The previous post has me thinking a bit more about whether my feelings regarding being a SAHM are specific to New York City. I can’t answer that question because this is the only place I’ve lived as a mother. But I do think that those of you who suggested as much might be onto something.
Let me set the record straight: I love being a stay-at-home. I know that I’m lucky. If I have ever given anyone the impression that I’m ungrateful, I’m sorry about that. (Keep in mind, however, we sacrificed a mortgage and a home of our own to be able to do this.) My only frustration is that I wish that more moms were able to stay home. That’s the cultural aspect of this problem I wish we could change. I think America’s families are far too strapped.
I still stand behind my statements regarding feminism, culture and motherhood. I do believe that we must work hard to make sure that mothers who choose to (were able to) stay home with their children are given more options regarding community. I do think that there is some anger directed at women who gave up office jobs in order to stay home with their kids.
I also don’t think there is equality between men and women in the workforce. Until that happens, I think women are going to feel less likely to want to stay home with their children (even if they can) because (other than the obvious reason of spending time with their kids) there is no real incentive to do so—no payback.
There’s no easy fix to this. There’s no one way to look at it. And I think it’s safe to say that every single one of us will have a different opinion on the matter.
I recently had lunch with a friend whose sister has spent her entire life in a wheelchair. Her name is Sunny Taylor. Sunny once lived in New York City. Getting around for her—like, living a normal life—was very difficult. She is very outspoken when it comes to just how difficult it was and can be.
For example, the curb cuts in New York City are terrible. And just entering businesses posed a huge problem for Sunny. (There have been numerous times where Sunny was unable to join friends at a restaurant or pub due to the lack of handicap accessible doorways. In fact, the first time I met Sunny, I had to step outside into the cold in order to speak with her.) Forget about using the subway system here, out of the few elevators we are offered, many are either out of order or stink of human excrement. And don’t get me started about Access-A-Ride drivers. They are notorious for being some of the angriest, most reckless drivers on our streets.
Eventually, Sunny moved to the Bay Area, where the standards are much higher when it comes to handicap accessibility, more so than any other major U.S. city.
The most interesting part of our conversation, however, took place when my friend compared my life as a mother (toting a stroller around) to that of her sister’s. Her statement floored me.
I’m not, for a second, equating motherhood to being confined to a wheelchair. That’s reckless, shallow and a little crazy. But I am suggesting (as was my friend) that we often face the same lack of consideration in city planning and infrastructure.
Before I became a mother, I never gave curbs much thought. Before I became a mother, I never thought about the height of steps, how heavy a door might be for me to open, or whether or not a certain sewer was prone to clogging. Now? I anticipate these things before I even leave the house. And before, if I was met with an obstacle in my imaginary walk, I would stay in to avoid it. But that felt like giving up. It’s also quite alienating, so I got over that hurdle and now I just deal with it.
I think New York City is a bit of an ageist. She’s accepting of many cultures and religious beliefs, but she doesn’t really like the elderly, the handicap or the very young. These three groups of people have several things in common: they either aren’t (or can’t be) in a hurry; it takes them longer to get places; and they often rely on help from the people around them, ie. a community.
New York doesn’t like that, culturally speaking.
Moms fall into this group as well. You see, when it comes to a person in a wheelchair, people tend to apply pity onto that person even if they don’t want pity. (Although, I have seen my fair share of soulless bastards get annoyed even at a handicapped person for taking too long to get on a bus.) But for a mother? For someone with a child in a stroller? To have compassion for a breeder? A person given a choice? Nuisance! Get out of my way!
I’ve noticed two things re: the stroller issue.
(1) It bothers me to be in people’s way a lot more than it bothers my mother and mother in law. I will fold up the stroller and carry him and it in my arms when in a small store, just to avoid causing trouble. My mother in law will blithely block doorways and aisleways unless someone asks her to move, with nary a care. I used to think she was a little rude, but now I think she’s right. We have a right to be there. We will move if politely asked, otehrwise, people can go around us.
(2) Because of the above, I always carry him in a front pack. I carry a backpack to put stuff in. As you said, it’s a lot of weight on my shoulders. I should embrace your mantra to care a lot less.
I too became much more aware of disabled access since I had a baby and I love disabled buttons on doors. It is shocking how little access they have and think local districts should really do more for there disabled – not just parking but getting onto sidewalks and into buildings. For me with a stroller it is sometimes already hard enough to do – especially keeping a door open (butt first), but how people with wheelchairs do it I do not know. I’ll soon have a double stroller which is going to be really interesting to navigate through doors – I’m going to make a list of all the places that has automatic or disabled buttons and just stick to those stores I guess.
