In the past two days, this article – What if “the best years of your life” just aren’t went viral on Facebook. when I read it, I thought it was very well written but something about the article bothered me a little; I couldn’t put my finger on it. Today I discussed it with a good friend on Facebook and that really helped me organize my thoughts.
Here are the issues I have with this piece.
Before I start, I’d like to say that I am not saying that these ‘issues’ I have are what was wrong with this article. To be fair, the author wrote about her personal experience and her personal opinions based on her experience and her message is very supportive of moms going through a hard time. Most parents have shared similar sentiments at some point of time, me included. Although I don’t agree with everything in this article, it is a beautiful piece nevertheless!
Now, onto MY ‘issues’ with it. These are my issues because my blog is about my opinions. I get her but I see a different perspective that I wish to express on this particular subject. This different perspective does not mean I only see the negative sides of this article. OK, let’s talk about these ‘issues’.
1) The first few paragraphs are all about her own life, wonderfully written and easy to relate. Then it got to this:
“When I was a teenager, schoolbags were plastered with bumper stickers that said “girls can do anything”. Career counselling consisted of lectures about law, medicine, physiotherapy, stockbroking and journalism. Home economics was removed from the curriculum. It would have been considered downright sexist to point out the paradox. Some careers can accommodate the needs of a family better than others; those choices – whether we like it or not – exist. We can do anything. But if we want healthy, happy, satisfying lives – we can’t do it all simultaneously. Man or woman, there are choices, sacrifices and losses down either path.” OK, a general statement, but still mostly true. Then it continued:
“We do not raise boys or girls to think like this. We don’t educate them to jobshare, downscale, work from home. We raise them to take every opportunity, rise to the occasion, get a bigger office, build a more impressive client list, fulfil their potential. No one mentions what we have to surrender, on the professional or personal front, to do this.” This is where my disagreement started. It is true to some people but not true to others. “Jobshare, downscale, work from home” are not necessarily the opposite of “take every opportunity, rise to the occasion, or fulfill their potential”, especially in today’s day and age. The author’s own experience should not be extended to all professions. I for one, work for a company that is very flexible and does offer these choices to most employees. One of my best friends who is a very good doctor, treats cancer patients 3 days a week, and spends the rest of the week with her kids. That is more time spent with family than most 9 to 5 jobs. She is able to do that because a) she makes good enough money part time to support the family b) when you are good at your job, in a more specialized, highly skilled field, sometimes you actually have more say in terms of your own schedule. The CEO of Yahoo Marisa Mayer built a nursery next to her office so she can see her baby whenever she wants. Sometimes the ‘bigger fish’ comes with bigger perks, and seeing your baby may just be one of them.
The author is not wrong, and in many people’s cases, it is true. However, it is not always true and we should not assume it to be. Women tend to scale back in career way before necessary in anticipation of motherhood. If that is what they want, then by all means but if it is not, I’ll quote Sheryl Sandberg on this one: “Don’t leave until you actually leave“! Let’s continue to teach our kids to be ambitious, to “get a bigger office and build a more impressive client list”. Meanwhile, let’s push and educate everyone on work flexibility and other arrangements to pursue their dreams. If scaling back is needed, then offer support. Let’s not put in our heads or our children’s heads that it is an absolute ‘either, or’ situation when it comes to career and family.
2) My second issue is with this paragraph:
“Once kids start school, they enter a vortex from which they never return to be fully, totally ours again; time with them is negotiated around a timetable of school days, weekends, social lives, activities, term dates and holidays And they emerge young adults, with dreams, plans and all those forks in their own roads to navigate. Much of their journey will be done without us. We will never stand by their side as we do in those first five years.”
This is also my favourite paragraph. I share the exact sentiment! Because of this, the author claims that “you will be filled with gladness for every moment, good and bad, that you experienced with them”. I am not sure…Just because time is fleeting, does not take away the fact that even though there are a lot of joyful moments and you are heart felt happy during those moments, the majority of the days of being full time mom is mind-blowingly tedious and brutally unfulfilling on an intellectual level. I think it is totally ok to not enjoy some parts of it. If I had to hear or sing one more time “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” which is THE magic song to make my 6 months old smile, eat, stop crying, take a bath happily (you get the idea), I’d ignore my alcohol intolerance and start drinking!
I love spending quality time with my kids, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend EVERY moment with them before they turn 5. I will miss their littleness for sure but I am also glad they will never be fully, totally ours again. That means I will not be fully, totally theirs anymore so I can have a bathroom break in peace!
When we look back, the past always looks sweet because the human brain’s memories on parenthood works like Instagram pictures: cropped, romanticized and various sepia toned filters added. That is why we would want to go through labour again. Don’t fool ourselves, acknowledge that good moments will be good and bad moments will be, well bad. There will always be nostalgic, Instagram photos to look back on, but some moments will suck ass!
3) My biggest thing is this statement she made: “I can promise you one thing. You will never regret the sacrifices you make for them now.” This is simply not true. I know someone very close to me who truly regretted having children. Mind you, her children were brought up in a loving, financially secure environment and are grown adults oblivious of their mom’s feelings, but the truth is she did regret not sticking to her intuitions and choosing a childless life. Now in her 50s, she is the happiest ever because her kids are out of the house and she started to pursue the degree she always wanted. She may be a rare case, but all I am saying is that you simply cannot promise this one.
Some women may have become moms by accident and some may have been pressured. Some may feel really bad that after all that sacrifice, their kids did not turn out as well as they had hoped. That is another important issue: does spending more time (quitting your career to stay home) with the kids make them better adjusted, more successful in the long term? Like Seinfeld joked: we are all just too into this parenting thing these days. The verdict is still out on whether this ‘super involved’ parenting style produces better results. You may say what if quitting career is a personal choice for the enjoyment of the parent? What if the mother or father WANTS to be there for every moment because she/he enjoys it and has nothing to do with producing more successful kids? Well, if it is for personal enjoyment, it cannot really be called a sacrifice can it? If you choose to do so solely because you like it, I call that a hobby!
4) My last point is personal. The author states of her dying grandmother: “She had raised sons, grandsons, nursed a dying husband and buried a son. She had been a community member, friend, devoted great-grandmother, card writer, tennis player, book lover and never forgot a birthday. And in that moment of death, that is all that mattered, that’s all that remained, treasured.”
Am I the odd one here of wanting to leave something else behind other than my children? Of wanting to be remembered for some other contribution I made to society other than being a mother? If I am authentic to myself, I hope in my moment of death, the fact that I raised son, daughter, possibly grandkids would NOT be ALL that mattered, ALL that remained and treasured!
Do share your thoughts!