Sisterhood Blog

Free To Be ... at Home With My Daughter

By Deborah Kolben

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A few days before my daughter, Mika, turned 11-weeks-old, I received a package from my mother. It included an adorable snowsuit for Mika and a copy of the CD “Free to Be… You and Me,” ostensibly also for Mika.

For those of you who don’t remember, the album, produced by Marlo Thomas in 1972, uses poetry and catchy tunes to hammer in the values of individuality and gender equality. The album, and its follow-up video, includes appearances by some of her pals like Mel Brooks and Harry Belafonte.

Growing up, I loved this album. I was totally indoctrinated. Yes, boys could be cocktail waitresses and girls could be firefighters. Little girls who used their feminine wiles to get ahead in life got eaten by lions. And for all you little girls out there, housework is the pits. The message is so heavy-handed that I have to admit, I started to feel guilty.

I felt guilty because here I was, all grown up, my daughter about to turn three months old, the time at which our society tells women it’s time to go back to work — and I didn’t want to go. I am surprised, myself, how much I relish being at home with my daughter. Every coo, smile, and burp feels like a major accomplishment.

In many ways, I feel nervous telling this to my mother and her friends. It’s not that they didn’t love their children to pieces, but they still had something to prove. They needed to get back to work to show the world that women could do everything men could do. And I suppose it’s thanks to their hard work that I can choose to throw up my hands and say, no thank you.

Of course, there are practical concerns like money that will thrust me back into the workforce. And I’m sure that once Mika is a bit older, I will be ready to exercise my brain and decamp everyday to an office. But in the meantime, I can’t help but wonder: Does this make me a bad feminist?

Watch a clip from the 1974 film, “Free To Be… You and Me”:

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Feminism, Marlo Thomas, Motherhood

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Lisa B Tue. Dec 29, 2009

It doesn't make you a bad feminist, it makes you a good mom and you are not the only one of your generation to feel that way. I recently returned to the workforce after 7 years at home with my kids. It was wonderful to go back to the "adult" world and some of the time at home was hard, and lonely and really really boring but I wouldn't trade it in, both for myself and my kids.

The one thing I find really interesting is how a segment of the previous generation finds this almost threatening, a step back. I've heard exasperated mothers insist to their daughters that they sacrificed and gave their girls an education so they could have choices. They daughters response was that they did indeed have choices and for a time being, their choice was to be full time mothers.

I think we are struggling with balance, between the outside work world and the inside world of home and family, both of which are important and come with their own rewards. Being a mother, caring for my family is part of what makes me, me. Not all of me, but an important part. Performing satisfying and productive work outside the home is also an important part of my life. Why choose only one and deny the other? I would be incomplete.

Now just to get the work world to accept parenting as a legitimate activity......THAT is the role of feminism today.

James Wed. Dec 30, 2009

No. It makes feminists bad, not you a bad feminist.

Sharon Wed. Dec 30, 2009

In Canada, we get at least six months paid mat leave, and most people get a year off from their employers as well as being assured some level of Unemployment Insurance when they are home with their babies.

There is nothing, nothing feminist about being forced back to work too soon after having a baby - it is sexist not to make the time for mothers and fathers to be home while their infants are tiny. And BTW, I have also known men who have taken six months for paternity leave after their wives' mat leave has ended.

American women settle for too little.

allie Wed. Dec 30, 2009

My grandmother, my mother and I went to work because we had to, because there was no way for our families to sustain a modest, decent life without both of parents working. Imagine that! I am no feminist, or at least not more so than you. However, I had responsibility to provide, to contribute, the same way as my husband did. Here is something for gender equality! I have worked since I was 18, with one year break to take care of my baby. 30 years later I still work - no peace and retirement at sight.

Sara Wed. Dec 30, 2009

The reason why it makes you a bad feminist is not because you value parenting, but because you have decided that only the female parent should make the difficult decisions and personal sacrifices. Feminism is not about belittling the work of parenting. Rather, it is about letting go of the idea that only women are supposed to carry the childcare burden. Your reflections would have much more merit if you would have described both men and women in your family finding "balance". As far as I can see, you are in fact taking women backwards.

