There’s been no avoiding the latest mothers-who-also-have-paid-work debate, a.k.a. the mommy wars. Does anyone else out there think there’s something missing in this latest salvo?
& no, I don’t mean the daddy’s, although one has to wonder what’s going through their minds re this ongoing quandary their wives & mothers & sisters & girfriends find themselves in…maybe if they put down their eToys for just for a moment & paid attention to their ladies’ voices, they could focus their keen male minds on what they, personally, can do about this deep angst that (nearly) every undervalued ‘working’ mother faces…
Wait, note to self: I really don’t want to talk here about the daddy’s. What I want to talk about is – the Grandmas! Because hey, not only are we now mommy’s X 2, but many of us are those (visionary? misguided? pragmatic?) 70’s feminists who just wanted to (or had to) figure out how to manage ‘work’ & families…not unike female primates have done for millions of years. I seriously doubt any of us primate grandmas thought of this as having it all, since in reality it’s more like having to do it all.*
Nevertheless, as a female & yes, feminist member of the apparently responsible generation, I thought I’d better track down where this concept of having it all came from. In 1975, (the year I stopped reading Ms. magazine because I thought it was too conservative,) Superwoman was published with the fateful phrase. Shirley Conran’s book about household management tips for working women stirred up the feminist pot, so much so that fifteen years later she herself published a follow-up book, Down with Superwoman. Conran is probably most well-known, however, for her groundbreaking book, Lace (1984), which broke the fiction barrier about women & sex. To Ms. Conran, having it all necessarily included meaningful work, happy kids, & good sex. Now 80 years old, she contends “if I had the situation all over again, I think I would definitely decide not to have children. It puts you at a disadvantage as a person.”
Well, this is an interesting twist from the founding president of the (now-defunct) Work-Life Balance Trust! It’s impossible, in this current era we find ourselves in, to have it all, after all. Whew! – can we now toss this phrase, please? & can we now start seriously talking about how to make this life work out better for both boys & girls? Because after all, the prospect of no more babies goes against our – you guessed it – fundamental primate nature.
& (surprise!), we grandmas just might have something to say about this. We weren’t born yesterday, ya know, & most of us aren’t yet confined to rocking chairs (not that grandmas ever were) – in fact, many grandmas are still doing that dance of trying to balance work & family (including aging parents), with our own added twist of figuring out how to best be helpful to our adult children & their families in these difficult times.
I don’t want my grandson to grow up needing or wanting to have it all. I just want him to feel good about sharing the pie fairly with his family, his friends, & the rest of earth’s creatures. If there’s a roadmap out there for this era, please send it our way, because it seems to me that the combination of economic recession, rapid climate change, & out-dated social values is challenging for us all. Don’tcha think?
*Some of us have been lucky to have a male primate in our lives who truly embraced sharing the load during those child rearing years…with deep appreciation to R.
I am pleased to see the phrase (and hopefully the expectation) “having it all” cast on to the mush pile. The assumptions on which it was based were seriously flawed (plenty of well-paying jobs…promising job satisfaction…that provided career advancement…with expanding child care services…that the kids would love being in…larger homes with all the mod cons…partners that participated equally in looking after home and children…). Sadly, (or perhaps not) society didn’t deliver!
But you don’t even need to be the Dalai Lama to question whether ‘having’ all these things to bolster our personal identity and sense of self-value, even if they all fell neatly into place, would bring happiness or well-being to us (or perhaps more particularly, to our families).
Perhaps the challenge of the current economic recession, rapid climate change and our out-dated social values is to redefine our own personal values. If we no longer need to define ourselves by what we ‘have’ or what we ‘do’, all sorts of possibilities emerge. We can take a job that may not carry with it huge job satisfaction or career opportunities (or massive responsibility) but does manage to pay the bills and, even better, leaves us more time to enjoy the kids. We can find joy in a simpler life-style where there is no need for the large home or flashy car or designer clothes or chic restaurants because we ask our friends and family over for a bar-b-que in the back garden and everyone brings something to share. Idealistic? Perhaps… but it works!
I am reminded of the last section of Mary Oliver’s poem “To Begin with the Sweet Grass”:
“What I loved in the beginning, I think was mostly myself.
Never mind that I had to, since somebody had to.
That was many years ago.
Since then I have gone out from my confinements,
though with difficulty.
I mean the ones that thought to rule my heart.
I cast them out, I put them on the mush pile.
They will be nourishment somehow (everything is nourishment
somehow or another).
And I have become the child of the clouds, and of hope.
I have become the friend of the enemy, whoever that is.
I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,
I have become younger.
And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.”
i’m glad we share appreciation of Mary Oliver, Nancy, & of tossing out any notion that having it all is something to strive for!
Hi Linda ~
A roadmap might begin with an attitude shift, probably correctly called a cultural shift. Hard to do. We can only be the change we want to see in the world, we can’t change the world. So, I think attitude is easier for an individual — doable — than is cultural change.
Here is my suggestion, therefore, of a possible roadmap: help young people to focus not on what they can have, but rather on what they do. Doing includes giving to self, to family, to community. Let us all celebrate the teachers, the teachings and the community of all living things, as poet Gary Snyder said so well. Look for sufficiency in all things, in what we do as well as what we have.
Being grammas we are so wise. I like this. I like being an elder of the community. We’ll share our wisdom and most of it will be ignored, but we’ll keep doing it because that is who we are and what we do! Then in 50 years, the young ones will know what we were all about, because they will be us. And life will go on.
whadda ya mean, Jean, that our wisdom will be ignored?! that comes as a shock…:-)