depressed women and their tiresome, demanding babies—brought on a small death of the spirit, the effects of which I feared might be cumulative. I also felt resentful and sometimes even furious about almost any domestic task that presented itself: why was I supposed to endlessly wipe down the kitchen counters and lug bags of garbage out to the cans and set out the little plastic plates of steamed carrots and mashed bananas that the children touched only in order to hurl them onto the floor? Hadn’t every essay I’d ever submitted in college come back with a little mash note telling me I was in some way special, a cut above, meant for something? Wasn’t I designed for more important things than putting away Lego blocks and loading the dishwasher? I was! It was time. HSSWM

So what’s the solution? Go to work. Hire help to do the dogwork.

I have never once argued with my husband about which of us was going to change the sheets of the marriage bed, but then—to my certain knowledge —neither one of us ever has changed the sheets. Or scrubbed the bathtubs, or dusted the cobwebs off the top of the living-room bookcase, or used the special mop and the special noncorrosive cleanser on the hardwood floors. Two years ago our little boys got stomach flu, one right after the other, and there were ever so many loads of wash to do, but we did not do them. The nanny did. HSSWM

When I first hired a nanny, all I could think was, I need some help here! And fast! I found myself completely unsuited to the task of running a household, which was a cause of shame for me. My mother had done it so gracefully, and the one goal I’d always set for myself was to be a good wife and mother, but I really felt I was flailing. By modern standards, I suppose, I was doing fine: I spent huge amounts of time with the babies and I delighted in them, but it was impossible for me to do that and also keep the place clean and cook and lead any kind of adult life. TMD .

[…] there was still a heck of a lot of housework and child care that simply couldn’t be streamlined. HSSWM

As one professional woman said, “Good help and lots of it is key to making the whole thing possible.” HSSWM

I can remember waiting somewhere -dentist’s office, doctor’s office? – when my third baby was little. I had all my kids crowded into my lap. Another mom sitting there by herself in the chair looked over at me and said she remembered her days with three small children.
“Any advice?” I asked, eager to learn.
“Get help.” She replied. And I think she meant Help. As in hire Help.

The making of an American marriage: Help!

Caitlin Flanagan’s descriptions of the lives of many women – and thereby families – looks a bit like this:

1) hire someone to clean the house
2) hire someone to care for the children
3) hire someone to cook the meals

One can imagine this list continuing to a variety of services. Love for hire. (nannies = “women are buying this love when they need it, as though it were a commodity”TMD ) Laundry for hire. Lawn work for hire.

Life becomes a series of service transactions:

They prefer to think of themselves as consumers of a service—and consumers, of course, have no obligation or responsibility to what they consume. In such a perspective, the relationship may seem cleaner, less encumbered: a sterile transaction of cash for services. HSSWM

(Even the nomenclature suggests why a woman anxious about her choices in life wouldn’t like day care: a good mother doesn’t want to admit to having to make “deliveries” and “pickups” of her children, as though they were so many dirty shirts being sent to the laundry.) HSSWM

Caitlin Flanagan quotes the advice Anita Diamont and her husband were given for their marriage difficulties:

By way of “homework” the therapist suggested several commonsense gimmicks. We were to spend ten minutes each evening debriefing about our respective days. We were to take turns and not interrupt each other. He also suggested regular sex dates. Sounds mechanical, but it sure takes the pressure off the rest of the week. And for heaven’s sake, said the therapist, if you’re fighting about who cleans the bathroom, why not just pay someone else to do it for you? HSSWM

Schedule sex, schedule conversation, schedule the housecleaner…
married love turns into a list of services provided and paid.

What is modern American marriage and motherhood? It’s about money.

Caitlin Flanagan quotes Ann Crittenden’s complaint of how much money she lost when she chose to stay at home with her child:

We learn of Crittenden’s own plight on leaving The New York Times to raise her child: “very conservatively, I lost between $600,000 and $700,000, not counting the loss of a pension.” HSSWM

Via Scripting News, I saw Dare Obasanjo’s story describing how a woman turned down her boyfriend’s proposal, after he surprised her with a ring:

After a stunned silence she took it, said some words softly then said “I appreciate the sentiment but the timing is inappropriate” and handed it back. This was followed by her voicing her concerns about his ability to support them and him rattling of how much he made a month plus various bonuses, etc. I think it went downhill from there.