One of the biggest reasons we moved was how physically and emotionally exhausting it was just for me to get to and from work, and just get around in the city. There came a point where it just wasn’t worth it anymore, and in our initial discussions about having kids, we pretty much came to the conclusion that there was NO WAY we could do it while in NYC.
I give all of you regular folks who do it without the benefit of a staff of helpers a *boatload* of credit.
I think it’s a bummer that there aren’t more considerations for mothers with young children, but it’s not surprising since I’m guessing not too many city planners are young mothers.
That said, man do I have a beef with strollers, specifically giant strollers. Much in the way that I don’t believe public places should be built to accommodate very obese people, giant strollers deserve no more allowance. And most times the person charioting such a vessel expects me to yield to his or her monstrosity. Regular strollers are fine, but the huge ones befuddle me. Why? I’d imagine they’re more of pain for the person pushing it too!
Just for the record, I’m not yet a mother, but it is my intention and I’m the oldest of 5, the youngest two I potty trained… I love kids. I love parents. I just don’t like inconsiderate people!
A couple comments:
1. Strollers. I think your comparison to disabled access issues is right on. I always tried to use the smallest, umbrella stroller whenever I sent to NYC with my daughter. We took the bigger one the first time and it was so cumbersome and we almost had massive accidents a few times that never did it again. The small ones, though, don’t have room for all the baby gear, so there is another problem. Even if you minimize the gear, moms need to be prepared for anything – food, diapers, bottles, food, entertainment, meds, change of clothing, warmth, etc. And I only had one kid. If one has 2 or more small children, the stroller is just going to be huge, it is a given.
2. As I’ve said and from my own very unscientific research, it is much harder to be a SAHM in a big urban area. Suburban areas have large communities of SAHMs and the workers are the minority so the SAHMs have a lot more power. (But there is a common thread I’ve found with urban and suburban SAHMs – they all feel that society doesn’t value what they do.) All that being said, though, I think there is also a personality component to consider. I was isolated because I lived in a big urban area and because few of my peers were having kids at the time I was…but also because I don’t have the joiner personality. I chafed in mommy groups, I avoided large playgroups like the plague because I largely found them insufferable. How often can I talk about poop and schools and look at moms who seem so calm and they all have super supportive husbands and they seem not to have a care in the world except what school they’re going to get their kids into? I don’t feel like I fit in even when I try. (a common theme in my life, I suppose) Maybe it was because I didn’t have strong connections to those women. Things are different here now, I have a regular Friday night dinner play date with one of my best friends and her daughter and we have a blast.
Not sure what my point is here…I’m extra extra scattered lately…
I lived in the Bronx for a year and thought about how I could never settle down there because I couldn’t imagine the obstacles in trying to parent small children there. You’ve spoken about much of this.
I now live in a town that’s a mix of urban and suburban feel; it’s walkable, there are buses, but largely people have cars. There is an excellent family community here. As a SAHM I am well-supported, but I also would be as a WOHM. It’s a great town.
Still, there are obstacles, specifically the strollers, unshoveled sidewalks and a lack of curb cuts on some streets makes me choose my path carefully. I am a babywearer much of the time as well, but then what are we met with? That terrible Motrin ad (find it on YouTube) and comments about whether my baby can breathe under there.
Like living in a foreign country where customs are different or you don’t speak the language fluently, toting a child makes you plan everything out a little more carefully and the most mundane things, like dropping off dry cleaning, take a lot longer.
I’ve noticed all these things even just as a babysitter, and it’s made me a lot more accomodating of moms with kids on the bus and subway. The one thing I will say is that once we are just walking around or going places on the upper west side, people are usually very accomodating–definitely more child-friendly than midtown, which is where her daycare used to be.
In terms of physically traversing around the city, I completely agree. I too have thought about people trying to get around in a wheelchair. Very few subway stations have elevator access – and those that do, well, you have to hope the elevator is working.
That said, our kids won’t be in strollers forever. There comes a time where the child can walk up/down stairs holding mom’s hand, allowing the whole family to be more flexible in navigating the city.
The city offers so much culturally to kids that you can’t get elsewhere — the museums, concerts, etc go without saying. But what about the totally urban (and fun) things like ‘Baby Loves Disco?’ I don’t think you find things like that in suburbia.
We’ve learned our own tricks in maneuvering around town – it’s not easy but much more doable than when we were new parents. We plan to stay for a while, it works for us!