Parenting As A Feminist Mother: The College Edition

Feminism has evolved a lot since the first American suffragettes took on patriarchal oppression. And it has a lot of image issues because any social movement that has lasted over a century is bound to get complicated and confusing.

A big part of feminism right now is self-actualization. It’s a word that’s thrown around a lot in social discourse, but basically, it’s referring to our right to pursue happiness and personal fulfillment.

Men, women, trans*, gay, straight, bisexual, and any combination thereof – everyone has that right. Like it or not.

Some people are completely fulfilled by their careers or public service. Some exclusively by family duties and the domestic sphere. Some by education or personal experience, like travel or tackling new skills.

Most people, though, require their own unique life quotient in order to attain true and complete happiness.

And for some, that means parenting – of the feminist variety.

So what on earth is parenting as a feminist mother?

It falls somewhere along that gradient of self-fulfilling activities. Oftentimes, parenting for mothers is discussed in the Stay-at-Home Mom/Work Out of Home Mom dichotomy.

And discussing those two roles and the ways in which they collide and interact is a great place to start talking about parenting as a feminist.

Here are a few hot button topics concerning SAHM/WOHM issues:

Association of Femininity with Image

Centuries of female nude paintings can attest to this. However, the current issue of gender and image burrows even deeper than photo manipulation and fat-shaming.

It’s the idea that a woman should keep a perfect, Stepford-wife house to contain brilliantly-mannered, khakied children to whom she devotes every waking moment.

What’s worse is that the backlash might be equally damaging.

Women who don’t aspire to June-Cleaver-pearls status often feel banished from domestic interests and pressured to accomplish everything professionally (while looking fabulous and restraining emotion, of course).

Polarizing Women 

Should women stay in the kitchen or the boardroom? I say: Both! Either! Neither! They should do what makes them happy. Women should be able to branch out into any profession, blue collar job, volunteer work, or academia that they see fit.

But what’s important to remember is that for a lot of women, the decision concerning whether or not to work out of the home isn’t much of an actual choice.

Stay-at-home motherhood has always been a classist stereotype, and women have always worked.

Mom Shaming

No matter what life path you choose these days, it seems there is an activist group to shame you for it – above and beyond just women’s issues.

Gender-neutral toys, open discussion of sexuality, and lifestyle decisions as a whole  — from marriage to occupation and education — all need to be liberated from archaic gender assumptions.

The bottom line in feminist parenting is that it requires independently deciding what is best for your children and yourself based on your values. Regardless of what anyone – from the mass media, our patriarchal and kyriarchal society, to our family and friends – has to say.

After all, a woman who is decidedly unhappy will be a lot less effective as a parent.

Shattering the Old Paradigm

For decades, there has been this idea that motherhood is dichotomized. Either you stay at home, cooking, cleaning, and mothering, or you choose to selfishly ignore your children and pursue a big, fancy career.

While this presumed state of affairs was probably never true, it is definitely and resoundingly false today.

Most of the “young moms” (early- to mid-twenties, on average) I know — whether married, in committed relationships, straight and otherwise, or even completely, intentionally, and happily single — are forced to work because of their socio-economic statuses.

Many of them are also putting themselves through school.

Every time I hear people discussing SAHM/WOHM issues, I feel incredibly disjointed from the conversation. I work, but not because wiping down tables is my great dream. And eventually, I intend to pursue a career, but I just can’t identify with that role right now either, because that is not my experience.

Right now, I am an over-ambitious perfectionist college student — who happens also to be a mother.

Or, if you meet me in the park or at swim class, you will probably get to know me as a devoted, quirky mom  —  who just happens to be completely dominating school right now with big, beautiful ambitions.

The thing is: I don’t want feminism to invalidate my experience as a mom or as a student. Which is why I started to shift the conversation.

Why is it that professors can be blatantly rude and judgmental about student-parents, when those students have practically no ability to fight that discrimination?

Or why is it that while some other college kids just don’t feel like doing assignments, parent-students slave and cry, cuddling a sick toddler, and still make it to more classes than most?

Right now, I divide up my priorities between paying the bills, quality learning, and loving time with my son — and imagining how he will describe me someday when this is all over.

When he was born, I left a very prestigious writing program. Every day since I made that decision, I focus on making sure that no one ever tells my child that he held me back.

Because he didn’t.

That is my self-actualization. That is my daily life.

It’s a conglomeration of domesticity, academic ambition, and necessary labor outside of the house.

It is teaching my son to walk and talk, to eat healthy, love books, and treat people with respect – and then waiting tables, or writing a twenty-page paper, or editing my chapbook.

And then helping a friend move or volunteering my time.

Because that is what validates my personal goals as a student, as a human, as a mother, as a woman.

Parenting as a feminist for me is doing what you believe in your bones to be right and best, regardless of adversity.

And regardless of public opinion.

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Kelsey Lueptow is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. Kelsey is a small town amateur yogi, poet, and feminist from Wisconsin. She’s a single mother and seasonal waitress working on a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Women’s Studies. Caffeine addict and book enthusiast, Kelsey spends her time playing with her son and hanging out at coffee shops. Read her articles here.