Monday, March 16, 2009

The Motherscribe Interview Series: the 5th interview...

My 5th interview is with Jenn, a 44 year old woman living in California. She is married with 4 children. She is a stay-at-home mom, and a full-time student. She has a blog called: Juggling Life.

What does the word feminist mean to you? Has the meaning changed over time? I define feminism as believing in the power of women and the ideal that woman are capable of fulfilling whatever dreams they choose to fulfill.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Absolutely.

Would others consider you a feminist? Anyone that knows me well at all would. People that just know me casually might assume I am not because I have a marriage with roles that look very traditional.

If you are a feminist, do you feel comfortable owning that title in your everyday life? Absolutely.

What are some images that come to mind when you think of the women’s movement? Bra-burning, 70’s encounter groups, the book covers of feminist literature.

What was the greatest gift of the women’s movement? To give women permission to be as smart and capable as they can and to define smart and capable as feminine (not just masculine) traits.

What was the greatest failure of the women’s movement? To convince some women that a career was the only path to fulfillment if you were a feminist.

Did your mother work outside the home? She did.

How did that affect you growing up? My mother would have loved to stay home, but needed to support her children. Her working outside the home did make me capable, but I missed having her at home. She would have been a great stay-at-home mom.

What impression did that leave with you about women working outside the home? I always understood that some women worked outside the home from necessity while it was a choice for others. It made me conscious of making decisions that would put me in the economic position to have choices in regards to my own work/family situation.

Was your mother a homemaker? Though she wasn’t able to be a SAHM she definitely worked at making our house a home.

How did that affect you growing up? I grew up appreciating that cooking, cleaning and creating a warm environment were skills.

Did your father respect your mother? No

Did your mother respect your father? No

Who were your earliest female role models other than your mother? My best friend’s mother and my Girl Scout leaders were important role models. Of course, I had teachers that were role models also.

What did you dream of being when you were a child? A writer, a photojournalist, a teacher and a mother. I never considered not being a mother.

What do you yearn for? A happy home.

Was getting married/partnered a conscious goal or focus early on in your adulthood? Yes, it was.

Is there an event(s) that affected you in childhood/adolescence that impacted your identity in a positive or negative way? My upbringing was filled with a lot of crap—alcoholism and mental illness featured prominently. The fact that I could go to school and fool people into thinking I was just like them (or what I thought they were like) made me strong.

Have you ever dieted? Oh yes. I lost 60 lbs. several years ago, but I did it by eating very healthily. I’ve never really done any crazy diets.

Are you happy and/or comfortable with your weight? No, I would love to lose weight. The women in my family have always struggled with their weight and I am no different. I think it is partly genetic and partly learned behavior. I was taught as a child that being full was no reason to stop eating good food (and there was lots of good food around).

Would you describe yourself as someone with “body issues?” Even though I struggle with my weight, I don’t identify as having body issues. I have never let my body or my weight define who I am or my happiness level. I don’t assume that all women with great figures are happy. I never let how I look in a bathing suit prevent me from frolicking on the beach with my kids (though I definitely wear a sarong!).

I do think that the media is a very dangerous influence on our children—and I am repulsed at all the “lollipop” women I see on TV—stick bodies and big heads.

How do you feel about the sexualizing of young women in our society? It scares the hell out of me. It is so pervasive and both males and females are getting terrible messages about the role of sex in their lives and about what to expect from one another sexually. If you don’t help your kids filter the media messages, I can’t even fathom what they will end up thinking. I let my kids watch MTV, but I watch it with them and we talk about what we’re seeing.

What do you wish your mother had told you about marriage, life, anything…that you didn’t hear from her? I think my mom covered things pretty well; she was upfront about the poor choices she made and the need for me to be thoughtful in the choices I made. She valued me for my intelligence and competence and I assumed everyone else would/should too.

What role did your father play in your childhood? My biological father played a minimal, but flashy role. He was a hippie with a capital “H” and on the rare occasions I saw him did things like trying to get me to smoke pot when I was 8. My stepfather was active in my life from when I was 5 to 16, but he and my mother had a very tumultuous relationship.

