Let's Get a Serious

You’re about to read the story of how a stanch feminist became a work-at-home mama.

I should note, before I write any further, that these posts are usually a collaboration between Jake and I, but, considering the subject matter, this one’s all me.

Staying at home with the kiddos and making stuff for my job wasn’t intentional. Sixteen-year-old me would have imagined life at 24 as living in a studio apartment with one too many cats and a roommate on a sofa-bed. Sixteen-year-old me would have considered relying on anyone for a steady income as unacceptable. Sixteen-year-old me was pretty darn sexist and was uncomfortable accepting anything feminine, so much so that I refused to learn how to cook. I saw girls that aspired to be stay-at-home moms as lacking proper ambition. Sixteen-year-old me was scared, because I saw the lives of my mother and my (ex)step-mother, and I knew I didn’t want my life to look anything like theirs.

Before I met Jake, I didn’t really even see myself as a person who would have a family. Not because I didn’t think I’d enjoy it, or because I didn’t like kids. I didn’t see myself as a part of a family because I had a pretty messed up family life growing up. I didn’t really see a happy family as realistic. Happy families were as unattainable as a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in my mind. Which, if you think about it, means that my life now is kind of magic.

The kind of guys I dated before Jake reinforced my “forever loner” projection of my future. They were mostly jerks, wanted me to change to fit them, or were uncomfortable with the level of strength and independence I desired. They wanted me to be a “girl” and I wanted to just be Megan.

Jake and I work, in part, because he understands how independent I am. He got that I had an easier time connecting to males and dating me meant I’d be spending a lot of time with male friends. He got that self-expression was really important to me. He got that I’d hop into a mosh pit and stand my own, shoving guys twice my size. And he never asked me to wear a dress.

He’s also really cool with me being super bossy (thank goodness), even when people make fun of him about “who’s wearing the pants”. (This was especially a problem when he was working for freight companies to put us through college.) To feel comfortable, I need to feel like I am in control (which goes back to that chaotic childhood). Jake is fine with that. I plan and schedule our lives, he keeps the griping about my bossiness to a minim, and he doesn’t worry if my ordering our food at a restaurant or planning out what we’re doing for a weekend has an impact on his “manliness”. He’s also really forgetful, so my quirks actually are a benefit to him. We balance each other well. We set up the precedent for a balanced relationship early on, when I popped up to pay for our first date. It’s something that bugged him at the time, but he got used to the fact that I didn’t stand for gender roles early on. And he thought that aspect of me was pretty darn awesome.

When we were dating, we dreamed of having a bundle of kids. (We said that we wanted 10, but that is sooo financially unrealistic. We figure if we have five, we’ll end up with ten if you count their future spouses, right?) But the dream always included both of us working outside of the home.

In high school, I changed what I thought I wanted to do for a living about every six months. This was mostly because the things I really loved– creative writing, learning for the sake of knowledge, art, and theater– didn’t come with a steady paycheck. And growing up poor taught me that I’d better find something realistic to pay the bills while I did that other stuff in my spare time. I’d get interested in something, read everything I could find on the topic, and then realize that I would be sublimely unhappy actually doing the job. For instance, I spent a good portion of my Sophomore year dreaming of being a psychologist. I read Jung and Freud and textbooks. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’m not the kind of person who can do emotional work. I don’t think I could stop thinking about my day when I got home. Because I deal with anxiety and depression, doing hard emotional work would weigh too heavily on me in my personal life.

When I met Jake my Junior year of high school, my obsession was constitutional law. I dreamed of going to Berkeley and working for the ACLU. But I couldn’t even afford to apply to Berkeley, and the more I researched about being a lawyer, the more I realized that it didn’t leave much time for a personal life. Which was fine, when I was dealing with depression and using overwork as a coping mechanism (one of the reasons I took such hard classes and was involved in so many extracurriculars in high school). I knew it wouldn’t work for me once I decided I wanted a family. For me, choosing to abandon the thought of being a lawyer wasn’t really a choice between family and career. It was a choice between coping and real happiness, just as the decision to abandon psychology was.

I thought hard about what I loved and what I thought would work with the family life that I wanted to lead. I love learning, and my favorite subjects in school were Theory of Knowledge (a branch of philosophy), English, and History. Teaching one of these subjects seemed the right way to go. Learning all of the time, getting to pass on that knowledge to others, and summers off to spend with future kids? Perfect. I chose History, because getting certified to teach Philosophy doesn’t exactly scream job security, and the way English was taught was very standardized where I lived. I wanted to teach in the way I believed kids actually learn. So I spent my first three years in college studying to be a history teacher.

Jake and I found out I was pregnant with Eliza right before we graduated high school (more on that here, and having her a semester into college didn’t change my career goals (or Jake’s) very much. If anything, having her with us while in college made both us work harder at school. We took online and night classes mixed with day classes and had part time jobs that allowed us to switch off between taking care of Eliza, school, and work. Eliza never had to go to daycare, because Jake and I made sure that one of us was always home with her. We also had a lot of help from family (we lived with my grandparents for the first year and a half to save money up, and our family members would watch Eliza a bit on the weekends so that we could do homework).

For the first years of college (we went for five years), Jake and I worked equal amounts. He worked part-time for a freight company at night, and I worked as a work-study during the day. I scheduled our classes around our work, made sure that we didn’t have classes at the same time so someone was always with Eliza. On-line classes were our saving grace, though. At first, Jake and I both worked about 20 hours a week. We kept things equal at home, too. We took turns changing diapers (still do) and worked as a team to make sure that we were spending enough time with Eliza and were also getting schoolwork done.

