Monday, January 19, 2009

Nannies, Mothers and the Career Woman

A long, long time ago (one can say in a different lifetime), a psycho-therapist (pun intended) told me a woman needs to make a choice: either be a submissive Barbie-doll, fully embracing her duties of mother and wife - or be a career woman, with unshaved legs (no kiddin', that's what he said) and no sensitivity whatsoever (cause we all know that true women have to be sensitive).

I still remember pondering the dichotomy: either this, or that. But that's the trouble with dichotomies: if you let yourself caught into them, then you miss the point they insinuate altogether. The whole context of talking about women as either good mothers/ wives or careerists is a patriarchal one, which tries to control women's bodies (and souls) by prescribing categories in which they 'have to' fit.

A few nights ago, the either/or insinuated itself in an after-dinner conversation, when the mother said: "I don't know about this woman and how she takes care of her child! They have a nanny, you know, cause she's all traveling and she's just never there. And the father is working to, so probably he's quite busy. So the child is all alone with the nanny". So what if the child is left with the nanny? Shall I remind you that nannies are a long, long, long tradition (at least for the Western feudal aristocracy)? Shall I mention that in non-Western settings (and even Western ones) the women of the family - or of the community for that matter - all take tuns in taking care of children?

I simply
do not understand why is it that only women are supposed to take care of children - what about the men? Are they exempt from changing the diapers, making soup and answering the endless 'why' questions? Me, I was raised by one mom, so I have to confess how hard it is to understand (and accept) having more than one mom: I remember reading a book written by a guy born in Africa, who talked about the many mothers he had. The whole concept of motherhood was different, yet the child turned out to be just fine and grew up into an inspiring author.

I look at how some of my friends have distributed the burden of child-raising within the family, enrolling not only mother, sister and father, but also neighbors and friends - and it all makes sense! Why wouldn't you rely on cooperation? Yes, you want the right people around your child, but where did this nonsense about a woman needing to give up everything to take care of the child come from?

An acquaintance made the point crystal clear. Reconnecting after many years, I congratulated her on her career. She responded: "Oh, not that much of a career. Unfortunately, when one has children, one has to make sacrifices. But it's all worth it!" Is it? Hold on, I meant, why is it a matter of making sacrifices? At the risk of sounding rather naive, I'd say it is like this because women agree to see child-raising in terms of either being at home/ or being a career woman. I know of women who choose to stay at home, and to work from home at the same time. I know of women who just gave birth, and are traveling across the world. I know of women who went on to pursue their masters and to change the world, while the children are left with their extended families. And I remember my mom was a career woman, something I took great pride in as I grew up.

I've seen that having a child needs not be about giving yourself up. It needs not be about 'making sacrifices'. And it simply does not mean that the child has to be raised by the biological mother: father, siblings, grandparents, and yes, nannies, are there to help out. And there's no harm with that. No harm, unless you cannot escape the patriarchal rule of motherhood: either a good mom and wife, or a career woman...

Photo credits: kevindooley

1 comment:

mollyf said...

The patriarchal rule of motherhood is outdated. Some readers may believe women still belong in the home- cooking, cleaning, and raising children. However, a growing majority, myself included, thinks women have every right to join the workforce and rear children simultaneously.
The image of a homemaker developed in the 1950s. In the television series “Leave It To Beaver,” mother June Cleaver was the perfect example of a housewife and mother, as she supported her husband and sons in their every endeavor.
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is a recent example a successful mother and career woman. Palin became the youngest and first female governor of Alaska in 2006, and served as John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 Presidential Election. As a mother of five children, and grandmother to a one-month-old grandson, she is a woman that others look up to with respect.
I was fortunate to be raised in a family where my mother had the ability to stay home to raise her children. As my siblings and I grew older, my mother returned to work, but only part-time during school hours. She was home when we arrived home from school, to help us with homework and drive us to and from our extracurricular activities.
My mother embraced the opportunity to watch us grow up, and does not regret returning to work later in her life. Following her lead, I hope to become a successful mother and career woman someday.

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