Did this couple love each other or was their relationship centered on money, how much he made?

What matters most is money – to pay for all the services!

What did Caitlin Flanagan want when she wanted marriage?

“When I was in high school, I didn’t even plan on going to college. I wanted to go to community college, live at home, and then get married.” TMD
I wonder what she was imagining for her family life. I never dreamed about getting married or having babies. I had planned for a career track heading on a different train. Falling in love with my husband – and with God – changed my mind and my course in life. Yet this author says she wanted marriage, but she seems dissatisfied with being at home with her children.

Saying “I Do” to Dogwork: Love is in the little things

Here’s where I get confused. Caitlin Flanagan has already described how intolerable “dogwork” is, so much so that many women hire nannies and other help to do it for them, yet she also writes how it is these daily chores that create bond between parent and child.

To con oneself into thinking that the person who provides daily physical care to a child is not the one he is going to love in a singular and primal way—a way obviously designed by nature herself to cleave child to mother and vice versa—is to ignore one of the most fundamental truths of childhood. Just as women, often despite their fervent desires to the contrary, tend to fall in love with the men they sleep with, so do small children develop an immediate and consuming passion for the person who feeds and rocks and bathes them every day. It’s in the nature of the way they experience love. HSSWM

Love means I take care of my daughter every day. I do a lot of little things for her. I change the wet sheets and wipe the floor. I give her a bath and brush her teeth.

Love is cleaning spilled teriyaki sauce out of the refrigerator, as Halley Suitt was doing last night after her son had made a mess.

Love also means I care for my husband: making him tea, cooking something he’ll enjoy eating after a long day of work and cleaning his clothes. I want to do these things for my family. I love them.

Sure it’s not always exciting. I have my moments when I wonder is it worth it?. When I feel like a cow or like a dog. But all of life has tedious times. Even paid employment, work in an office. When I was employed outside the home, I did some “dogwork” there too.

Marriage is not McDonald’s. Or rather Burger King – with their motto of “Have It Your Way”. It’s not buying a burger, going and ordering What You Want. It’s not something that can be dictated and determined evenly, as in the marriage contracts Caitlin Flanagan also cites. It’s not equal.

Lisa Williams shares her wisdom about marriage in a recent post:

That’s the strange thing about marriage, and something that’s been difficult for me to learn: it’s not always an equal partnership. In fact, trying to make sure that your contributions — monetary, emotional, physical, temporal — are always scrupulously equal may in fact damage your marriage. Because it’s not a commercial transaction or a business partnership, and shouldn’t be treated like one. I thought to myself, if both of us are determined to remain utterly independent, and not have or accept influence on each other, then why did we get married?

Love is not a business transaction. Marriage is not about money or making everything equal all the time.

Love is in the little things. The things that are done for each other. Not a 50/50 split where someone’s keeping track: your turn now.

Love is when Lisa schedules a hair cut for her husband.

Love is in the moments when I make our bed. Wash our clothes. Do the dishes.

What will the kids remember from their childhood? How we went on big vacations or had fancy holidays? No, I suspect our daughters will remember what we did every day. That’s what I remember from my childhood. I liked going to the beach or driving to the mountains. But what made the most impression on me was how we lived each day, how we ate dinner together, how we worked together, what we did before bedtime, how we felt loved in little moments.

So I sense some confusion in Caitlin Flanagan: how she doesn’t like the dogwork yet she sees the value in it.
“Raising a small child is so intimate, and the care itself produces a bond of tremendous intensity.”TMD . True, but why is she unwilling to do the work that builds the intimacy?

A note here on dads and dogwork. Often domestic duties such as cooking and cleaning can become a matter of contention between a couple. Ted can cook. He does diapers. He helps me with the children. The other night I went out and he did a number of domestic duties, including putting the cover back on the sofa, much better than I would have done it myself. My fault is that too often I do his jobs for him; I feel I’m helping him when he would be happy to do his part. If I ask him for help, he’ll help me. I am willing to do the housework. In order for us to have family time every night after dinner, it’s best if Ted can enjoy the children before their bedtime without housework to do. So I am happy to cook, clean and do the laundry. To me, it’s the least I can do for what he does for us all day and all week long at his work.

