Thursday, May 15, 2008

Book Review: Opting In by Amy Richards

When I first started reading Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself I was defensive and a little pissed off at Ms. Richards. I felt judged by her for my choice to stop working outside the home to be a full time mama and my reliance on my partner (a man) for my financial stability. After finishing the book (having skimmed the chapter on our relationship with our mothers) I don't feel judged, but I do feel a little inferior. Ms. Richards has a healthy career as writer and activist, mothers her sons, shares parenting and household maintenance with her partner, and maintains relationships with her girlfriends. I barely keep my house together, do most of the housework, do most of the parenting, and struggle to keep my dear friendships with my pre-motherhood friends. Did I mention that often its 10 p.m. (just in time for a good night kiss) before I realize that I haven't touched by partner since our morning good-bye?

Ok, I realize that these feelings are a projection, and this doesn't really count as a book review. But I have to air this out for my own sanity and through this process I'll shed some light on the book (I hope).

I think I'm like most mothers in these things. We struggle to keep life and home together and the people we love fed and cared for. Sure, I choose to be home full time, but the choice is more one of necessity considering the expense of daycare in our area and my meager non-profit salary. I just don't see how I am supposed to live all my progressive liberal values, like Ms. Richards proposes (or demands) in her (well-researched and insightful) book.

So what are these values?
  • Men and women are equal (but different)
  • Children deserve stability, love, age-appropriate educational experiences, and respect (among many other things)
  • Everyone deserves to live authentically with the support of their family/friends
  • Marriage isn't necessary for happiness
  • Respecting the earth through living greenly and consciously
  • Love is a verb
  • Things don't bring happiness
At this time, I'm stuck. I know that everything listed isn't a value exactly, but you get my drift. I'm your average white middle class educated liberal woman, well in some ways anyway. And after trying to list my values, I realize that I do live them in my own authentic way.

My partner and I are equals. We make decisions together about spending money, changing jobs, moving, parenting, household stuff, etc. We each have areas of dominion and expertise, but we value and respect the ideas and opinions of the other. We choose not to be married for several reasons (which I'll share in a future post). For us, for now, this works out well.

I actively pursue my own interests and relationships and encourage my partner to do the same. I volunteer for the local Birth Center. I am going to be walking in the Breast Cancer 3 Day in October with a couple of college friends. I organize a parents group. I cook and bake a lot because I want to. And occasionally I go out with friends on my own. My partner rides a motorcycle, participates in autocross events, and is way into his photography hobby. In other words, we have lives and interests separate from our family life and each other.

We live frugally, but spend money on the things we value like good food, a house in a friendly neighborhood, and cars (ok, he values those more than I do). But we don't go to the mall or shop online for fun. We don't buy much but food and necessities. We recycle and reuse whatever we can. We conserve. We re-use bags and bring our own.

As for parenting, I think we rock at it. Our son is smart, curious, friendly and happy. I spend quality time with him everyday playing in the yard, walking to the library, playdates, etc. My partner spends quality time with our son when he's home and O's awake. During the week it isn't much, but weekends are time for us together. Saturdays tend to be a day for family outings to the park, etc. We don't outsource his care to anyone really but his grandparents on occasion. Maybe that isn't wholly a positive.

So back to the book.....I like it. I have been challenged by it (obviously). I found the most value in the chapters about women's friendships and co-parenting. It's a book for women of my generation (X, I guess) who benefited from the struggles of our mothers and grandmothers to enter the workforce and have equal footing in society. We truly have the choice to stay home or head off to the factory or office. Although this choice is purely for the middle and upper classes; poorer women often work out of necessity. I do often feel, like Ms. Richards, that motherhood is undervalued and or disrespected in this country, despite all the hoopla around Mothers' Day. But until we demand the respect and rights we deserve (and desire), well, no one is going to give it to us. And I suppose this is what she means when she calls for us to live our values. We have to be ourselves so our children and other women see the diversity of valid choices and lifestyles. The more of us there are out there, the more of us there will be. We have to work together, speak truthfully and support one another. No more Mommy Wars, if there ever really was any.

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts.