APW Book Club: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed, Round II

Today is the second of three book club posts on Committed (see the pictures back here). Today is a bit of my take on the book, along with my slightly incendiary discussion prodding. Think of this as being like we’re all in seminar class together (though if this were a seminar, I’d arguably be a little more incendiary and antagonistic, because that’s how I roll). We’ll take a final crack at the book after thanksgiving with a huge Team Practical free-for-all. But for now, let’s get debating:

When looking over all of the fantastic questions and quotes that you guys submitted for Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed, the one that really haunted me was the passage on page 185:

… 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 with out women having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls to do it? Excuse me for the rant. This is just a really, really big issue of mine

For those of you that haven’t read the book, let me put this in context for you. Gilbert has just finished talking about the enormous sacrifices that women in her family made for their children and their husbands. These were sacrifices that they were very willing to make, but they also didn’t have a lot of options. She talks about her mom quitting a career that she loved, because her father couldn’t handle not having her home to take care of the kids and the house. Gilbert credits her mom’s choice with giving her and her sister an incredibly happy childhood, but she wants to fully acknowledge what an enormous amount her mom had to give up. Plus, Gilbert is coming to terms with the fact that personally, she is not willing to make that huge a sacrifice.

That and she’s being a tiny bit over dramatic to make a point. Which I know nothing about. Clearly.

When I read this passage in the book, my head started nodding and I started underlining like mad. As I mentioned when I talked about my battle with martyrdom, I think a lot about the sacrifices we have to make to have a family. I weigh what sacrifices are appropriate, and what sacrifices will scrape bare the walls of my soul. And the longer I’m married, the more I notice the incredible pressures on all of us to make the sacrifices that drain us of joy. More troubling, I notice all of the ways that society idolizes women once we make those sacrifices. Because giving up your sense of self to your husband and you children, what could be more rewarding? Except, you know, keeping your sense of self. Which I’d like to think is an option.

It fascinated me, then, when book club discussions landed in my inbox, and the general consensus was, “Man, does Elizabeth Gilbert have it wrong on this front. We don’t have to scrape bare the walls of our souls now, we have options.” So I thought today, I’d challenge us all to think about that a little bit.

Because here is the thing: the more we talk about marriage here, the more I worry. I worry that we’re being given the illusion of lots of options, and the reality of really sh*tty options. I worry that the sh*ttiest of options (over-work, under-appreciation, enormous sacrifice) are being sold to us under the guise of “independent womanhood,” instead of under the guise of “life is hard sometimes, and you can make it through, but you should fight for things to be easier.”

I worry when I hear about most of us* doing the bulk of the chores around the house. Not because we have to, but because we want to (“I just care more about cleanliness than he does, so I need to take responsibility for that.”)

I worry when I hear about many of us not pooling money and support with our husbands, because we’re independent women. (“He makes more than I do, so he has more spending money, but I’m ok with that, because I made my own choices and that’s why I earn less.”) Because you know what? It’s not terrifically surprising that he makes more than you do. Women make $0.78 for every dollar men earn in this country, and now that inequality is following us home.

I worry when I hear about women cutting each other down over the choice to stay home with their kid or to be a working mom, as if it were that easy. The choice we’re really presented with is to stay home and do work that is undervalued by society and then take a huge pay cut when we re-enter the work force, or to work with zero flexibility to care for our kid and no paid maternity leave. And I’m afraid we’ve been taught to view that Hobson’s Choice as an amazing choice to be proud of.

I worry every time someone asks me, now that I’ve helped put my husband through law school at a huge cost to my career, if now I’m ready to move to wherever he can find a job, since his high powered career clearly has to be our top priority now.

I worry when I hear about the meme going around Facebook that says, “I traded eyeliner for dark circles, salon hair cuts for ponytails, designer jeans for sweat pants, long hot baths for lucky if i get a shower, late nights for early morning cartoons, designer purses for diaper bags and I wouldn’t change a thing!! Re-post this if you don’t care what you gave up and will continue to give up for your children!” Because as Meagan at The Happiest Mom says, “The thing is, our kids did not ask us to give up our purses or our daily showers. Going without a bubble bath doesn’t make us better mothers.” Sacrifice is sacrifice. It’s painful, but it’s sometimes worth it. Luxuriating in it does not make us better moms, or wives, or women.

So I worry. I worry that our supposed choices are not really amazing options after all, and that we’ve blinded ourselves into believing that they are. I worry that we keep thinking that there is something profoundly wrong with us when these choices cause us stress and pain and heartache, because we believe we should be feeling joy. I worry that the illusion of progress has stopped us from fighting for more significant change, and has stopped us from looking around for other answers.

For me, the most moving bit in this passage of Committed, is when Gilbert talks to her grandmother, who cut up the beloved coat that she bought with money she earned as a single woman, to make a Christmas outfit for her first baby. For Gilbert, this has become a symbol of sacrifice, but when she talks to her grandmother, she describes this period of young married life as one of the happiest times of her life. But then. Then her grandmother asks with great concern, “Oh, I might as well ask you outright! Now that you’ve met this nice man, you aren’t going to get married and have children and stop writing books are you?” Because her grandmother really, really hopes that Gilbert won’t make that sacrifice.

So that’s me right now, the voice calling in the wilderness. In the midst of making sacrifices for my family, I’m struggling to come to terms with the fact that these are necessary sacrifices, not wonderful sacrifices. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I can make these sacrifices and not put myself on a pedestal for it. I can want more for myself in the future. I can want more for you. I can refuse to go quietly.

I don’t want you to have to cut the fabric of your dreams to wrap your family in warmth. I want to give you the joy to make that sacrifice if you need to, and the fire in your heart to only sacrifice what you need, to keep fighting for your dreams, to stand up and say “these choices are false painful choices,” to know that it’s ok to want more.

Wanting more doesn’t make you less of a woman, or a wife, or a mother. It makes you better. Better for you, better for your family. Stronger. I want more choices for all of us. I want for us to fight to make that happen (and I think Elizabeth Gilbert does too).

*Not me. I have lots of strengths and failings, but obsessive chore doing is not one of them.

Photo by Moodeous Photography

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  • Julianna

    Best post you’ve ever written, Meg.

    • Amy

      Thank you for writing this- it made me cry, and spoke to many of the feelings I’ve currently been having. I’m pregnant with our first child, but I want to maintain my career after the baby is born- but I’m already getting so many different signals from people in my life who disagree with my choice. As if it’s so easy for me to think about my child in daycare- I often feel completely selfish. I’m sure it’s only going to get worse, but thank you thank you thank you for putting this out there. I’m going to re-read it when I’m feeling down about the sacrifices I need to make for my family and myself.

    • Chantelle

      Amazing writing indeed.

    • TNM

      I so deeply agree with Julianna that I am going to just have to repeat her verbatim: Best post you’ve ever written, Meg : ) You have articulated exactly the fears I had when I heard the discussion around “Don’t be a Martyr.”

    • Morgan

      Well, I’ve been at work 15 minutes and I’m crying already. Thanks, Meg.

      No, but seriously. Thank you.

      • RKELZ

        Sigh. This is exactly what I needed right now. (Par for the course from APW!) I just got out of a (re-purposed) meeting with a colleague detailing just how crappy maternity leave policies really are here (eff). I’m having our first child 4 months after the wedding.

        When my then-bf asked my dad’s blessing, my dad wondered aloud if my thoughts were turning to domesticity, but noted that it’s a “two-income world” these days… so I think that means I’ll have family support of my going back to work, despite my mom having stayed home with the 7 of us.

        Planned or not, babies are both awesome and annoyingly complicated. Like life.

  • Rose in SA

    Exactly! Exactly! Exactly!

    “I worry that we’re being given the illusion of lots of options, and the reality of really sh*tty options.” – this really resonates for me. I really, truly, deep down inside don’t believe that it’s possible to “have it all”. I believe that’s a myth we’re buying into, maybe partly because we don’t like the alternative.

    Interestingly, for me, marriage is no sacrifice at all. There is nothing about being married that makes me feel like I’ve given something up in exchange for something else. I feel I’ve only added to my life. My deep and abiding fear is that the same would not be true about having children.

    • lou

      i have to say i totally agree with you on this. we are getting married in a couple of months and I can’t see that i’ll have to sacrifice for my marriage (we’ve been together 7 years already, so i have a fairly good idea!).

      but it’s the kids thing.

      it’s always been the kids thing that i fear, because of this exact reason. what will i have to give up? and as much as the theory is there that we will share the responsibility and the work, i know that in most cases it is the woman who gets the majority of the load.

      i know myself and i know i wont be able to stay at home full time without going mental. so there are many emotional and financial considerations to having a child for us that i am just not ready to deal with yet… maybe ever?

      • As a working mom of young kids in an industry with notoriously long hours and sometimes unpredictable schedules, the kids have not felt like a sacrifice, but the JOB has.

        I think, for me at least, the kids didn’t interfere with my dreams or goals so much as change them, if that makes any sense. Before I was pregnant with my firstborn, I was very career goal oriented, and I fully expected to remain that way forever. I made plans for daycare and took my maternity leave with the complete expectation that I would be perfectly happy to kiss my munchkin on the cheek and say goodbye in the mornings, go off to work and be my adult career self, and then come home and pick up where I left off with my baby.