In this attitude I think I agree with Caitlin Flanagan here:

Whenever my husband walks through the door after work, I always make a point of saying, “We’re so glad to see you!” Because work is hard and draining, and home should be a pleasure. People are so confused about this—they think work is the pleasure and home is the burden.TMD

I want my husband to have plenty of pleasure at home with our family when he is done with his work day.

What Dogwork Does for Us

The girls and I do housework together. I like to think we’re making many good memories too. Even if we could afford the money (hundreds, probably thousands of dollars a year) for a nanny or housekeeper to take care of our home, I don’t think we’d pay someone to do it. What we learn from our times together scrubbing the floors or folding laundry is worth more than money.

I want my girls to know how to keep a house so that they can take care of themselves. If we could pay for a housecleaner, I’d still want them to know how to do it in case they grew up and found themselves in a different income level, unable to afford to pay for housecleaners. Expectations for adulthood begin in childhood, and kids grow up expecting to have the same level of affluence when they are adults, learning the lifestyle and habits.

I also feel I am teaching the girls how to be responsible: they each have chores assigned to do. They are learning how to do a thorough job – I come and check what work they have done. They are learning about consequences: what gets dirtied must get cleaned. They are also discovering how each of them has a part to play, a way to contribute in the family, even Elisabeth sorting the silverware: the joy of a job. Each of us gives to the family. On Monday afternoons we have our housecleaning time for the week. We laugh and play loud music. It’s fun to work together as a family. They are learning too.

So I find I disagree with Caitlin Flanagan about “dogwork”, what it is and who should do it.

Which brings me to my second point: Motherhood Means I Use My Mind. Caitlin Flanagan associates staying-at-home with watching TV, making cookies and tidying the house. It seems to her that life at home is boring and lacking intellectual engagement or excitement.

I like to bake. I like to decorate. I clean. At times I do these things. Inside me are so many ideas, observations, thoughts, simmering during the day. Being at home with my children is incredibly fascinating. And intellectual. There are myriad opportunities for engaging my mind.

To raise children, a mother – and father – need to know what it is that they are doing. What is the work before them. What makes a person? What makes our world what it is? What does it mean to be a member of society? Who do we want our girls to be when they are women? How do we want them to participate and change the world around them? What kind of country and culture is influencing us as a family? What kind of world will be awaiting my children in twenty years? How can we prepare them? What is education? How should we school our children? Philosophy, psychology, physiology, physics. Economics and mechanics. History and politics. Perpetual studies for parents.

There are intense intellectual questions parents need to be able to answer. If all one wants is simple survival, getting through the day, then changing diapers, wiping spills and spooning food into faces will suffice. But I feel there is an incredible vista, a huge horizon, all kinds of challenges for the intellect and mind as a mom.

I believe that who my child will be when she is 18 years old, adult and able to vote, begins when she is 18 months old, or even younger.

Do I want my daughter to be responsible? Respectful? Generous? Those traits begin to grow now, in infancy, and no nanny can nuture these seeds inside her heart better than me, her mother.

I may have left the office but that doesn’t mean I left my mind in the office. I brought my mind home with me. It is constantly employed!

Caitlin Flanagan’s essays and descriptions of her days at home with her small children seem devoid of joy. Where’s the fun of dancing around the living room with your babies? Throwing mud pies? Hiking in the woods and discovering ferns and flowers? Why is it so tiresome and depressing to her? I wish she had written more about the happiness of being at home. I stay at home with my girls because we have FUN!

Choice and Ambivalence

If Caitlin Flanagan is confused or ambivalent about her choices as a mother, I can understand. Slavery can be misery. But being given choices sometimes only makes life more complicated and difficult.

Ambivalence is a mark of motherhood. So many sets and subsets of decisions, many of them difficult to determine: work? don’t work? work at home? work at the office? work part-time? full-time? company? consulting? day care? nanny?

Women can decide how, when, where and with whom to become a mother. Yet there are still aspects of life that can’t be controlled. And sometimes what seems to be the best path to take doesn’t end up where it was expected to go.

