Thursday, February 17, 2011

Supermom or Not?

Definition of SUPERMOM: an exemplary mother; also: a woman who performs the traditional duties of housekeeping and child-rearing while also having a full-time job

Yesterday I was heading into the gym when I ran into an older woman I know from church. She said, "You're here to work out? I don't know how you do it with little ones." 

I started to think about this. How do I do it? I have three young children. I have a dog that is recuperating from knee surgery. I have three cats that are ours and two feral cats we are fostering. I spend most days grocery shopping, making meals, taxiing kids to different places, cleaning up messes, doing craft projects or playing, helping with homework, and laundry, laundry, laundry. Besides that, I try to maintain a semblance of a relationship with my husband in the minimal time we get to spend together without little people. I try to do some things for myself, like the gym and scrap booking. And then there are the relationships outside my immediate family that I try to maintain: parents and friends. And there is even more.

Yes, I don't work outside of the home, but it feels like I do sometimes. I'm the Religious Education Chairperson at our church. Last year, besides this, I was a Worship Associate helping to plan services. I'm also busy in the schools. Jamie goes to a co-operative nursery school. I'm the treasurer there, and I'm in the classroom once or twice a month. I volunteer in Baker's class helping with reading centers and I'm a homeroom parent. I participate in SPACE, a parent organization, as well as the PTA.

So how do I do it? Am I a supermom?  I don't think so.

In the 1950's Betty Friedan wrote the Feminine Mystique. In the book she questioned the happiness of the homemaker. Did housework full-fill the average woman? Was there more to life than cleaning and scrubbing the floors? Most point to this book as the beginning of the women's liberation's movement and the start of feminism. Unfortunately, while more doors opened for women, others didn't close. As Gloria Steinem pointed out, women would never achieve real equality as long as they continued to do two jobs while men did only one, until men flooded equally into the “unpaid labor force of child-rearing and homemaking… and the cruel, guilt-producing impossibility of being Super Woman and Super Mom will keep robbing the country of talent and women of peace of mind” 

Despite feminism's frustration with the role of the supermom, women were stuck with it. Feminism told them they needed to get out and take advantage of the opportunities it had procured for them. I remember a class in college where we were asked to talk about where we saw ourselves in 10 years. I said I wanted to work for a while and then settle down to stay home with my kids. My classmates were appalled: how could I be a feminist and want to be a homemaker? I replied that the point of feminism was to allow women to make choices and support those choices. Being a homemaker is a valid choice as long as it is my choice and not society forcing me to do it. I think there are many women out there who feel they have to pursue a career and have children. Let’s face it, supermom is a myth. No one can do both equally well.  

And, even for those of us who have chosen only one path, the road is still bumpy. Unlike the 1950’s, women of today who stay home don’t chose to do so to make the house comfy for hubby. They do it to raise their children. So even though they’re home, they are expected to do all the household chores while nurturing and stimulating their children. When you’re home all day, there is a societal (and sometime spousal, though not in my situation) expectation for the  house to be perfect, the kids always clean and presentable, dinner on the table, and lunches packed daily. And some people manage this on the surface. I’m not one of those people.

I could manage that if I chose. I wouldn’t have time to have play dates or painting sessions for the kids. We wouldn’t have time to go sledding after school or hiking. I’d be cleaning from the kid’s bedtime until now instead of doing things I enjoy. And so, on most days, my house is a mess. That is ok for me for now. Time with my husband and time for me are more important than clean bathrooms and a spotless floor. I am not supermom and I don’t pretend to be. Anyone who appears to be supermom is giving something up somewhere else in their life. It’s just not as obvious as the dishes piled in my sink.

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