        Some women may experience this. I don’t know. I do know that my kids changed my priorities, my interests, my sense of humor, and my goals. It didn’t happen right away, either. It wasn’t like someone put a baby in my arms and I turned into a giant pile of mommy goo.

        I (of course) am so grateful for my kids, who are two of my favorite people in the world. But I think I might have been happy, too, but a very different person if I had remained career-driven without kids.

      • DQ

        This is exactly why I am not yet here as a Wife, my partner craves children and I simply can not get my head around the sacrifices I am going to have to make (my body, my freedom, my career even temporaraly) to even contemplate bringing children into my life.

    • That’s good to hear. I’m several months pre-wedding and I’m doing a lot of soul searching. I haven’t ever given marriage with anyone else a second thought, and with this man it seems/is right. But every marriage around me has meant sacrifice to abusive lengths. I know that isn’t the structure of our relationship and that marriage shouldn’t reverse that structure, it should only enhance it. I know, however, that marriage *does* mean giving up things. It means getting things, too, and those thoroughly outweigh what I’m giving up, but it does mean that I don’t spend all of my paycheck because we’re saving for a house. It means I don’t get to just willy-nilly commit to traveling all over with girlfriends the way I would before. It doesn’t mean I don’t do those things, but it does mean I stop and talk about it and structure them differently. Those things aren’t dealbreakers, nor do they significantly detract from my life, but it’s very important to me that I acknowledge those things now so I don’t feel disillusioned when they come up.

      Or am I totally backwards and all of you wise and wonderful women can help me out?

    • Liz

      same here. marriage has given me MORE opportunity rather than less. my options have become more plentiful. and then i got preggo and thought, “EFF.”

      i’m learning, learning how to figure out which sacrifices are the kind that don’t feel like sacrifices. because we have those in marriage, yeah? it didn’t FEEL like a sacrifice to work all day while my husband finishes grad school. but it WOULD feel like a sacrifice to work all day and then clean the house and cook, while my husband just finishes grad school.

      i’ve been able to pull apart what sacrifices are soul-scraping in marriage- i’m hoping kiddos are the same. i’m hoping there are sacrifices that don’t feel so… sacrificial.

      • “it didn’t FEEL like a sacrifice to work all day while my husband finishes grad school. but it WOULD feel like a sacrifice to work all day and then clean the house and cook, while my husband just finishes grad school.”

        THIS. RIGHT HERE. That’s my life right now. My husband is finishing his PhD and works long hours, and isn’t exactly holding up his end of the chores. And so I’m doing it– dishes, laundry, cleaning, sometimes cooking (we’re pretty evenly horrible on that one). And that’s when I feel frustrated. I worked all day, too– yeah, I didn’t work until 8pm, but I still worked. And it’s frustrating.

        It’s also been a couple months since we last saw our therapist, and we’ve been talking about going back. Coincidence? I think not. :D

        • Chantelle

          I hear you Sarah, same deal, me working AND doing everything else. I read your comment Liz and was like “hey wait a minute, I think she’s on to something…”.
          Sadly I don’t think the situation will change as he literally does not have the time to help. I keep reminding myself of the summer time when he was around more and cleaned and cooked (sometimes dinners for me and my friends)and I didn’t have to clean the bathroom for five months straight….and hope that will get me though the tough school year ahead. ugh, I DREAD the winter months.

          • Liz

            is setting things on the backburner reasonable?

            since becoming pregnant, i’m literally incapable of doing anything but sleeping when i get in the house. i take a nap. i wake up, we eat some taco bell and watch law and order, and i go to bed.

            i’ve had to learn to seriously lower my expectations for what gets done around the house and what we end up eating (don’t worry- i’m not eating taco bell every night. the baby is getting nutrients!) and the only reason my ocd, perfectionist self is okay with it is because i know it will be short-lived. he finishes his master’s in march, i pop out the baby in feb.

        • Sarabeth

          I did this for my husband in when he finished his dissertation in 2008, and now he’s doing it for me. I didn’t mind doing it at the time, precisely because I knew that I would get the same benefit later. For me, that’s the bottom line. One of the awesome things about being in a long term commitment is that we can each make sacrifices for each other, and over the long term, we each get more than we give. Not having to do much cooking now is 150% worth doing all of it for a few months two years ago. It’s an investment, and it pays back.

          I think it can drive my husband crazy that I am really focused on the reciprocity of any sacrifice we make for each other, but I am just not down with the creeping inequality that otherwise might result. So, if this is a temporary thing for you, can you start thinking about what he can do for you later that will make it actually equal? Not cr*p like one weekend away, but serious stuff, like letting you scale back work to go back to school, or start a small business, or something. Or, since kids are on the subject, maybe he’d like to commit to doing more than 50% of the at-home-with-them for the first year (if kids are a plan for you).

        • This feels like the place I’m in, except both of us are in grad school. He’s having funding issues, so it’s making life even more miserable. And I end up being the only one cleaning (thankfully he likes to cook). What I’ve come to realize is that when I feel this overwhelmed, I have to say something. Even if nothing changes, I need him to know that this isn’t easy on me either. That we’re in this together. But thanks to this site, I can now say “I feel frustrated because…” rather than “Look at all I do for you!!” I guess they call this growing up?

      • meg

        I think the difference, maybe, is you’re doing work you like? Also, your husband is still in grad school, while mine is now… not super employed while I drag on at a job I don’t like, stuck. So yes, sacrifices happen. But. They hopefully are worth it, and we hopefully keep remembering we want more.

        • Liz

          yeah- we were there with you not too long ago- my soul-sucking job, his unemployment. so maybe having a fore-seeable end-goal helps during the craptastic situations. for me, the whole “remembering we want more” piece is all about being able to see there’s an end-goal to his unemployment and my crap-job.

          • meg

            You nailed it. That’s what I’m talking about. Reminding ourselves that it’s ok and good to keep the “we want more” fire burning through the hard times.

        • Exactly. Right now I’m in a job that is okay (the job itself is frustrating as hell, but the people are great, which makes a big difference), but I’ve been wanting to start graduate school myself for a few years now. I put it off for the wedding (sigh) and am now finally applying. I’m hoping I’ll be able to go full time, but I might need to go part time in order to keep working, and to avoid additional debt. And that’s a big sacrifice for me. I’ve been waiting to start my career for a while, and putting it off even more to be fiscally responsible is… painful. But it’s for our family, and I’m okay with the choice we’ve made, even if I don’t like it, even if I want more, even if it’s a sacrifice to me.

        • I also think that it’s really important to remember not only that you want more, but also that you love each other more than you hate your soul-sucking job. My ex and I found ourselves trapped in a Blame Game that got really ugly in the end, but that was possible because when times were tough we (self-righteously) retreated to our own corners and did not reach out for each other.

    • meg

      Well, that depends. I don’t think marriage causes you to sacrifice by default, but family can by circumstance. I’ve had to make huge & painful career sacrifices that suck, and I’ve seen my parents have to make huge and painful sacrifices in their 35 years. But they are not constant, and that’s the price we pay for depending on and loving others, and I think it’s worth it.

    • Sarah

      Oh, Rose, you took the words out of my mouth (or should I say off my typing hands???)! The concept of “having it all” is complete B.S. It’s impossible.

      I don’t feel like marraige was some great sacrifice either. Maybe I’m still too new at it, and still so smug, but it’s pretty great and I gained so much. I didn’t give anything up. Motherhood is not the same as marraige. In order to do the job properly, I think sacrifices are required. You’re caring for another human being who cannot care for itself. I want to be honest with people and tell them I’m not willing to sacrifice anything right now to care for a child. I may never want to sacrifice. Does it make me really selfish? Possibly, but I’d rather admit that. Admit that I can’t have and don’t want “it all”. It doesn’t exist! And it’s better to admit that now. How terrible it would be to have a child and then be forced to make sacrifices only to be a miserable person and a miserable mother? What a waste that would be.

      It feels good to know that I’m not the only one out there who doesn’t buy into the “having it all” myth! It almost seems like we (women) are actually moving backward when we buy into this notion. Sign up for more work and more stress so that I can prove that I can “have it all” while I’m really suffering worse? No thank you.

      • meg

        OF COURSE we can’t have it all. Of course. That’s much of my point… we think we have to, and that’s a sh*tty option.

        But, you guys, wonderful as marriage is, it’s fraught with sacrifice. It has to be. It’s about putting a team first, and your needs second to the team…. and sometimes that means doing stuff you hate. I’m not arguing that is a bad thing, I’m arguing that it’s by turns a necessary thing, and a hard thing, and sometimes a wonderful thing, but no less painful for it.

        • I’ve never really been single, at least not as an adult so while I see the small (some times insignificant) sacrifices like, what we eat for dinner, the general level of cleanliness, and wither or not to go straight home from work, they don’t really seem like sacrifices because it is what you do when you are in a relationship or married to someone. Or maybe, we just ignore the fact that they are sacrifices at all, telling ourselves that we “want” to do them because it is what any good girlfriend/partner/wife/mother would do.