I find myself feeling ambivalent and ambiguous about motherhood, in a different way. Or perhaps it’s not so different. The other night when we went out for sushi at last, after years of waiting, I found myself in tears by the end of the meal. What I discovered was not simply my repulsion to raw abalone, but my own emotions about my new freedom as a mother, the sushi symbolizing a new stage. I love being able to go out alone with my husband for a lengthy date and being able to eat whatever I want without worrying about a baby depending on my body. Yet I miss pregnancy and breastfeeding: I love babies. After our infertility , I never thought we’d be making choices about children. It’s a difficult place to be for me.

And sometimes it seems easy to make a choice, just as I was willing to try the abalone, but when I tasted it, it wasn’t what I imagined it would be at all.

She can’t have both things

To end this piece, I’ll quote a few of the paragraphs in the end of her esssay, describing choice:

What few will admit—because it is painful, because it reveals the unpleasant truth that life presents a series of choices, each of which precludes a host of other attractive possibilities—is that when a mother works, something is lost. Children crave their mothers. They always have and they always will. HSSWM

I agree.

And women fortunate enough to live in a society where they have access to that greatest of levelers, education, will always have the burning dream of doing something more exciting and important than tidying Lego blocks and running loads of laundry. HSSWM

Here I don’t agree with her assumption that educated women will be bored at home. It sounds as if we women will know we are “fortunate” by our dissatisfaction. Yet she has also defined this dogwork as love. Being at home is exciting: I disagree.

If you want to make an upper-middle-class woman squeal in indignation, tell her she can’t have something. If she works she can’t have as deep and connected a relationship with her child as she would if she stayed home and raised him. She can’t have the glamour and respect conferred on career women if she chooses instead to spend her days at “Mommy and Me” classes. She can’t have both things. HSSWM

I agree again here. Hit the nail on the head. And very American. It comes back to the McDonald’s marriage. I want to believe I can have it all. Don’t tell me I can’t. In this age of sex and contraception, fast food and Atkins diet, credit card debt and consumption, we want to have everything: all choice and no consequence. All happiness and no heartache.

A few weeks ago I overheard a working mom saying to another mom: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” A fact few remember in our society. Girls are brought up to believe they can be SuperWoman with the life of their dreams, Cinderella Stage Coach, professional degree and nanny. Oh and handsome Prince to boot. Can’t leave him out of the equation. No pumpkins. The glass slipper fits forever. That’s why it’s a fairy tale.

But I believe the way to have your fairy tale come true, to have your cake and eat it too, is to make a choice. Choose what it is you can have. Be content.

How Caitlin Flanagan saved my marriage and motherhood

After reading these two pieces by Caitlin Flanagan, I found myself thinking about Choice. I thought about the choices I made. What I wanted. Some I made before marriage, deciding the type of life I wanted as a wife, who I’d want as a husband. Ted and I have made deliberate decisions to have the life we have now. Yes, I whine and complain at times. I have my moments when I am unhappy.

Yet the more I thought about Choice, the more I realized that I have chosen this life I have now. And I realized that I want it. I Want It. I want it dogwork and all.

I want to be at home with my girls. I want to take care of Ted. Spilled milk, loads of laundry and all the little labors! This is what I want. I like my life! I’ve felt extra energy, enthusiasm, empowered by this realization. Empowered by my choice. The little labors, dogwork, diapers, wiping spills, scrubbing dishes, haven’t bothered me in the week since I’ve read Flanagan’s words. I want what I have as a woman. I’ve got my cake and it’s sweet to eat. I’m happy to be a wife and a mom at home all day.

Call me a serf. I’ll be a slave. Love is serfdom.

Tags: motherhood

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Phil // Feb 25, 2004 at 2:55 am

    You write so well, it’s a joy to read.

    Your thoughts raise some interesting issues and I look forward to discussing some of them with my girlfriend.

  • 2 Tamara // Feb 25, 2004 at 12:03 pm

    Excellent presentation.

    I found myself a bit shocked at some of the elitism of this line of thought. As if someone who couldn’t afford someone to do “the dirty work” couldn’t become a whole or realized person.

