Photo courtesy of mindsetdaily.com
Now that my son is in kindergarten, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Not only is he at school most of the day, but the boy who once said “Mommy” a thousand times a day and wouldn’t let me out of his sight for a second, doesn’t need me so much anymore. And while once upon a time he wanted only me to accompany him everywhere and put him to bed every night, now chooses his father for those tasks (much to my dismay…but also to my delight). And my daughter is already following suit.
At the same time, I have come to realize that I want to maintain a strong presence in my children’s lives (both for their sake and for my own). So, at this point in time, I don’t want to work long hours away from them. I want to be able to cook for them a few times a week and I don’t want to miss out on their important events and milestones. And although I want to find meaningful work that I love, I also want time to enjoy life – traveling, dining out, reading, and being active.
Change the meaning of “success”
Given my modified life goals, I may not be a typical “success” as defined by mainstream society. At one point, this would have bothered me a lot. Unfortunately, our society has programmed us to believe in a very narrow and misguided concept of success. And even more troubling, many “feminists” have adopted this ideology and made us believe that a woman only “has it all” if they live up to this definition. Perhaps this is a push back to once being forced to stay at home, or because some women feel that to be equal to men we have to act like them. Whatever the case, child-rearing is seen as a hindrance and many “successful” women who extol advice on how they did it talk about the necessity of finding a husband/partner who will be the “lead parent”, hiring an army of nannies, or otherwise delegating the childrearing responsibilities.
Like in all other areas of life where society tries to dictate what women should believe, we have to find the courage to embrace the life we choose (and what works for our partners and kids) without being self-conscious or apologetic about it. This does more than allow us to enjoy the path we choose without being critical of ourselves or worrying what others think. It also creates an atmosphere of acceptance that allows the women around us and the girls who look up to us to do the same, until finally the mainstream definition of “success” becomes finding your passion and living life on your own terms – whether it is running the country, owning a bakery, or staying home to raise the kids.
Note: It is vital that women support one another. I think a lot of our judging and criticizing comes from insecurity – which is exacerbated by our judging and criticizing each other. So it becomes a vicious cycle that will only be broken when we support each other already! (Photo courtesy of greendivas.com)
Change your own perspective
The reality remains that for many women (and increasingly men), their careers do stall or are irrevocably damaged by taking time off to raise children. The first and most important thing that needs to happen is for society to be more supportive of parenting and treat it with the respect it deserves. This means providing better parental leave options, flexibility to allow parents to look after children while continuing to work, and creating a culture that values a person’s contribution to raising the next generation as much as their contribution to the company they work for.
These changes, however, are a long time coming, if they come at all. And there are some jobs that require a level of commitment that cannot be compromised (think Prime Minister, CEO of a start up, small business owner, astronaut) and others that don’t pay enough to make an extended leave possible.
The fact is that most of us (man or woman) cannot “have it all” in the sense of having their dream job and raising children at the same time. But this is not necessarily negative. If you believe, like I have come to believe, that life is a collection of your experiences and what you learn from them, then having the opportunity to spend a few years raising little humans will provide a rich and invaluable life experience and a priceless opportunity for growth – even if you don’t realize it during the day-to-day grind of changing diapers, doing laundry, making lunch, making dinner, cleaning, cleaning again, etc…
On the other hand, women doing work that is fulfilling and meaningful, even when it does not allow for time off, is as important for society – women must have the ability contribute their talents when the chance arises (even when this coincides with their child-bearing years).
Life is not perfect for anyone, but each unique experience provides the opportunity for us to come closer to discovering and fulfilling what we want out of this life. And that to me sounds like having it all, or at least all that matters.
Stay tuned for Part III: What Having It All Means to Me
For Part I: We Can’t Have It All, click here.