Friday, September 23, 2011

The Right to Bake

I’m going in again folks. Wading into that deep dark chiasm between the mother who leaves the house to work and the mother who doesn’t. It’s a topic that has the power to offend at the drop of a hat. I even offend myself most of the time.

Probably because there are endless opportunities to find out what the RIGHT way to be a parent/woman/worker is. There is no shortage of self-talk that makes us feel like someone else has got it all going on when we can’t even remember to wash our hair. Behold, the Super Woman who can do far more than you can!

In the past year, I have had to admit defeat on the working front and take up only those tasks that are close to home. I couldn’t do it all. Some might view this as quitting. I view it as sanity, for me, right now anyway.

I work on the farm. I cook for my kids. I wash clothes and sometimes sweep the floor. That’s about it folks. I recently turned down a job offer that could have allowed me back into the job fray but the cons far outweighed the pros in this scenario and home-bound I am once again.

Vicki Iovine in ‘Girlfriend’s Guide to Getting Your Groove Back’ wrote about how women CAN actually have it all. Just not all at the same time. Best description I ever heard of a woman’s conundrum in today’s world.

I snuck off to a movie the other day and saw the one with Sarah Jessica Parker called ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’. In it you will find a sequence of stereotypes positioned to outline all of the views that people seem to have of mothers in the working world. One from the guy that has a wife who does everything for him while his greatest trouble is picking out which golfing socks to wear. One from the single, workaholic woman who vows never to have children. The single mother friend at work weighs in. The stay-at-home mom who spends 6 hours at the gym each day has lots to say. The nanny who can be there for SJP’s kids when she is off at work voices her opinions.

I personally was offended by most of the characters, but particularly the stay-at-home mother. She was apparently always bringing home-made things for the bake sales (a sin, I now realize). She bought two of everything so she didn’t have to pack for trips to the country house. She seemed to judge anyone who would let a nanny raise their children. And was far better groomed than her working parent counterpart.

Firstly, if I remember correctly, I was far more likely to brush my hair when I was around other people in my work environment. My cows don’t seem to mind the dread lock look. Secondly, I do not have the privilege to buy two of everything because we have one less income to work with. Thirdly, MY KINGDOM FOR 6 HOURS AT A GYM EVERY DAY. Wow, the last time I intentionally got my heart rate up (above and beyond carrying buckets around) there was snow on the ground.

And last and my very favourite is that I have yet to see a correlation between how much home-cooking a gal likes to do and what her working arrangements are. I know people who work long, long hours who still make the time to bake bread and cookies. It is just what they do to unwind I imagine. I was one of those people. I recall bottling maple syrup the night before I was leaving on an early flight to Switzerland for work. That is just what I wanted to do.

And don’t think for a second that taking time to cook, process, bake or prepare food for you family is automatically quality time with the kids. Yes, on occasion we add and stir and grind and fry in a team effort. But the real processing gets done without help from my kids. The work is plentiful and steady and at best I can nip the tops from 20 pounds of beans while sitting with my kids on the porch or cut up tomatoes for sauce while they play on the swings in the yard.

I also know mothers who stay at home and choose to buy packaged foods (which can be healthy too – albeit expensive). They want to spend their time doing other stuff. Maybe keeping a clean house (which I most certainly do not) is more important to them. Others that leave all the cooking and cleaning for a nanny AND they stay at home too. Others who grow their own food but still eat processed stuff from the grocery store because they don’t always want to bother with it. I say, POWER TO YOU ALL LADIES!

Where along the way did we decide to chuck each other regularly under the bus for the choices we’ve made? Why do we have to feel so guilty for what we’re not doing? Worse yet, make judgments about those who do what we don’t want to? And why do I feel like I’m letting my fellow working-woman friend down for taking the time to make homemade food? Really?

There is no easy solution to the amount of work on a woman’s plate, whether on a farm or in a financial institution or in a home environment (or all three, for fun). There is no one right way to play out our lives and yet we are told repeatedly the socially correct way to do it.

I have even heard people lately scoffing at the mothers who buy ‘organic’ food. Like they are extremist types who go way overboard on the health thing. Again, people make their choices, spend their money and assess environmental impacts the way it sits well for them. There is not one right way. At least being righteous about it won’t change the world for the better. Its just going to lead to a lot of guilty, angry, offended women. And that’s not the kind of woman you want to mess with. Change, I believe, starts with the individual.