Even though we worked equal hours, Jake made more money than I did. This is because I kept on with the job that I got while I was pregnant, and there aren’t a lot of jobs that you can get part time that make very good money that don’t require heavy labor (this is something that should be criticized from a feminist perspective; that work that is traditionally “men’s work”, like labor jobs, are better paying than jobs that require the same amount of experience and knowledge in a field that is traditionally considered “women’s work”). When Jake was able to move to a full-time job at night, I switched to working at a scrapbooking store and teaching scrapbooking classes on weekends. I also had internships that I could do at any time that worked into our schedules. We adjusted the house work (or, “tiny apartment work”, really) to fit who was working the most hours. Usually the adjustments came with arguing, but we debated it out until we thought that things were balanced. We did this again when Jake got a full time job in his field our last year of college, and I quit my job at the scrapbooking store. We started the Etsy shop for fun and for playing money. I took over the lion’s share of the housework, because I didn’t have a paying job any more (other than the shop, which was still really tiny at the time.) We still reevaluate periodically now.

Three years into college, I had a bit of a breakdown over my major. The school district I wanted to work for started doing benchmarking for all subject areas, whereas they were just doing it for Math and Science. This meant that all of the class material was heavily standardized by the district, and grades were completely assessed based on ten minutes of testing per class period. And the teachers weren’t even the ones writing the tests: the district did that too. I was devastated, because I have very strong beliefs on how learning is done, and “teaching to the test” and rote, non-cumulative memorization is not it. Jake and I had a long conversation. I was trying to decide if I should continue on and get a degree in Education, when I knew I’d be forced to do things I didn’t believe in every day. And the very real possibility of getting fired for speaking my mind loomed. Somehow during the conversation, Jake worked out that one of the main reasons I chose education is that I thought it would fit well with having kids. He was pretty upset about that. He asked me to take a step back, stop considering what was realistic financially, and think about what I’d want to do if money weren’t a consideration. And the answer was to do what I’d wanted to do since I was ten: write novels. So I switched my major to sociology (because understanding people and society is very important to me as a writer) and took a ton of creative writing classes. I’m actually only a few classes away from a degree in that too. (Actually, I’m a semester away from a degree in History, Political Science, and Psychology as well. And I have a minor in Peace Studies. I’ve just recently had to talk myself out of getting a Master’s Degree I won’t actually use. I really really like school.)

We also did some realistic calculations, and we figured out that, after childcare for two kids, all of the jobs that I was considering doing after college would only make, at best, a $5,000 a year profit (Jake was set up to make about $10,000 more a year than me after school and had a much higher top-out number). We knew that we could make at least $5,000 a year with the Etsy shop and other side work. So we made the decision together that I would stay home after college, work on my book, and we’d do side work together.

We wouldn’t have come to this decision if I actually wanted to do the $5,000 a year profit jobs. But I’ve found that what I really love doing is spending time with my children, making stuff, reading and learning, and working on my novel manuscript. If I had decided that I wanted to do something that required working my way up a corporate ladder, then working 40 hours a week for $5,000 a year would be worth it. But because I don’t, and I truly enjoy staying at home, there’s no reason for me to be “stuck” in an office. Even though what I do is hard work, Jake’s jealous of it. Because he would LOVE to stay at home with the kids and do web development projects in the meantime. And, in the off chance that I actually can get books published and make money off of them, that’s exactly what will happen. (Though that would honestly be hard for me because Jake wouldn’t be doing things “my way”.)

That’s how I got to this point in life right now. Achieving my career dreams defiantly is taking longer now than it would have if we had waited to have a family, but I keep the mindset that the career can be started at any time. Our kids will only be little once, and we want to take as much time as possible to watch them and help them grow.

Feminism is a belief that men and women are equal and should be treated as such. This belief can still be held and practiced, even when your life looks, from the outside, like traditional pre-women’s movement homemaking. Did gender inequality in society play a role in landing me here? Yes. Jake was set to be the one that worked early on because it was easier for him to make more money. And maternity time/paternity laws in the US suck. Does our daily life look the same as a family from the ’50s? No. Jake is very active in parenting, we’re both working in all of our spare time, and we both do housework, which we adjust based on who’s working more, both during the day and on side projects. We try to keep things equal around here, and we don’t worry about what’s supposed to be “man” stuff or “woman” stuff (though I do do most of the cooking and I refuse to mow the lawn). It’s work to make sure that I don’t end up having the “second shift”, a term concocted by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild to describe the fact that many working women (my mother and ex-step-mom included) are still expected to come home and do all of the housework.

I view getting to spend time with my kids as a privilege. (Getting to wear pajamas all day and getting to have visible tattoos doesn’t hurt either.) Though people think of the “olden days” as a time when women couldn’t work outside of the home, that’s not really accurate. Poor women had to work outside of the home, in jobs that didn’t produce a living wage (cleaning, being a nurse maid, secretary, prostitution). Rich women couldn’t work outside of the home, because they weren’t allowed into job markets that we’re considered beneath their societal position. Coming from the social class that I do, I feel very blessed to be able to feel fulfilled both professionally and as a mother. I feel like I get to stay home, not that I have to. Without the internet, I know I’d be torn between self-fulfillment and taking care of my family. But I get to do both.

I think that staying home vs. working outside the home is a personal choice for every woman and man, that one isn’t better than the other, and that you can be making progress as a feminist doing either.

What do you think?

P.S.Check out Feminism and Homemaking Part 2, an analysis on the popularity of emulating traditional women’s roles in indie movements.

Let’s Get Serious is a blog series where we share our opinions and put ourselves out there. We get that not everyone thinks the same way; the same things don’t work for everyone. These are our opinions. They don’t have to be your opinions. We’d like to hear about what you think, but please don’t be mean to us. Let’s respect each other and talk about it!

Some other related LGS posts:

Find more Let’s Get Serious posts here.