I was sipping a long-awaited martini at a cocktail party over the holidays, almost feeling like an adult again after a long day with my two little ones, when a giant Prada bag bumped my arm spilling my drink. The bag’s owner, a tall woman with a slick bun and beautiful boots, struck up a conversation that after thirty seconds of chit chat, led her to ask every suburban mom’s favorite question, “So, what do you do?”
“I stay home with my kids,” I said. And the career woman with the nanny who handles all that “parenting” nonsense sipped her drink, shrugged and said “Oh,” as if I missed the memo that women are allowed to work in 2015. Her nails looked nice. So did her leather boots. Working warrants luxuries, I thought. I briefly imagined wearing them while my teething 9-month-old gnawed on the beautiful leather while I cooked.
Career woman scanned the room to see if there were any power women she could talk to. With no luck, she continued with me, “Oh, I have two girls,” she said. “And all I cared about is that they have CEO names. Good strong names that can run companies. Right? Equality people!”
Feminists want equality and progression for women. But what, may I ask, is more progressive than raising the next generation?
I gave Miss Career a weak smile and put my drink down so I could hide the fact that my nails weren’t done. I smoothed the wrinkles out of my signature black dress that I wear to any event that frowns upon yoga pants and checked the clock, worried about my kids going to bed on time. I left the conversation before she could ask me about the S&P 500 or anything that had to do with mergers and acquisitions. She was flashy and proud with her progress, her dry-cleaned clothes and her success. I was tired and irrelevant, wearing drugstore eyeshadow I bought five years ago.
Being a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) isn’t just something to be tolerated, a choice we’re “meh” about. It’s time I strut out with my vacuum, my roasted chicken, and my alphabet flashcards. My job is progressive and full of feminism. I’m a power woman too.
In fact, my husband and I see our family as a corporation, one with a great capacity for influence and change in the world.
We don’t want our children to be an asset just to be enjoyed on the weekend, like a golf membership or a sailboat. We want them to be our company’s biggest investment. And we don’t want that investment to be managed by a different branch, or a third party service. We want them to have our 1-on-1 attention and care, in accordance with our company’s beliefs and practices.
So yes, I cook three meals a day like a housewife circa 1960 because our company puts a priority on healthy food. I pack my husband’s lunch every day and I do his laundry because our company believes in supporting each other. I wipe butts, make homemade playdough, do counting games, teach manners and morals, vacuum the floor and clean our toilets. None of these tasks are degrading, unfair or unequal to what my husband does. I do it because it’s the best way for me to uphold our priorities, not because I’m under my husband’s thumb. Being a housewife isn’t a cop-out or me failing to flex my feminist muscle. It’s my deliberate sacrifice (and educated choice) to invest in my family. It is feminism.
Every family corporation has priorities.
For some, it’s to run a dental practice, or to earn enough for a vacation home, or for both parents to not miss a beat in their careers. Society respects couples who choose priorities like being great real estate brokers, insurance agents, or investment bankers. We even applaud the priority of accumulating more cars and nicer homes. Women doing these things instead of being home with their children are feminists. So, too, then must we respect and applaud the family corporation that believes their children will fair better emotionally, academically, and spiritually with parental care:
The woman working for the “raising her children” corporation is a feminist too.
With this in mind, we went about staffing our company with an honest evaluation of both partner’s greatest strengths, weaknesses and natural propensities. My “staying home” was a corporate conviction, a sacrifice on many fronts, but overall a wise business decision that took into account finances, priorities and greatest long-term impact and return.
If I were a heart surgeon and my husband a poker player with a penchant for play-dates and paleo cooking, maybe he’d be home with our boys. Or if my writing career paid for more than our cell phone bill, and I was as passionate about entrepreneurship as I am about play-based learning and nutrition, maybe I’d be bringing home the paycheck.
But when we put parental care as a priority, someone has to not “work outside the home,” because we’re not two separate companies who acquired children. We’re one. One family who believes the little people we raise – and the values we instill in them – will make a greater impact on society than the two bosses of our family company pursuing separate things. So I took my division and he took his. We work together; we are equals.
And yet it’s the kind of equality Miss Career turned her nose at at the cocktail party.
Miss Career, please understand: You strategize revenue. I make baby food. You file quarterly reports. I recipe plan. You launch development strategies in a power suit. I do motor skill activities in my pajamas. You read boxes of legal documents. I read about child development and monkeys that jump on beds. You have meetings to discuss Human Resources and new policies. I have time-outs to insist on kindness, discuss morality, and instill theology. You tell your staff to work harder, take risks.
I encourage my sons to attempt hard things, fail at them and try again. You go on a corporate retreat to discuss the company’s vision. We go on picnics to talk about our family’s values. You work on client relations. We talk about how our actions make others feel. Your company gives back. We practice sharing and talk about how good it is to give to others. You and I: we’re both moving society forward.
One working mom said about being a SAHM: “I just feel like my time is worth more than that.”
To that, I say: There is nothing more worth my time.