Lisa B Wed. Dec 30, 2009

Sara - why is biology "backwards"?

Yes, men and women should both participate in the difficult decisions and personal sacrifices inherent in parenting. In that aspect at least I agree wholeheartedly with the version of feminism so prevalent in American media and society (I say this because feminism in other cultures and nations is quite different).

Where I personally differ (and I obviously don't speak for the author) is in the notion that "equal" has to mean "the same". Frankly it doesn't.

Women are the only sex that can gestate a baby. After the birth we produce the perfect food for them, calibrated exactly to the infants maturity and even weather conditions. The physical act of pregnancy causes huge physiological changes including extensive "rewiring" of the brain - allowing women greater multitasking ability and heightened senses that allow many to wake just at the change of an infants breathing. Most, not all women entering parenthood find they have an intense desire to "mother" their children. This relationship changes as the child matures and enters into the wider world at large.

The fathers relationship with his children and parenting role changes as the children mature also, but again, different does not mean inequal.

What kind of feminism asks a woman to deny her own femaleness, her own unique biology? That's not feminism, that is some neutral genderism. Feminism should celebrate our potential in all spheres. Feminism should allow women the space to parent however they see fit, especially through those intense early months. Feminism should be about having the CHOICE and about respecting that choice. Too many women are penalized in the workforce for taking time out for intense parenting and belittled as if what they are doing is somewhat lesser.

The saddest part is when women do the belittling and then give it a label to provide condescension with the sheen of respectability.

sara Thu. Dec 31, 2009

Lisa What you're saying about "biology" is not just bad for women but bad for men. The message that men will never be able to be the kind of parents women are by virtue of the fact that they lack a uterus is mean to men, and ultimately keeps them as detached parents, and ultimately puts the unfair burden of self-sacrifice on women. This kind of biology argument is not healthy for kids or for their parents and sends the message that some people 'can' and some people 'cant' and these things are predetermined by our genitals. Terrible, terrible messages all around.

Lisa B Thu. Dec 31, 2009

Sara - I had to read your post 3 times in order to make sure it isn't a parody and to be frank I'm still not sure. Men can't get pregnant, carry a child to term or breastfeed. Period. It's not mean to men, its a fact of life. Men can be and are awesome parents, but that doesn't mean they have to be exactly the same as women.

Parenting is a long term proposition, the initial infant year is followed up by a whole lot of other years, over 20 and they all demand all sorts of abilities and skills and unique experiences and perspectives. Not being able to breastfeed doesn't mean that a man is a "detached parent" and can't therefore play Alphabet Bingo 30 times in a row, help the kids with their homework, cook a meal for them, teach them how to deal with peer conflicts, navigate college entrance paperwork or mentor them as they enter the workforce. Get a grip.

If you want to talk about "not healthy for kids", telling them that everyone needs to be identical in order to be equal is the most cruel thing of all. It forces the young to desperately try to meet the burden of expectations placed on them rather than feeling free to be themselves.

You might want to also try parenting both genders to see exactly how different they are, different but both wonderful in THEIR OWN WAY.

Sara Sun. Jan 3, 2010

Actually,Lisa,you're the one trying to make everyone 'the same'. Your suggestion that all men are a certain way and all women are another way is the most limiting idea here. So a man can't give birth, therefore entire lives are fatalistically determined by that. You're projecting entire ideas about how women should be or how men should be by this one difference, as if the uterus determines relationship, as if a uterus makes one person more capable of love and the other more capable of being out in the real world. This gender-based determinism is YOUR invention not mine.

For me, the only thing that all human being are identical in is their potential to express and receive love and care. By being such a parental-control-freak, like you're the better parent because you're a woman, you're depriving men of that basic human need and right and making horrifying determinations about what people are. I just feel bad for your husband.

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