Yes, Ann Romney – parenting is hard. For everyone.

Being a mom is hard.

Being any kind of parent is hard — or, at least, it’s hard if you’re engaged with the process. No matter your status in the child’s life (biological parent, adoptive, mom, dad, something-else-that-doesn’t-have-a-name-but-still-counts) or your socio-economic position (rich, poor, somewhere in between), if you’re parenting a child: It’s hard.

It’s hard because it matters — it really, really matters — and it’s just so complicated. Children get sick, they get frightened, they fight you on the craziest things, they have needs that you cannot begin to understand — indeed, they are nothing but Need. It starts the instant they wake up and it only abates when their eyes close, and I say “abates” rather than “stops” because you can never, ever know that the Need won’t rear its head in the middle of the night. In all the bedrooms. At once. You just cannot know.

The toll it takes on your heart is hard, too. You ache for your kids in ways you never knew existed before they were in your life. You want to hold them in your arms and engulf them in bubble wrap, and you can do neither. They will piss you off; they will push you away; they will get hurt. If you’re lucky, they will also give you joy, and pull you back, and heal. But your heart is there for every bump and bounce.

It’s even hard on your body, even if you’re not the one who produced the children. Years of sleep-deprivation, years of carrying small people and large belongings, years of not having enough time to care for yourself in the way you might need to, and — for far too many — years of not having the money to do so, either.

It’s just: Hard.

The grand lie is that if you have help, it’s easy. It’s certainly easier — but easy? Nope. Not unless you’re genuinely checked out. Years ago, I was a nanny for twins, a round-faced boy and round-faced girl, the healthy children of wealthy parents in a spacious and well-tended home. I’m sure other nannies saw other kinds of parents, but I’ll tell you what: I was an assistant. I did not take the body-blows. That mom and dad did the hard work, and I went home at night.

As a society — across the board, in all corners and on all levels — we need to develop a greater respect for the work that is parenting. We need to value children more, we need to carve out time and opportunity for parents to be available to their children, and we need to understand, in our bones, that raising children is a job for all of society, not just those with kids in the house, and certainly not just for women.

So when Ann Romney says that staying at home with her boys was hard work (that she was glad to do), and that she understand’s women’s struggles, I’m inclined to believe her. Parents who choose to be stay-at-home are making a choice to do what they believe is best for their families, and as a feminist, how can I not support that?

Moreover, I’m no more inclined to bash women simply for being rich than I am to bash them simply for being poor. I believe you, Ann Romney: It was hard work, you were glad to do it, and you understand women’s struggles — or, at the very least, the struggles inherent to being a mother.

But here’s the thing.

Just as I am not inclined to bash you for staying home with your kids, neither am I inclined to bash poor moms (or dads) who choose to do the same.

Either we value motherhood (parenting), or we don’t. Either we support parents who choose to be at home with their kids, or we don’t. Either we value families, or we don’t.

You can’t ask me to respect your right to be home with your kids, but expect me to not notice that your candidate husband doesn’t respect the same right for poor women. Your kids had no more right to an at-home parent simply because you’re wealthy; kids on welfare have no less right to an at-home parent simply because they’re poor.

I won’t bash Ann Romney. She made a choice that was right for her and her family, and as a parent, I guarantee you: Her choice involved hard work.

But I will bash policies and positions, and the party that pushes them, that afford Ann Romney more respect and greater human dignity for her choices, simply because she’s a millionaire.

And I will do everything I can to keep those people — most especially Ann Romney’s husband — out of office.

12 Comments

  1. SWNC

     /  April 24, 2012

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Emily.

    If being a mother is so important–as the family values Republican crowd is always assuring us–why don’t we have policies that make being a mother (or a father or a guardian) easier? Why don’t we have universal health care so that people can stay home with their babies instead of rushing back to work so that they and the baby can keep their health insurance? Why don’t we recognize that separating young children from their parents for 10 and 11 hours at a stretch is inhumane for all parties concerned? Why aren’t there more options for part-time work and flexible child care? We talk a good game about the importance of families, but when it comes right down to it, we don’t believe it.

