I was 28 when I had my first child. I thought it was the perfect age — not yet 30, still feeling like a young woman who was ready to give all her energy to the little one who would soon be needing it. By the time I had my third last year, I realized that there is no such thing as the perfect age to have a child. There is too young, and too old, but there is no real moment at which you will be the perfect mother. I know mothers of all ages, and everyone has their failures and their strengths. It’s natural, and only when we expect perfection do we start to hate ourselves for no reason.
But one of the other reasons I was happy to have my baby at 28 was because I was not yet far enough into my career to make leaving it hard. I liked my job enough, and I could have stayed there much longer if I wanted to, but I wasn’t really sad about leaving it. I was working in administration for a non-profit, and I still sometimes think of all the other women who stayed at the office after I left. There were the ones working more in policy, who were going to stay there no matter what happened. Then there were the ones who, like me, worked in administration and weren’t nearly as married to their jobs. I could tell that a lot of probably planned to do the same thing in their future. And even though I was good at my job and could have gone back even after the birth of my son, there was no way I wanted to leave the life I had created at home for more of the same paperwork and bagged lunches.
That being said, I have nothing but respect for the women who did stay. I love my life with my children — and feel a deep privilege having a husband whose income can provide comfortably for our family — but I do not think that my life is for everyone. When I decided to make raising my children my priority, it was partly because my income was not needed, but also partly because I wanted this life. I know that there are a lot of women who would not want my lifestyle, and that’s fine. They find their own way to have a relationship with their children, or they don’t have any at all, and they are just as happy. Different strokes, as my dad would say.
Working at a non-profit, I got to know a lot of women from very educated, cultured backgrounds. A lot of women who identified themselves as feminists, just like I used to in my own life. Politics were always a huge part of our workplace discussions, and we were always well-informed on things like reproductive rights or equal pay. For a long time, we agreed on almost everything, and were highly supportive of one another. Around the time I left the office, though, things started to noticeably change. The women who used to be good friends — in and outside of the office — weren’t as interested in me anymore. When we would see each other, I would always get a small speech about how I needed to be putting my talents to use at a job (as though one of my talents wasn’t raising children). They always had a snarky comment to make about how they could never do what I do because they would “go crazy,” and I was even occasionally given the guilt-trip of “We didn’t come this far just to play house again.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking: These women weren’t real feminists. But part of the reason I rejected the label was because I realize just how many women I vehemently disagreed with were sharing it with me. Whether we like it or not, a huge amount of feminists who freely use the label or believe in the ideals are extremely condescending or insulting about stay-at-home-moms. You can feel the level of disrespect they have for your life choices, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that they wish you were doing something “better” with your life. A lot of them feel personally disappointed in you because they feel like they were working for you to live some kind of different life that you are refusing to enjoy. But the thing is, I wouldn’t enjoy the life that they work so hard for me to have. I like being at home with my kids all day.
And most of the mothers I interact with — not to mention most of the men — never make me feel like this. The ones who do not call themselves feminists or talk about women’s politics are always the ones who are supportive of my choice and treat me like I’m an equal (and not some cliché from the 50s come back to life). Whether or not we want to admit it, it’s become “undesirable” in some circles for a woman to choose a life of motherhood and wifehood. It’s become something to be embarrassed of. And the only people who make me feel like this — no matter how much you don’t want to believe it — are feminists. They are the ones who make judgments, and hurt feelings, and belittle people’s lives. And if you say they’re not real feminists, then maybe it’s time you start thinking about who is using your beloved label. Because when someone says they don’t like feminists, even if I know some good ones, I can kind of see where they are coming from.