This sentiment stopped me mid-scroll. It sums up a mentality I had growing up and reminds me of the perspective pivot that I (and perhaps we all) so badly need now, particularly when applied to the context of women and motherhood. It rings true in the example of my own mother and many I know. And in the kind of mother I task myself to be one day.
I wholeheartedly believed (and propagated) the feminist undercurrent of the past that said working moms were more heroic and more valuable than stay-at-home moms because they never submitted to gendered limitations, battling inertia and complacency to get what was rightfully theirs. They were in the trenches of a male-led workforce, on the front lines of a movement. They were moving forward themselves! They were crusaders of gender equality! I held on to this notion with an unrelenting grip throughout my teens and early 20s, etched more deeply in me perhaps because I came from Indian parents and a conservative community upbringing, juxtaposed against a progressive American world. One foot in either place, it felt crucial that I pick a side.
At the time, being a stay-at-home mom was typical of the Indian women I knew; it felt exasperatingly but expectedly primitive. I didn’t understand the choice, and I judged. If she wasn’t a go-getter, if she was content without employment, without enlisted projects, without contributing skills to society, her value was lost on me. She was stagnant, “staying” at-home, not moving. Spending days not achieving felt wasteful; her talent felt nervously close to slipping away. I couldn’t see past all the visions of strong women I had conceived to recognize any other manifestation of strength; I was blind to any other definition of “working.” So, I condescended the notion of staying-at-home and dismissed the women who chose to.
Today, I regret that dismissal and those assumptions.
Today, I understand feminism. I think! It is about choice, choice free of judgment or penalty. In this inclusive brand of feminism, membership is extended to women of diverse heroism – now inviting in many more of the women I grew up with and have met since. I am learning that women come as givers or getters, or both – just as men do. That choosing to give your time and your talents to your family, free of charge, makes you a defender of gender equality just as much as anyone else. And that fostering positivity, inspiring creativity, and making better humans beings are as vital contributions to society as any other.
The stay-at-home mom who shares so much of herself – her intelligence, her optimism, her presence of mind, her innovation, her resilience, her leadership, her creativity (all traits that companies covet and promote in their employees) – with her loved ones instead of her clients, decided at some juncture that giving was a worthy path. I think it is with this belief, armed with this mission, that my mother gave all of herself to all of her own. Putting everything in my upbringing set me up for success in a way she had always intended; I see now it was a purposeful choice, not a serendipitous turn of events. She selected this path for herself out of all her options, and thus gave me mine. Still, her choice wasn’t valued by the world or even by women like me, who were direct beneficiaries of it. Go-getters earn accolades and validation from our society – working towards the next promotion and award as a marker of their success. But our go-givers with as much ambition and as many proof points of success, see their choices as a silent sacrifice. Go-givers are praised for “never needing thanks,” which is an outright injustice and a shame.
I regret that it took me so long to see this disparity, but even more that I perpetuated the disparity for so long.
We need more go-givers in this world! Especially in a sociopolitical climate like this one. But for that we need to start to value the ones we already have, those that chose to give where it all begins – our stay-at-home moms. Because how successful, how valuable, how powerful is she who gives herself to the growth of others! And how important that we celebrate her choice to do so.
Find other vocal change-makers of this cause, here: The Pregnancy Pause