    I feel much more completed now, then when I was working. A bored housewife seems more like one of those kids at summer camp who spend so much time pouting (because they’re not home) that they miss out on every adventure, every opportunity.

    It reminded me of an article I read this week about a Childfree Organization in Boston. Not that people would decide not to have children, but that they’d ridicule those who do as wasted persons.

    How sad. A lot for me to think about.

  • 3 paul // Feb 25, 2004 at 12:21 pm

    Hey, this isn’t just for women and mothers, you know. I haven’t read all of this yet, just enough of the excerpts to realize how grateful I am to be out of touch with their authors’ reality.

    It means a lot to my family to have me here and that in turn means a lot to me. As the saying goes, no one reflects on their deathbed that they wish they had spent more time at the office.

    Serfdom? I don’t find it so. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent, to recycle another quote. It’s odd being the outsider, the stay at home dad, but I don’t care. the people I have to make happy seem to be, and if society’s expectations aren’t being met, there’s nothing I can do about that.

    I’d like to see *more* single-income households, not less, with an increased amount of attention paid to the kids I see everyday who cry out for support and don’t get it. But people are letting advertisers drive their choices — the new SUV, the boat, the big screen TV — and feeling compelled to have more when they may actually be having less. Stuff != life.

    PS: I need to start a new weblog category, for weblogs about Love, with this one as the first one.

  • 4 Katherine // Feb 28, 2004 at 5:05 pm

    I complain about some of the hard and repetitive work I have to do as a stay-at-home mom (especially in a homeschooling family, because they’re home all the time), but I would never change my choice to be at home, even if the kids were at school. I so loved having my mom available when I got home from school, even (or maybe especially) through high school. It meant so much to me that all I wanted was to be a wife and mother when I was growing up, and through college. I couldn’t believe my dream came true and I married the most incredible man 3 weeks out of college. When motherhood hit I was floored by how hard it was and it took me quite a while to adjust, but I know it’s the place for me and there are so many rewards. We have to put our all into it: all our time, all our energy, all our creativity, all our patience, all our love…and we hopefully take the opportunity to learn to emulate the greatest Servant of all…the One who laid down His life to serve us in the highest way possible. It’s not serfdom, which is forced – it’s servanthood, which is a choice. A choice we can use to grow and learn and deepen ourselves in laying down our lives for others.

  • 5 Dean Esmay // Apr 10, 2004 at 8:47 am

    Interesting essay.

    Here’s a rather radical thought, likely to get me in trouble with some:

    Women like Caitlin Flanagan are likely to become less and less common in future generations. Why? Because women who are inclined to see things her way are likely to reproduce less, and women who don’t are likely to reproduce more.

    Which from a biological perspective is interesting, since before the 20th century evolution wouldn’t have cared how women felt about domesticity: pregnancy and nursing weren’t really optional. Now they are, and this probably going to produce profound changes in the species over teh next few centuries.

    If you believe genetics influences these sorts of attitudes, anyway.

  • 6 Michael Williams // Apr 11, 2004 at 11:30 pm

    Fascinating. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

  • 7 Michael Williams -- Master of None // Apr 11, 2004 at 11:35 pm

    Motherhood, Love, and Serfdom

    Not my words — Julie Leung’s. She’s got a fascinating perspective on motherfood you may be interested in….

  • 8 Wacky Hermit // Apr 12, 2004 at 7:28 am

    I enjoyed the essay! Thanks for writing it.

    I don’t know where Flanagan gets her image of the stay-at-home mom, but it sure doesn’t coincide with what I see around me. The Stay-At-Home-Moms I know are largely educated women, with a bachelor’s degree or higher, and they are not bored. They can converse on current issues while changing the messy diaper. They have interesting opinions, and they do not watch daytime TV (unless you count having PBS Kids on to keep the kids occupied while you clean the kitchen). Many of them are involved in local politics, but not national politics. Sure, there exist SAHM’s that fit Flanagan’s vision of them; but they are not representative of all SAHM’s, and they certainly are not representative of me.

    And she seems to be creating a false dichotomy between SAHM’s and working moms. A lot of moms I know make money on the side selling stuff, or (like me) work at night a few nights a week to bring in a few extra bucks.