If you’re a feminist, should you give up your career to care for your children? If you believe women are equal to men and should have equal rights and job opportunities…is it possible you could also want to be a full-time parent?
Of course! What any of us wants doesn’t always fit into neat little boxes. There is nothing incompatible with being an at-home mom and a feminist. (Just as being an at-home dad doesn’t make a guy less masculine or anti-male.)
The feminist movement was all about giving women (and men) more options, not fewer. There have always been women who enjoy focusing on raising kids and creating a home; for some, that can be a wonderful way to live life.
So the question isn’t what you “should” do, but what makes the most sense in the reality of your life.
Making More Options
The problem in the ’50s and ’60s was that being a housewife was pretty much the only option for middle- and upper-class women, and it wasn’t enough for many of them. Working-class women (then even more than now) worked hard outside the home but had little opportunity to move into more meaningful, better-paying work. Women who advocated for more options and fairness in the workforce usually weren’t against motherhood and domesticity; they just didn’t want those to be the only possibilities.
Today, there are infinite ways couples can divide the labor of bread-winning, child-rearing, and householding. The 1950s model, where dad goes to work and mom stays home with the kids, is one viable option. Still. So are both people working full-time, one working part-time, and taking turns being the more work-focused or child-focused parent. It’s all good. The only thing that matters is what works for this specific family at this particular point in time.
Being Feminist at Home
If you’re worried that your being an at-home mom means your kids will think traditional gender roles are the only option, there’s no need. Your kids know that some mommies work and some daddies stay home because that’s how it is in some of their friends’ families. You can talk about that, how families get to make choices about what makes sense for them and how it’s different for everyone. You can point out examples or read them books about women in the workforce and men who’re hands-on parents. You could also talk about how arrangements can change over time—that you might go back to work full-time or part-time when the kids are older, for instance.
If you’re an at-home mom who’s a feminist, you’re probably focused on giving your kids options in how they express themselves and what interests they explore. Your son may love dolls, or trucks, or both, and it’s all okay. Your daughter may love karate, or ballet, or both. Equal doesn’t mean identical; it just means everyone gets a chance to explore as many options as possible.
You can also model a respectful, balanced partnership with your spouse. A traditional division of labor in the bread-winning category doesn’t mean every aspect of your marriage is retro. You might be the one who mows the lawn or manages the finances, say, while your partner does the cooking. You can work as a team to make important decisions that affect your family. Some of those conversations can happen in front of the kids, so they see what respectful negotiation looks like.
Your Wellbeing Matters, Too
While you’re busy taking care of your kids, take care of yourself, too. It’s actually non-feminist to completely sacrifice yourself to someone else, even your child. At-home moms should have some areas of life that are just for them. So go to the gym or your book group; work on your hobby or a civic project or that novel you want to write.
Model self-care by taking at least a few minutes each day to do something non-mommy. Maybe have “quiet time” for a half hour every afternoon where the kids read or do a puzzle while you read or work on what you want to. That teaches the kind of balance and mutual respect that feminism seeks.
So be a full-time mom if that’s what works best for you; work full- or part-time if that’s what helps you thrive. There are many ways to benefit from the advocacy of the women who’ve gone before. Live the life that’s right for you, no “should”s about it.