What was your relationship like with your father? My biological father baffled and worried me. My stepfather and I had a somewhat close relationship because of all the girls (my sister and two stepsisters) I was the only one who was interested in things he was interested in—camping, waterskiing, and cars.

How do you feel about aging? It beats the alternative! Mentally, aging is wonderful—I like the person I am at 45 much more than I like the person I was at 25 and I could really care less at this point what anyone thinks of me. I have always been confident, but I am much more comfortable now. Physically, who wouldn’t want to have the face and body they had at 18? But that’s not the real world so I take as good care of my skin and hair as my budget allows and hope that I have more smile lines than frown lines.

How do you feel about plastic surgery? I am very leery. I would never say never, but at this point I can’t imagine having plastic surgery. I would like to be able to do a facial peel. I have, after all, lived 45 years in the Southern California sun.

How old are your children? 24 (girl—woman?!), 18 (boy—man?!), 16 (boy), 14 (girl)

Why did you decide to be a stay-at-home mom? I wanted a large family and I wanted to be the one to form my children’s worldviews. I didn’t want the stress of getting my kids up and dressed and off to daycare, spending my day apart from them, and then trying to squeeze my parenting in at night and on weekends. I’m not judging anyone else; I’m just saying this is how I felt.

Do you consider it a job? Do you feel that you are valued? I absolutely consider being a SAHM a job. I do the components of the job (child-care, cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, etc.) as I would if it were a job outside the home I was being paid for. I would never do a poor job in the outside workplace, why would I do poorly at one inside my home? I definitely felt valued. My husband appreciates that ours is a partnership and that while his work outside the home is one aspect of that partnership my work inside the home is vital as well.

Do you feel supported by your partner? Absolutely.

Do you feel supported by other women? Yes, I have always had an amazing group of friends that help, support and intellectually stimulate one another.

What do you love about being a SAHM? Seeing my kids grow and mature and being able to provide a nurturing home environment. I loved the opportunity to volunteer and coach and be a Girl Scout leader.

Is there a dark side of being a SAHM? Other than having less money, I can’t think of one. That’s just me though—I’ve been doing a job I loved all these years. Like any job there are days that just don’t go right and you feel like you’re beating your head against a wall, but that is life.

Do you see evidence of “The Mommy Wars” in your everyday life? I really don’t. I have friends who are doing every permutation of working, working part-time, working at home, staying-at-home, etc. I think we’ve all been understanding of each other’s situations.

What was your career before you had children? I was a student and worked part-time as a Pharmacy Technician (in fact, I have worked 5 hours a week for the last 18 years, but I consider myself a SAHM with a paying hobby).

Has it been hard to let go of that identity? Or do you still identify with that role? No—it was a job, not a career.

If you had a choice to return to work, would you? I am in that process. I have been in college full-time for the last couple of years and will be looking for a teaching job next December (yes, I know the idea that I’ll actually find a job is laughable in this era of budget cuts, but hope springs eternal). My youngest child will be a high school sophomore. The timing seems right. I have LOVED attending school as an 40something and I will LOVE teaching—I think that I will bring so much to the classroom—the enthusiasm of a brand-new teacher with the experience of a seasoned mom as well as ample time to devote to my work.

Do you believe a happy, fulfilled mom is a better mom whether her choice is to work outside the home or to stay at home with her children? It has always been family’s motto that “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

Can women do it all? It depends upon your definition of all, but I don’t really think so. For me, I would not have enjoyed the inevitable chaos that would result from trying to do it all. If you’re talking about career and family I think that one person (and I don’t mean it has to be the woman), has to have the career that takes priority. If I really wanted kids and a high-powered career I would try to find a partner who wanted to be in charge of the homefront. A family is a whole lot of logistically-challenging work.

What do you want to do differently with your children than what you received from your parents? I have already done it—provide them with a stable home with parents who loved and respected one another at the helm.

