I was in my final year at university and I was taking a Family Studies class. With my carefully crafted essay (read: I was printing it at 3.30pm, when it was due at 4pm), I made my way to the classroom on the ground floor, crossed the semi-circle of gathering students, and sat myself at a desk under the windows. We had written our essays on traditional versus modern roles of males and females and were preparing to argue our points. When you become a parent, who should work and how should they do it? Should anything of the traditional role be maintained? How do we feel about fathers staying home with the children instead of mothers?
I sat listening to my cohorts and I mostly agreed. Why should both not be able to work? Why should both not be able to chase their ambitions? Why should women be expected to hold their spatulas instead of their briefcases, don their aprons instead of their business suits?
But then I started to think back to discussions that had taken place over the course of the last few weeks when we had been talking about children, rebellion, and why they behave as they do. I collected my insight and opened my mouth before my good reason had a chance to stop me:
If we say that, we cannot complain about how our children behave. We cannot expect to chase our ambitions and dreams first and to be parents second, to work in an office in place of spending that time investing in, nurturing and caring for our children and then act surprised when they won’t listen to us.
I held my breath as silence filled the room. It’s not what my paper said, but common sense was screaming that we can’t blame a teacher, a peer, the neighbours or TV for the way our children behave or treat us. We will either cling to the primary role we are given in this life to lead them or someone else will lead them instead.
Cherie Blair (Tony Blair’s wife for those of you not from the UK) was recently criticized for publicly challenging the attitude of “Yummy Mummies” who stay at home to raise children instead of working. I haven’t read the transcript of the event, but I do know that the press will always gun for a reaction. Having read the article, I think this provides a decent summary:
“One of the things that worries me now is you see young women who say: ‘I look at the sacrifices that women have made and I think why do I need to bother, why can’t I just marry a rich husband and retire?’ and you think how can they even imagine that is the way to fulfil yourself, how dangerous it is.
And yes, I agree. Partly.
I agree that if your view is to marry rich, then your view is distorted. Businesses fail. Economies shrink. Companies cut back. We know that. Marry because you long to commit your life to loving that person, not because you think this partnership will enable you to retire and rear children.
What I don’t agree with is the implication, should you be fortunate enough to be given the option, that if you feel your greatest fulfilment will be found in being a stay-at-home-parent to your children, that this is less worthy than being professionally ambitious. What is more ambitious than leading your children? What is more challenging than pouring your life into another human? It will be the most disciplined, hand-wringing, heart-warming, gut-wrenching, rewarding work you do. And choosing to do it is hard. I often wrestle with my professional ambitions, ambitions that would certainly require me to be full-time employed, and my personal desire to be with my daughter. I am positive that most parents wrestle with the same and we might come to different conclusions based on our circumstances. But I know that I am not setting a bad example for my daughter by choosing her. I am not just telling her that I think she is important. It is a way for me to show her that she is and I honestly believe she will be better for it.
And here is the other thing:
Even good men could have an accident or die and you’re left holding the baby.”
It is foolish to need someone. It requires humility. It requires reliance. It requires trust. And last time I checked, people are not permanent. They will let you down. They will leave, in one way or another. They will also affirm you, support you, hold you, and they will absolutely fill your life to brimming. I could make a list of what-ifs about our lives, about what would happen to me, as a wife, mother, and expat, if my husband died and I was left with a part-time charity sector job that would barely pay the rent. I could spend my life building my professional house, in case my husband’s crumbles, but we don’t make decisions from fear. Neither do we make decisions assuming that each member’s self-sufficiency is at the core of what is best for our family.
Our family has holistic needs in the way that individuals have them. If I were to argue that I needed to pursue my career ambitions to be happy, but it overlooked the needs of my family, I’m not setting an example for my child, I’m being selfish. We make decisions that account for all of our family members in the hope that spiritually, relationally, financially, emotionally, and mentally we will be the ones to lead our children. And respectfully, Ms Blair, that might just mean putting my ambitions to the side for now.