By Allison Chrien
Long before my kids were born, I knew I could never be a traditional working mom.
The mere thought of the logistics involved in making sure the kids were covered and the shopping was done and dinner was ready to eat before bedtime sent me into panic mode. (I actually really like to grocery shop and to cook but, hey, rush me and accidents are likely to happen.) And given that I’d spent a few too many years in college studying cultural anthropology and never really got an actual career beyond retail management off the ground, I was never going to make enough money to cover childcare and make it worth all the stress.
And I’m not gonna lie, there was a little bit of a control issue there – I knew my kids would grow up to have issues stemming from their childhood, what with being human and all, and I knew myself well enough to know I wouldn’t be able to handle having anyone else to blame for those issues beyond myself and my husband.
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But I also knew myself well enough to know I was going to need to define my self-worth in a way that didn’t involve my kids. Otherwise, my entire perfectionist self would be laser-focused on them and that would almost certainly turn out badly for everyone.
So, when my youngest started kindergarten and I had a little more time on my hands, I started exploring the middle ground. I needed something I could do from home, in my own time. Something that would allow me the flexibility to be available for my kids as needed throughout the day yet still made me feel like I was contributing something to the world beyond my home (not to mention our household income).
There wasn’t much middle ground to explore. It mostly consisted of scams and direct sales and I try to avoid getting into both. More power to those people for whom direct sales is the perfect fit. I’ve known and celebrated a fair number of those people, but I always knew it wouldn’t be a good fit for me.
I started out trying a craft business for a while and then one thing led to another until finally, after about a decade and a half of learning to balance what I wanted to be and needed to be and was capable of being when I grew up, I found my calling in my late 40s as a small business owner helping people find the small businesses (currently around half of which are women-owned, I might add) in and around my community.
My point telling you all this?
There is no doubt whatsoever that the pandemic has had an immediate and devastating effect on matters of gender equality that will have long-term repercussions. Moms have been hit so hard their grandchildren will feel it. To be clear, this is not a truth I care to minimize in any way, shape or form. It is a truth that needs to be discussed at length in board rooms and book clubs, in media outlets and men’s locker rooms, and smack-dab in the middle of political meetings, playdates, and poker games.
But I cannot deny that I’m an eager optimist who’s still a cultural anthropologist at heart, and so I’ve found myself constantly on the lookout for positive signs that this period of upheaval will result in great strides for gender equality overall, particularly as it relates to parenthood.
And I’m happy to say that there are positive signs to be found.
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There are the obvious ones like seeing the number of women in Congress inching up yet another notch and (fair warning, I’m going to shout in jubilation for just a sec here) HAVING A FEMALE VICE PRESIDENT IN WASHINGTON FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER. It’s become increasingly normal to see women filling higher levels of traditionally male roles in everything from government to sports and beyond, and that type of representation matters.
Another sign that I personally love and maybe hasn’t been given nearly the attention it deserves? That it’s also become increasingly normal to see men filling traditionally female roles in everything from housework to childcare and beyond. And that type of representation matters, too.
There’s been a steadily growing shift in cultural expectations for men and as a self-proclaimed feminist mom of two boys, I am totally here for it. I’m grateful to have more of society backing up what I’ve been telling my boys for nearly two decades: that they can be sweet and nurturing as well as strong and commanding, that they can be as good at cleaning the toilet as replacing it, and that being a stay-at-home dad is just as much reason for pride as being president of the United States (sometimes even more so).
And now, here we are with a pandemic barging its way into the mix, with its quarantines that force increased work-from-home options, an all-hands-on-deck call for help with remote schooling, and advances in technology, systems and procedures to support it all.
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got a long way to go. But, still. Progress.
In fact, some companies are already saying that having employees working from home is working out so well for them that the changes will be permanent. Cities are trying to figure out how to handle the potential long-term reduction in tax revenue. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there have been several times lately when at least half the people I saw in the grocery store were men.
All of this and we haven’t even brought up the non-binary trends which speak to a greater acceptance of diversity in all areas of life than ever before…
It truly appears safe to hope that as the dust settles, there will continue to be an increase in options for parents looking for jobs that allow them to stay home and that those parents will not necessarily be moms.
The middle ground I spent so long exploring is definitely showing positive signs of expanding nicely. Now I just hope that my boys get the opportunity to enjoy it.
Allison Chrien finally found her work-from-home calling through loopincopley.com, her small business that helps people find small businesses.
Photo by Paula Meeker Photography