I have a confession to make: I'm a recovering feminist.
I grew up learning feminist messaging, and long prided myself on being a "strong, independent, beautiful, staunch feminist." But then, seven months into my marriage, I found out I was pregnant—and everything changed.
My husband and I decided that at least for the first year, I would stay home with the kids full time. And just like that, I went from working full-time in a professional capacity, to round-the-clock feedings, seemingly endless diaper changes, mood swings from the hormonal ups and downs of post-partum, sleeplessness, breast-feeding, a sink perpetually full of dishes, and feelings of loneliness and isolation that threatened to swallow me whole.
All the while, I couldn't help but feel guilty for trading my career for motherhood. Had I failed my feminist beliefs?
During that first year of my childrens' life, I repeatedly found myself wanting to escape, constantly telling my husband "I want to go back to work. I MUST go back to work." I was convinced that being a stay-at-home mother and wife was an insult to my intelligence, dignity, and value as a human being.
Over seven years later, and now the mother of three children, I have reflected on my value system. And I'm proud to say that I'm practicing a new kind of feminism.
When my twins turned one, I went back to work full-time. But the high and gratification that I had thought I would get from my job never came. In fact, working was no longer appealing. When I was single, I could come home, kick my shoes off, and take a nap. Now, coming home meant running to pick up my kids from the babysitter, making supper, drawing baths, packing school bags, executing bedtime routines, giving my husband attention when he came home (even though by then I was ready to fall down from exhaustion), going to bed late, and then waking up the next day exhausted, only to do it all over again.
I worked full-time for five years at that job. Each year, I felt less inspired by the work and more guilty that I had no energy left for my family. I was tired all the time, cranky, and an unpleasant person to be around.
On Friday nights I’d be falling asleep on the couch while my children were clamoring for my attention. If they wanted me to play with them or wouldn’t let me take a nap, I’d end up yelling at them or being overly strict with them because I just simply couldn't deal. I remember my kids coming into my room the in the mornings when they were little, wanting to snuggle up with us before it was time to get up and get ready to start another day. Many days, I’d scream at them to go back to their rooms because they were disrupting the extra half hour of sleep I so badly needed.
To this day my heart aches remembering this. They’d make a look on their face of such hurt and fear, and then they’d scramble out of the room, running from the fear of mommy yelling. I wasted so many precious mornings in their smallest, most precious years and I can never change it or make it up to them.
Finally we realized we didn't really need the money as much as I tricked myself into thinking we did, and my being "independent" financially didn't matter because thank G-d, my husband and I trust each other completely and never kept separate banking accounts. Each year, I increasingly yearned to have more time and energy to focus on my family. Finally, my husband and I agreed that it was time for me to slow down and get my priorities in check. But leaving the job was not an easy choice; I was a tenured occupational therapist in a New Jersey public school district, with job stability, an unbelievable salary and excellent benefits.
When I left, I ventured into the world of independent contracting, where I could work as little or as much as I wanted to and have flexibility in my schedule. It has been two years now, and while I can't say I love my job, I can say that I absolutely love working less for money and more on being the mom and wife I want to be. I have no regrets. My children are 4 and 7 (twins), and the time has flown. As the saying goes, they are only young once, and I don't want to let this time slip through my fingers and be gone.
This is what feminism means to me now.
I used to think that mothering was a nice addition to life, but not the priority. I used to buy into the idea that a woman could have it all, and that my "career" would bring me ultimate satisfaction. I used to feel the need to be the breadwinner, or at least to contribute equally financially so my husband would never be able to "squash" or "control" me. The diapers, never-ending housework, lack of sleep, and repetitiveness of mothering used to depress me and make me feel like I was in prison.
Now, I am 36, and though people think I'm nuts, I actually fantasize about having another baby. While I am older and more experienced and know it won't be the romantic piece-of-cake experience I used to envision when I was a new mother, I see the long-term benefits of raising children. In my case, because two of my kids have ADHD, that experience has been particularly challenging and edifying.
I had to go to therapy for a while to learn to cope with their challenges. It was so hard to deal with my own kids with ADHD, since in my work as an O.T. I was caring for other people’s challenging children, so I was always, ALWAYS dealing with kids with difficult behavior all day long, every day of the week. It was exhausting. The therapy taught me that my general thinking and belief systems had been so flawed for so many years however. I learned what mentally healthy thinking is versus isn’t. I learned that it is okay to distance oneself from unhealthy relationships if it is having an adverse on one’s ability to function healthy in one’s daily life.
I had to learn incredible patience, a totally new way of thinking, new parenting techniques (since normal disciplinary techniques that work with normal kids aren’t effective with children with ADHD). I had to learn tolerance to all kinds of things that drove me crazy like my house and property constantly being destroyed or turned upside down from children’s carelessness or hyperactivity; accept that my children would need to be on medication and probably for many years; loss of friendships with friends and neighbors because they were turned off by my children; and learning how to run my home with tons of structure and on a tight schedule to prevent my kids from getting into situations where they could get into trouble.
My husband told me one day I am an excellent listener and that I should consider going into psychology. Indirectly, learning to deal in healthy ways with my children and their ADHD (combined with the fact that I was never into the O.T. profession and really wanted to do something different) I finally found my true calling: clinical psychology.
Currently I am working on my doctorate online at Walden University (while I still do some contracting) as a result. In raising ADHD children, I have become much more organized, aware of the ups and downs of the disorder, and have started coaching other parents going through the same thing. Most importantly, I see that I am creating productive, happy human beings who reflect the good morals and values I teach them. This is a significant and meaningful contribution to the world that, far from undermining my feminism, strengthens it.
I am so glad that shifting my feminist views didn't take one minute longer. Life is too short to be blinded and bound by the untruths women are fed about feminism in Western society. True feminism isn't about the perfect job, or having it all, or being entirely independent. It's about encouraging a woman to pursue her talents professionally, while helping her see what is truly lasting and important: the relationships we build.