When I was growing up, I remember witnessing the inevitable weirdness that always happened when people would ask my mom what she did. The awkwardness was never on my mom's end, of course — she'd simply smile and proudly say that she was a stay-at-home mom. But more often than not, people would respond by giving her praise that sounded more like judgement. "Oh, God, you're a saint. If I had to stay home all the time I'd go crazy." Or "It's so nice you can do that, if I didn't work I'd get so bored!" Like my mom ever had time to be bored. Most days, she was so busy keeping up with me and my siblings that she didn't even get to sit down until my dad got home from work.
Unfortunately, although our culture idealizes domesticity in women, it also often condemns it as regressive and anti-feminist. Perhaps it's because, for so long, women weren't given a choice as to whether they wanted to focus on being a mom or career. Perhaps it's because of the pressure to "have it all," or maybe it's because being a stay-at-home mom doesn't come with a salary. Whatever it is, it's condescending and backward and it needs to stop. Because stay-at-home moms can be just as feminist as the most career-driven of women — and my mom is the perfect example.
When people start to talk about feminist role models it’s usually visions of Hilary Clinton, Beyoncé, Emma Watson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Gloria Steinem that dance in their heads. And while all of those people are fantastic feminist role models of mine, the person I really want to write about is my first ever feminist role model — my mom.
Here are 10 ways my stay-at-home mom made me the feminist I am today.
1. She Pursued Exactly What She Wanted
Building and nurturing a family was always my mom’s dream, and I've always been proud of her for sticking to that goal, despite the pressure she undoubtedly felt to work and run a home. I know some women (like myself) cringe at the thought of being a stay-at-home mom, but my mom grew up wanting to be one more than anything — and she went for it. Plus, she was really good at it. To me, that’s just as feminist as running a billion-dollar company.
2. She Had The Strength To Leave An Unhealthy Marriage
Before my mom met my dad, she married the wrong guy, and it was horrible for her. I know how hard it can be to say goodbye to a boyfriend, so I can’t imagine how much harder it would be to say goodbye to a husband. But I’m so happy she had the strength and courage to leave that situation, regardless of the challenges involved. She wasn't afraid to admit she’d made a mistake, and her example has helped me leave some crappy relationships too.
3. She Taught Me To Be Body Positive
My mom has always encouraged me and my siblings to love our bodies and be kind to them. She never pressured my sister and me to wear makeup or shave our legs or diet. And she didn't push my brother to bulk up and play sports. Instead, she just encouraged us to be healthy and treat our bodies with respect.
While lots of my friends' mothers often commented that they and their daughters needed to slim down, my mom always focused on health rather than appearance. She taught my siblings and I about the importance of elevating our heart rates each day, and she taught us how to plant, tend, harvest, and prepare our own vegetables. Also, she almost always wore her hair natural — and thanks to her example, so do I.
4. She Educated Herself And Her Family
I don’t know how she did it, but my mom home schooled me and my two siblings from K-12, and she did a fantastic job. We read constantly, and she taught us about all religions even though we were an extremely Christian family. Several nights a week, she’d read aloud to the whole family from books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, instead of just throwing on a movie and allowing herself some much needed alone time.
Plus, before she married my dad and started creating us, my mom got a bachelor’s degree in nursing so she could provide for herself and her family if/when she needed to.
5. She's Never Been Afraid To Speak Her Mind
My mom is super sweet, but she’s never been afraid to say what she’s really thinking — and I couldn't be more grateful for that. Once, when I seriously considered getting back into a relationship that literally made me sick, she told me flat out to not be an idiot. And when I almost enrolled in graduate school solely because I was embarrassed of my post-college service job, she encouraged me not to throw money at my insecurities, but to keep writing instead.
She’s always told me to do, think, and say what’s right for me rather than seeking the approval or permission of others. Her openness has taught me to speak my mind and live my life honestly.
6. She's Never Pressured Me To Marry Or Have Kids
A lot of moms obsess over when they’re going to have grand-kids to play with, but my mom has never made me feel like my biological clock is ticking. She’s never pushed me to find a husband either — which is good, because the thought of being married with kids terrifies me right now.
7. She's Always Supported My Career Pursuits
No one has been a bigger supporter of my professional writing goals than my mom, and her support has made all the difference. I can’t tell you how many times I called her up during my quarter life crisis, literally bawling over the fact that a part-time serving gig was the best job I could get over a year after I had graduated with my bachelor's. But rather than enabling me or just telling me to grow up, my mom told me to be patient, work hard, and keep my eyes peeled for something better. Her straight talk motivated me to stop wallowing in self-pity and get to work, and now I’m actually getting paid to do what I love.
8. She Taught Me How To Enjoy Being Alone
My mom made sure me and my siblings weren't the kind of kids who went around whining about being bored. We had plenty of time with our friends of course, but my mom taught us that alone time is precious and crucial to figuring yourself out. So we learned to love alone time and use it to either chill, meditate, enjoy nature, be creative, or educate ourselves. Now, I actually get grumpy if I don’t have at least a little alone time each day.
9. She Didn't Push Me to Be 'Girly'
As an adult, I love girly stuff — but as a kid, dressing up in bright pink and ruffles was my personal hell. Fortunately, my mom pretty much only encouraged me to dress up on Sundays. Otherwise, she let me run around barefoot in t-shirts and cutoff jeans, without ever making me feel like I was less feminine for it.
10. She Taught Me There Is No One Way To Be A Feminist
My mom has always taught me and my sister that whether we chose the traditional route of getting married and having kids, or we chose to focus on career and travel — or both — it would only be the right decision if it was our decision. Because there is no one way to be a feminist, and my mom is living proof of that.