Third Millennium Mom

We’ve sworn off hydrogenated oils (or trans-fats they’re also called). Heard of them? They’re in everything. So far, I’ve found three types of cookies that don’t have them (Pepperidge Farms Pirouettes, Chessmen and the Newman’s Own brand Oreo-type cookies) and one type of cracker (melba toast). To swear off hydrogenated oils, it means that you have to make pretty much EVERYTHING yourself. I think over the years, I have become pretty kitchen savvy, but have you tried to make your own Goldfish?????? I followed the Emeril (my hero, my virtual mentor) recipe and they turned out well. He recommends star shapes, I made circles though, put the kids to work with empty water bottles it worked double duty–it was a “kid project” and food preparation at the same time. But, it was very time consuming.

I thank God daily for the internet so that I can look up things like how to make cookies from scratch, and rice dishes and different ways of preparing chicken, because my mother WORKED, meaning that “cooking” to her was opening a jar of spaghetti sauce herself, and pouring it over noodles she cooked in her own pot. I discussed Chicken Kiev with her the other day and she guffawed that I had made it myself instead of buying the frozen variety (I cringed at the thought of that because I have read the ingredient list and popped the box back in the freezer at the store, shuddering, we’re not allowed to feed that stuff to our families).

I have a friend. A scientist. She’s very smart, and because of that she has a very high-income job. So high is her income that she earns double what her husband could earn–earning her a place at the office and her husband a place at home with their children. She wants desperately to be at home with her kids, but has had to accept the way the money falls. He doesn’t cook. He doesn’t know how. He opens up jars of spaghetti like my mother did. He does laundry all right most of the time, but he can’t seem to clean to her satisfaction. They’re making it work, but they haven’t considered the trans-fat issue at all. I am home, through a set of circumstances I can’t take credit for. It was just a bunch of accidents I took advantage of. I am lucky, but ill prepared for the job.

I took home economics in junior high, but I remember nothing of the sewing or cooking. I learn from Food TV. Emeril and Alton Brown are my teachers. Martha Stewart is intimidating. I get recipes from and follow them the best I can, although I was 30 before I learned what “poached” meant. I don’t own a sewing machine. We can afford one, but I wouldn’t know how to work one. I would really like to learn to knit. I can’t imagine having to learn all of this, spend the time to do this, and hold a job. I look at my working mother friends and am astounded. I worked for a few years when my oldest was a baby but had no idea how high the bar was, and ran a home like my own mother.

It seems today’s mother is expected to provide all the home-goodness of the moms of the 50s, yet most have to hold professional jobs like the moms of the 70s. I’ve found my own way, and I feel fortunate. But, how do I raise my daughter? The expectations for girls seem totally overwhelming. Do I prepare her for a life as a professional career woman, to use her intelligence and abilities in the workforce, only then for her to find that her salary is too high for her to be at home with her children if she later chooses? Or prepare her to be a housewife, like her mother, but then lacking in motivation or ability to succeed in a career if she chooses? Do you instill self-reliance and independence as the important goals, like we were taught? Or do you instill the importance of family and always being there for your children like the generation before? How to guide, how to instruct, which virtues to amplify and which to suppress?

Of course, the ideal would be to prepare her for everything, but how do you do that? Woman’s liberation is about the ability to make choices, and I don’t disagree with that. But, I don’t think we’ve come as far as we’d like to think. I see mothers as the biggest group of exploited people in America. We’re presented with standards we can’t meet and sabotaged by food industries bombarding us with things we’re not supposed to feed our kids. We’re told to avoid trans-fats, saturated fats and starches. Yet then we’re tempted with items that contain all of the above in tasty, colorful, easy to prepare items our kids beg for, and frankly, we’re too tired to resist because we’ve had to work all day, and we don’t want to spend our few hours of quality time with our children slaving over a stove.

The alternative is to choose to stay home, and if you can swing it financially, you still have to cope with the stigma of being a “housewife”. I find myself apologizing for my status. A status I am grateful to hold. I say to people "well, I am a social worker, but I’m taking these years off to be with my kids", so folks don’t think I’m unlearned. This also means you make some other sacrifices. Double income is almost always higher than single income. Staying at home means less fancy Halloween costumes and clothes (unless you make them yourself, and I haven’t seen easy to follow sewing lessons on TV, believe me, I’ve looked), less toys, less of the other things our kids are convinced they need in order to live a full and normal life. We’re talking about a society that has no respect for a woman who stays home with her children, stigmatizing her as less intelligent, weaker, meeker, or otherwise lesser, but also holds such a standard for motherhood that only one who is home can hope to come close to meeting it.

We have a society that exalts home-style values and processed convenience items simultaneously. Some say the answer is to return to the Ozzie and Harriet lifestyle of previous times, where the men work and the women stay home, where a man was a man and a woman was a woman. But, that didn’t work either. Otherwise we wouldn’t have evolved to where we are. Is it possible to redefine our roles so that girls could become strong, independent, and educated women and then be able to be home with their children if they want to, and not resent it if they don’t want to? Valuing both the corporate CEO woman and the mom in the park on a weekday afternoon equally? And having companies provide us with real conveniences? Prepared food we don’t have to feel guilty about feeding, and in price ranges and stores that are accessible? In order to do that, our society needs to have respect for the whole woman.

Maybe this is what the new feminism is about, appreciating that a woman at some point is a mother and need respect and help in that area. I think this is what has been lost, despite what our own mothers gave up for what they thought they were achieving. I keep reading and hearing that we’re confused in our raising of boys. That giving the impression to be strong yet sensitive is conflicting, and that boys are growing up with a lack of identity, floundering aimlessly through their lives. But, from my perspective it still seems pretty simple as compared with the choices of girls–boys need to grow up, get a good job, support their families, and be emotionally available for their wives and children. Really, how hard is that? He only has to bring home the bacon, he doesn’t have to scrutinize it for impurities and then sweat over how to prepare it.