by Kamyra L. Harding
In her column MY FINAL FRONTIER Kamyra Harding uses humor and personal experience to explore parenting and family from a womanist perspective. Kamyra has a fifteen year track record of service in not-for-profit management and administration. She has worked with a variety of organizations including the United Nations Association of the USA and the American Red Cross in Greater New York. Kamrya resides in New York City with her husband and son.
Dear Womanist In The House:
Thanks for your essay about being an African-American, work-at-home, woman is I get it and respect your decision. I’m glad that you made a point of saying you don’t judge other people’s choices. But, where’s the voice of Black women who don’t have the financial or temperamental ability to stay at home?
In The spirit Of Motherhood,
Thanks for contacting me. Let me begin by saying you’re not voiceless. I know you don’t have spare time but please read I’m Every Woman by Lonnae O’Neal Parker. This book speaks to and about you. In it Parker gives voice to African-American women who are so busy doing it all that they don’t have time to participate in their Caucasian counterparts’ Mommy Wars. Thanks for respecting my decision. Who knows? If child care, equal pay for equal work and other political issues were agreeable, I may have made another choice.
There’s more to this discussion than our circumstances. The African-American community is diverse. We vary in every aspect a community can; including types of mothers who raise our children. Whether you’re a biological, adoptive or relative (aunty, grandmother etc.) mother, you work hard. Not only may you work outside of the home but you probably take care of most of the house work and child rearing. Despite employment status, women still are chiefly responsible for domestic duties. As Ann Crittenden explores in The Price of Motherhood, “the majority of American mothers are still primarily engaged in the oldest economy in the world: the household.”
Mothers are everywhere. Many women are employed outside of the home for pay. Their time is consumed by working on the job and in the home. They rarely have time for things such as volunteering and exercising. These women fall into two broad groups: Careerist Moms and Moms with Jobs. Careerist Moms are absorbed in careers that are a part of their identity. Moms with Jobs work for money not personal fulfillment. Socio-economic situations make that decision. Women in these groups demonstrate their love by earning salaries that provide for their families.
Other women work in the home without monetary pay. There is incredible variety within this lifestyle. Some are Trophy Moms. Yes. There are Black ones. These sexy sirens serve as their husband’s accessories. They have paid help to care for children and home. A Trophy Mom’s primary responsibility is to keep her husband happy.
The opposite of the Trophy Mom is the Ultra Mom. She directs all of her attention toward her children. Her time is filled shuttling kids to activities. Her mission is to raise superior beings. She’ll use every resource at her disposal to achieve this. She employs staff for housework but insists on close involvement with the children. Ultra Moms are so busy that they often forget they have spouses.
Although they are the target of jokes Crafty Moms exist. These women cook four course meals, served on homemade pottery, which rests on table cloths they crochet. When asked if she feels pressure to maintain an immaculate home, she cheerfully responds, “cooking and cleaning relax me.” Employing domestic staff is not an option for her. Crafty Moms view men as decoration.
Most women are Try Hard Moms. When there is time, they cook what they can, with whatever is found in the kitchen. A Try Hard mom takes her kids to convenient activities. If finances allow she employs sitters and housekeepers to help her accomplish more. She tries to make time for her husband and constantly feels guilty about neglecting someone or something.
In rapidly increasing numbers two types of mothers are joining the ranks of White mommies. African-American women have been fulfilling these roles for generations. They are Work-From-Home Moms and Flexible Work Hours Moms. Work-From-Home Moms are employed in their homes. Their jobs range from taking in laundry to editing manuscripts. These women are motivated by earning money and/or preserving careers while being home with their families. Flexible Work Hours Moms integrate all aspects of their lives. In addition to managing homes, they work in the office part-time and from home during evenings and weekends. They are driven by the need to be with children during critical hours. To the degree that they can afford it, their domestic machines include a mix of sitters, day care and housekeepers. Both of these women are in constant communication with their partners.
Today, a significant number of African-American women can elect to be work-at-home or work-for-pay mothers. This is a mixed blessing. We’re proud of our careers. We also rejoice in being fortunate enough to opt out of paid work. This is a modern problem. Most of our forbearers had to work for meager pay.
Let’s suspend talk about financial considerations, child care politics and inequitable pay. With those topics in the background a woman asks herself hoards of questions before deciding what is best for her family. Should I work full-time, for pay while raising a family? Should I manage our lives as a work-at-home mother? Perhaps I can work part-time, consult, or freelance? I could take time off then return to employment; or, strategically maneuver in and out of paid employment. How about running a home-based business? There’s a dizzying array of options.
After soul searching, research, analysis and guessing, each woman selects an option. Yet we’re insecure. Is this best for me and my family? What does it teach my children? Am I honoring those who came before me? What about individuals judging me? In her MSNBC.com article “To Work or Not? A Dilemma for Many Moms,” Dr. Gail Saltz outlines factors parents should ponder when considering employment paths. One to heed is, “Avoid Decisions Based on Other People’s ‘Shoulds.’” People are generous with unsolicited advice. Family and friends blurt out their criticisms. Cocktail party conversants become silent when a woman mentions that she does not work for pay. PTA members whisper when they learn that another labors more than forty hours per week away from home. Everyone has an opinion. Few are constructive.
The collective Black family must stop judging. Support one another; no matter how divergent our perspectives. There are many reasons a woman stays home or works outside the home. Most of us engage in daily evaluation of our choice.
No two mothers are identical. Comparisons are anti-productive. Pledge to do what is best for your family. Then embark on your unique journey. This is an on-going procedure. Be flexible and open when finding your comfort zone. It will change as your family evolves. I am grateful to our ansisters for sacrificing so that we may grapple with such issues. The only dishonorable thing we can do is waste this gift of self-determination.
NOTE: Also read about life through the eyes of Kamyra’s son, “Garnet Paul Harding”, as interpreted by Kamrya: Garnet’s Journal: Types of Kids!