Activist mama: Justify myself, no more

Most IQ tests would probably conclude that I am an idiot. And I am not even going to fight this.

When people ask me what I do, many expect one of these two straightforward answers: I am a stay at home mom or I am a working mom. I never really managed to choose which box was the most relevant to me, let alone describe it. I am often tempted to respond: ‘Life is not in black or white but in a various shades of grey…’ Which probably would make look like
A- a wanker or
B- a failed motivational speaker or
C- a mythomaniac or very possibly,
D- all the above

Instead, I either answer ‘I am in transition/in between things’ (which can be translated into ‘don’t ask more questions or I will cry right now, right there? Do you want you me to blow my nose with your top? I don’t think so…) OR I list, in no coherent order, everything I think I do:

– I take care of my 3 kids from 6-9am

– I am coordinating a grassroots group of families in the neighborhood who want to give a free French English bilingual education to their children

– I order diapers online

– I do the laundry on a weekly basis

– I try to cook every day

– I am freelancing as a business coach for social entrepreneurs like these awesome change makers, MarioWay, who designed an upright wheelchair which I think can really change the way we perceive disability.

– I rant about me, myself and I and procrastinate aka I have a mommy’s blog (to read absolutely by the way in order to decide whether or not you should create a new contact entry after I gave you my phone number)

– I add 10 items in my Gap online store basket every day, only to empty it because I am too broke

– I am venturing into Fashion entrepreneurship ranging from the unlikely (Accessories design) to the most likely (Fashion e-retail)

– I organize parties where adults get drunk and kids bump each other’s head in a bouncy castle.

– I take care of L (for real) in the afternoons.

I also go through this list very quickly so that people get confused and focus instead on how cute they think my kids are.

It’s like when you have your first job interview after graduation and you transform your experience of helping your parents catering nems for Lao weddings into a full fledge ‘entrepreneurial experience’ or when you are using the same internship to cover 100 distinct sets of skills. Verbal diarrhea to fill gaps: it never fools anyone but you do it anyway.

The not earning money is getting really tough for me. I sometimes feel that in the world of today, a woman who pays someone to care for her children while not earning any revenue is seen as a freak. Someone told me few months ago: ‘Normal -as in not filthy rich- women these days either work or take care of their children. Paying child care is an oddity (real words said were ‘du Jamais vu’ , literal translation ‘you have never seen this’) if you don’t work’.

The economic logic of their statement seemed indeed flawless. I should probably have been angry; instead I was embarrassed and admitted: ‘Well I guess some of us can’t just do it. Maybe, I am not physically or emotionally equipped to care for my 3 kids. Maybe I am just limited’.

French women in particular are all expected to go back to work; many things help to ease back into the 9-6pm routine: free public school from age 3 (sometimes even earlier), decent maternity leave that gives you enough time with your Cherubs but not long enough to start have an postpartum existential crisis a la ‘Maybe I should make and sell hats. It seems pretty straightforward, NOT’. I am not at all saying that French women have it easy (far from it), I am just trying to put things into perspective; in the US or at least in the state of New York childcare is privately funded until kids are 5 (or 4 if you are lucky enough to get a public school pre-K spot). I calculated that the median full-time childcare for G,P and L in Manhattan would round up to about $70,000 a year. I should probably have given this person this figure but then again, it would be like trying to justify my choices and why should I do this?

In fact, the person I am truly angry at is myself. For not walking the talk. You see, in my previous life, I have advocated for making visible the contributions of women at home by translating them in economic outputs to inform public policies. I barked that society and governments should stop thinking that women (and men who take care of their home) are sources of unlimited free and altruistic labor who just pick up the shit when public spending is cut or when the cost of private child care or elder care spirals out of control. Yes, I used to say all this type of stuff before concluding that doing this would among other things at the very least improve women’s self-worth.

I realize now that it was all very easy to say when I was an educated childless income earner living the life in London. I do still hold this type of discourse during dinner conversations with friends (who after 5 minutes of my monologue must be wondering whether or not I have my periods) or when boosting another mama’s confidence when she feels fucking awful about not ‘contributing financially’.