I for one would like not to be judged for choosing to prioritize stock-piling food for my family. I am no baker of pies. I stink at it actually. But I prefer to get any and all food from our farm because I know where it has come from and the price is more affordable. In the past five years this has looked like thousands of nutritious eggs, hundreds of liters of chemical free milk, hundreds and hundreds of pounds of omega-3 and vitamin D rich beef, pork and chicken meat because our animals live outside. These are my choices.

For decades women were made to feel that their work was meaningless. As our voice strengthened over the past century, we have been able to make different choices. Why now are we being deemed little homemakers with too much time on our hands for wanting to can or freeze or bake or ferment? Why would we undervalue the ability and skill it takes to bring quality food to our table? Why are we considered freaky for questioning the contents of food in a store? Why is it not okay to forage your way through the grocery store aisles and make the best possible choices there (especially as consumer demand is shifting what is available on those shelves)?

I don’t think this has anything to do with organic or stereotypes or hair-washing or time or nannies or jobs. It has everything to do with our inability to believe that what we choose to do with our day has any value. As women, we’ve worked hard for this right. Best thing we can do now is trust that our decisions are the best we can make for the time being. Even if our neighbour can pull off freshly baked pies for every single bake sale.

Hey, Lady. Whoever you are and whatever you do can we agree to let each other off the hook? In so many ways, I covet your life. I’m sure you wonder what it would be like to have mine. But trust me when I say that I’ve seen many sides (whether childless or no, city or country, job market or home, packaged or homemade, single or matched up) and one side is not inherently easier than the other. If anything, it really comes down to what you make of your lot.

There really is only one thing you can control and that is how you see your own situation. Live it, love it, change it, leave it but don’t tell someone else how it should go. At least not for the reason that you can’t make your own choices sit well.

Because everybody should have a right to bake a pie without judgment. Or buy the thing if that makes more sense.


  1. I, too, don't understand all the judgement. I had a friend the other day who pulled out a jar of (organic) baby food, and was berated by her other friends for not making her own baby food! Previous generations have fought for women to have choices, yet once we have them, we attack each other for our various preferences. I agree - someone needs to put a stop to this! Thanks for posting...I will share

  2. Amen sister! You have totally hit the nail on the head. Why do women ALWAYS seem to put each other down and judge each other's choices?

    I am a working mom. I try to bake as often as I can fit it in. I long to have chickens, a large garden and wash hanging on the clothesline. But the reality is that the chickens would likely all die of neglect, the garden would be overrun with weeds and the wash would hang there until it rotted away from rain.

    And that's got to be ok at this point in my life, because I can't do it all. I make the most responsible choices for myself and my family that I can. And I applaud the choices of other women everywhere. God bless you and your choices.

  3. I read a wonderful book years ago ( wish I could remember the title!) about sequencing. that we as women can have many things throughtout our life but a recipe for madness ( and breakdown !) comes from trying to have them all at once. It really resonated with me. I just can't and couldn't juggle babies and full time work outisde the home. I still now, with the baby stage long behind me, have to remind myself to REALLY look at all the activities( and relationships) I have and weed out those that are robbing me of energy. Quality over quantity. I know I am doing too much when I start to veer off into breakdown territory.
    I haven't seen the movie but I have heard similar remarks from others. I think extremism sells . But in real life people are rarely static for long. I stayed at home and homeschooled for close to a decade. Than I divorced and worked full time commutting two hours daily. Now I have scaled back my outisde work somewhat to part time organic farm. I see my life as constantly evolving and I wil play many more roles I am sure before I die.
    Enjoy your choices today! don't feel any need to defend them to anyone.Who knows where they will find themselves tomorrow?

  4. OH I so here that my youngest is in school, the question I get most is "so when are you going back to work?"..I guess I didn't read the exit memo when I decided to stay home from the corporate world, I think it must have had a time clause statement ;)
    I have no idea when I'm going back to what I do now doesn't count??
    I also don't have an immaculate appearance either, I can't have short hair cause then I couldn't put it up in a ponytail for 5 outta 7 days.
    Everyone makes choices based on the information they have, I try not to judge because I don't want someone judging me for my choices. good post.


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