    • helensprogeny

       /  April 24, 2012

      My own cynical reply to nearly all your questions: Because this is America, and making money is far more important than anything. And I believe that this sentiment drives today’s GOP above all else.

    • helensprogeny

       /  April 24, 2012

      Also too: this is a scorching post. Emily does it again. Just scorching.

  2. efgoldman

     /  April 24, 2012

    Damn, you’re good!

  3. jamie

     /  April 24, 2012

    pitch perfect, emily! i do find it curious how tonedeaf these MEN[and women] seem to be. you really would think with all of their handlers intaking and diseminating info/feedback hourly that they could understand our kickback against policies that produce the opposite of stated beliefs.

  4. Ash Can

     /  April 24, 2012

    “But I will bash policies and positions, and the party that pushes them, that afford Ann Romney more respect and greater human dignity for her choices, simply because she’s a millionaire.”

    To the vast majority of parents, giving up paying employment for a welfare check that they can only hope wiill keep their kids fed and sheltered, with heaven knows what and heaven knows where, is not an acceptable, realistic option. Hence, for them, no choice. And this is what Ann Romney apparently cannot understand (cf. her latest gaffe): the lack of choice prevalent in parenting in America today.

    • SWNC

       /  April 24, 2012

      Exactly. I hate the “choice” narrative around parenting. Especially, let’s face it, when it comes to mothers. Because working to provide for your family is a noble and responsible endeavor–unless you’re a woman, in which case, it’s something you do for pin money and personal satisfaction.

      I know parents who choose to work because they don’t want their family to go deeper into debt. I know parents who choose to work because their job is the one that provides insurance for the family. I know parents who choose to work because their spouse has abandoned the family. I know parents who choose to work because they don’t want to be dependent on their children in their old age. I know parents who choose to work because how else are you going to put food on the table?

      And I know parents who stay home because child care for two or more children would eat up their whole paycheck. I know parents who stay home because their spouse works 12 hour days at a hedge fund. I know parents who stay home because they have a child with special needs. I know parents who stay home because they’ve been laid off. I know parents who stay home because their spouse is in the military and they have to move so much that they can’t establish a career of their own.

      The choice narrative implies that all of this is happening in an economic vacuum. Yes, families are doing the best they can for their individual circumstances, but let’s not pretend that these choices are made freely and without constraint.

  5. We don’t/shouldn’t bash Ann Romney for being a stay-at-home mom. But we should be able to ask her why stay-at-home mom’s should support her husband, given the way his policies favor the wealthy over the poor and middle class.

    This whole dispute was one big fraud designed to distract everyone from the facts on the ground, which show that the GOP favors those who are financially well-off over those who are not and that the Romney campaign has announced its approval of policies that treat women like they are baby incubators and nothing more.

  6. zenobiajo

     /  April 24, 2012

    just thank you expressing so well what many of us parents feel:)

  7. Well said.
    Too often, men in our culture are taught that fatherhood is unimportant, and money is all that matters.

    The employer who expects workers to put money ahead of family, is a fool.

    For the worker who has no time for compassion nor empathy, is a person with no capacity to care about anyone. That results in short-sighted decisions.

    I never met the BP executive, who ordered a drilling rig to plug a 2-mile-deep hole under the ocean floor with salty water, even though thousands of pounds of pressure had built up behind it.

    But I’m willing to wager, that the executive who made the fatal decision, that led to the biggest oil spill in history, the death of several BP workers, and the sinking of the ship…probably cared more about getting the rent payments on that ship to stop, than about any people he might hurt.

    Well, BP broke it, and BP bought it. The rent payments stopped, it cost billions, and I haven’t eaten grouper from the Gulf, ever since.

    I have trouble imagining the sort of father who could look his kids in the eye, with that on his conscience.

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