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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

There is no free zone

Having dinner at my dad's house seems like a neutral, stress-free place to enjoy a meal. But I just wasn't able to escape the Judith Warner interview with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air today. I’m 2,000 miles away from my regular life, and I'm still in the middle of an ongoing internal battle that is prevalent no matter where I am.

I pretend that I'm on vacation. I'm visiting family and relishing my fantasy that a simpler life exists here swaddled in the comfort of family and familiarity. But even though there are family members around to help with Riley and that there is something reassuring about meandering through the small town I grew up in, I am still Riley's primary caretaker. And I know that this temporary breeze isn't really my life. So as my dad and I debated the finer points about whether or not ordering a meat-free pizza is really vegetarian*, Judith Warner was in the background and the foreground.

So let's break it down. What do I want? Choice: more choices when it comes to work, more affordable and readily available childcare providers. Freedom: freedom to go out with friends, freedom to take a break from parenting, freedom from feelings of guilt that go along with wanting a break. Equality: equality in my marriage, equality in the division of household tasks. Romance: even though I'm a parent, I'm still a sexual being. More family time: enough said.

One of the things that Warner talked about with Terry Gross was the dissatisfaction women feel that comes from not just being a mother, but the burden that often gets heaved onto that role. Because parenting is perceived to be a role that is cushioned with lots of extra time in the day for additional errands and tasks, more and more non-parenting items are added to the to-do lists of the at-home parent.

That is a tough one to handle. Before Baby in Chief came along--when both of us were working--we went to Safeway together, we went to Costco together, we went to the Laundromat together. Our weekends were filled with tasks that we did as a couple. They were chores, but we were together and we made the most of it. After I became an at-home parent, I took on the tasks that we used to do together. I felt that if I could get those things out of the way, we would have more time together as a family. So instead of parenting, I'm running errands.

Part of me knows that's the reality of running a household. Part of me feels totally bitchy saying that. Part of me says fuck it because I signed up to be a parent, not an errand-runner, and my kid doesn’t get much out of getting lugged in and out of the car seat all day. Mostly what happens, and it's one of the things that Warner writes about in her book Perfect Madness, is that women feel that they are no longer part of a 50/50 relationship. We aren't contributing financially, we are in charge of running the household, and basically we have become the June Cleavers of 2005.

It's sickening because it's everything we never wanted. It's everything we fought against and it happened anyway. We are in stereotypical roles and marriages. And it feels like the longer this goes on the more we become our mothers or grandmothers. The more we are being put in our place. The gender division between husband and wife becomes more prominent, more traditional. And that is so hard for us to swallow because it's not what so many of us educated, strong-willed and strong-minded, feminist women anticipated and worked towards.

*Dad says veggie pizzas are probably not really vegetarian because the same cutter is used on all pizzas. That may be true, but I need to let it go. As a vegetarian, I have to be able to function in society; I can’t control everything.


  1. Anonymous7:20 PM

    I agree that the traditional division, mom at home full-time and dad at work, tends to push both toward tradition roles in an oppressive way -- both moms and dads -- even if we that's exactly what we don't want. I've blogged on how I really didn't like that arrangement when I was the one working and my wife was home full time. I felt shut out in a way, pushed toward a more traditional male role that I did not want, though it was not conscious or intentional on her part.

    But when I was at home full-time, the balance seemed better. I never felt trapped or "desperate" when I was the one at home with our daughter, running the household, while my wife brought in the income. I actually liked the balance that that role reversal brought. Ideally we'd both work part-time and full-time parent part-time, but that's hard to arrange.

    Interesting how gender roles and expectations can undermine the best of intentions and plans...

  2. Anonymous7:25 PM

    Um...I think you may have nailed it. Well said.