Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Great Thoughts (that aren't mine)

I'm reading this book right now, called Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert (you know, the one that wrote Eat, Pray, Love).  She's writing about this huge personal study she did into the institution of marriage because while she and Felipe (the man she met in Bali at the end of her year of self-discovery) fell in love and committed themselves to each other, they also vowed never to get married.  Alas, the United States government had other plans and told them that unless they got married, Felipe would never be allowed back in the US. So here these two people are, both in their forties and fifties, both the battle-scarred survivors of horrid divorces, having vowed to never again enter into an institution that they consider to be all kinds of horrible.  And yet, they have to get married.  So Elizabeth, in the exceedingly long interim that it takes the US to figure out when and how Felipe can come back and they can get hitched, goes on this meandering research tour of marriage to find out exactly what are her issues with it and how she can get around them.

It's a great read for so many reasons, but this one particular passage stood out to me because at this moment in my life, I'm having a bit of a personal crisis.  There are two things I desperately want to do with my life.  One is to be a mama (most likely the stay-at-home kind, at least for the first few years of my children's lives), and the other is to become some kind of women's health professional (right now the top contenders are nurse practitioner and midwife).  The problem (at least in my mind), is that I'm doing nothing towards reaching either one of those goals right now.  I'm working, yes, but I feel like I'm spinning my wheels.  Anyway, that's a whole other post.  This one is about a passage in this book that stood out to me because I can identify so much with what Gilbert is saying.  Here it is:

"And this is my beef, by the way, with social conservatives who are always harping about how the most nourishing home for a child is a two-parent household with a mother in the kitchen.  If I - as a beneficiary of that exact formula - will concede that my own life was indeed enriched by that precise familial structure, will the social conservatives please (for once!) concede that this arrangement has always put a disproportionately cumbersome burden on women?  Such a system demands that mothers become selfless to the point of near invisibility in order to construct these exemplary environments for their families.  And might those same social conservatives - instead of just praising mothers as "sacred" and "noble" - be willing to someday join a larger conversation about how we might work together as a society to construct a world where healthy children can be raised and healthy families can prosper without women having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls to do it?"

Amen, sister.


Faith said...

It is not either/or: mama or professionally fulfilled. Children are not needy in the same ways as they get older, and so the balance in our lives can always be shifting. Perhaps, rather than putting the onus on society, we as women need to change the size and shape of the box into which we are putting ourselves.

sarah said...

heehee - i listened to committed on book on cd - read by gilbert. so i can't help but hear that quote in her voice.
seriously what i was going to say was... yes, you are making steps towards those goals. first off, in case you believe traditional things like (when possible and not deciding to adopt as a single parent) people should get married before they get knocked up, you're doing that. second off, you're making progress towards being a health professional by honing your taking-care-of-people skills with all your awesome nannying. and you can get started on the actual degree and stuff soon - but seriously, cut yourself some slack.

Margaret said...

Women, work, family-- will we ever run out of things to figure out? I think my own perspective is shaped also by my own parents, both of whom worked outside, from when we were little, though my mom was part-time. I think the answers are in a shared partnership, where two adults figure out what is important to them, what they like to do, what they are good at, and then divide the chores and responsibilities of making a life accordingly. And no, it's not either/or, career or children, but it is true that for women, especially, the two go hand in hand. When you ask a guy what his dream job would be, how often does he add on something like, "But, I also want to have kids..." or "Well, it would depend on having a partner with flexible hours..." or something like that?

Cait said...

Margaret, I think what you're saying about men not feeling the pressure of balancing work and family as much as women do is the "societal construct" that Gilbert is referring to. Alix and I are in a unique position as a same-sex (female) couple that wants both kids and careers. There is no "default" person who is more likely to stay at home with the children, like there is in a heterosexual relationship (although I realize there are plenty of stay-at-home dads). And, no, I don't think you have to choose one or the other, but I think that it's important to acknowledge the fact that you can't fully devote yourself to one without compromising on the other. Can a balance be reached? Of course, but there are some tough choices to be made along the way.