I Am, Most Definitely, Mad

This post is by Ashley Lauren, and was originally published on her site, Small Strokes Big Oaks. It has been republished with her permission.
A young girl kisses a baby on the cheek.

Today was the first day back at work after a wonderful Thanksgiving break. And I opened my inbox – which I had not checked even one time over break because I refused to get sucked into work on my time off – to five different emails asking me to do five different, time-sensitive things. And this was on top of the five different time consuming things I had been asked to do before break. And on top of that, I have my first rehearsal on Thursday for the contest play and the 162 (yes, I counted) papers I had to grade as well as meetings scheduled before school tomorrow, and during my off hours tomorrow and Friday. The off hours and morning hours I use to grade papers and do the ten things that are still on my to do list because I’ve been asked to do them.

I’m not saying any of this to complain. I’m not even trying to make the point that teachers do, actually, work hard. Rather, I’m saying it because, after I filled in my calendar and to do list with all of the things that had to be done, I thought to myself, When on Earth would I ever find time to have kids in this mess?

As we all know, I’m not sure if I want kids at all. In fact, I’ve written about this several times. And here. And here. Oh, and here.

But I am open to the possibility of having kids, and I do like children. They’re cute and cuddly most of the time, and even pregnancy is getting less and less scary to me by the minute. I have many friends who have been pregnant and then lived to tell the tales, and it’s starting to seem like I, too, could possibly live through a pregnancy if I put my mind to it. But I absolutely cannot imagine having a child and having a career. I know lots of women do it, but I wonder, at what point, do we become good enough at raising children as well as at our careers rather than being really excellent at just one of those things.

I just don’t think I can do both at the same time. Plain and simple.

So when I caught wind of this article about Nancy Pelosi and how people look at her as a woman who has it all, including children and a career, it got me thinking, because she explained to her audience that she actually didn’t have a career and raise kids at the same time. She, like so many women of her generation, took time off from her job to stay home with her kids, and then went back to build her career. And was wildly successful. According to Belkin, however, we don’t have that option anymore:

There was a moment in time when women could live their lives serially — have their children during the 1950s and 60s, when not much more than that was expected of them; launch those children by the 70s and 80s, when doors were newly opened to women. Pelosi, now 71, was of that moment. So were Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, 81, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 78. Both graduated from law school during the 1950s, then spent years on the slow career track or as a stay-at-home-mother, and came roaring back when their children were older.

That route, however, isn’t really open to women any more. If today’s young women were to do the same — have their children young, expect to get started on a career when those children were grown — they would emerge to closed doors.

Which leaves them facing a different set of options. They can do what Pelosi herself says she could not have imagined doing: raising children and working full-steam-ahead for pay. Or, they can get a running start in the workplace, hoping to build up momentum, then step out or ratchet back for a few years and gamble that they can ramp up again some day.

Or they can just not become mothers at all.

Which is probably the pressure I am feeling at this point. Because she’s right. By the time I get around to having kids, I won’t be a young mother by any stretch of the imagination, so if I leave my job, I’ll be expected to either stay home for good or find something else to do, and spend another ten years working my way up the ladder. And by then, I’ll want desperately to be retired.

According to Barbara & Shannon Kelly, we should be really mad about this:

In a recent interview with the Observer, Steinem is quoted as saying:

“I think we need to get much angrier about childcare, about flexible working patterns. It’s alarming to me that women are still encouraged to blame themselves. No one can do it all. If I had $5 for every time we’ve tried to kill off superwoman, I’d be very rich. But women are planning their lives, they have choices, and that didn’t happen before, believe me. We thought our husbands and children would dictate everything.”

Childcare, flexible working patterns, blaming ourselves, trying to do it all: um, yeah, of course we should be mad! I think many of us are. The trouble is, hell if we’re gonna admit it. Most of us won’t even cop to being pissed when we’re fighting with our significant others. Be honest, now: Who among you hasn’t said “I’m not mad!” …in a raging fit of anger?

Well, me, for one, (it is, after all, the subject of the majority of the past year’s worth of blog posts on this site) but I’d like to add my MAD voice to this one, too, because I am mad. I’m mad that I feel like I can’t have kids and a career because I would actually really like to have both of those things. I’m mad that I have to choose between a fulfilling career and a fulfilling family life. I’m mad that, if I do have kids, people will write me off and assume I don’t have time to do the things I used to do, and I’m mad that I actually won’t have time to do the things I used to do. I’m mad that it’s actually not a choice; it’s a society that demands that you either give up everything to have a kid or give up having a kid to have everything else.

Frankly, if I felt I could take some time off to raise my kids and then go back to my career, I’d have kids. But, I can’t for many reasons. First, the doors will be closed. Second, I’ll have to work until I’m 70 before I see my full pension. Third, there is just no way we can survive on one income with just the two of us, let alone with a baby. The list goes on.

So, yea, I’m mad. I’m mad that I live in a society that makes me choose between these two fulfilling things in life. I’m mad that if I don’t choose and try to do both, I’ll only ever hope to achieve mediocrity in both areas of my life. I’m mad that men don’t have to make these choices.

Yes, it is safe to say that I am, most definitely, mad.

2 thoughts on “I Am, Most Definitely, Mad

  1. It’s about choices and control. You can have a career and have children. You can be good at both. You cannot be in total control of both simultaneously however. My husband supported me through school, and we waited to have children until we could afford (barely) for him to stay home with them. When they both were in school full time, he went to work part time. Having a child, having a career, having a marriage, are all about making choices and having a supportive partner. No one said life would come without sacrifices. Thinking that choosing one over the other is the only option does not guarantee success or happiness. Neither does choosing to have both. The key is being happy with your choice.

  2. The waste of talent by closing doors to women of any age is rampant and the world is living with that loss as an unbalanced, violent, aching place. We all must value ourselves and all phases of our lives without self-judgement and hand-wringing. Go live your lives, have your babies, work or don’t work outside your home. You can be powerful no matter where you are or what you do.

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