10 February 2011

Tonight, my mind is whirling after some inspiration from a fantastic piece of writing on mothering and feminism, and also from a friend's blog entry about her struggles. Together, these pieces of writing have me pondering the disservice of the "You can have it all!" myth.

Children are told they can be anything they set their minds to. Girls are told they have the freedom to pursue any path they want and that they can excel at everything. They can be a doctor and a mommy, and they can simultaneously be the best doctor and the best mommy because feminism has paved that road for them.

And so, we little girls grew up and we took that message to heart. We excelled in every class (even math and science of course!), we went on to post-secondary institutions to earn fabulous degrees, we secured careers, we planned lavish weddings, we birthed a few kids, we baked cupcakes for the bake sale, and we kept an immaculate home every step of the way. We can have it all! So we will have it all! And we'll do everything to our fullest and perfectly because we expect it of ourselves.

And yet...none of it is all perfect and grand. We have some things that come easily to us and other areas where we struggle. We passionately pursue some areas of our lives but we feel resentful about other areas. We feel less than perfect and we beat ourselves up for our failings. We try to stretch ourselves to be everything all the time but there simply isn't enough of us to go around. We're tired. We're overwhelmed. We're disappointed in all the failings we see when we can't quite be fantastic at everything.

Here's what I think: I think that we can't have it all. I think that everything is out there for use to have, but that we need to choose what we want the most for us, whether it's for today or this year or this lifetime. And then we have to go after that with a dedication and joy that doesn't care about all the other paths.

If we want to delve deep into the attachment parenting world and breastfeed on demand for years and make all our own home cooked foods from scratch and homeschool our children, then so be it. If we want to have wildly successful careers that require 60 hour workweeks which don't leave time for children or for us to be our child's main caretaker at least, then so be it. Pick one and go with it.

If we want to be the spontaneous mother who is forever bringing her kids on adventurous vacations and pursuing in-depth hobbies by moving to some guru's hut for 6 months, then we should. If we want to be the well-planned-out mother who has an intricate carpool schedule to get each of her children to their activities on time as well as racking up at least three volunteer commitments each week, then we should. But we can't carpool from our guru's hut and we shouldn't beat ourselves up for that.

If we want to graduate from high school and delve straight into family life and have all our kids grown and moved out by the time we're 45, we should embrace that. If we want to attend 15 years of post-secondary and then backpack around the world for a few years before settling down, we should joyfully pursue that path. If we want to parent in the boundless energy of our youth or in the tempered wisdom of our more mature age, we should welcome the gifts we have to give our children each day.

We can't have it all and be it all and excel at it all. There are too many tempting valid options in every area of life to take a piece of everything all at once. We can, however, deliberately choose the path we set upon and walk each step with full awareness and joy. And maybe that's having all right there, after all.


Fresh Look Events said...

Love it!

Anonymous said...

Oh my friend, THANK YOU for posting this! Its like you tapped into my heart of hearts because I have struggled with the ideal of having to be perfect in EVERY BODIES eyes of what that might be without choosing to do for myself what I want to do and be, or even really sure of what everybody else thinks I should do or be!! I love the way you put it into perspective; "you can't carpool from the guru's hut". But I sure have tried, and the guilt crashing over me has periodically so overwhelmed me I froze! I have been frozen to move for FIVE YEARS!!! Thank YOU for chooosing to be YOU!!! Love you!!

Lucy said...

So many good points. Recently, I've been blogging about the concept of "letting go." There's TOO MUCH pressure on women these days to be it all, do it all. I am going to share the link to this post on my blog to spread the word. Having it all is certainly a myth and is causing too much stress out there.

Niki said...

Great post Kim I have to agree 100%. Spent way too many years trying to "Have it all" and all it got me was gray hair, and 2 heart attacks before I was 30. I'm currently very happy with taking a year to decide which mom I want to be. Starting off with being the timmies drinking, homeschooling, soul searching mom I am today lol.

Tammy said...

I think part of the myth is we are trying to live up to standards set by previous generations. Not that these are bad, but not always achievable. My mom was a stay at home mom so she was able to make all our meals, bake wonderful things and always be there when we came home from school. Having said that she was also fortunate to be married to a wonderful man (my dad).

Many women love their kids just as much but are maybe divorced and have to work out to provide financially as well. They are often still held to the same standard of the stay at home moms. Often its women that do this to each other. I remember my grandma being at my house a long time ago and telling me how I could iron my tea towels! I work full time, ironing tea towels is really loooow on my list of things to do : 0

I agree that we have to lighten up. Do the best we can at whatever path we choose, and if some things aren't perfect along the way, so be it. Society seems to have a path that every woman is supposed to follow.

I chose not to have kids and had many years of trying to explain to people that I was perfectly fulfilled without. But apparently this too is in the woman must do rule book.

So I agree we have to shake the guilt and do what we love, be good kind people and the rest will fall into place.

Anonymous said...

Er...I can agree for individuals, but I think this kind of reasonment can be vary dangerous if you apply it on the whole society.

I apologise for my poor English.

I'm writing because I see your reasonment is becoming more and more common in the eco mummy world, as mothers who choose the "eco-set" (baby-wearing, breastfeeding, diaper recycling etc) are also those who choose downshifting in their jobs.

Is that a choice? For the individual it might be, but since it's a social tendency, I doubt a remissive attitude is spreading among women.

Perhaps it's because I'm Italian.

Today, when a woman protest against gender discrimination, she usually precises "She is not a feminist!".

Feminism has passed away quickly, in the 1980 the vindication of rights was replaced with sexual freedom and the exploitation of feminine beauty (a woman is free to sell herself to Mr Berlusconi & co., and she is sold in advertisements, and so on).

The result: women's rights are never a priority.

And since the fact of setting up a family is considered as "women's stuff", you may work for 10 years, then have a baby, and then you are kindly addressed to the door because, obviously you cannot be as good an employee as before.

It seems just a question of "good sense", it's IMPOSSIBLE. So they don't even let you try and demonstrate...

And so, nobody think of setting up a welfare system that can allow women to try and having a family and keep their jobs.

I like your blog a lot, BTW :)


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