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Listen up, ladies. New York Magazine has some good news for you.
It’s easy to balance family and career. All you have to do is ditch the career completely, hurl yourself into a classically prefeminist, fifties-era version of motherhood and wifehood (updated with details like nose studs and hoodies), and declare that that is your career. Done. Onward to climate change!
Meet Kelly Makino, a postgraduate-trained social worker who once aspired to run a nonprofit. She is now the 33-year-old mother of two young children, and her perspective has shifted completely:
She [now] believes that every household needs one primary caretaker, that women are, broadly speaking, better at that job than men, and that no amount of professional success could possibly console her if she felt her two young children—Connor, 5, and Lillie, 4—were not being looked after the right way. The maternal instinct is a real thing, Kelly argues: Girls play with dolls from childhood, so “women are raised from the get-go to raise children successfully. When we are moms, we have a better toolbox.” Women, she believes, are conditioned to be more patient with children, to be better multitaskers, to be more tolerant of the quotidian grind of playdates and temper tantrums; “women,” she says, “keep it together better than guys do.”
Behold the gung-ho Donna Reed:
She has given herself over entirely to the care and feeding of her family. Undistracted by office politics and unfettered by meetings or a nerve-fraying commute, she spends hours upon hours doing things that would make another kind of woman scream with boredom, chanting nursery rhymes and eating pretend cake beneath a giant Transformers poster. Her sacrifice of a salary tightened the Makinos’ upper-middle-class budget, but the subversion of her personal drive pays them back in ways Kelly believes are priceless; she is now able to be there for her kids no matter what, cooking healthy meals, taking them hiking and to museums, helping patiently with homework, and devoting herself to teaching the life lessons—on littering, on manners, on good habits—that she believes every child should know.
Her husband is also benefiting from her exclusive focus on the family:
Kelly keeps a list of [her husband Alvin’s] clothing sizes in her iPhone and, devoted to his cuteness, surprises him regularly with new items, like the dark-washed jeans he was wearing on the day I visited. She tracks down his favorite recipes online, recently discovering one for pineapple fried rice that he remembered from his childhood in Hawaii. A couple of times a month, Kelly suggests that they go to bed early and she soothes his work-stiffened muscles with a therapeutic massage. “I love him so much, I just want to spoil him,” she says.
Now, one could certainly argue that these choices are themselves feminist — indeed, one of the more exasperating elements of feminism has long been its rejection of the validity of these choices. But the premise of the article is not that Kelly is making a choice at all, but that she is rather brilliantly fusing one choice into the other. She has not denied herself anything; she’s simply slapped the “career” label on her home life.
This semantic sleight-of-hand doesn’t make it off the first page of the article, though. Career remains the thing you throw overboard when you decide your family comes first. “I want my daughter to be able to do anything she wants,” Kelly explains. “But I also want to say, ‘Have a career that you can walk away from at the drop of a hat.’ ”
All righty then. Just make sure you keep reassuring yourself that you’re better than the women who trod both the career and the domestic paths before you. “This is not the retreat from high-pressure workplaces of a previous generation but rather a more active awakening to the virtues of the way things used to be,” the magazine says. “The harried, stressed, multiarmed Kali goddess, with a laptop in one hand and homemade organic baby food in the other, has been replaced with a domestic Madonna, content with her choices and placid in her sphere…Home, to these women, is more than a place to watch TV at the end of the day and motherhood more than a partial identity. It is a demanding, full-time endeavor, requiring all of their creativity, energy, and ingenuity.” Videlicet Kelly:
Kelly loved her old profession and does not want to be painted as betraying the goals of feminism. She prefers to see herself as reaching beyond conventional ideas about what women should do. “I feel like we are evolving into something that is not defined by those who came before us,” she says. By making domesticity her career, she and the other stay-at-home mothers she knows are standing up for values, such as patience, and kindness, and respectful attention to the needs of others, that have little currency in the world of work. Professional status is not the only sign of importance, she says, and financial independence is not the only measure of success.
And if you’re the kind of woman who still can’t wrap her mind around making domesticity her career — well, sorry, sister. For you, it’s back to square one.