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.