“The world makes me feel like I’m bad at being a woman”

I know for a fact that if some of my friends could afford to stop working, they would.
I know for a fact that if some of my friends could afford to stop working, they would.
Image: Flickr/Clemens v. Vogelsang
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This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for nearly two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.

Kelly, 36

The world makes me feel like I’m bad at being a woman. Here’s my reality: I am an attractive and relatively in shape female in my mid-30s. I have young children for whom I employ a nanny and several babysitters. I also have a cleaning lady who comes in twice a month. My husband has a good job that puts us in a high-income bracket. We live in one of the wealthiest zip codes in America. I don’t work. And I don’t want to work. So why do I constantly feel that I need to defend my decisions?

Society has names and labels for women like me: Cinderella, bad feminist, gold digger, “do-nothing bitch.” When that book came out—the one about Park Avenue wives—one of my friends joked that it was written about me. I met my husband in college and he fit the description of the type of guy I wanted to marry—wealthy, ambitious, from a good family, etc. I didn’t grow up with big dreams and aspirations besides getting married and having children. So I went to college, got married, and I had children. I feel like I accomplished everything that I wanted.

But now I think that if I’m not 100% happy in my marriage, or happy being “just a mom,” that I’m ungrateful, or that I’ve failed. I want to be in my children’s lives, but I also want “me” time. I need to go to the gym to feel good about myself. I need to get my hair and nails done every once in a while so that I don’t feel run down. I need to call in a babysitter to take the kids off my hands even if I don’t have anything to do other than just sit around, watch Netflix, and polish off a bottle of wine.

I could get a job, but I don’t think that would make me happy. I don’t want to jump through hoops, working for someone who doesn’t appreciate me as an employee, doing something that makes me look forward to Friday every single week. You think being a stay-at-home mom is depressing? Waking up at 6 AM every morning to push yourself up a career ladder, only to end up anxiety-ridden and in your 40’s, dealing with misogyny in the workplace and no equal pay—I think that’s depressing.  Whatever I would make at my job, we’d probably end up paying the nanny, and some, so that she could watch the children full-time. It doesn’t make sense financially.

The thing is, when compared with what women are supposed to be doing—working on their careers, taking care of their children, being in happy relationships—you know, having it all, it looks like I’m doing nothing. But I know for a fact that if some of my friends could afford to stop working, they would. So all of this judgment feels a little superficial, it feels like jealousy disguised as a moral high ground.

I’ve thought about what would happen if my husband and I divorced. People ask me: what if he meets someone else? Or what if he leaves you? Wait a second, why is he automatically the one leaving me? Why do people assume that taking care of children makes you dependent on someone else, at mercy of their whims, and a victim to their errant sexual appetite? My decision to stay at home and raise my children doesn’t make me less than my husband, or less than other women. My ability to hire people to help me with these responsibilities doesn’t make me any worse of a mother, either.  

I feel like women are subject to this false dichotomy nowadays: you either have it all (successful career, marriage, kids) or you decide to be “just a mom” and abandon your career, your identity, yourself. People don’t realize that not every woman is Sheryl Sandberg. I wouldn’t have been leaning in, making millions, and writing bestsellers. I would have more likely been stressed out, worn down, and marginally successful. I certainly wouldn’t have been wealthy. I choose, instead, to be a stay-at-home mom. I choose slower days filled with little luxuries. I choose to leave my kids with the babysitter and have long date nights with my husband. I know that other women don’t necessarily get that choice — they have to work — and that’s where the jealousy and mom-shaming comes from. I don’t feel guilty for the life I live and the choices I’ve made. Make no mistake: this was a choice for me.