Women's Freedom: Finding It In Work, Home or School


Having been inspired by Deborah’s idea to split up Claudia Bushman’s talk, “The Lives of Mormon Women” to discuss different parts, I have decided to highlight a section which particularly struck me.

After discussing her choice to attend school while raising a family, she states, “As a lazy daughter of another age, I still marvel that women think they find freedom in working rather than staying at home with their children where they have free time and some control over how to spend it.”

Claudia’s idea that one does not find freedom in work, but rather in staying at home (and simultaneously going to school perhaps) made me reexamine some of my current choices. I currently teach high school part time. Not because I need the money, but because I personally need an identity outside my family relationships. And because I think it’s healthy for me to get out of the house everyday to connect and contribute directly to my community.

Three weeks after my son was born I returned to the classroom, leaving for school every day at noon and returning at 4:30. Even though it’s part time, I still don’t feel like I have much free time, since nearly every minute I don’t have the baby I’m trying to prep for classes the next day. I admit that I struggle to find time to pursue other interests like reading books, practicing piano, or writing.

So I understand why Claudia would assert that for her, not working gave her more freedom. But part of me hesitates to believe that working invariably equates to less freedom for mothers. First, if a woman has had the luxury of picking a career that she loves, I can imagine a woman feeling grateful and happy to be engaged every day in work that is particularly meaningful for her. And this work that she loves would give her the freedom to connect and interact with others of like mind, the freedom to use her skills to influence and contribute to society. Secondly, as cynical as this may sound, I believe that both spouses contributing financially may in some relationships, sometimes, even out power dynamics a bit, thereby perhaps giving some women more decision making power in a marriage- and thereby increasing their personal autonomy and freedom.

While I can find spaces to argue that working can bring freedom to mothers that staying at home could not, I still find Claudia’s argument compelling and interesting. And it makes me ask myself if I should consider quitting my teaching job and instead look into pursuing grad school while I mother my young, just as Claudia did years ago.

How do you women find freedom in your lives? Do you find it in the flexibility of staying at home with kids, or in the power, money, influence, and just plain joy that may accompany working?

Men, do you feel that working constrains your freedom? Would you rather have the flexibility of stay at home parenting?

Is going to school while raising children the perfect balance of flexibily and mental/social engagement?

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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13 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    While I know this isn’t true for everyone, I completely agree with Claudia here. Going to school isn’t an option for me though- we’d have to move a long way from her to find a masters program in my field. But being home leaves me with enough free time that I can spend a lot of time reading about my field. It’s the perfect balance for me and I feel very lucky that things are this way.

    Really, the freedom seems to come when women have a choice. And so many women don’t feel they have a choice whether they’re at work or at home.

  2. AmyB says:

    I agree with Amira that freedom comes with having a choice. It seems to me like Claudia was equating freedom with discretionary time.

    I feel extremely priveleged to have my choice of profession, have the opportuniy to go to school, and when/if I have children I will have the choice whether I want to work or not and how much. I thinks it’s a small percentage of the world’s population that has such an array of choices.

    This can be a hot topic, but I’d also like to note that being able to choose to be a stay at home mom is a middle to upper class luxury. While it’s held up as an ideal for families, for so many in the world it is not even a possibility.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think you sisters are on the right track — there are a lot of different kinds of freedom. I work full time outside the home — normally, at least. Right now I am mostly working full time from home while caring for a new baby.

    I miss the free time I had when I was a stay at home mom. I miss the freedom to say yes to classroom volunteering, visiting teaching, and maybe a nap during the day.

    But it’s another kind of freedom, and a relief, that we can now buy our kids a new pair of shoes as soon as they outgrow or wear out the old pair, that we can afford the gas for a trip to the mountains or the beach or the temple, that we can drive a more reliable car, eat healthier foods.

    It’s also a kind of freedom to be able to spend our evenings together, instead of having me single parenting while DH goes to a second job, as many of our friends are doing to get by in California with mom at home.

    Add me to the list of women grateful I had a choice to go to work.

  4. Deborah says:

    Love the comments thus far — Ana, that’s a clear articulation of competing freedoms.

    I don’t like the freedom of time. For years my husband said I needed to learn how to handle unstructured time. He’s probably right, but he’s also learned that I’m genuinely happier when I’m following a strict schedule and squeezing in moments of “other stuff.” I read much more in the school year than I do over the summer vacation. By the time September rolls around, I’m nearly out of my mind ready to begin my work again! I say that lightly, but I really am a mess when I am away from a school for too long — that was true even as a kid. I don’t like being at home for more than a long weekend. The idea of working out of my home makes my skill crawl. Needless to say, this is a concern of mine as we think of starting a family. But I’m am lucky to be able to think about my future — including my future work situation — with some degree of flexibility. I have a husband who would fully support my choice to work, to persue a Ph.D. full time, to work part-time etc. I’m grateful.

  5. Lucy says:

    I think Claudia is talking about an ideal world. The fact is many women don’t have the option to stay home and pursue an expensive graduate degree. As a SAHM, I don’t even have complete freedom of my time. My day is spent playing, teaching, and caring for a toddler. In addition, our family has made huge sacrifices so I can be home. Like Ana has pointed out, staying home often means a loss of economic power.
    However, I have enjoyed the fact that I am very involved in my children’s lives. I volunteer for the PTA, cub scouts, and literacy programs, but basically my life evolves around my children. If you can’t afford a nanny or a housekeeper (or in my case a car), you are pretty much tied to your home. Most SAHMs don’t have the means to pursue interests outside of their home.
    (Disclaimer, I am so grateful that I have the choice to be home with my children, but I am really struggling to find a balance in my life :))

  6. Janna says:

    This issue is irrelevant for a large portion of the church — single women.

    We could play the “Who has the most freedom?” game all day talking about that can of worms.

