The Stay-at-Home-Parent trap

It’s a perennial argument between feminists and anti-feminists–whether women should stay at home or not once they have children. It’s not one I really want to get into (I’m fine with woman staying at home if that’s what they want to do–it scares the heck outta me though), but I think there’s one thing people tend to miss when getting into this argument–identity. Or rather, lack thereof.

The cultural meme is “think of the children”. Children are always supposed to come first, at least to their parents (meet a screaming child in public and see how many bystanders are more concerned with how it affects them than why the child is crying). Combine this with a culture that teaches women to be self-sacrificing in general, and myriad factors that lead to women being SAHPs more than men, and you have a recipe for many women losing themselves as the center of their identities. And that’s ignoring the specific pressures put on women in more conservative segments of our culture.

The primary problem I see stay-at-home-mothers (and possibly fathers) facing is taking care of others becoming the sole focus of their lives. It’s not healthy, especially as the children get older and leave home. I know one woman who wasn’t allowed to work when her children were growing up. She got divorced around the same time that they were all moving out, and she just seemed so lost. She’d spent most of her life taking care of others, and when she lost all that, there wasn’t anything left. A few years later and she is still always looking for ways to help others. Which isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but it’s the source of her identity. Her life isn’t centered around herself.

No matter what else we are, we all need an identity that is about who we are, not about how we relate to other people. Parents, and particularly mothers, are encouraged to ignore themselves in favour of their children and families. And that’s damaging, to the individual and to the family as a whole.

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