Thursday, February 18, 2010

More on the thorny Megan Basham argument

In response to Frances's comment on my previous post (and thank you everyone for your thoughts)...

I think it is all too easy to equate an argument against the ideas of someone like Megan Basham with devaluing motherhood.

It is exactly because I am concerned about the kind of society that I want my daughter — and my son — to inherit that Basham's ideas concern me.

It is not her assertion of the worth of being at home and involved with family that is at issue here. It is the emphasis and attitude of the argument that I find disturbing: the idea of women (and she only ever refers to women in this role) putting their energy and focus into supporting their husband’s career so he is free to earn more.

I strongly believe in a woman’s right to choose to be at home, or to have flexible working arrangements — and, just as importantly, men’s right to work-life balance and to be involved with their families.

It is the tenor of her argument that bothers me. To me, it seems this kind of theory has lost rather than gained perspective on what’s important, as the ultimate goal seems to be money, as opposed to finding ways to live well and stay connected to each other and your children. It buys into an economic system that is inherently unfriendly to work-life balance for both men and women (excuse the over-used term).

In terms of role-modelling, I want my kids to see both me and my partner focused on the things that are meaningful to us not only as parents, but as individuals — which includes loving and nurturing them, as well as nurturing ourselves and each other.

In a sense, I am the kind of woman Basham is speaking to — my partner works full-time and I work part-time. I work for money but also because I get personal satisfaction from it. I work part time because I want to be with my kids and because I can’t imagine how to keep the household running and retain some sanity otherwise.

Of course those of us who stay at home full or part time already support our families in all sorts of ways. By default, I do more washing/shopping/hands-on caring than my partner — though when he's around, he does these things too.

Every family chooses what they need to do to keep themselves functional and financially afloat.

But there are limits to this supporting role — I do not want it to take over my life, or my psyche. I don’t want to set up a dynamic that turns me into my partner’s devoted backer/servant, freeing him up to go out and conquer the world and gather more pots of gold.

After having my babies, I stayed out of the workforce as long as my family could afford for me to, and wish that could have been longer. And since then, I have been privileged enough to only need to work part-time. I breastfed both of my babies until they were 2.

I don’t think any of what I’m saying is an argument against the value of these things. I think parenting is one of the most important and complex roles any of us can have — that is exactly why I write about it so much.

In answer to your question, Damon, my ideal would be for both my partner and I to work part time, so both of us could have more time with the kids and more time to spend on our creative interests — and paid work could take its place as one, but only one, of the necessary and fulfilling aspects of our lives.


cristy said...

I totally agree with Frances that our right to mother is increasingly under threat from the excessive focus on economic productivity. However, I simply cannot understand why this would be a critical response to your previous post.

Megan Basham's argument seems to be promoting this same economic productivity argument against the involvement of fathers in their children's lives and I cannot see how this in any way promotes a positive role for motherhood - other than as 'she who takes up all the invisible and unacknowledged slack in the so-called private sphere'.

I also stayed home with my daughter and breastfed her until she self-weaned a couple of weeks ago (just short of 3 years old), but to do that and to retain my own sanity I needed my husband's support as a father and a partner (and as one who is present rather than solely focused on earning more money). His capacity to be flexible meant that I could continue with my PhD while keeping our daughter out of childcare. I cannot see how this was a "devaluation of motherhood".

I think perhaps Frances is taking aim at the wrong people.

Damon Young said...

Thanks, Rachel. And what stops you from getting closer to your part-time ideal? Is it money?

(Not leading questions, by the way. I'm asking genuinely.)

Rachel Power said...

Yep, unfortunately at the moment it is money. Basically, almost two years ago we bought a house. That was a choice, of course. On the lucky side, we bought the house we had been renting for five years, and our neighbours are close friends, so it was a positive decision in many ways. But in general I would not encourage anyone to take on a mortgage if it means the kind of compromise I think it has forced on us.
What about you Damon? How near do you feel to your ideal set-up?

Rachel Power said...

Oh, and Cristy -- I think you're spot on. As you say, it's the economic productivity emphasis that is warped. And yes, from 5pm onwards I am pretty much hanging out for the moment my partner walks in the door! I would find it incredibly lonely to not be sharing in the morning/evening routines. And why this notion of one-way support? Surely we all need to support each other, hopefully in ways that don't end up sticking anyone in a rigid, singly-focused box.

Damon Young said...

Yes, we're pretty close to my ideal - illness and miscellaneous upsets notwithstanding.

Of course, we'd like more money. And a house. But c'est la vie - one has to sacrifice something, and they're what we've cut loose.

Rachel Power said...

Yes, I think you do have to sacrifice something, and this realisation is part of growing up. Choices and circumstances do shape our lives. From this side of the fence, I would now choose creative freedom and time with family over the supposed "security" of home ownership every time.
I hope the illness issues are not ongoing(?).

Damon Young said...

Ruth is better, and out of hospital since early January. But let's just say I've a few more grey hairs than in 2009.

Frances said...

Did my comment really sound like a critical response? If so, I apologise.
It was certainly not meant as such, but as a parallel viewpoint.

And no, I was definitely not taking aim at anyone. Society and its direction, that's all.

sue said...

Fifteen years ago, mu hubby and I realised something had to give. We had three kids in four years, a mortgage and he had a stressful job that paid oodles but ate up too much time and energy. We moved our brood to the country, waved good-bye to the Montessori school, said hello to the small rural school and an amazing network of fellow parents. We both worked part-time and full-time but never again did my partner earn what he once had. We made this choice freely and with the knowledge that we were blessed to be able to do so.It wouldn't be feasible for many people. The up-side is we have raised our kids together in a way that we are both happy with. We don't travel as much as we dreamed of doing and there have been a few "sacrifices" along the way. Frankly though I think that the possibility of making these choices is getting harder and harder as life seems to be getting more and more expensive.The biggest downside is probably that our Super looks like shite! Hope the kids are prepared to care for us in our dotage! Don't even get me started on the undervaluing of parenting that is so prevalent in our society ....

Rachel Power said...

No, Frances, I appreciated your comment and entirely agree with you — the fact that women, particularly poorer women, are losing their right and freedom to mother is frightening.

Even in the West, as comments are showing, the fact that you can no longer easily live in the city, own a house and have a sane family life on a single income is restricting women’s (and men’s) choices dramatically.

I was merely pointing out that I think we are on the same page with this — the risk with Basham’s ideas (and she does describe herself as a liberal conservative, I believe) is that she is buying into exactly this economic-imperative style of living and working.

Like you, Sue, I have become increasingly aware (and freaked out by!) how expensive life seems to be getting. I feel like I’m forking out ridiculous amounts of money on a daily basis, and it makes me feel a bit sick.

Both for the sake of human rights and the environment, I think we need to be asking really big questions about the way things are going. All that patting ourselves on the back for riding the global economic meltdown so well — it seemed to me that’s because no-one knows how to stop shopping anymore!

Kirsten said...

Rachel, this is just such a fantastic post, I have nothing to add. Just that I completely agree with it all. :)