July 31, 2015

My Daughter Wants to be a Mommy When She Grows Up. What’s a Feminist to Do?

Bun has reached an age where people like to engage her in conversation by asking her questions. They ask her name, how old she is, and her favorite color. Sometimes if she is in a particularly chatty mood and giving good responses, or the adult is particularly dogged in their attempt to be friendly, they’ll continue their line of questioning until they get to the inevitable “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I want to be a mommy just like my mommy.”

This response usually elicits an “oh, that’s sweet,” or “you must really love your mommy.” Never, at least so far, has anyone ever said “That’s cool! You’ll make a wonderful mommy someday.”

Not even me.

And I know why. It’s not really a job title we think little girls should aspire to anymore. After all, our foremothers didn’t spend all that time demonstrating and breaking glass ceilings just so the next generation could go right back to where they started: in the home, taking care of children. Encouraging girls to be mommies seems old fashioned, even backward.

I’ll usually jump in with other options: “You can also be an astronaut or a scientist, a teacher or a doctor.” In other words: You can choose a career that society views as more significant so why don’t you say one of those when people ask? I don’t want to seem like a mom who raises her daughters to believe in outdated social mores. Make me look like a good feminist, pretty please!

But then, I am a mommy. Being her mommy is my full time job. So what does it say to Bun when I don’t embrace her future career du jour?

It’s telling her that being a mommy isn’t a valid choice. It’s telling her that I should have aimed higher, that being her mommy isn’t enough.

And I think to a certain extent I still grapple with those feelings.

It used to be that a wife and mother was all a woman could, or should, hope to be. All other pursuits were frowned upon. But now that there are so many more options, the decision to commit full-time to motherhood is the suspect occupation, almost as though it’s a fall back position for women who are too lazy or directionless to make it in the marketplace.

But being a full-time mom was a conscious decision for me. I weighed the pros and cons and thought long and hard about what was right for me and my family. I made the choice to do this job wholeheartedly. Being a mommy isn’t a passive thing that just happened to me. I actively chose the role and pursue it to the best of my abilities.

And that’s what it all comes down to for me, again. Choice.

I talked about the significance of choice in my post about going, and staying, grey here. And it becomes more apparent to me all the time that there is nothing more important than having the freedom and opportunity to make your own choices in life. It’s at the root of self-respect. Confidence, self-worth, and maturity come from the realization that your life choices are in your hands. You must make them, and you must live with the consequences.

I chose to be a full-time mom, and I am thrilled with the consequences. So why shouldn’t I encourage my own daughter to start practicing making her own decisions?

And that’s just what it is right now. Practice. It’s not a life sentence.

When I was her age I wanted to be a grocery store clerk because I liked the way the food moved down the little conveyor belt, or a florist because I thought it would be fun to be surrounded by flowers. Obviously I am neither of those now. But the point is I had room to explore, and the message I received from my parents was that the choice would eventually be mine to make.

Freedom of choice also means I don’t just have to be one thing if I don’t want to. I can be a mom and a writer. Other people can be a mom and a therapist, or an advertising executive and professional kayaker. We live in a hyphenate culture where it’s not unusual to see people who are entrepreneur-rock star-chefs, or accountant-poet-dog walkers, or whatever.

The awesome thing is your choices are only limited by your priorities.

So what I want to tell Bun from now on is that her current desire to be a mommy like me is awesome, and I fully support it. I also fully support her taking the time to explore this big world and her big options within it.

I can’t wait to see what she becomes.


Image credit: Hulton Archive via Pictify

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