Karen Stabiner's latest article in the Los Angeles Times, "What Yale Women Want," is written to make me feel like a dinosaur. Not me personally, of course. I've never met Ms. Stabiner and she's never met me. But she knows my type. You may know it as well, the type who gives birth and says, "Six weeks with my infant and then I leave him with someone else all day? That's all! You've got to be joking!" And then we work desperately to find a way to stay with our child all day, to breastfeed, to watch him smile. Before giving birth, we had no idea we'd feel this way.
Stabiner does not think too much of us, those who change our mind and our life after childbirth. She especially seems to eschew those of us who have an education and choose supposedly to waste our intelligence on something as trivial as raising a child. Why not hire that responsibility out, as I would for taking care of my lawn or my pool?
She just doesn't understand how I and now, Yale undergraduate women, think that raising our children ourselves is so important: "The young women think they're doing the right thing for their . . . children having watched too many of their moms' generation try to juggle career and family." You think? Sixty percent of 138 Yale women say that they would work part-time or leave their career to raise their family and Stabiner is freaking out. I'm thinking: At least the girls know before they give birth! One can easily see, of course, how this emphasis on raising their own child by potential moms can mess up even the best-laid plans of the feminists.
Stabiner's got a pretty pessimistic view of those of us who want to be around our children: "To plot this kind of future, a woman has to have access to a pool of wealthy potential husbands, she has to stay married at a time when half of marriages end in divorce, and she has to ignore the history of the women's movement." Talking about the Yale undergrads, she adds that if they "still believe they can beat the odds, they must've slept through statistics. Or worse, they think they're above the fray."
This statement reminds me of a time in graduate school when I met an economics professor mom who was not only smart enough to work out a plan with her economics professor husband so that one of them could be with the children and they would never have to use daycare or a nanny, but she was also smart enough to tell me that she "didn't want to get a divorce." How dare she defy the odds! How dare she be above the fray!
In the midst of my own divorce at the time, from a marriage in which there were no children, I began to think that maybe, hearing her resolve for marriage and distaste for divorce, that she had made some choices, including that of a mate, that would allow her to make her statement true. Could it be, I wondered for the first time, that we have control over our lives, including our marital happiness? Having been raised in a government-school world, in which we wait for a teacher to tell us what to do and have no control over anything, especially our lives, I found this insight to be especially illuminating.
For Stabiner, those of us who try to take control of our own lives by not farming out our children to others seem to confuse "personal comfort with social progress," she accuses educated moms who raise our own children as being "in it for me."
Stabiner had to know that she was opening a proverbial can of worms with this essay. The trouble is that I think she really began to believe herself. Call me selfish, and evidently she would, but I think that bearing and raising children has little to do with personal comfort and a lot to do with helping society to be the best that it can be. I don't care that much about social progress per se; let's see this supposed progress has led us to the Columbine shootings and serial killers and gangs in almost every government school. All the better if my children miss out on that kind of social progress.
The social progress argument that Stabiner uses reminds me so much of that socialization question that we homeschoolers are so often asked. And the answer is pretty much the same interesting to note here that they both have to do with the word "social" I don't care if my children are ever socialized and I don't care if they, or I, participate in social progress as she deems it.
I’ll train my sons to be wealthy, though. Evidently, according to Stabiner, that's the only kind of guy that a potential mom who wants to raise her own children can marry. Those of us who are raising our own children know that's not always the case; most of the moms I know who are raising their own children have not married a wealthy man, but let's pretend: Producing more wealthy sons, of course, is an argument for less governmental interference in business so that my sons can achieve wealth freely, without having to navigate governmental waters; I wonder how Stabiner would feel about that. Wealthy sons can also be assisted by lower taxes, so that their wealth will not be eaten by Lochness Leviathan.
Personally, I'd be more than happy to lower my taxes by not subsidizing the forced governmental education of children. And I'd be happy to have a truly free market economy. Then, maybe more moms could afford to raise their own children.
At least I can teach my sons what Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and many other wealthy fellows learned that you don't need a college degree to make millions. Now mind you, I can only do this kind of teaching if I homeschool them, which I'm guessing Ms. Stabiner, although she mentions nothing of this kind of thing in her article, would be appalled to know that a well-educated woman such as myself does. My educated self should make me want to throw my children to the well-meaning government school wolves and the quicker the better. Funny, though, I passed the school where my son would have been attending kindergarten as we walked this morning, looked at the chain link fence surrounding it; I’m glad that my son has true freedom to learn all day at home.
I've talked to a lot of moms who stopped breastfeeding because they had to return to work. I've yet to meet one mom who was that excited about returning. Among the proletariat, having the luxury of staying home with your child is something to aspire to. But we certainly didn't learn that in government high schools.
In my own high school, if you had no penis and dared to take advanced math and score an A or B average, you were highly encouraged to go into engineering, whether you cared to be an engineer or not. Or, I might add, whether or not you had any idea what an engineer does. Women are still being encouraged to go into the sciences and I’m wondering, if it’s such a wonderful career area, why women can’t figure it out on our own. Why must we have the dangling carrot and stick?
Oh, and what happened to being a mother when I was being trained in the government high school? Home Economics was being phased out; only the girls who would gasp! want to be mothers and wives were foolish enough to take that course. The rest of us took the supposedly more erudite college preparatory courses, whether we liked them or not; we were counseled that we should. For those of us who might have thought that we would like to have our own child one day, we learned that being a mother is just a tiny little part of our life, something that can be tossed in between our illustrious career and volunteer work.
When I was teaching first-year college English classes in 1999, I remember the sweet young student who told me, "I just want to be a mom!" She wondered if it would be okay to write about that kind of ambition in the journal she kept for our class. I said, "Sure!" Even before I gave birth myself, it seemed a bit strange to me that she would feel so much pressure to have a money-making career outside the home.
I can't help but think that those Ivy League women are on to something, though, especially if they're marrying rich. For the most part, my friends and I made more money than the guys we married. If there's one thing that Cosmo and other propaganda machines taught us, it was that this love and career and sex thing is all just a game; oh yes, and that we must win. So we did!
And then we gave birth. Suddenly, it wasn't the game it had been. We who had thought we would easily return to work, and who'd made choices to prove ourselves right, would have given anything to be able to afford staying with the baby we'd held inside our body for nine or so months, without worrying about money. But for many of us, it was too late: we'd bought consumerism and feminism and all the other isms that we'd been taught. We made more money than our husband! Besides, we were way too far in debt not to work.
Some bought Working Mother and read all the articles in mainstream media that told us how good it was to leave our children all day, for them and for us. Some women believed that if our little darlings socialized with other children all day it would be much better than if they stayed with their own flesh and blood.
Some began to believe that moms are unqualified to teach our children the alphabet. Slowly, but surely, we are being taught that a teacher benefits our children more than we ever can. It becomes much easier to buy something for our offspring than to teach them something, much easier to think that seeing our desk at work is more inspirational to their creativity than sitting down and talking with them for a few minutes.
Yet some of us are willing to waste all our publicly and privately schooled knowledge, to chuck the magazine articles, and to handle the ups and downs of raising our own children; we work at home or work part-time or negotiate flexible hours or somehow figure out a way to do the money thing. We're not doing all this just to inspire the Yale undergraduates. We're doing it because we like it; and because we realize that being the biggest and best cog in a corporate or government wheel pales in comparison to being there when our child has a boo-boo. Despite what Stabiner thinks of our intelligence, our kids think we're pretty darn smart.
Stabiner, Karen. "What Yale Women Want." Los Angeles Times. Friday, September 23, 2005.
October 10, 2005