Earlier this month I attended Blissdom Canada, where I had the good fortune to meet many of the bloggers whose work I've read for years. One of them was Natasha Chiam, the voice behind The Stay-at-Home Feminist. Truth be told, I'd passed by her several times at the conference but was too nervous to introduce myself. When I finally mustered up the courage to say hi, one of the first things I blurted out was an apology:
"I'm sorry! I feel like I've abandoned the sisterhood because I'm a stay-at-home mom. I didn't mean to be a bad role model for my kids."
Natasha reassured me that I wasn't a failed role model. However, as a formerly self-sufficient and financially independent career woman turned diaper-changer, the decision to become a stay-at-home mom is something that I've struggled to discuss with women I admire and consider fiercely proud feminists. You'd think that, after five years of being home with my children, I would have come to terms with the fact that our family could be a postcard for the stereotypical gender divide: "Greetings from the kitchen!" it would say, with me on the front dressed in an apron, taking a casserole from the oven.
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I've confessed openly about the emotional challenges I've faced as a stay-at-home mom, and near the top of the list is making sure I am a good role model for my children. However, I sometimes wonder if my cooking and cleaning duties—while my husband financially supports our family—is the way that I want my children to view the gender roles of men and women.
In so many ways, I could relate to Zsofia McMullin's post yesterday in the New York Times' Motherlode section. What starts out as an innocent game of playing princesses and knights with her son ends with McMullin pondering a similar question: Does her son see her as a "princess" because the traditional "blue" jobs fall to her husband, whereas McMullin cooks, plays, shops and cares for her family?
In her post "The 'Save the Princess' Message Hurts Boys, Too" she writes:
"Sometimes I think that as much as I’d like to blame Disney for my princess troubles, the fault really lies with me. What does he see of me as a woman? What does he know about me? When I am at home, I am a bit like a princess, albeit a princess without a staff: I cook dinner, I play with him, I take care of my husband, I go shopping, I sew my own ball gown with the help of birds. (Oh, no, wait, that’s somebody else.) I don’t talk about my work or about my ambitions outside of my family. I let my husband deal with things that need to be fixed, with big bugs, even with the finances. I am, in a way, one-dimensional, simple—at least the parts that he can see and understand at his age. The things I do to 'rescue' my family are seen as princess-jobs—or even worse, as not jobs at all, just things that happen magically around the house."
As a mother to both a son and a daughter, I often feel doubly conflicted. I want my daughter to know that there is a world of opportunity waiting for her and she should be fearless in her pursuits. As for my son, I don't want him to see women as the only person in a household who cooks or cleans. It's not that my work around the house goes unappreciated, but it still stings when my kids bring home Mother's Day cards praising the lunches I pack rather than the fact that I can also fix their bikes, set a mouse trap, unclog a sink and change a car tire.
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Does any of this mean that I regret my decision to become a stay-at-home mom? While quitting my job was not an easy choice, it's never been something I've regretted. What it does mean, however, is that I need to be aware of how my "stereotypical" female role in our household appears to my kids. It also means that I need to ensure that I verbalize my out-of-the-apron dreams—if for no other reason but to inspire my kids to chase their own dreams.
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