          I find that these little things still add up, and when you are already making big sacrifices like, making or not making career changes, supporting a partner through grad school (which by the way is a HUGE thing! OMG… I had no idea it would be like this…) or caring for a tiny human sometimes the little things are what really send you over the edge.

          In our house it would be the cleanliness of the house, it gets the bad rap and is the instigator of many fights because of the other big sacrifices we make in our life. I think it is also important to remember that we may make these sacrifices out of love but that doesn’t mean it is any easier to do, and in fact I think it makes us feel more guilty when we are overwhelmed by the magnitude of what we are doing “out of love”

          I have to remind myself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, someday (the ever illusive someday) it will get better. My almost-wife finished grad school and has a full time job now, I will finish in March and then we will have two incomes and can hire someone to clean our house ;) (ugh, the elitism of that last bit makes my seminaring self squirm, but that is another blog post!)

          • Cleaning is a big sacrifice for me. I was a slob all growing up and in my early adult life. Living with a neat freak has forced me to give up my messy ways.

          • RKELZ

            I can’t wait until my FH graduates law school and passes the bar and gets a job so we can get someone to help out around the house! Assuming he gets one that actually pays. And that my maternity leave is not too costly that we still can’t afford it. Just a couple hours a week for vacuuming/dusting would be heaven.

        • Agreed. I’m not married yet, although we are living like we are practically married. As someone who grew up as an only child with no cousins on the side of the family that’s closest to me, it’s been interesting to learn to have to share with my partner. Now, I was always good at sharing a book or a toy with classmates and friends, but sharing money, resources, the big things — that’s a sacrifice. I have to learn to work as a team, not as an individual whose world revolves around me.

        • Kate

          I just sent that quote to my husband.

          I think a big part of the “women can have it all now!” mentality, is built around the illusion that men have always been able to “have it all,” and maybe that is a little unfair. Maybe that overlooks all the husbands that have stayed in shitty jobs to support their wives and children, jobs they could have left to pursue their dreams if they only had to worry about themselves. Maybe that overlooks the fathers who don’t take the promotion that requires travel because they need to be home to help with the kids. I guess what I’m saying is maybe that “have it all” myth is built on something of illusion that only women ever sacrifice (not to overlook the fact that yes, historically, and still today men do benefit from marriage more than women).

          It reminds me of something my father said to me once: “To sacrifice for the people you love is good and something to look forward to.” And I don’t think he meant scraping bare the walls of your soul, I think he meant that sometimes sacrifice is hard, but necessary, and the right thing to do, and it can be part of building towards happiness, not resentment.

          • RKELZ

            I like your dad.

          • abby_wan_kenobi

            My dad worked at a job for 20 years and he hated it for about 18 of those. It paid so much more than a job he’d enjoy that he’d never give it up. That extra dough sent my mom back to college to finish her bachelor’s degree and later to grad school. It paid for gymnastics classes and ballet classes and sleepaway camp. It bought him a motorcycle and it bought my first car and it paid for me to go to college out of state. Eventually it paid for my wedding.

            Soul-sucking, shitty hours, crappy coworkers, twenty years. I never heard him complain until my little sis finished college. ‘Hey! Maybe I should look for a new job!’ ‘Really? Why, Dad?’ ‘My job sucks.’ ‘Since when?’ ‘Since always.’

            It definitely definitely isn’t just women who don’t have it all.

        • I am so glad that you chimed in, because for the first round of these comments – and of course I have only touched the surface so will keep reading – I was disheartened by everyone’s chiming “well, marriage isn’t a sacrifice, it is awesome – the real tough choices will be about motherhood.” Because I call b.s. on that. Marriage is, and can be, awesome but it is a sacrifice, and it is an option that takes a lot of other options away. I am married six months, and though that commitment has opened up possibilities – it has closed many. Closed more than I thought it would, and getting used to this dual consideration (the thinking about another person, having all your choices affect them, and your larger life “plan” tied to another) is harder than I expected.

          Thinking about something larger than yourself is not just the wheelhouse of motherhood. That is marriage too. I am trying to make my way in that institution without scraping bare my walls. The children issue was never under consideration – neither I nor my husband want any – but I can only imagine that it intensifies the struggle.

        • I think of the “have it all” concept as that Big Lie that Claire Huxtable Told Me in 1984. I was told that I could have (1) a career as a Partner in a NY law firm; (2) a fabulous husband; (3) five HAPPY children who get to see me not tired all the time; and (4) a huge, gorgeous brownstone.

          Lies. All lies.

          • FM

            I totally get what you’re saying, but since I have Cosby on the brain lately… I actually think they did a decent job of reality with Claire on that show, as I think they did show her tired (and annoyed, and mad, and super busy, and coming home at least somewhat late). And also, her husband worked at home, which, while not realistic in the sense that it’s uncommon, explained a lot about how they could live the way they did, and also both their parents lived nearby. And you definitely could afford a brownstone if you were partner in a law firm and your husband was a doctor, then or now. And their kids were all decent kids, but they definitely had issues, got in trouble, etc. So, I don’t know, I still think she is a decent model of a woman balancing all those pieces, who had to make decisions with her husband about options in order to live their life the way they wanted, rather than being a totally unattainable superwoman.

          • WAIT??? This is NOT true? Damn it! Damn it! I knew all those Jello pudding snacks were too good to be true.

            I watched my mother, who let marriage and motherhood scrape her soul (I imagine like scooping the seeds out of a pumpkin, and then every little fight, whine, complaint, extra trip to the store, barn, ballet studio, all the extra laundry, etc…just shaves a little more off, until the spoon tears through the flesh. Boom. A soul that resembles a loose-knit sweater.) Once all of us kids left the house and life moved on, it took her almost another decade to patch that frail little soul back together. She persisted and is now happier than she’s ever been (while still married to my father, oddly.) But holy mama of mania–does it have to be this way?

            No! People say. But then again, there’s a whole continent of people who would snub their nose at you because you’re not at home, not pressing the linens, not cooking nineteen meals a day. Such a catch 22.

    • peanut

      Can I just say that I am SO OVER “awesome jobs….for WOMEN, you know, with kids. So you’ll still be able to work!” Um, NO. I want an awesome career that is just awesome, without the qualifiers.

      • Interesting. My idea of what would be an awesome career changed. Awesome career used to be something measured by outside markers of success/stature, but is now something I measure by flexibility and intellectual freedom and interest.

        • peanut

          What I’m talking about is things like being told I should lecture at a community college rather than pursue a tenure-track professorship, or stay in a mind-numbing research job rather than go to graduate school “because it’s better for when you have kids”. 1) who even said I was having kids, 2) why aren’t you suggesting these career choices as being advantageous for men?, and 3) why don’t you let me decide what kind of career fits my lifestyle?

          • Love the sass, Peanut. get out your brass knuckles. Do your thing. Make ’em weep. We need strong women like you to advocate for one side of these crazy things called marriage and motherhood. And god forbid you don’t want to have kids, right?

            I heard Elizabeth Gilbert and Anne Lamott (do you ladies know her too? She is SO irreverent and hysterical and so “Exactly!!” all the freaking time, she kills me) talk about not having kids. EG makes a great point about the Aunties of the world. We need extra hands. We need free, unobstructed hands. Women with children cannot do it all by themselves, nor should they be asked to.

          • meg

            Anne Lamott is my favorite author, pretty much period. Though, um, Anne Lamott has a kid… she was a single mom, at that.

            And YES, have you read the previous post about aunties?

          • I’m not saying I disagree with you — not at all. I am a professional in a very difficult job that is not particularly baby-friendly. And yet, I seem to manage to make it work, as do a lot of other women. There are definitely days (a lot of them) when I wish I did something different, easier, lower-stress. And then there are days when I’m able to be fully present at work and remember why I loved this career before kids.

            Maybe what we need to do is stop thinking about the repercussions of our choices as “sacrifices,” and just think about them as “I made this choice, and to make it work I need to do X. If I don’t want to make it work anymore, I need to do Y and Z to get to a new place.”

    • OMG exactly.
      And I fear as well that if I do have kids, I’ll resent them for all the things I see my friends with kids having to give up.
      It scares me.
      I told my husband (of two weeks! YAY) two days in to our honeymoon that actually, I wasnt so sure I wanted kids. At all. Because of this, and because of “false choices” and the judgements you receive from everyone over how you are raising your kid.
      I dont think he gets it.

  • El

    Oh, yes. Meg, yes. This is perfect.

    Thank you, thank you for this.

  • What a wonderful post. I think I’ve read it through four times, and want to “exactly!” ever paragraph. I feel the pressure to “martyr” myself for this baby family we’re building, and I hate the false choices. But I rejoice that I’ve found this community of smart thoughtful women who are talking about these things. Thank you.

