Friday, April 15, 2016

Coffee and Conversation: Gender Roles and Maternity

My mom knows me well. She came to babysit Eila while I attended a CLE (Continuing Legal Education) on Wednesday morning. Before she left, she dropped off May's issue of InStyle magazine. The cover model is Kate Hudson. Not only did she have a beautiful photo shoot, she also wrote an honest essay on motherhood that I found particularly interesting.
“…Even though every primal ounce of the nurturing, domestic woman in me gets pulled, I’m a hunter as well. And I love to hunt! And as a woman I feel that somehow we are supposed to feel apologetic about wanting both. But I don’t want to apologize for that anymore. Being both already comes at an emotional cost, without adding society’s antiquated idea of the traditional roles of man and woman in the home.” - Kate Hudson, InStyle Magazine May 2016
This was a particularly timely essay for me. A month into maternity leave I started craving to go back to work. A part of me thought that is not normal, Jordan. What a rude thing to think as a new mom of a precious angel. The internal dialogue has been ongoing for a while as I would constantly reassure myself and others if the topic arose that it really has nothing to do with Eila, her disposition as a baby or my strong love for her. She's a fantastic baby. In fact, if she required any less attention, I'd probably let her babysit. Totally kidding. I am used to having multidimensional days with a variety of stimuli. Being a new mom drew me suddenly back into a simplicity that felt foreign. It felt like something I needed to relearn. I wasn't sure how to just sit and watch TV. I was like that before motherhood, honestly. I love to be doing things. Lucas is the same way, so we fit together nicely. Except he got to go back to work, and I started to get jealous. And then my inner-feminist came out. You see, I wasn't mad at him. He'd stay home with me all the time if he could. In fact, I often joked with him about being a stay-at-home dad so that I could head on back to work. It got me thinking about our societal norms and pressures and I really started to resent them.

That's where things get polarizing. I realize I am writing to a mostly southern audience. Let me disclaim that I have zero problems with folks who feel wired to be stay-at-home moms. In a lot of families, that ability is a godsend. My mom was a SAHM, and I think she rocked at it. Because I cannot sit still, I end up at places where I spend money. So if I got to do everything I wanted as a SAHM, we would be broke. That self-awareness is important. I understand why women have maternity leave. That's not what I am arguing here. What I am arguing is that we live in a culture in which we have to battle mom-guilt for wanting maternity leave to be over. I don't know about your maternity leave, but I don't ride rainbow roller coasters all day. I will say that in the last few weeks, Eila is way more alert during the days and I actually feel like we are hanging out. But she's a baby, not my hired entertainment. My feelings on going back to work aren't attributable to Eila. It's just how I am wired. Maybe like Kate Hudson, I am a hunter. I derive a lot of self-worth from working. I love the challenge. I love building relationships. I love nurturing my mind and career. Even if we won the lottery, I am not sure I'd ever quit working in some capacity.

I understand that some of the tradition is rooted in nature. Women give birth, not men. Women's bodies depend on the recovery. I also totally embrace that the time is valuable for bonding with the baby, but why do we not put that same pressure on the fathers? Because they are supposed to go hunt and gather when they leave the homestead each morning? As if. It's 2016, friends. Both parents owe a duty to their child to be present and nurturing. In the south, maternity leave is basically treated as a second-class career anyhow. This sacred time known as maternity leave is greeted by most corporations as worth a partial salary for eight-weeks. So on one hand, "we need it." On the other hand, it is going to add financial pressure. Either decide my maternity leave is worth its weight in gold and give me full compensation or shut up about my responsibility to be at home for 8 weeks when most companies don't adequately accommodate it. I love my company, so this is no slight at them. I am afraid they just keep up with norms and current laws. My battle is with the root of all of that.

Like Kate Hudson, I want both. Like Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In, I want both. Like many of the female executives in my office, I want both. My family should decide what that appropriate balance is without the judgment of June Cleaver's minions. I am a woman, and I loved being pregnant more than anything. And I love being a mom! It was something I always wanted, and I feel so lucky that it was able to happen for us. But my role as a mother is very dynamic. Lucas and I share responsibilities equally, and that will be much more the case when we are both back at work. I like that picture of motherhood because it retains my personhood. That's what I want Eila to see - that she can wear many hats and make sacrifices just like the generations of fathers have. We can all be multidimensional if that's our desire. Personally, my self-worth is fed by multiple sources. I am done apologizing to myself for not owning an apron.

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