What would you like to carry on that your parents established with you? My mom never passed up a chance to tell me how smart I was or compliment a true accomplishment; I hope my children feel I have done that with them.

How has having children changed the relationship with your partner? It’s hard to say—we’ve been parents for so long and we had children fairly young. I will say that as much as we’ve enjoyed raising our children (and we really have) we are looking forward just a wee bit to the “empty nest.”

Did your mother or another caretaker talk to you about sex and what to expect? Yes, my mother was very open. I could talk to her about anything. I really appreciated that she was much more frank than my friend’s parents. I have continued this with my own children. We have had dinner table conversations that included a discussion of blow jobs. I believe passionately in openness and education when it comes to kids and sex. I also think that the younger they are when you begin talking to them the easier the conversations are.

How was your first sexual experience? Good enough that I ended up marrying the guy!

Is marriage liberating or inhibiting sexually? I don’t really have much frame of reference. I think that having to worry about STD’s would inhibit me.
What makes you feel sexy? Champagne, clean sheets, satin nighties, the smell of my husband’s cologne.

Do you have the energy/desire for sex at the end of the day? Some days yes, some days no.

What turns you on? A movie like “Unfaithful,” my husband doing something unexpectedly nice, cleaning up together after a great party and still being pleasantly tipsy at the end.

What would make your sex life better? If my teenagers’ curfew (with the attendant need to kiss them goodnight so I can look them in the eye, have a short conversation and surreptitiously sniff them) didn’t hit at the same time we were in the mood.

Do you have dates with your partner? Yes, we like to go to a movie and dinner (we do the movie first so we can talk about it). Other than that, and parties with friends, we’re pretty much homebodies.

Do you have personal “ME” time scheduled every week/every day? I am a blogger, aren’t I?!

How do you combat stress? See above. Also, reading, a hot bath and the occasional facial.

Do you get out regularly with girlfriends? Yes! I need my girlfriend time. I walk with my bff frequently and hit the movies and lunch with a couple of close friends, plus I have my book group (we’ve been together close to 10 years!)

Has it been challenging to retain a separate sense of self from your role as mother & wife? No.

What do you do to facilitate that? Does your partner help make that happen? I stay very informed, have passionate political discussions with friends and I’ve always sought out challenging volunteer opportunities. Then, of course, there’s my going back to school. Never has my husband asked me not to do something and is always willing to work out the schedule to make what I want happen. That’s less of a challenge with older kids, but he was that way when the kids were small. I loathe when women say their husband is “babysitting.” My husband wasn’t a babysitter—he was a parent the same as I was.

Do you help create personal space for your partner? When the kids were small I always made sure that he came home to a calm, welcoming environment so he could unwind from the day. It didn’t happen 100% of the time, but I was never one to “dump” everything on him when he walked in the door. My husband got a motorcycle a few years ago. I would have preferred he take up golf, but it’s his life and that’s what he wanted, so I supported him completely.

Does your partner share in household tasks? YES! He’s great. Our division of labor is pretty traditional, but if he comes home for lunch and the dishwasher is full he unloads it. If he sees a load of towels, he washes them. When I go away for a week to visit a friend I come home to a house just the way I left it and just the way I like it (very neat—I have a wee touch of the OCD).

How did you think your life would be when you got married? How do you feel now? I think I had a pretty accurate picture of what life would be like. I set out to create a certain life and I picked a partner who wanted the same life (plus he was cute, played a mean air-drum, and asked me to my senior prom).

Are you happy and/or fulfilled with your life? Why? I am very happy and fulfilled. I have the life I planned for and worked hard to achieve.

For me, the beauty of feminism is CHOICE. We have come far and we have far to go—we need better childcare options for those that need or want to work. I think we need to work very hard to counter negative media messages about girls and women—we owe it to our sons and our daughters.

Thank you, Jenn.

Comments are closed for The Motherscribe Interviews. For more about Jenn, please find her on Juggling Life.

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