  • The metaphor at the end of this post really struck me – what a graphic way to describe the sacrifice some women feel they have to make! The entire thing makes me realize that many women, no matter how proudly they wear their martyrdom, really don’t want their daughters to do the same. Just two years ago, my mom (on Mother’s Day no less!) confided in me that she really hates children. But my dad wanted them (and was willing, as a college professor, to be the one at home most of the time), so my sister and I came into being. I had a wonderful childhood, but my mom’s words after saying that she really doesn’t like children were “and I’m too young to be a grandmother, so I’m not expecting any from you any time soon.” She doesn’t really want me to make that “sacrifice” the way she did, which is difficult given that I don’t want kids but my husband sort of does. Will I end up making the same “sacrifice” for the same reasons she did? It worries me, it really does.

    On a completely different note, skipping back up to the top of the post: Why do people idolize women who stay at home and take care of the children, while men like my father who do the same are considered weak, not career-oriented enough, and lazy? I don’t have an answer for that besides the mental connections people have with father=breadwinner and mother=caretaker, but was wondering if others have any thoughts that direction.

    • lou

      it’s a funny thing isn’t it? men who stay at home with kids are seen as a bit of a joke, emasculated and weak by many people.

      perhaps it’s a throwback to that idea meg talked about before of ‘if women like it, it must be stupid’. raising kids is seen as womens work by a lot of people – something women enjoy. therefore (although idealized) it is not taken seriously.

      • Chantelle

        Just putting out a different thought, I sometimes hear the opposite when dads pull their weight in the parenting relationship. Similar to praise they receive when they “help” when planning a wedding , they get to become heroes to their extended families who exclaim that “he is such a good dad, he helps change diapers and has been so helpful to their wife” (seeing this situation with my new brother -in-law). Yes, he’s great, but he’s just a great parent, as is his wife.

        Sadly, until society starts seeing parenting as an equal job for both parents, moms and dads both lose. Either dads are emasculated becasue they stay at home and raise their children, or they are deified becasue they “helped” their wives by taking turns with diapers. I worry there will be to many sharp retorts from me if my husband to be gets praised for “helping” once we have kids.

        That’s one thing I love about APW, there are really smart women out here who help me come up with a better way to say the sharp things that usually are first of my tongue :)

      • People can’t handle the reversal of gender roles. It upsets their notions of how the world should work, because many of them have always been told this is the way it is, so they do that. Seeing other people acting differently gets them thinking that “huh, maybe we could have done it differently” and suddenly they are upset so they take it out on the untraditional couple.

        • RKELZ


          • RKELZ

            We were the only couple at our Engaged Encounter last weekend with a working woman and unemployed (student) man. The couples leading the retreat, while adorable, were annoyingly stereotypical in their roles… it makes me want us to be a volunteer couple so we can shake things up.

    • Liz

      i think because we assume men are completely incapable in anything domestic. you watch any sitcom where the dad gets “stuck” watching the kids for an hour, and the wife comes home to poop on the walls, an overflowing washing machine and half-burnt kitchen. so there’s probably a subconscious connection- we assume a man who’s home all day is doing NOTHING because he’s incapable.

      • We’ve got friends with a little boy who just turned one. Mom works a couple of days a a week, and on those days, Dad is responsible for getting the little one dinner and putting him to bed. We spent the weekend with them and showed up on one of these days and Dad proceeds to tell us how he had to go to the grocery store with the little one, and how clueless he was. There were no shoes because he didn’t know where they were or how to put them on (they’re shoes, for f*ck’s sake!) and he was just giving the baby random stuff for dinner because he didn’t know what he usually ate and MAN, does he hate the two nights a week that he has to do this stuff because he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

        We love these people, and laughed because it was funny. Over the weekend, however, I got more and more annoyed with what I saw. On the way home, himself and I had a serious discussion about how happy the Dad is to take a kind of hands-off approach and to remain clueless. How happy he is to perpetuate the stereotype of being incapable so he wouldn’t have to do certain things. It was tough because the Mom doesn’t mind and he doesn’t mind, so we were trying to look at things with a ‘well, it’s what works for them, who are we to say anything?’ mindset. After all, who are we to criticize? Still, I was like, nuh-UH, not for me, not for US. It kind of rubbed us both the wrong way, seeing that kind of dynamic implemented by our peers.

      • And when men say that they are “babysitting” I want to scream, “IT IS YOUR KID, NOT BABYSITTING!”

        • Amy

          That is one of my biggest pet peeves ever. I am forever correcting people when I hear them say that – in a nice way of course, but still. You do not “babysit” your own child, you parent them.

        • Claire

          Yes! I hear this from my male co-workers frequently. “I’m on babysitting duty tonight so the wife can do x,y,z”. It’s usually followed by compliments about how generous and thoughtful he is to give the mom a break. Shivers.

          • That makes me feel stabby.

          • Stabby is the perfect way to put it.

        • EXACTLY. (the button wasn’t enough for this)

          • Stabby: my new favorite adverb.

            BTW: When I saw how many comments there already were, I was like, oh heck no, I’m not reading them all (235) but here I am, still chugging. You ladies are killing me. Making me think. Making me laugh. Inventing new words. I freaking LOVE yous!

        • Liz


          this is unthinkable to me. if only because i think, if given the option, my husband would want to be the one carrying the kid for 9 months lol.

        • angela

          as when some men say: I´m HELPING with the clean chores….NO men, your are not helping, because as you sure know, both of you are the ones that gets the house dirty, so you are not helping your wife because cleaning is her duty, you are cleaning the house because also you were one getting dirty the house in first time.
          So please, please, use the language correctly.
          All those things that are not say it out loud dont exist.
          And excuse my poor english.

      • Kate

        Ha, the sitcoms (and commercials) that always make men out to be incompetent in domestic issues is one of the few things that pisses my husband off, and he’s not easily excitable. He thinks it’s a double standard, it’s no longer socially acceptable to assume women can’t handle working outside the home, but it’s still socially acceptable to assume men can’t do laundry or cook dinner without a disaster ensuing that requires the woman to come in and “save the day.”

        • Liz

          it balances. we’re still naggy bitches in those sitcoms/commercials.

        • Josephine

          AGREED! I hate those dumb-dad/husband commercials. This is my friend from high school’s pet issue – it even provoked her to write a blog post about it: http://rachelareed.blogspot.com/2009/04/stupid-dadcommercials-are-for-smart.html
          She objects strongly to this characterization of stupid, incompetent men because her dad cooked, cleaned and took care of her and her sister while her mom was off holding down a full-time job.

    • All the talk of having mostly crappy choices always makes me think that *some* of those choices are so crappy because in the current social environment, it doesn’t seem like most men feel they have the same array of choices, and I think improving men’s number of choices will improve the quality of women’s choices. It’s similar to the name changing discussion from earlier this year — although it seems like no matter what choice women make, someone is going to take issue with it, the choices are all at least acknowledged. I know my husband feels much more pressure about — and I’m going to phrase this poorly — living up to the Right Way to Be a Man than I do about the Right Way to Be a Woman.

    • meg

      Funny, I’d argue that in lots of ways women who take care of children are taken for granted, and men who do are idolized. Oh, our double edged sword of gender…

      • Claire

        I agree. My sister homeschools her FIVE children and is an inspirational mother. Her husband is an amazing father as well and sometimes manages the kids and household for a week or two at a time when my sister travels internationally to present at conferences. It does kinda bother me how she is simply expected to handle everything, but everyone heaps praise and incredulous compliments and generous offers of assistance on him for doing exactly what she usually does every single day.

      • I was saying it in reference to the overall situation, rather than a one-time thing of “babysitting” so the mom can have a break. In that situation, the dad is viewed as a martyr, but when it’s an overall role-switch, things seemed to be viewed differently. By teaching less and getting kid-duty as his main thing, my dad was sometimes viewed negatively in light of what he “should” be doing – making money for the family so the mom could take care of the kids.

    • I have to admit, during a conversation with my boyfriend, I was momentarily surprised when he said “Yeah, if I wasn’t doing my current job, my second job choice would be stay-at-home dad.” Even with my equality-mindset, it was a surprising statement to hear!

  • Joannezipan

    hummm I wonder if child care would be seen as such a low status task if men bore the babies or if there would suddely be 12 months paternity leave at full pay, with a right to return to felible working. It wouldn’t be too expensive then would it!

    And in truth it is the 0.78 to the dollar stat you mentioned that leads to it all…women are cheap skilled labour, having better maternity related rights would make us more expensive and therefore why not just hire a man? Until we can show a woman’s intrinsic worth within the workplace as different, but just a valuble to that of a man this situation will not change.

    • meg

      Oh, I think yes on paternity leave. Also, if men planned weddings…. ;)

      • ka

        There was a series that ran on BBC America for a season about grooms planning weddings — there were given XX pounds to throw the wedding and the catch was the bride couldn’t be involved (grooms had to pick out the dress and everything). I don’t know exactly how much was staged obviously, but it was fascinating to watch the girls’ struggle to relinquish control and the guys’ struggle to handle this thing none of their friends or family had ever dealt with before. And 9 times out of 10 the bride was thrilled with everything, and the groom was immensely proud that he pulled it off.

        Though clearly the flip-side is the same: guys planning a wedding get lauded, while us girls are expected to do it by default…

      • Mollie

        Have you read “If Men Could Menstruate” by Gloria Steinem?


