The tension of feminism, work & family in the “have it all” generation

the tension of work
There’s a lot I didn’t feel prepared for when it came to transitioning into my roles as a wife and mother. I’m sure every parent feels this to some degree. No matter how many books you read, or how many friends and relatives you query for tips and advice, there’s just nothing like doing it.

In the 8 years since I had my first child, I’ve come to realize that the thing I was least prepared for wasn’t the stuff all the parenting books are about, or the things you can desperately Google at 2:00 AM (sleep training, benefits/drawbacks to co-sleeping, fixing an inefficient latch, etc.).

The thing I was shockingly unprepared for was the issue of paid, outside-the-home work, and how my relationship with it—and my identity that was rooted in it—would change.

Dr. Sears hasn’t written a manual about that one.

You can’t plug it into Google at 2:00 AM and get a tidy answer.

Nothing and no one prepared me for how fraught the issue of “work” would become. As women in 2018, we’re exploring uncharted territory. Never before in history have women had the “sky’s-the-limit” kind of opportunity we have today, nor the pits and snares and traps that come along with it.

This is part of my story, and I hope it helps you anticipate, avoid, and overcome the unexpected struggles of work as a woman raised in the “you can have it all” generation.

***

I’m a highly motivated, ambitious person with an insatiable work ethic, born in a generation who was raised to believe that we can—and should—have “it all.” (For context, I’m 34 years old, born in 1983, making me an elder within the millennial generation. The #1 songs around the time I was born were “Every Breath You Take,” by The Police, and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” by Eurythmics. Linked for your listening pleasure, youngsters. Enjoy.)

As a young woman in my early 20s, I ran hard and fast toward my career-oriented dreams, and I reveled in everything that came with that—the travel, the promotions, the wardrobe, even the 60+ hour work weeks. I was making our foremothers proud, and wasn’t slowing down for anything, or anybody.

Somewhere along the way I made room for wifedom, and motherhood, and by the time my firstborn turned 3, the fabric of my identity—and my marriage—were coming apart at the seams. After pouring so much of myself—my time, my energy, my sense of self-worth—into my career success, it felt impossible to reconsider the “balance” of my life. I had unintentionally opted in to a lifestyle that was unsustainable, and I couldn’t see an exit route.

I felt trapped, but I wouldn’t dare talk openly about it, because from an outsider’s perspective, I truly did have “it all.” I felt disillusioned at best, and lied to at worst. Why didn’t the women who fought so hard for me to have a legitimate place in the workforce so much as mention how excruciating it would be to maintain that position once I started a family?

I suffered in silence, wondering what it was about me that couldn’t make this lifestyle work. I clenched my fists tighter around everything I had worked to achieve, telling myself over and over again that my issues were “first world problems,” and that my pain was part of the deal. I felt so much shame about my perceived inadequacy, and how I was letting women (or maybe just feminism) down.

My feelings of shame and inadaquacy were fertile ground for the ugliest, most unkind parts of me to thrive. I felt resentment and contempt toward my husband for not seeing the problem and taking some kind of action about it. I became one of those women who silently judged others who found a sense of balance in their own lives, bemoaning their lack of committment in the workforce, and sneering about the “privilege” of having a rhythm and divison of labor that seemed to bring them legitimate contentment, even joy.

I’m not sure what it was exactly that brought things into focus for me, but thankfully, one day I experienced a radical shift in perspective that laid the groundwork for me (and my family) to get on a path to thriving.

Two difficult questions came to me:

  • Is your family getting to enjoy you at your best, or are they getting the dregs after too many hours spent pouring out your best for your coworkers and associates?
  • Are you willing to sacrifice your marriage and your daughter’s childhood because you supposedly “need the money?’ Because you “worked so hard to get here?”
As you might imagine, these questions stung like salt on an open wound. And as painful as those two questions were, when I allowed myself to get really honest, the answers became a catalyst for change.

Instead of beating myself up for not being able to make the “work + family” equation work for us the way I expected it would, I started down another line of questioning. “What’s possible?” As in: “is it possible to give the best of yourself to your family, and still contribute to your family’s income?” And “is it possible to make some adjustments so that you can step back and determine a more healthy path forward?”

Asking “what’s possible” questions began to release some of the tension I was carrying, and gave me a vision and hope for possible alternatives. I began to realize that I was allowing the expectations of others, and my own pride, to hold me prisoner in a lifestyle that was slowly squeezing the love for life right out of me, destroying my marriage, and causing me to miss out on my daughter’s one and only childhood.

Since then, I’ve carefully examined the feminist “truths” that led me down that isolating and joyless path, and have really enjoyed the process of discovering for myself an enduring identity that is not tethered to my earnings, or my title, or anything that another person or organization can anoint me with.

***

If you find yourself feeling similar tension around the area of work (how/when/where you’ll work, whether or not you’ll start a side-hustle, or if your work is the care and keeping of the ones you love), I hope you won’t suffer in silence the way that I did.

We can feel so much shame for struggling through what appears to others as charmed circumstances, and if I were standing in front of you right now, I would grab you by the shoulders and tell you “that shame is a trap.” Don’t fall for it. It is designed to isolate you from the people who have your best interest at heart, in order to prevent them from speaking life and hope into your circumstance.

***

My hope, as we raise up the next generation of young women and men, is that we’ll preach a less relentless and demanding version of “you can have it all.” I hope we’ll teach our children about the seasonal nature of life, and rather than raging against it, that we equip them to bend and flex as the seasons require. I hope we’ll demonstrate love by encouraging them to give voice to their pain, and feel no shame in inviting others into the tender places of their hearts so they can receive the life and hope that will sustain them throughout all of their days.

And more than anything, I hope we’ll point the way to the discovery of an enduring identity—one that honors and values their whole person, and not just their worth as an earner or producer.

Further reading:

***

I believe that each of us was created on purpose by a loving, creative Father in Heaven, and that we’re valuable because he made us in his image. I believe that all of our work (paid, or not; splashy, or done in secret) is done to celebrate, honor, and bring glory to him, and that if we endeavor to do just that, then we have “it all.” All of what matters, anyway.

Peace to you!
mj

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4 Comments

  1. So true. I agree

    Reply
  2. welcomeheart

     /  August 3, 2018

    Feminism in its quest for egalitarianism has forgotten the basic tenets of humanity: we are created by God to be in relationship with Him, to glorify Him, and we are equal , besides. If we live from that identity, our security doesn’t fluctuate so much as roles change. I say “so much” bc with each season and change, I’ve had to re examine my belief system: Is being loved by God enough or do I need to make a six figure income as well? I’ve felt the superficial shame of Just Being A Mom more than once. Learning to love my purpose in the dailies is freedom indeed.

    Reply
  3. welcomeheart

     /  August 3, 2018

    You should get paid for this article!!

    Reply
  4. great post!! sad to think that the priority value over your marriage would be your value placed on the women’s movement of the past. we really don’t owe them anything now except to live out our own choices in the way that honors GOD best. but it sounds like you figured that out:) loved your article and its honesty!

    Reply

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