I’m a stay-at-home mom. I used to be a lawyer, though not a particularly good one, and not for very long. I quit because I found it to be an intolerable combination of boring and stressful. I’ve experienced some side eye and, a few times, outright judgment for leaving my “career,” and I never know how to answer questions about when I’m going back to work. Truth is, I don’t want to go back. I’ve never felt like the workforce, that monolithic, sinister entity, did me any favors. Its frequent attempts to thicken my skin never really took. I’m still too sensitive. I don’t bounce back. All it ever did was wear me down, fuel my depression and anxiety. I don’t know how to explain my experience adaquately, so that you would understand. It felt like choking. Even when the work itself was meaningful, even perhaps important, I was always, essentially, separate from it. It was never, ever about me, and if I wasn’t there, someone else would do it. It was a powerless, impotent feeling. I think this is by design. If you’re broken down and tired, you’re less likely to fight back.
So, I bowed out as soon as I could, or rather, after I felt I had a good enough reason. I had a baby. Yet I still feel weird about cashing in on our gendered institutions to procure my freedom. Now, if I were a man, I could stay at home easily, without judgment or regret. In fact, I’d be a trendsetter, I’d be sticking it to the Capital-M Man. As it stands, I sort of work for him instead. I’m fulfilling the dismal promise of the 1950s, taking care of children and shiny appliances. Still, I try to be subversive when I can.
One of my main goals as a mother is to shield my daughter from the destructive influence of gender essentialism. Our society has a vested interest in accentuating any inherent differences between men and women to reinforce the gender binary. I think many people underestimate how deeply and tightly held these sorts of gendered beliefs are. Gendered gifts, gendered comments and observations, started for my daughter in her infancy. Well-intentioned (I suppose?) strangers continue to comment on her cute clothes, call her princess, tell her to smile. It’s inundating. From her earliest moments, she’s received these not-so-subtle hints from society about how she should be and what she should focus on. I try to balance the scales by giving her options and alternatives. And I try to create the space for her to forge her own path. This feels, to me, productive and powerful, even in its small scope.
But sometimes I wonder, will my daughter think less of me, when she grows up? Because of the decisions I’ve made? Because of how I spent my life?