        “Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammad Ali’s Rope-a-Dope Pads, John Wayne Maxi Pads, and Joe Namath Jock Shields- “For Those Light Bachelor Days.””

      • I started a new job three months ago and was surprised to learn they offer paternity leave. My manager is currently out on paternity leave. I looked it up on the benefits section of the company website and it is even listed as maternity/paternity leave.

        I do not recall if they get compensation for it though. . .

        P.S. People at work even threw him a baby shower. There was a lot of food and menfolk present.
        It sorta blew my mind.

    • We’d absolutely see paid parental leave, and better daycare subsidies, and all of that.

      I administer leaves of absence for my company and it drives me crazy – if a man takes off more than three days to take care of his wife/partner and new baby, he’s lauded as a giant hero and people talk about how awesome it is that he’s “that kind of dad.” And it is awesome (and it’s kind of cute when the men run me down in the halls to show me pictures of their babies, even though I don’t know them at all aside from signing off on their leave paperwork). But when women take time off? You know, to actually give birth to the baby and recover and all of that? That’s when the eye-rolling and the gnashing of teeth begins, and it’s infuriating.

    • To add to this discussion of childcare, while echoing Meg’s call to fight for better options, I wanted to mention something that I learned earlier this year when reading Gail Collin’s book, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. 1971 Congress passed a law that would have basically established universal daycare in this country – from birth to 5 years. It would have been free for low-income families, and subsidized at different levels for middle income families. AND RICHARD NIXON VETOED IT. We read this book for my (non-APW) book club, and we were all struck by how momentous this veto felt to us. That our lives and our views of our choices with children and family would be totally different if we knew that whenever we had a child, there would be affordable, reliable child care available to us.

      There is certainly a sense when I think about this that here is something American women and American families lost, but also there is this reminder to us that political change is possible – and that women (and men) do need to organize and fight for family-friendly policies.

      • EXACTLY.

      • Lethe

        Yes yes yes.

      • Lovely. Just another reason for me to absolutely hate Nixon. He already makes my blood boil; now there’s probably smoke coming out of my ears.

      • Kess

        I hadn’t heard of this bill before, but it doesn’t surprise me at all that it was vetoed – it does surprise me that it got thru congress.

        Americans are very individualistic and don’t like giving up control of anything, especially their children. Economically, it doesn’t make sense that childcare and housework were not institutionalized, but the culture of America means it is largely still individual, although cleaning services and eating out are more common now of days.

        Still, it does infuriate me!

  • Andrea

    Meg, this post is beautiful and intense.

    I want every woman I know to read this.

    “I don’t want you to have to cut the fabric of your dreams to wrap your family in warmth. I want to give you the joy to make that sacrifice if you need to, and the fire in your heart to only sacrifice what you need, to keep fighting for your dreams, to stand up and say “these choices are false painful choices,” to know that it’s ok to want more.”


  • Wow. This blew me away. I am 100% with Juliana on this being your best post ever.

    I’ve been thinking about sacrifices a bit. The thing about sacrifices is that they are not supposed to be easy or good or nice. They are supposed to entail the giving up of something that you value. In return, our sacrifices are supposed to yield something positive. (There’s a lot of “supposing”.)

    I think the difference for us as women who live now, is that we have more of a choice as to what we sacrifice in our relationship. Whereas many of our mothers and grandmothers and women who went before were expected to sacrifice without thinking about it (and were often not given the opportunity to mourn those sacrifices), we have far more space to decide what to sacrifice. The other side of progress is that our husbands (male partners?) are also expected to make sacrifices in manners and ways in which they have not been required to even contemplate for ever.

    I still think it’s easier for women to sacrifice: on the whole, we do it far more willingly. Part of that must be as a result of what we’ve been taught by many of our female role models and what men have been taught by their role models. Hopefully this is shifting with each generation. Perhaps it is not?

    For myself, I cannot imagine a relationship where one partner makes sacrifices for the good of the relationship if those sacrifices go unnoticed and uncelebrated.

    Lastly: my comment is very gendered. I’d be fascinated to hear more experiences of people in same-sex relationships.

    • nicole

      This isn’t something that I ever really thought of before, but to offer a same-sex relationship perspective, I think it is very interesting that I identify as the more feminine partner and I think I have made more sacrifices for our relationship. Though we are both women – we are still somewhat following your theory that it’s easier for the woman to sacrifice.

      While we haven’t gone through anything too huge, such as one partner supporting the other through school (props to all you ladies!) or dealing with any aspect of children (neither of us wants them), we did choose our apartment based on its proximity to my fiance’s family/hometown, as well as its proximity to her job. Granted, I was unemployed at the time so I figured I would just look for a job wherever we ended up, and my family is less than an hour away, but it’s still slightly frustrating that we can see her friends and family at the drop of a hat while it takes a bit more planning to get to my home town, and sometimes I can’t help but wonder what jobs I may have found if I could have been looking in different areas…

      But, as you said, Saartjie, sacrifices are supposed to yield something positive. Who knows where I would be had I not made these sacrifices – most likely in a far less desirable situation than I’m in. But for these (fairly minor) sacrifices I have gained a relationship with a wonderful woman who loves & supports me, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

  • Wsquared

    “Wanting more doesn’t make you less of a woman, or a wife, or a mother. It makes you better. Better for you, better for your family. Stronger. I want more choices for all of us. I want for us to fight to make that happen (and I think Elizabeth Gilbert does too).”

    I’ll agree in part.

    There is nothing wrong with wanting more, but there is everything wrong with not having a sense of limits to what you want– especially if you want it all Right Now. There is no strength in wanting it all Right Now, because you will spread yourself thin by wanting too many things at once. It is only reality that we have limitations. We are human beings. But within limits can lie great strength, because it forces you to focus on what you have instead of what you don’t have. There is some truth to the esteemed mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell saying that intrinsic to our happiness is being able to do without some of the things that we want.


    That does not mean that we give up and sacrifice everything. I’m not even sure that one’s family is best served by that. It’s a matter of learning to find the balance and equilibrium that is right for you, regardless of what “society” says. There is no absolutely “right” order in which to do things. You merely try to best play the cards that you are dealt, and to plan for the long term without attempting to control *everything*. While no woman should be forced to “stay home and have her identity as a mom be her only identity,” neither should she be forced to justify herself in the workforce to extent that the work she does also subsumes her self and person-hood. Both of those things are mind-numbing and potentially soul-destroying.

    Sure, society tends to laud a lot of women who just “give it all up.” But instead of taking that as some sort of threat, take that as an odd form of encouragement: ask yourself, what *does* make me happy? What if you *didn’t* get everything you wanted? Would you feel “less of” a person or “less than” someone else? Is that *really* the end of the world? The sooner we can ask ourselves those sorts of questions, the better. Because answering them allows us to know whether we can pick ourselves up and keep going– that’s the real test of *any* human being’s strength and independence. Furthermore, when you mindfully make a choice and think it through, and really ask yourself if this is what you truly want, or is it because “society” or any group of people defines that that’s what you *should* want in order to be valued and successful, that’s the real way to stick it anything or anyone that would pull you down, or who would say that you’re “nothing, because you’re not like me, and you don’t want what I want.”

    This is not easy, mind, but it’s worth it.

    By the way, Christian martyrs weren’t lauded merely for “giving it all up.” They are lauded for what they gained: transcendent freedom in following Christ; for having the courage to say “thy will be done,” and therefore not tie themselves body and soul to their professions, their spouses, etc. The kind of martyrdom that would scream, “I did all this for you, and you’re not noticing me” isn’t martyrdom. It’s excessive pride. Excessive pride pulls us down because it makes our souls heavy while we yearn for freedom.

    We all make sacrifices, or rather, compromises, for the sake of something greater that we truly want. No, this does not mean “the greater good” as in “only the family matters, and the family is the only greater good.” It’s really a matter of balance: of being able to pursue the “more” that we want, can want, and even should want, with fortitude, but with lots of communication and without unduly and unfairly hurting someone else. A woman should be allowed to define “more” for herself, and should have the strength to say “screw it!” if the “more” she wants does not meet other people’s criteria. As for that something greater, we have to meaningfully define what that is and understand why it’s meaningful to us. The word “sacrifice” comes from the Latin, “sacrum facere” = to make sacred, or holy.

    As you’ve said before, happy parents make happy children. But I would sound a note of caution if we tend to place all of our happiness eggs in the same kinds of baskets.

    • meg

      I activly don’t belive that you can have it all. Part of more choices for me is the choice to have less. For one of you not to work, for one of you to work part time. For you to NOT work out of the house and have the work you do inside the house valued… etc. Those are the choices I want us to have, not the false sense that we can and need to do it all.

      • Wsquared

        Indeed. In opting out of some things, we need to take time to reaffirm what we’ve opted *into*; the two are symbiotic. A professor of mine once discussed this with us– an all-female group of graduate students.

        She manages to balance her kids with her work, and she inhabits her own skin very well.