But the truth is, the longer I am staying out of a paid job, the flakier my position is becoming. I laud stay-at-home moms but how cannot I be more proud of being one? I should. I really should. I don’t know. I feel like a two-faced b***h. Sometimes.

I don’t think ‘I am a stay-at-home mom’ are words that ever came out of my mouth while that is exactly what I was for a good 2 years and half. Maybe I should join a stay-at-home mom Anonymous group.

I am slowly getting OK about all this though. That’s why I can talk about it now. Guilt free. I made my peace, it’s OK for me to refuse to answer to ‘either or’ questions: ‘stay at home mom’, ‘working mom’, ‘part time mom’, ‘full-time bitch’. Whatever, we all have work to do, don’t we? I always sucked big time at Multiple Choice Testing anyway.
#soonenoughproudmama #powerofwomen

14 comments

  1. Bronwyn Joy @ Journeys Of The Fabulist

    This speaks to me! I do feel pressure to make enough to cover the childcare I pay for – and I do, but it’s a bit of a zero-sum game at the moment and people do question it. If it’s a negative-sum game I imagine people question it a lot more! (And they probably question it even more outside expat Singapore, where the filthy rich factor comes into it for many.)

    Remember also that just because you’re not into babies doesn’t mean you’re “not meant to be a parent” – they grow out of baby and toddlerhood and you might really rock at raising teens.

    • redlipstickmama

      Exactly, this zero-sum game (or negative-sum) game is limiting. Yes you are losing money but you keep your sanity, your love of your children, your marriage etc. I am exaggerating of course but the mental health of moms is an issue dear to my heart and throwing upon them because they spend their savings in child care does not make any sense to me. And you said it too well, when you say you can be meant to be a parent even if you are not into babies or feel ill-equipped for them xo

    • redlipstickmama

      Run with it dear! All of us mom bloggers are defining for ourselves and for children what motherhood actually is these days. All these posts are a great material for a longitudinal study on women. Our mothers may have been in similar head spinning situations but we have the tools to articulate them and say the way it is without the media, economists or lifestyle gurus creating stories on our behalf. xo

  2. mathairfiona

    Booyah, Bitches! Nice post. I used to feel ashamed of being a SAHM. I constantly told people what I did before staying home so that I would feel more important. I also had this nagging feeling that I “needed” to get a master’s degree. The only reason that I could come up with for doing so was because I knew I could. I was hearing all of my friends talk about their master’s or Ph.D. programs and was beginning to feel left behind and somehow, less. Fact is, I KILL this mothering thing. I am very, very proud my role now. I have the most important job that I could ever have and I take it very seriously. Some of this has come of me learning to let go of some things that I used to believe are important and some other bits come from my desire to homeschool and growing in the Christian faith. I’ve come a long way and know there is no justification needed.

    On another note, you rock. Never feel badly about you.

    • redlipstickmama

      Thanks for sharing this!! It is so weird that we are made to feel this way. It is almost as if we needed an OUT and PROUD movement. And you are right to stress out about it being an (amazing and serious job). When this person mentioned about moms not working have to justify paying for child care I almost replied using an analogy on corporations. When in a team, there’s one colleague who is drown under their workload, wouldn’t you hire some additional staff to help. Why cannot moms do the same?
      Anyway thanks for the pep talk. Sx

      • mathairfiona

        It has never actually occurred to me to pay for any childcare, but its really not the worst idea I’ve ever heard. Ha! Especially with that analogy you just shared. I’m studying the works of Charlotte Mason (grandmother of the homeschool movement, if you will) and even back in the 1800s she was telling mothers to get out and play (without kids) in order to be the best mother possible.

  3. Ellen

    Bottom line, you don´t have to please the world. You have to please yourself. You are who you want/can/are meant to/not meant to be. You are who you are and you have to be happy, you, not the rest.
    Take care!!!

  4. Laurence

    Does this very nice person making you excusing yourself about your choice of life want to pay for pre-school, so that you can work and “contribute” ? Does she even work and “contribute” as much as you do everyday with your children ?! Tsssssss

    • redlipstickmama

      The thing is that I respect this person a lot although from a different generation when things were considered in black and white so I was not that upset. Still it was awkward xo

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