Forging a New Path despite the Stereotypes

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In the US, the assumption from the day my child was born has felt like I’d either a) surrender years of costly education and hard work to her and my partner OR b) essentially pay a nanny to be a third parent so I can ignore our home life and burn myself out at work. Both are incredibly disempowering.

“But isn’t option A what you want, you Housewife?” No, because I’m not a Housewife.

“But isn’t option B what you want, you Career Woman?” No, because I’m not a Career Woman.

I’m a human being, with accomplishments, goals, dreams, and aspirations. I’m a child of a Head Start pre-K teacher. She and my father both worked hard to afford private elementary school, a choice they felt was best for me at the time. I got into Bard, Bennington, and most of the other fancy “alternative” colleges, but my family couldn’t afford to send me there. So instead I worked my butt off in high school to earn myself a full ride at a public liberal arts college in Florida. When I wanted to pursue grad school to learn more about technology and move out of Florida, I took out a massive student loan that crippled me financially for the next 12 years. I finally paid it off, partly by doubling my salary within five years through grit, determination, and a real need to get out of that hole on my own. (And by my own, it also included a heaping cup of white privilege and marrying a cis white male partner, which in so doing doubled my income yet again.) I do not want to throw all of that away. 

I also do not want to ignore my child in favor of a job at which I am ultimately disposable, like all other “at-will” employees in this country. It is hard to describe how deeply I longed to have a child and hold her in my arms for years and years. The reality of parenthood is much harsher than the rosy image I had of it, sure, but I still cherish every moment and love her to the moon and back. Parenthood is an opportunity to me, not a burden. I’m not outsourcing one of the most joyful aspects of my life that I have planned and yearned for.

“Geez, you sound angry.” Yes, I am angry, as I should be. (Female anger is not something to be feared, by the way. Anger is an emotion like all of the others, and one that all mothers in this country are currently very much entitled to feel.)

Yet again we are dealing with a complete failure of our government to provide even a modicum of financial and emotional support for women. The underlying message? “Your life is not worth more than your output.” As Jill Filipovic wrote about much better than I could, “Free Female Labor is The Plan.”

When I heard about the “glass ceiling” in my 20s, I always imagined it was something that I would slowly rise up to and softly bump into. That has not been my experience. Instead it’s a heavy glass pane that gets slammed into your head, knocking you out, dizzying you. It’s been three years since my daugther was born and I’m still looking around in a daze and unsure of what the hell happened.

So what am I doing about all of this? Well, I started a community called Seattle Parents Club. It’s a free, open, and supportive space for parents of all genders and families of all shapes to join together online and off. We now have more than 60 wonderful members, and I hope you will join us if you live in the Seattle area.

I’m also doing my best to not go for option A or option B, but rather forge my own path away from both, towards Other, Not Pictured Here, etc… I want my daughter to see that the format of her life is not a few decades of achievements and infinite opportunities followed by a sudden narrowing of her choices, none of which fit. That’s not what any child should see when they look at the roadmap ahead of them. Watch this space, I suppose, in terms of what that “Other” really looks like. Again, I’m only human. I’m just figuring it out.

By the way, if this post seems hurried, it’s because it is. I formulated most of this in my head while taking a shower, as my husband rushed out the door to drop off our daughter at daycare. I’m writing and publishing these words in the approximately 15 minutes of free time I have between getting ready and starting work. Is that the ideal way our family’s mornings would be? No, but like I said, I’m still forging the path.

Heather Merrick


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