Laughing, Weeping, Living

Life happens. You laugh about it or cry about it, sometimes both.

Follow Up: Masters Degree

on July 25, 2014

I wanted to clarify from my post the other day.

I am reacting to something. Several years ago, I signed up for a bundle of magazine subscriptions, one of which happens to be Cosmopolitan. Now, I am not a “fun, fearless, Cosmo girl,” but when the magazine arrives, I read it. I skim the icky pieces, read the interesting ones, and discerningly evaluate the fashion and beauty tips. Sometime early in 2013, the magazine featured an insert about careers authored by Sheryl Sandburg, former Chief of Staff for the US Secretary of the Treasurer, former top exec at Google, current CEO of Facebook. She is also a wife and mother to two school age children. She did write the book on women and careers with the 2013 publication of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Cosmo magazine has adopted Ms. Sandberg and her Lean In movement as the ideal to strive for. I see “Lean In” in nearly every issue of Cosmo and it is starting to bleed over into other women’s interest magazines I sometimes (okay, monthly) read (subscribe to), such as Glamour and possible even Everyday with Rachel Ray. The movement emphasizes engagement with your career, gunning for extra duties and projects, really making a place for yourself at the office. That way, when you do decide to start a family, you are less tempted to leave for good. Ms. Sandberg says you should not back away from your job because you know in a year or so you will have a kid; rather, she advocates for the opposite. I do not disagree with these ideas, in and of themselves. I think this is solid career advice.

However. I read Cosmo and get an intimate look at the big picture, idealized lifestyle young women like me are supposed to desire for ourselves. We are supposed to get out there and do something we are passionate about, fulfilling our potential to make a big impact on the world. So far so good. We are supposed to lean in during the first few years of our careers, and make five or ten year plans for our advancement, promotions, and possible career changes. We are supposed to do what we want, and not let a partner hold us back. If we’re dating a man who is uncomfortable with us being successful, career-oriented women, we are supposed to let him go; he is not the one for us. We are supposed to date a lot, I guess after those long days at the office. We are supposed to choose from among the available long-term birth control options because right now our career is our baby. And then later, sometime in the future, when we are ready, when we find the right guy, when the timing is perfect, we can start a family. But then they play on women’s fears: what if when I am “ready” is too late? Then there are articles about banking your eggs to use later during rounds of IVF. There are articles about women who choose not to have children ever, and aren’t they brave for standing up and admitting to such an unconventional decision.

The ideal life for young women portrayed here is one of professional success first, family later. Family, maybe. We are told that it is acceptable to have a family after you have the career, and you are allowed to have a family and a career together, or you are allowed to have a career only, but it is not acceptable to have a family only.

I think these are all troubling trends. I know I am not the only woman who invested emotionally into my job, and I tend to finish what I start. For many women, starting a career and mapping out a five or ten year plan for work is a pretty big commitment that demands to be “finished.” It’s a human tendency to want to confirm and reinforce prior behavior. If a young woman is gung-ho about career for the first few years, she will feel guilty about changing her loyalties to a team (her family) that appears to be her career’s opponent. Like I did when I was faced with the decision to leave my career, a young woman may feel guilty abandoning all the people at her company who have come to rely on her. It happens again and again, evidenced by the booming egg-banking business and IVF treatment facilities, mothers who are older and older at the birth of their first child.

So, this is what I’m reacting to. There is an overwhelming cultural pressure on young women to choose career over family, and glamorization of the powerful career woman as a feminine ideal, and finally an effort to normalize childless marriages. All these things led me to write my other post.

So, I definitely don’t want women to forsake their own interests and avoid going to college or grad school, or to even avoid starting a career. I just want women who are of a mind to start a family to be aware that that will happen, and to not get locked in to a ten year career plan that absolutely will be derailed when kids come along. Because, you will want to quit your job to be with your children. You will want to leave behind those work colleagues who depend on you. You will want to sacrifice yourself and your happiness at least a little bit, because that’s what mothers do for their children.

I just want women to know that they don’t have to be mothers who do everything. It is okay to be only a mother. That is more than enough, and it is the best career of all.

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One response to “Follow Up: Masters Degree

  1. Daphne says:

    Beautifully written. I was a woman of the 90’s and I was supposed to have it all, but who actually teaches your children to be their best if you come home exhausted in time to fix dinner, check homework and give baths? After a couple years of teaching, taking kids to the sitter and having nothing to show for it, a wise priest told me to follow my vocation of being “just” a mom. I am all the better for it and so are the kids.

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