I've been feeling very ranty lately, and for awhile I really couldn't figure out why. Ed and I don't really have fights, so there's no instability in our marriage. We don't have roommates, so there's no internal instability in our home due to other people. I'm underemployed, but I'm not working retail or shift work, and the job I do have is something I'd like to continue doing, albeit on a full-time basis; the only instability there is that I never quite know from one semester to the next if or how many classes I'll be teaching, yet once the school year starts, I can sub as much as I'd like, so I'm still employed in some capacity, and Ed has a good job that provides health insurance; between our two jobs we're making a go of it. Our single biggest stressor - finances - has been largely eliminated, so while we're still watching what we spend, we're not nearly in as difficult a position as we were even even three months ago.
I realized today, though, that what has me on continued edge is my own personal need to have a career. We don't have children right now - having them, either biologically or via adoption is never a guarantee - but there's a very strong culture here of traditional gender roles, especially in a marriage. The wife and mother is expected not only to stay home, but expected to want to stay home, while the husband, being the head of the family, is expected to be the breadwinner (an antiquated notion, if ever there was one). I have issues with this for several reasons.
Two caveats, though: If a wife and mother wants to stay home, genuinely wants to stay home because it's what the parents decide is the best decision, and they're interested in doing so, then I say, right on. Either parent staying home is possibly one of the most beneficial things a parent can do for the child. You can be responsible your child's burgeoning education and be there to witness milestones, as well as control the child's schedule, etc.
The other side of that, which I've mentioned elsewhere, is that often the parents don't have the option of either parent staying home: As is often the case, two paychecks are needed. Not everyone parents with young children lives close to extended family, so there's not always the option of a grandparent or retired aunt or uncle to care for the child. And to complicate things even more, often one parent's salary would not cover the cost of increasingly expensive daycare, so one has to balance what the lesser-earning parent earns with the cost of daycare or pre-school. If two parents have to work, then two parents have to work. If one parent isn't earning enough not only to cover the cost of daycare or pre-school, with having some left over, then the second parent working doesn't help.
It's the intensity of the expectation placed on the wife and mother staying home that bothers me most. What I almost feel guilty about is not feeling guilty for needing to work. I need a paycheck of my own, to feel that I'm financially contributing to my family, in whatever small way I can. No matter what anyone does, no matter what we decide, someone will think we're doing it wrong; someone will disagree. But I have yet to meet any other woman who has children who feels that need to work as well.
Some women feel strongly that they need children, and that's their life's goal. I don't feel that. I'd like the experience of raising a child or two with my husband, but I don't feel my life would be incomplete if I didn't have children. I'd feel my life would be incomplete if I didn't have my own career.
And, really, teaching is a fantastic career to have when one has children: Since my schedule will be aligned to our children's, we won't have to worry about long-term day care, either during the summer or holidays; adjuncting would be especially great for that - putting the child in daycare twice a week instead of for the entire week. I'd get home (or could arrange to be home, if I'm still adjuncting) at a reasonable time such that we'd have time together as a family. I don't see that I have to make a choice between motherhood and having a career.