Heather van Mil


A Mother's Lament

Why are we still struggling for equality in 2016?

family and feminism

This one goes out to all the moms. Whether you’re a stay at home mom, a work at home mom, a work outside the home mom, or maybe all of the above! Despite the fact that it is almost 2017, moms everywhere are still under incredible pressures to be and do all. Moms still get judged for every little failure, while Dads are praised for the smallest contributions. 

It feels like an invisible suffocation. Each layer of judgement - perceived or real. “Oh YOU’RE the mother” they say to me at the park when they’re used to seeing my husband there with my children. Yep! I’m THE mother. I feel like I should explain. You see I’m with my children most of the day time, and we do things like grocery shopping, or going to classes, or the library or playing at home. And then my husband takes them to the park in the afternoon while I work, so that’s why you see him more. But of course I don’t say that. And I shouldn’t have to say that. I don’t need to explain our childcare arrangements to anyone. But the judgement is still there. 

I always dreamed that when I grew up, my house to be THAT house. The one where friends congregate. Where everyone feels at home, where there is a sense of community. Instead my house is THAT house. The one where people don’t drop by uninvited because of the sheer terror of anyone seeing what we live like. The house where cleaning and tidying are at the very bottom of our to-do list. Where we make the choice to spend time with our kids, or to work or - heaven forbid - to have a few precious moments of time gloriously to ourselves, instead of keeping our home company-ready. 

Somehow the judgement doesn’t fall on my husband, although he take the majority of the cleaning duties in our relationship. The failure is mine. My husband is a god amongst men in our circles. The one who plays with his kids EVEN THOUGH he works. The one who does housework EVEN THOUGH he works. The one who shares in the pick ups and drop offs EVEN THOUGH he works. 

No one says that about the mothers. The reverse is often true. I am the one who DOESN’T do this while I work or I’m the one who DOES do this while I work, but with the implication that I don’t do it very well, or I don’t do it 100% because of my work. 

Men are lauded when they take a share in the household duties and child rearing while they work, yet women are judged for the very same thing. Women should either be able to give both 110% at the same time, or quit one and focus solely on the other. We know where that pendulum swings. 

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge my husband at all. I’m so thankful that I always have his support and his help. I wouldn’t have been able to build my business without it. I wouldn’t have been able to raise my kids without him. I wouldn’t have been able to survive without him. I am in an enviable situation by most people’s estimation, and yet. 

And yet I’m still smothered by guilt over all the things I don’t do, or don’t do well. 

I’m smothered by the guilt of not wanting to be around my children all the time. Of sometimes feeling bored with or annoyed by them. After all, I don't spend every waking moment with them, so I should treasure every one I do have!  

I’m smothered by guilt for the burden I place on my husband. Of all the things he does that I 'should’ be doing. Guilt that he’s saddled with a wife who fails so miserably in that chosen role. 

Why do I have this guilt? 

Before we got married, my husband and I talked a lot about marriage and children. When I was dating I knew very clearly what I wanted in a partner. It was just that - a partner. I made myself perfectly clear that anyone who wanted to marry me and have children with me would be getting up at night just as much as I did with our babies. Would be sharing equally in maintaining our home. They would be diving into dirty diapers and dirty dishes. I absolutely did not care if they were working and I was staying home. You tell me if you’ve stayed up all night with a miserable baby, would you rather have to spend all of the next day with that baby - trying to be happy, and love them, and enjoy them and keep them ALIVE - all while keeping up with housework, or would you rather get the hell out of there, even if it meant working all day. There is no contest. 

My husband knew what he was getting into. There was no blind side there, so why the guilt? 

Why is it viewed as so uncommon for men to step up the way my husband does every single day. Why do women look at me with envy and men look at my husband with pity. Why do men and women alike look at me with disdain. As if I’m lacking in some way. 

The guilt extends beyond other’s peoples perception of me. If I spend a full day working away from my children, I feel guilty at the end of the day and feel like I need to “make it up to them.” My husband, between 10 hour work days, commuting, sleeping and the children’s schedule spends on average about 3-4 hours per day with our kids. Does he feel guilty? Absolutely not.  And I’m not saying that he should feel guilty either. So why the disparity. Why, if I spend 6-8 hours away from my children do I feel the guilt, but I don’t feel there should be the same emotion from my husband who can spend upwards of 18-20 hours away from them. 

I don’t know what I hope to change in writing this. In our pursuit of equality, can we really change the underlying emotions women have about themselves? Are these emotions even truly internally instigated, or is there still this external silent (and sometimes not-so-silent) judgement. 

In a perfect world, people would be free to choose the roles that fit them best - gender norms wouldn’t exist. Men wouldn’t be shamed for being stay at home dads, and women wouldn’t be judged for seemingly choosing career over family. 

Until that day comes, I will continue to battle along side my husband as we strive to find the balance that works for our family. I will continue to battle myself over these feelings of inadequacy and guilt. 

At the end of the day, I know my girls have a strong example of a partner who actually is a partner. That there is no “women’s work” or “men’s work”. That Mom’s careers are just as important as Dad’s and we’re all in this thing together. What else could I really hope for?

 RELATED: 10 Lessons on Feminism I've Learned From (and for) My Daughters