  7. Caroline says:

    Janna,
    That’s totally true. I should have been more careful with my language, using “mothers” rather than “women” throughout. I think I used the word “women” subconsciously because that’s the word Claudia uses.

    But anyway, you bring up a great point. Some of us are in positions to choose between work and home, and others are not.

    Thanks to everyone else for you comments. It’s been really interesting to read about how different women find freedom in different ways.

    Deborah, I’m the same! If I don’t have a schedule, I get little done. And I tend to be less happy.

  8. Michelle says:

    First off, thanks for the tip about Claudia’s talk. I read it and felt encouraged about pursuing some various options I have been contemplating for a while. I loved her focus on individual women, rather than defining women in terms of their relationships to husbands and children.

    One question I had is what women or mothers need or want freedom from. I know you are using Claudia’s language, and I see how she talks about freedom along the lines of flexibility and free time. But, I don’t want work–or any other pursuit–to become a means of freedom from my children. Ideally, I’d like to structure my life adn time so as not to feel trapped by them and our home (as I admittedly sometimes do).

    Rather, I think of these questions in terms of satisfaction and fulfillment. Is full time mothering going to be my most fulfilling option? (And I don’t mean fulfillment in a narrow, selfish way. Rather, I think about growing my talents and fulfilling my potential.)

    I spent 4 1/2 years of grad school as a mother too. It’s true–there is a great deal of flexibility in grad school. Funding inevitably gets cut off at a certain point, but because of my children, I worked part time on my dissertation until it was done. It was a very long road, and at times, I almost gave it up at several points.

    What was hardest for me was the often and rapid switching that was required–from taking care of small children to trying to run my models or pound out a few pages of my lit reviews.

    I am currently not working, but I really want to find something part time. And I feel like if I can find the right opportunity, it will provide me with a balance between mothering and my other life.

  9. Deborah says:

    “One question I had is what women or mothers need or want freedom from . . . .Ideally, I’d like to structure my life adn time so as not to feel trapped by them and our home (as I admittedly sometimes do).”

    That’s a great question, Michelle — I’d love to hear thoughts from others on this one. Aristotle defined happiness as a “fully flourishing life.” I suppose seek the opportunity to flourish — to find magnify my talents and develop strong relationships. Because I happen to both love and be good at what I do (education), I hope to be able to balance my career with family. The idea of being cut off from work that I love (for more than a brief season) feels scary!

  10. jana says:

    I really enjoyed reading Claudia’s talk, too. I’m so glad for Deborah’s link.

    I think that one of the difficulties that I’ve had in my roles as mother, student, worker, and Saint, are that there are many more ‘good’ things that I can do every day than I can actually accomplish. The trick is in finding a balance between doing for others and doing for myself. One way that I’ve made this easier, is by downscaling my obligations to housekeeping. When I went back to school we moved to a much smaller place and I relaxed some of my expectations about cleanliness and gourmet meals. I also downscaled in many other ways–giving away much of our ‘stuff’ and learning to live small. IMO, this has given me much freedom.

  11. Karen says:

    I feel as if I have more freedom staying at home with my children. The thought of going to work, having someone else dictate how I use my time bothers me, [and yet I have small dictators trying to tell me how to use my time every day!:)]. I love to read and like being able to study what I am interested in when I want to [to a certain extent].

  12. JKS says:

    I love the freedom I have being a SAHM. I have made efforts to avoid feeling trapped at home, plus I feel valued in my marriage for my contributions and have plenty of financial power.
    I’m my own boss. I feel like I have accomplished much. I feel intellectually stimulated. I feel successful. I feel like I have a balance (my kids are 9,7, & 2 now). I have control over my life. My husband now makes enough money that we can eat out and I can spend money once in a while (which was not the case 7 years ago).
    Most importantly I don’t feel torn. I feel like I can devote my time to whatever is most important. I feel like I have enough time for my marriage. I feel like I have enough time to mother each one of my children individually. I feel like I have enough time to do things for myself. I feel like I have enough time to look around and do something for someone, or at church, or the community without taking away from something else. I even feel like I have enough time to get things done, like housework or bills.
    In 2.5 years my youngest will be in school. If we need the money, I am sure I can find a job that I would enjoy. But what about school breaks? What about when kids are sick? I think I’d get less free time for me. My house will be a lot messier.
    I think I will probably face some social pressure (and some internal pressure) that once my kids aren’t home all day. I’ll start thinking I’m not doing anything if my kids aren’t around. I’ll have to get some new confidence in my changed role, I guess.

  13. JKS says:

    I love the freedom I have being a SAHM. I have made efforts to avoid feeling trapped at home, plus I feel valued in my marriage for my contributions and have plenty of financial power.
    I’m my own boss. I feel like I have accomplished much. I feel intellectually stimulated. I feel successful. I feel like I have a balance (my kids are 9,7, & 2 now). I have control over my life. My husband now makes enough money that we can eat out and I can spend money once in a while (which was not the case 7 years ago).
    Most importantly I don’t feel torn. I feel like I can devote my time to whatever is most important. I feel like I have enough time for my marriage. I feel like I have enough time to mother each one of my children individually. I feel like I have enough time to do things for myself. I feel like I have enough time to look around and do something for someone, or at church, or the community without taking away from something else. I even feel like I have enough time to get things done, like housework or bills.
    In 2.5 years my youngest will be in school. If we need the money, I am sure I can find a job that I would enjoy. But what if we don’t need the money? What about school breaks? What about when kids are sick? I think I’d get less free time for me. My house will be a lot messier.
    I think I will probably face some social pressure (and some internal pressure) that once my kids aren’t home all day. I’ll start thinking I’m not doing anything if my kids aren’t around. I’ll have to get some new confidence in my changed role, I guess.

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