Being any kind of parent is hard — or, at least, it’s hard if you’re engaged with the process. No matter your status in the child’s life (biological parent, adoptive, mom, dad, something-else-that-doesn’t-have-a-name-but-still-counts) or your socio-economic position (rich, poor, somewhere in between), if you’re parenting a child: It’s hard.
It’s hard because it matters — it really, really matters — and it’s just so complicated. Children get sick, they get frightened, they fight you on the craziest things, they have needs that you cannot begin to understand — indeed, they are nothing but Need. It starts the instant they wake up and it only abates when their eyes close, and I say “abates” rather than “stops” because you can never, ever know that the Need won’t rear its head in the middle of the night. In all the bedrooms. At once. You just cannot know.
The toll it takes on your heart is hard, too. You ache for your kids in ways you never knew existed before they were in your life. You want to hold them in your arms and engulf them in bubble wrap, and you can do neither. They will piss you off; they will push you away; they will get hurt. If you’re lucky, they will also give you joy, and pull you back, and heal. But your heart is there for every bump and bounce.
It’s even hard on your body, even if you’re not the one who produced the children. Years of sleep-deprivation, years of carrying small people and large belongings, years of not having enough time to care for yourself in the way you might need to, and — for far too many — years of not having the money to do so, either.
It’s just: Hard.
The grand lie is that if you have help, it’s easy. It’s certainly easier — but easy? Nope. Not unless you’re genuinely checked out. Years ago, I was a nanny for twins, a round-faced boy and round-faced girl, the healthy children of wealthy parents in a spacious and well-tended home. I’m sure other nannies saw other kinds of parents, but I’ll tell you what: I was an assistant. I did not take the body-blows. That mom and dad did the hard work, and I went home at night.
As a society — across the board, in all corners and on all levels — we need to develop a greater respect for the work that is parenting. We need to value children more, we need to carve out time and opportunity for parents to be available to their children, and we need to understand, in our bones, that raising children is a job for all of society, not just those with kids in the house, and certainly not just for women.
So when Ann Romney says that staying at home with her boys was hard work (that she was glad to do), and that she understand’s women’s struggles, I’m inclined to believe her. Parents who choose to be stay-at-home are making a choice to do what they believe is best for their families, and as a feminist, how can I not support that?
Moreover, I’m no more inclined to bash women simply for being rich than I am to bash them simply for being poor. I believe you, Ann Romney: It was hard work, you were glad to do it, and you understand women’s struggles — or, at the very least, the struggles inherent to being a mother.
But here’s the thing.
Just as I am not inclined to bash you for staying home with your kids, neither am I inclined to bash poor moms (or dads) who choose to do the same.
Either we value motherhood (parenting), or we don’t. Either we support parents who choose to be at home with their kids, or we don’t. Either we value families, or we don’t.
Emily L. Hauser has been a freelance writer for 20 years. She has contributed to publications such as the Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune, and Dallas Morning News, covering topics ranging from Israel/Palestine and domestic politics, to women’s issues and the occasional burst of geekery. She is a regular columnist at The Daily Beast’s Open Zion, and blogs at Emily L. Hauser In My Head. Follow her on Twitter at @emilylhauser.
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