        She told us two things: 1) to never demand special privileges, just because we’re women– that we can’t, say, beg off being good and responsible colleagues who need to participate in, say, department meetings “just because we have kids” (if indeed we do). Also, to remember that our male colleagues “have kids, too,” and that their work often takes them away from their kids. For example, I have an adviser who actively helped look after the kids as his wife was finishing her dissertation. 2) it is beneficial to have very supportive partners who understand as well as you do the stakes for everyone involved.

      • One of my former lover’s mothers said: “Life is about narrowing down possibilities.” I think she is right on so many levels. And we choose that narrowing. Welcome it, at times. And other times, when the tunnel is so narrow and the light so dim, I want to beat that narrowing over the head with a blunt object.

        It’s helping me, though, that I’m older. -ish (31). That I made career and traveling a priority. That I said “see ya” to my job so I could go travel. I’ve checked off most of my To Do list, just because I was living life. So now, I narrow. Now, I marry. Later, I may have kids. Narrow, narrow. As Meg said, I choose to narrow.

        Though oddly, my waist expands. Huh–

        • meg

          I like this…

          But we’re the same age, basically. Are you calling me OLDER? Already? Damn it.

          • Old-ish, Meg, old-ish. Like depending on what boots we wear. Or how our hair is coiffed. (I think the use of that word alone relegates me in the O.L.D. category, even if I have a super sassy do.)

        • abby_wan_kenobi

          I think this is all perspective. I like to think my life gets wider as I go. The choices along the way are just trajectory. Getting married opened a door for me. My life is fuller, my experiences richer now that I’m sharing them with someone. The path I’m on now has more branches, because my husband’s branches are here too. Before there were the places my life could take me, my career, my family – now there are all these new places that my husband’s career or family or our baby family might take me that I never could have gotten to on my own.

          Right now we’re both working and seeing less of each other. That choice puts money in the bank – money that could buy a house or take us on a year-long trip around the world or put me through grad school. Wider, wider, wider. When we have kids that choice will open another new path for me, all new experiences and adventures. Maybe the choices down that road will be hard ones, but they’re choices that aren’t yet part of my life.

          I think when I look out at all those choices I see the love that lies on those paths. Maybe I’m a hopeless optimist, but I never thought my wedding day would be the happiest day of my life and I can still see things getting bigger and better. Not perfect or easy, but expansive.

  • Liz


    this is huge for me right now. you know that? HUGE. because motherhood has been a drain ALREADY and i haven’t popped the kiddo out yet. i didn’t expect it to be. i expected some nice, pleasant puke in the mornings (ha) and that’s about it. but my entire day is effected. and it’s been worth it. so i’m starting to understand that whole “sacrificial love” thing and how a mom can be glad to give up certain comforts (like a full night of sleep or continence or the ability to eat thai without barfing) for their precious little ones.

    HOWEVER. i will not give up my mascara. i will not stop going out with friends (even if i’m drinking lemon water as they down bourbon). i will not stop dressing (moderately) cute. it takes effort to still do these things when i’m huge and exhausted, but i wouldn’t be liz if i stopped. and you know what? it’s not BABY that would benefit from my mascara-loss. it’s me. i’m making a trade. though i’m tired, feeling good about the way i look is more important to me than a (very) precious 5 minutes extra of sleep. that’s not how it works for everyone, but for me- being frumpy would be scraping my soul bare. (i’m sorry. i’m shallow) we’ll see how this translates when the baby arrives- i don’t claim to know.

    meanwhile, i think a piece of our false expectations of amazing choices is that youthful invincibility complex. we think “i can do it all!” and we can’t. nor should we. at least, not at the same time.

    when i say that i have “options” with this big belly jutting out of me, i don’t mean that i have the happy option of both nursing a baby and working full time simultaneously. i mean that i get to choose which one i like. or do a nice side-job from home to keep my skills up to par. or raise the baby now, work later. or finish some long-abandoned projects as i sit at home, soaking up time with the little one. i do, genuinely, feel like there are options. but i’m figuring out which ones will “scrape my soul bare.”

    • Liz, you give me hope that if we end up having a kid (or kids) I won’t end up losing myself in them. While I don’t wear mascara now, maybe I’ll start if/when I get pregnant as a sort of “eff you” to stereotypical motherhood. Just because.

    • you said what i was thinking far more eloquently than i did.

      and i will never leave the house without mascara. it’s just how i roll.

    • Lethe

      I think this precisely why, as Meg points out in the post, we need to feel empowered to demand MORE options, beyond struggling with ourselves to find fulfillment in our current options. Because why shouldn’t you get the option of nursing a baby and being able to work full-time, if that’s the option that you see as happiest? Right now, supports for that don’t exist for the vast majority of people in this country. But in some other countries (that provide government-paid daycare, that make available daycare very close to work so that you can frequently see your child throughout the day, that have paid maternity leave and strong laws protecting women’s rights to return to their jobs after childbirth), it is an option. And regardless whether that’s the path I ultimately decide to take, I want that option.

      • Liz

        i think i agreed with you 7 months ago, lethe, haha. but now that i’m faced with the actuality (this is not intended as a “you’ll see” but as a “how it worked for me”), i wouldn’t dream of trying to do both. at least, not right now. (i’m lucky- teachers have schedules that mirror their children’s. when kiddo is in kindergarten, i can start working full-time without daycare.)

        i think one of the many traps we get ourselves into is wanting to have it all- when we don’t realize what “it all” really entails. life is a series of trades. in a few months, i’ll be trading a job for a child. but, that trade won’t involve any soul-scraping. it’ll involve the delay of some pursuits, and the picking-up of others. (being home, maybe i can hop back on that PhD. or pursue other side projects i’ve abandoned for my full-time job) in a manner of speaking, it’s a sacrifice. but it’s not a felt sacrifice. it’s not a burden.

        i think part of setting healthy expectations for ourselves- part of “wanting more” can be learning that it’s okay to do one thing at a time.

        • Lethe

          It’s great that you are doing what you feel is best for you, and more power to you! But I think my point is still the same: the fact that you or anyone would rather not choose to have a baby and continue working full time does not make it any less important to fight so that other women have that option. Even if it’s not something you could fathom for yourself! Everybody’s bodies and minds are affected differently by pregnancy, birth, etc, and people have vastly different types of jobs and get different amounts of fulfillment and energy from their jobs. So what is right for one person will probably not be right for another, and creating the maximum possible number of choices gives everyone the best chance at being happy.

          Take my boss of a couple years ago. I was working in a progressive law firm that did work for low-income clients, and the firm placed high priority on taking care of its employees. So it had awesome benefits like paid maternity leave, and helped subsidize nearby childcare, and the firm was totally supportive of breastfeeding at work, etc. So my awesome boss had not one but TWO kids while she worked there, both times taking several months of leave and then returning to work while still being able to breastfeed and spend a lot of time with her babies. And she wasn’t some kind of worn out super-powered uber-woman, she was just lucky to have the supports in place to make it easy for her! Right now, most people don’t have that. Even if not all of us choose to do it, I think we all deserve the opportunity to make that choice, especially after having seen how well it can work before my own eyes.

          • Liz

            i can side with that, lethe. i think i was worried you were verging into the “women should do BOTH ALL THE TIME” territory. which gives me the heebie-jeebies.

        • meg

          Right, agreed, in favor. But I wish you had A) a culture that respected the work of staying home more, B) more part time work from home options there if you wanted them, and C) a year of paid maternity leave.

    • meg

      I actually TOTALLY agree, I just didn’t have space to get into it. I’m working on working for myself, because I think that’s how I can be a happy mamma. But… I think the pre-fab choices we’re given “work/non-work” blow, and have 100% to do with men’s biology. I think other countries are better about it (paid maternity leave? paid PATERNITY leave?)

      So I think we do have options, but they are tricky. And I want us to think more outside the box, and keep fighting for more options for everyone (not everyone can work for themselves, or has a partner to work for them)… etc.

      • Sylvia

        I’m not at all familiar with the law in the US but in the UK there is paid paternity leave (as well as maternity leave) which is protected by law. I’m not too sure how often the full allowance is actually taken – which is pretty interesting. David Cameron (the prime minister) recently took two weeks of paternity leave and I think if he can manage it then there is really no excuse for anyone else claiming to be too busy or important!! There is also talk of more flexibility in the future through a joint allocation of ‘parental leave’ – as in you choose how much of your ‘parental leave’ each of you takes).

        I’m not entirely sure how this makes me feel but thought I’d throw it into the mix!

        • Liz

          mmk, i’m moving to the UK.

          right now, i’m staring down 6 short weeks of unpaid maternity leave during which they’re not letting me have insurance. MMHM.

          • Marchelle

            The UK (where I am) is pretty decent, and not to be sniffed at by any means, but hello? Canada! I’m moving THERE.

          • Marchelle

            (Which just goes to show that the grass is always greener…)

          • meg

            And THAT is what I’m talking about!

            Before I wrote this, I thought about all the women I knew who were mothering pretty happily. And I realized there were commonalities. They had one of these things going for them: A) paid maternity leave B) The ability to work part time/ flex time/ work from home/ work for themselves C) A partner that could support them. And I think we need some of those options. As it stands in the US working mom vs. stay at home mom just masks the problem that we need more options and flexibility and support. We need more jobs we can do from home, and paid benefits. We need a culture that honors the hard work of child rearing. And on and on. That’s what I mean by more options, not the myth of having it all.

