Sunday, January 26, 2014

Our Generation's Women

Generation X's women. The women in our generation have some major identity traps to slog through. Here's an example. Since I was a young child, people emphasized to me that I would go to college, that I could be whatever I wanted to be, that the idea of being a housewife was totally not cool, that if I learned how to be domestic, it would be used against me, AND that I would be a mother, and a great mother, especially since I had a great mother and since I was a teacher, well educated, socially and environmentally conscious, etc. etc.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the Lean-In/Opt Out idea around career and parenting. I've been working up to reading Lean In. This debate is interesting to me, but bigger than that, on my mind are the visions of future that we grow up with and how that shapes our choices. How we were so liberated compared to the women before us, but we have liberated ourselves into new boxes.

I find myself at home (mostly) with a toddler, working about two days a week, which pays for the student loans I needed to get a masters degree, in order to dedicate myself to teaching. I'm not teaching (officially) now, and while it may be a blip in the big picture of my career, what if it wasn't? Why would it have been so wrong for me to plan for being a mom? Why do people scoff at those who have the goal of being a stay-at-home parent? Sure, I might feel ready to go back to work after a few years, but it will be hard to feel I'm giving my child enough time after a full day, a full week of work. Even parents of school-aged children find it hard to do everything. What if someone's career goal was to be the best mom ever? Why has my generation set that up as being so wrong?

Yesterday I worked what would be a regular shift that I'd potentially be going back to next fall, and I was gone from 7:30-5:15 (with transport time and rush hour traffic). That seems like an awfully long time to be away from a toddler. Neither my husband or I have the types of jobs where we can adjust our own schedules or cut back by one day. Working part time may not be an option for me next year. These must be the types of obstacles discussed in the Lean In conversation. Oh, also, there's the fact that an executive assistant and a  teacher's salary do not pay for full time child care, housecleaning, professional cook, et al. Something has to give. I wonder what it will be.

Instead of complaining about the details of my life, it was my intention to express that these hard decisions are not part of the equation when dreaming of your future life as a mother/professional woman/wife/independent superstar. Oh, and don't even get me started on the notion of staying fit and svelte, keeping your marriage exciting, and perhaps having a hobby. Writing a book? Hmm. A big fat advance would do the job.

Some women who grew up with the ideas that I did  have chosen not to have kids. This is a more and more common choice these days, which I think is grand, for a few reasons. Mostly, when people are CHOOSING intentionally what they want in their lives, everyone is happier. This is made easier by a society that puts a bit less pressure on baby making than it used to do. Ideally, we all have the right AND ability to choose to make our lives our own. That, of course, is predicated on the assumption that we are able to get what we want, without life choosing for us.

Some women in my generation have chosen to focus on their careers early, and put kids off for later. Some of them were in the right situation at the right time, everything fell into place, they had a flexible job, a partner, financial security, and they went ahead and had those kids. Others, like me, have most, but not all of these elements (we are still renting and financially, we could be in a much better place). Others who dreamed of a family have not had all of these elements at the right time, were without a partner or so entrenched in work they didn't see a way out, looked up and noticed that time had passed them by, and are not having kids, not so much as an intentional choice, but because of circumstances.

In some studies I read, student loans were a reason that some people chose not to have kids. I'm sure it's more complicated than that, but now that we have a kid AND our substantial student loans, I can see the reasoning. We will be paying ours off forever; how will we help our own kid with college?

These dilemmas were not in my "Barbie Dream House" pretend scenarios, or even in my college "what will I major in and how will I spend my life" quanderies. We were given the impression that if we worked hard for ourselves, lived independently and not for some man, built up a career, then we would find the balance when we were ready to have kids. Maybe I still will, but let me tell you, this isn't exactly what I thought I'd be thinking right now.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. How did you envision your life in regards to career and family? How does it compare to your vision?

To Be Continued.....