Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Am I liberated woman or not?

This has nothing to do with weight loss, but this is stolen from a conversation I have going on with a couple of friends.

It all started with us talking about planning a Halloween party. We truly are three women all giddy talking about planning a party. We all love to throw parties, and we get all excited about cooking, planning, etc.  We asked ourselves, "should we make this a party where people bring Halloween type food?" and then had to ask, "or is it that we are just crazy people that like such things and most other families will not like that idea of having to think of "halloween" food?

That then branched off into women's roles... are we liberated women because we like to cook and plan parties and do domestic things? Or are we slaves to societal expectations of women being the nuturers and caregivers?

To me, it's all about this: is it a choice I'm making or is it about an expectation of me? For me it's choice. I choice to cook and do things for my family. My husband doesn't expect it from me (the home cooking and homemade bread, etc). I like to do it because it makes me feel good to do it and to give such things to my family. And I was a stay at home mom for years - I choice that path. No one forced it on me. But does that make me a throw back to another generation? I don't think it does, because it's more complicated than it seems.

So, here's what I was writing to a friend about how I had to make a choice - family versus career:

When my older son was about 2 years old, I was working full time, trying to juggle being the mom I wanted to be, the wife I wanted to be with the employee I wanted to be. Before I had kids, I was a go-getter at work. I worked hard. I pushed myself and I had drive.  But then I became a mom. The first year I stayed home with him (while going to grad school at night and weekends when my husband would watch the baby 3 nights a week while I went to class - bringing him to me in between classes on Wednesday nights so I could nurse him as he refused to take the bottle - ah, fun times).  

Anyway back to when my son was 2... I was killing myself with commuting, working, trying to be a good mom, spouse. I remember one night just bawling and bawling to my husband - who was deep in a very vigorous PhD program at the top business school in the world. It was so vigorous, that anyone who was a significant other were called PhD widows as there simply wasn't time for family/dating/fun in the first two years of that program. People were amazed that his marriage didn't fall apart as all the other relationships of couples in that program did fall apart (and that was the most difficult time in our marriage). He basically wasn't there because he couldn't be there and I understood that - it was an investment in our future, so I sucked it up not that I didn't have times of great self-pity and have periods of feeling resentful. I am no saint.

Now, what if he were a married woman with a child in that program? And I took note that there were no married women with children in the program. A couple years later there was a pregnant woman. She dropped out of the program after her child was born - it was just too much. Men don't have to make those difficult decisions (or as often) and while I could say it's societal, I dont think it is. I think women, as nuturers by nature, struggle harder with the feeling of neglecting their family for other commitments. Men aren't as nuturing, so they don't feel the guilt pangs of leaving their child for 12 hours a day (or more).

So, one night I was bawling and bawling...I looked at the people in university administration that were higher up than me. They were single women - no kids. Or, married men with stay at home wives. Or, in the two cases that there were women; one had a nervous breakdown, was hospitalized for exhaustion, and eventually she resigned her position. The other got married at 40, had a baby at 41 and another at 46. When she had the surprise baby at 46, she volunteered for a demotion so she could have more time with her family. Family and career? Didn't seem possible.

It was then that I realized that every woman had lied to me whenever they told me I could have the career I wanted and have the family life I wanted.THEY LIED TO ME... or they were delusional. 

I realized then and there that I had to make a choice. I could go for the career I wanted or be the parent I wanted, but I couldn't have both. In the end, I chose being the parent I wanted to be because I could always go back to a career and rebuild. I couldn't redo parenting. Plus, in a job, I could and would be replaced - I had experienced that before - no employee is irreplaceable, no matter how good they are. I was not replaceable as a mother. 

From then on, I had somewhat of an inner peace. I worked and still gave a lot, but I didn't kill myself. I didn't put in the tons of extra hours that were required for moving up in the field. I would just stay where I was, holding steady, until my kids got older and I could the think about career again. Then, when we moved and my husband was only staying one year as a visiting professor, I decided to stay home. That year was blissful for all of us. Then, we moved to Virginia and I started looking, but I got pregnant immediately and then, well... looking for a job while pregnant? And then asking to quit? Then we decided I should stay home for awhile and then we kept deciding on delaying my re-entry into the work force. My career opportunities shriveled up, but I would make the same decisions again. And now I'm in the rebuilding my career phase again now that the kids are older.

So, perhaps I'm old school and not liberated, but I chose my path and would choose it again. Am I a perfect mother because of staying at home? Of course not. I am not the mother I want to be, but I'm closer to what I wanted to be than I was as a working more. I did do the working full time and parenting full time for 6 years when my oldest child was little. Those were some very, very tough years. He was so much happier when I stayed at home. I had time for him and his activities and life was just more relaxed.

Now that I am going back to work - easing myself back into it, we are already feeling the shift of priorities. I have less time to make homemade bread. My house is a wreck, I'm behind in taking my car in for a tune up and it's getting more difficult to squeeze in time for fitness. I've pulled leftovers out of the freezer twice this week too.

Working full time and parenting full time is no joke. It really is very, very difficult to balance both and my hats are off to all parents who do it and do it well. For me, I just found it easier to give up the career for awhile, but I have to say, I'm also itching for a career again. I love work, so dipping my feet in with both thee part-time jobs has re-awoken that desire in me to contribute to the world in the work environment too. And with a family that is growing up (kids are 16 and 7), I don't feel as guilty about working. I have given my best to them for a decade.


  1. Well, I think I'm the polar opposite of you on these issues, as I'm pretty much vehemently opposed to both traditional and modern feminism. I have seen far too many women burdened with what you were describing, and too many emasculated and drifting men, to think that abandoning traditional gender roles (at least once one is married with children) is a good thing for most families. Some make it work, but in general I think we'd be a better society for moving back to a more family oriented system. At least from the perspective of a younger woman, it gets rather tiring defending my choice to leave college and pursue family over career as though it were a lesser calling, or unimportant to society. I think nothing could be further from the truth.

    I'd also never define myself as a liberated woman by modern definitions, and yet I am free and very joyful in the 'confines' of my traditional role here at home, and of a far less burdened conscience than when I still believed that if I wasn't working outside of the home I was some sort of a mooch or marginalized member of society :)

  2. And don't feel guilty about going back to work, either! There are different seasons of life for everyone, and while some (like me!) can find much joy in hobbies, volunteer work, or cottage industry at home, there is NOTHING wrong with a woman who is past the younger stages of childhood pursuing more education or a career again. I can't do that until my kids have all flown the coop, as we homeschool and that keeps me more than busy, but if your children are in school all day and that's how you want to spend your time, no guilt is necessary. We just make the best choices we can with what we have, right?

  3. How are you holding up, Melissa? I haven't seen you around here or 3FC and was a little worried you may have fallen off the wagon. I hope you're just incredibly busy with all sorts of lovely fall things and can't be bothered to log in :)

  4. Thanks for thinking about me! I've just been CRAZY busy. So busy that I haven't even managed to watch the ONE TV show I watch - I was a month behind (Project Runway). Weight is 173.0, Been mostly holding steady with the exercise (only managing weight training twice a week), but today I went to step, and I was doing enough this time to not lose any stamina. Considering how busy and exhausting these past weeks have been, I'm mighty proud of myself for NOT falling off the wagon. I would love to post some amazing progress, but holding steady is a victory in itself.

  5. Honestly that sounds excellent. Busyness is all well and good, but I know it stinks for weight management. So just continuing your hard work and holding steady is awesome!

  6. I've been wondering about you as well! Hope you are still hanging in there :)