          • This is why whenever I get fed up w/ politics and ridiculousness I yell “Scandinavia!” at C. He knows exactly what it means. Parents there split a YEAR of paid leave. SPLIT. A YEAR. PAID.

            WHAT THE EFF, USA?!

          • ddayporter

            Liz, WHAT. I am feeling very living-under-a-rock-ish, and totally ungrateful for this stupid job I have. If I were to still be working here when we have kids, I would get 3 months of 60% paid maternity leave. with insurance. I’m so pissed off on your behalf right now, and apparently on most of the country?? I really thought it was more common for regular salaried positions to have at least partially paid maternity leave. silly me.

          • Liz

            dday- teachers generally get shit on. it’s the way it goes.

          • Morgan

            You know, Canadians aren’t particularly known for patriotism and flag waving, but people, the more I learn about the American health care and social support and all that it entails? It makes me want to go waving a red maple leaf around.

            Look, Canada is no utopia (if nothing else, it’s -22oC (-8F) and snowing outside), but my husband and I can share 12 month paid (though not 100%) parental leave, and that applies if we adopt, too. My dad died from lung cancer, and I’m only partly kidding when I say the biggest expense my mother had was hospital parking. It can be hard to get a family doctor, but when you have one, it’s free, and while it can take a while to see a specialist, there is no payment then either.

            BUT. We pay for this. We pay higher taxes – both annually and every single time we buy something. Canadian ALL pay for these things, and you know what? Even the really rich I used to work with are fine with this. Sure, we bitch about taxes, but I don’t know ANYONE who would trade what you guys call “socialized medicine” or whatever for the American system and the perceived lower taxes.

            I wish you all could see it from this side – most people I know can’t even figure out why anyone even has to debate these things. Changes have to come from the top and bottom – the government and from the people.

            I’m sorry – I must seem preach or spoiled. I just don’t GET it.

          • Jolynn-exactly. And ladies, when the mamas go shopping, they zip up the blanket in their baby buggy and leave the little tyke under the heated awning just outside the department store or restaurant. Now, I’m not one to shop, but hello! Feeling free enough–and safe enough to leave your kid while their sleeping anyway to go have thirty minutes of you time? Denmark–I’m on my way. And once I’m married, I can fight my way for citizenship!

          • Liz A

            Liz, you’re owed 12 weeks under FMLA. And if you are covered by insurance now, your coverage must be maintained during those 12 weeks.

            Talk to your HR people. They legally cannot offer you 6 weeks of uninsured time off.

          • Liz

            thanks, liz. i haven’t (officially) been with this school for a full 12 months. i’ve worked with them for 3+ years at this point, but they only technically became my employer in august. so fmla doesn’t apply.

            what’s frustrating is that i’ve worked for employers who, i don’t know… appreciate and look out for their employees? and though they weren’t legally obligated to continue my insurance coverage, they were going to. you would hope that a school district would have the same philosophy.

        • I don’t think anywhere in the US has mandated paid maternity leave, let alone paternity leave. Maybe a couple of more progressive states? Mostly all that is legally mandated is the Family Medical Leave Act coverage, which is a) 12 weeks of leave with the right to return to the job afterwards, but not necessarily any pay while you’re out, and b) doesn’t apply to smaller employers, employees in their first year with the employer. Many Americans do have more generous leave available in some form, but it’s generally at the employer’s discretion, and something implemented for recruiting/retention purposes to compete with other employers for talent.

          • Sarabeth

            California actually does pay for some period (six weeks?) of paternity or maternity leave through a disability insurance fund. You dont get full pay, it’s not for that long, but it’s better than nothing.

            Also, I’m on the academic job market this year. If I am so lucky as to get the single job I applied for in Canada, I am taking it for the maternity leave. Not even exaggerating. And Sweden…sigh. My husband did part of his Ph.D. there and his advisor’s ability to work part time for four years *while maintaining his demanding and prestigious academic position* was pretty amazing. And the way that infant care leave is structured means that fathers usually stay home with kids for a few months without the mom, which really disrupts the whole mom=caregiver equation.

          • Morgan

            I work for a big company, with the head office in Canada and some large offices in the States. Check this out, from our HR policies.

            In America, “In accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA,) and as enhanced by the Company, a leave of absence for up to twelve work weeks during any consecutive twelve month period (an “FMLA Leave”) is available.” “FMLA Leave will be considered an unpaid leave of absence.”

            In Canada? “[Company] recognizes the need to help employees spend the first year with their newborn or newly adopted child. Individual circumstances and business needs will be respected by ensuring minimum disruption through reasonable notice and scheduling of leaves.” “Employees who give birth are eligible to participate in [Company’s] Supplemental Unemployment Benefit plan. The SUB plan provides a top-up payment incremental to EI payments such that the eligible employee can receive up to 100 percent of base salary as entitled under [Company’s] Short Term Disability Plan (STD). The SUB plan is payable for a period of six weeks immediately following childbirth.”

            So because of laws, in America you’re ‘allowed’ to take 12 weeks off for free – in Canada, you get 6 weeks at 100% pay, and the rest of the year at 55% of your salary. At the same company.

            Yeah. I don’t even know what to say to that.

          • I live in Germany. The laws here are:

            6 weeks before and 8 weeks after birth MANDATED full pay leave. Literally, you are not permitted to work during that time.

            Then – 70% of your salary for a year. Your position is held free for you to return to for up to 3 years.

            amazing right? BUT there is a flipside

            It’s really really REALLY hard to get a job as a 20-something female. BECAUSE employers pay for half of all that. Sure, they can’t ask you if you’re planning on having a kid. But if you do? It’s EXPENSIVE and complicated. So what happens? They descriminate. Young, career starting females.

            And don’t even get me STARTED on the wait lists for kindergartens here AND the fact that elementary school ends at 11 am.

            What I’m saying is: there is a flipside to every system. And no system is perfect.

        • Arachna

          Nice. But important to note that he can’t get fired before his term is up, his career and earning potential will not be affected and two weeks isn’t much. It’s certainly not four months.

          • Sylvia

            That is a good point. It was also probably a publicity stunt! That said, I think that the more public figures that take their full leave entitlements the better – it may even change the culture a little bit!
            Two weeks is a tiny amount of time but if it becomes common practice for men to take it then it’s a foot in the door…

          • Morgan

            Who cares if it’s a publicity stunt? If the message is ‘it’s good for everyone to be with their wife and brand new baby’, it’s a message I can get behind.

      • Corinne

        My husband and I are very lucky as we both work at the same institute and so we can ‘swap’ maternity leave for paternity leave, plus we get 6 months full pay (or 12-months part-time). While I know that is so much better than what most people get I don’t think it has changed our decisions on child rearing. The fundamental decisions about having children, the sacrifices etc are still the same. In my previous job where there was no paid maternity leave at all, we still had the same conversations we do now and probably will be in the years to come (we are struggling to sort this one out!!).

      • angela

        Yes, in spain, maternity leave is 16 weeks, and paternity leave will be around 6(Not sure right know) in the begginnings of 2011.
        Even when maternity leave is paid, not all women can have it alll 16 weeks, because if you work for a private enterprise, unless prove it big firm, you usually dont get all the maternity leave bacause of the boss…or at least not all women do. And please, let´s not talk about paternity leave….its seems like weak the man who take it….so usually fathers transferred some of the paternity leave to the mothers, that usually gets the caretakers roles….as in all the world.
        Unless you work for public institutions, (which i am begginnig to consider) it´s quiet difficult to have kids and work full time. even when daycare it is an opcion for some familys…
        so, no country is perfect, no society is, but if i have to choose, i like it mine.

    • lmb

      I just want to raise my fists high in agreement with Liz’s comment about still wearing mascara and cute outfits during a time of sacrifice for her family.
      My partner is in his final six months (woo!) of grad school, and as my training is in visual arts and I am not able to earn a living doing what I love just now, I am working two horribly-paid jobs and taking too many hours in an effort to make ends meet. Because we are already in major student-loan debt. Because we need cash like nobody’s business. Because my wonderful partner and I have agreed that I will be going back to school in January for a post-degree program (student loans be darned), and that costs money. So I’ve been working like crazy, getting paid sh*t, and doing stupid things like not getting hair cuts and just wearing “whatever” when I wasn’t at work. And honestly, I felt like crap, because I wasn’t investing ANY TIME IN MYSELF. So now I am making an effort to look how I WANT to look during the times when I’m not working. I’m dressing up for dates. I got an expensive haircut. I bought sexy boots for winter, because my old ones were full of holes and had to be thrown out. And, hello, I deserve sexy boots for winter, so that I can look all extra-chic while I am trudging through the snow at 5:30 am to get to my crappy job. Can I get an “amen”?

      • I love that you are able to pull off sexy boots while trudging through snow. I am just not coordinated enough for that, so have to wear my kick-butt boots (mine are more kick-butt than sexy, though kick-butt boots actually make me feel sexy) on days with low icy patch potential. :)

    • “meanwhile, i think a piece of our false expectations of amazing choices is that youthful invincibility complex. we think “i can do it all!” and we can’t. nor should we. at least, not at the same time.”


