These days, here’s what society preaches to women:
- You can’t be fulfilled unless you have a man and a child.
- If you have a child, you should WANT to stay home with your baby, all day, every day.
- Doing this will make you feel happy and fulfilled and complete in ways you never imagined.
- When your kids are older, you can always go right back into your career.
Here’s what I hear from society:
- You can’t be fulfilled unless you have a career (not just a job!) and money. External stuff—praise from your boss, “going places” in your career, toys—makes you happy and fulfilled.
- Money. Make money. Yes, have kids, but get back to work ASAP.
- More money. Two incomes are an absolute necessity.
- “You can have it all” or “You can have it all at once” or even “You must have it all at once.”
I was wondering if I was crazy until I saw my experience echoed in an essay that I haven’t finished reading yet, but I can tell it’s something I need to see. It’s called “I Am a Mother” (and I’m guessing it’s from the author’s book of the same name). When she decided to leave her career to raise her child-to-be,
I found that the reaction from my female colleagues was largely, and disappointingly, less than supportive. I shared my decision with one woman who smugly joked, “Why don’t you just get a nanny?” Another network executive asked me what I was going to do once I got to Boston. I told her I was going to have a family, I was going to be a mother. “No, I understand that,” she said, puzzled, “but what are you going to do?”
All of this was still fresh on my mind during that evening spent near Washington, D.C. A chorus of “I’m just a mother,” juxtaposed with “What will you be without your job?” and “You’re making a terrible mistake” made me wonder, Could they be right?
I may struggle with finding “fulfillment” from constantly keeping my 13 month old from playing with the cat food, but I know there is more to motherhood than just that. Society as a whole will probably never understand motherhood. (Kim at Embracing Momminess has an interesting post on this topic, too, looking at the political/feminist side of societal pressure on motherhood.)
I also realize that no matter how many children I have, they can’t give me fulfillment. It’s not a gift you wrap and stick under the tree. However, a job—or a whole career—can’t just give it to me either.
My fulfillment has to start with me. And realizing that is the first step on that path.