When “No One Way” is Really “The Only Way”

On Saturday, the New York Times published yet another upper-middle-class mother’s story of how she tried to have it all – career, marriage, kids – but found it oh, so difficult. I feel as if I’ve read hundreds of these stories over the past eight years, always hoping to get some glimmer of relevance to me and my journey as a mother and professional.

And I’m consistently disappointed.

I appreciate these stories, as I think telling stories is one of the best ways to share information. But I’m  tired of all of the stories being about upper-middle-class women and the choices they are able to make. These stories are nowhere near universal, but even in their acknowledgment of their privilege (“We didn’t have to wonder how we’d pay for life’s basics; we were privileged”), they ignore that many – probably most – mothers do not have their options.

For example, as the author looks back, she states: “It’s been 18 years since the New Mothers group first met, and at some point, each of us has taken time out of our careers to focus on family.” That assumes that mothers of her generation, in general, had the ability to take the time to “focus on family.” When she says that all of the women in her group took some amount of time off from their careers, that means they were all in a financial position to do so.

Out of all my friends with children, most with advanced degrees from top school, not ONE has been able to financially make “focusing on family” work. Not one.

Even though many if us have “made it,” we are still not able to access some of these choices that are all the rage right now. I CAN’T tap out, no matter how much I want to. I’m somewhat dreading starting my job in a few months; I’ve gotten so spoiled by the grad student mommy life. In that I am privileged. But even as a student, I’ve had to work for my stipend. Even if working is no more than going to class or writing my dissertation, the point is that I have NEVER been able to not work in order to “focus on family.” (As an aside, I wonder how many of these women married men who’s paycheck covers their expenses or how many of them graduated from grad school with no debt because they comes from upper-middle-class backgrounds. That’s a whole ‘mother post right there.)  

It’s really insulting to women who don’t, or cannot, opt-out for any stretch of time to even categorize not working as “focusing on family.” I focus on my family each and every day, even when I’m working. I’m thinking about dinner, after-school activities, how The Queen is doing in reading, how The Prince is doing with three digit addition, how the Messenger’s vocabulary is growing. I’m thinking about the last time I had sex with my husband. Really. Those things never shut off.

The author ends by saying “We’ve shown that there is no one way to do it.” But this article, like the hundreds before it, keep up the same tired story and reinforces that there is only one way to do it. That way is agonizing over whether to return to work after children, and then doing it if you want to. That is not the way most of us have it. Instead, we agonize over the fact that we will never be able to stay-at-home, no matter how much we may want to. We agonize over whether our kids will be okay if we aren’t there all the time. We agonize over how we are going to pay our rent and our student loans and activity fees and daycare.

 

We don’t ever find balance. We’re almost always just trying to not fall of the cliff. And have fun doing it. There is no one way, but it is certainly NOT the “no one way” of this article that assumes there are choices to be made when it comes to staying him or working. I have to do both. The “no one way” is about how to do both, not whether or when.

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