I'm More Than a Paycheck
Okay, Elizabeth Wurtzel, you’re incendiary, condescending, a bit heartless and inexperienced, but you’re not totally wrong. The premise of your screed in The Atlantic that motherhood is not a job is true. At the risk of engaging in some blustering semantics—motherhood is messy. It’s consuming. It’s a woman’s blood. A mother’s milk. Motherhood is a mind-blowing, body-altering experience and no one can come close to telling you how radically amazing, frightening, depressing, frustrating and exhausting it is until you become a mother. That’s just the way it is. And believe me, I hate to admit when my mother is right.
Just to be clear, I’m not the 1% stay-at-home mother you take to task, Ms. Wurtzel. I’m a writer. I work hard at it, but I don’t come close to paying the mortgage from my wages. I also devote a lot of my time to mothering my two teenagers and I don’t get a dime for that. My husband supports our family. He’s in a field that’s more lucrative than mine. That’s a fact.
I’m blessed to have the choice to work from home, but I’m not spoiled. I think multi-tasking is a myth perpetuated to drive women crazy. I decided to stay at home when my first child was born because I wanted to be the most important person in her life. That’s not egotistical, that’s love. Full-blown maternal love. I break my own glass ceilings each time my children choose me as their go-to-person. Sometimes I lose out to their friends, but I can live with that. At the end of the day, I’m the one that they confess their sins and their fears to. And to paraphrase you, if you tell me that anyone can do that for my kids, I swear I’m going to smack you. No one, but no one, could ever love my kids like I do because I am their mother. Period.
Just in case you’re wondering, I don’t shop at Chanel. (Once in a blue moon I buy makeup at Bloomingdale’s.) I don’t get facials unless I have a gift certificate. And I don’t wear Lululemon to some fancy shmancy gym. But you probably think I’m a slacker for grabbing an extra hour of sleep in the middle of the day after I’ve stayed up most of the night with my daughter to see her through a prolonged asthma attack. And ditto for staying up very late to support my kids when they’re studying. Once upon a time I slept late with my infant son in my arms after he stayed up all night with colic, which trust me is no fairytale.
I’m the best person to comfort my children when they are bullied, when someone breaks their hearts or when they’re preparing for a big test. Mothers are special that way. True, I don’t get a salary for supporting my kids through life. Accordingly, I’m not a real feminist in your book. But I’m a woman who knows what it’s like to love two human beings so much that I would die for them without a second thought. I daresay that’s past, present and post-feminism.
And by the way, I got married when I fell in love with someone who made me a better person than I was. He’s my best friend. I haven’t compromised my integrity or my independence one whit. I’m damned proud to be my husband’s wife. Grimace all you want, but I’m also damned lucky. And by the way, if you’re in a healthy marriage, by definition you’re a full-time wife whether or not you’re getting a paycheck. We can generalize forever about monogamy and the balance of power in a relationship. But I’ll lay it out in terms that you, as a paid working woman, can relate to. Think of monogamy as a career that you adore. Not always easy. Not always fun. But there are a lot of bonuses and that ultimate reward: fulfillment, As far as power goes, well sometimes, I have it in the relationship and sometimes he does. Domestic office politics. We deal with it.
Maybe wealthy women—the lunchers, the shoppers, and the gym rats—have betrayed feminism. But the last time I checked, feminism wasn’t autocratic or conformist. Feminists are discerning not judgmental. Just to complete the picture for you, I drive a Volvo because I hate driving in the snow and feel more secure in a steel-enforced car. The roads ice up faster in the suburbs. And if you notice me talking to myself while I’m driving, I’m either answering an editor’s questions or fielding a complaint from one of my mother’s caretakers on my Bluetooth. I won’t even get into my role as the daughter of a cantankerous, difficult woman. Suffice it to say, I don’t get paid for that either.