      I was just thinking about how, yes, there are sacrifices that we make. But there are also choices that we make. We choose to get married, and it means losing our single selves–never feeling that giddy infatuation, rarely having complete control over our home environments, having to negotiate when we spend money and take vacation time with somebody else. We choose to stay single, and it means losing the idea of a married self–never having someone else around to get the dishes when we’re just too tired, having fewer travel buddies as our friends get married and start traveling with their spouses, needing to figure out how to juggle far more if we decide to have kids and be single parents.

      We choose the career we love over the one that will pay the bills. We choose the stability of the job we can do over pursuing our dream career to the ends of the earth. We move to a new city and leave our friends behind. We stay in the same place our whole lives and wonder if it’s made us boring, or helped us strengthen our ties to the community.

      Someone really smart once said that every choice is a loss, and I think that’s true. The real lie we’re fed is that we can expect to be totally happy. And that we can do everything we want to. Well, if we want to live in Europe for a couple years, and Africa for a couple, AND always have our best college friends just a few blocks away, I’m sorry, it’s probably not going to happen. Life isn’t all roses and butterflies; every choice is difficult.*

      This IS NOT to say that we should sacrifice ourselves to our marriages and our families. I just wonder if those mothers hoping their daughters do what they didn’t are partly just hoping to live the choice they didn’t take vicariously. We need to disentangle which things we really should refuse to give up from which we will be sad to see go, but just have to turn our backs on in order to get the other option.

      *Ok, choosing what to have for breakfast isn’t that bad. But sometimes choosing between the chocolate-peanut-butter and the strawberry-buttercream cupcake is.

      • Liz

        yeah, totally! i want to live in spain. and philly. and ny. the very nature of choices is that i can only have ONE of those at any given time. and that’s okay- because none of them would be sacrifices in the truest sense of the word. but i WOULD be giving up something.

        that’s the balance we need to strike- finding choices that we enjoy. making the sacrifices that maybe require us to give up something, without giving up OURSELVES.

      • “We need to disentangle which things we really should refuse to give up from which we will be sad to see go, but just have to turn our backs on in order to get the other option.”

        This is a great point that I want to remember as I think about my/our life and choices and the future…

    • RKELZ

      I miss Thai, but you know what? Not that much.

    • Colleen

      Liz! I’m 12 1/2weeks into this whole “having a baby” business and for me it’s translated about the same as you describe. From having a baby, for example, I’ve learned that having brushed teeth is higher priority for me than showering on days when I’m forced to choose. And I’m right there with you, having recently added lip gloss to my list of must-haves. (Forgive my mommy-jacking; just wanted to support Liz on the subject of prioritizing & making choices, and on some shower-less days, having choices largely made for you. Which I think ties into the book? Hopefully?!?)

  • i’m probably going to be in the minority on this one, but i’ve been feeling in the minority on several posts lately, so why stop now?

    i’m having a hard time understanding why everyone feels as though they are sacrificing or scraping their souls to do what is best for their family. (and i’m hoping that i’m not totally delusional and just blindly following what society thinks we need to do, as women) when we decide to marry, or decide to start a family, isn’t there a part of us that commits to working more as a unit and less as an individual? isn’t part of starting a life together putting behind some of the things that we lusted after as individuals, with some sort of belief that the opportunities that lie ahead as a family are greater than we could have had alone?

    i’m not saying we need to give up our entire individual self at the cost of our husband’s career, or our child’s needs, but perhaps we need to re-evaluate priorities as we’ve chosen to establish them.

    or perhaps we all need to have some serious conversations before marriage and before children in which we prepare game plans for how we would like things to pan out over time…”i will have children, but i won’t be a stay at home mother.” or “i won’t have children because i don’t want them to get in the way of my career path.” or “i won’t get married because i want to live life 100% on my terms.”

    again, maybe i’m taking this all wrong, but i feel that people who feel the need to scrape bare the walls of their soul to raise children or support their husband or support their family or operate in a way that is best for all, are far more martyr-like than they need to be. there are many conscious choices along the way that lead up to these seemingly huge, daunting decisions. we have the control over what we choose and how we shape our lives.

    • Liz

      adria, i saw this to be the point that both liz gilbert and meg are making is that you don’t HAVE to scrape your soul bare. but that a lot of what we consider “options” DO scrape our souls. they do crush our dreams, and we don’t even realize it, because we’re so warped by social expectation.

      i agree with you that that’s what makes marriage so amazing- that we can pursue many things at once as a team. i can stay home and raise baby because there’s someone out there collecting a paycheck to make rent. but, claiming that raising a baby + working full time + volunteering a bunch of hours + doing a lot of the house cleaning = independence is a little… false.

      • meg

        Liz has got it. My life isn’t totally on my own terms now, that’s sort of the point. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. BUT, I want to make sacrifices in ways that don’t scrape the walls of my soul bare, and I want us all to have more options that allow us to sacrifice and still stay whole people. Our family is my priority now, but I’d still like to feel like I can keep my self-hood intact, even while making hard choices.

    • I think that part of the anger/upset at the sacrifice, or perceived sacrifice, is the gender-inequality of it. Its not that someone has to make the sacrifice for the good of the whole – its the perception that that person “has” to be the female. Because I do agree that two people coming together to make a baby family is going to take some adjustment, some give and take, to be successful. But it should go both ways.

      • taking that into account (the gender inequality part), it makes more sense…but i’m slightly off kilter in that regard because i make more money than my fiance and i work in construction and am constantly seeing things from the male/husband/boyfriend point of view. it’s interesting, to say the least…sometimes, it’s entirely humorous and other times, exhausting.

        i think that a lot (perhaps, most) of times, women put the pressure on themselves – the pressure to conform to the expectations of society, the pressure to do what it seems that most other mothers or wives are doing, the pressure to give up what they want to do what they think is “best” or “right”. i truly believe that if we got a closer look into the average family of 2010, we would see that the tables have truly started to turn…that the June Cleavers of yesteryear are all but gone completely, and any expectation that we think exists, is more a figment of our imagination than a demand of society.

        • And that I can agree with :) I’m in architecture, and unfortunately in my firm, at least, the gender gap is still huge. Women make up way more than 50% of students who graduate with an arch. degree, and are way less than half of the professionals working (and less than a third of the principals.) It is REALLY hard to balance a family when your hours can fluctuate so greatly on a deadline. [Architecture is by no means the only field where that is true, but it is the only field I have worked in to date.]

          You don’t happen to be in construction in DC do you? And looking to hire a nice young man about to graduate with a masters in civil/enviro eng.? :) Hubs elect needs a job…

          • i do happen to be in construction in the dc area and we may or may not be hiring…and, as a civil engineer (but only a BS, no masters) i would be happy to pass his information on, or give him information on our company.

            you can shoot me an e-mail at adria.rizzo (at) gmail (dot) com…

        • This is not meant to be a criticism of Adria but is not “constantly seeing things from the male/husband/boyfriend point of view” a big part of the problem here.

          The way I see it, if a couple wants to have a child, that child needs to be looked after. The two parents need to make a way to make it work. Biological issues aside (also compulsory maternity leave aside) surely it is just a matter of who shuffles what to make enough time for that child to be cared for. We need to get away from there being a male and female point of view in the decision making process. And that goes for all decisions in the relationship.

          I have bought and started the book and can’t wait for the weekend to finish it so that I can properly join in the discussion.

          • You’re correct in that it shouldn’t be man vs. women or different perspectives/roles based on sex. What I was trying to get at was that I think, if you took a serious study of the current male/female child rearing generation, you might find that there are more men who would be willing to stay home and care for the child/housework/other seemingly “female” duties while the wife works than there were years ago.

            I think that times are changing – we might only be in the midst of the change, but looking back at our parents generation, or that of our grandparents, there is such a serious change that has already taken place.

            The issue might just be that there will always be expectations from society. I think it’s our individual responsibility to push past the expectations and do what works best for ourselves, our souls and our family.

          • Wsquared

            “This is not meant to be a criticism of Adria but is not “constantly seeing things from the male/husband/boyfriend point of view” a big part of the problem here.

            The way I see it, if a couple wants to have a child, that child needs to be looked after. The two parents need to make a way to make it work. Biological issues aside (also compulsory maternity leave aside) surely it is just a matter of who shuffles what to make enough time for that child to be cared for. We need to get away from there being a male and female point of view in the decision making process. And that goes for all decisions in the relationship.”

            This is exactly it. And I agree and concur.

            It is definitely a problem seeing things only from the male/husband/boyfriend point of view. But the opposite is also a problem: only seeing things from a female/wife/girlfriend point of view. It’s a question of empathy.

            Indeed, if there is a child involved, *both* are responsible, and both therefore have to keep communicating in order to make it work. Also, compromises and sacrifices cut both ways, in all reality. If you want a husband who will spend a little more time with you and the children and help out, then perhaps you can’t reasonably expect him to have a high-powered job that will, sure, bring in more money but really eat into his time. Also, who’s to say that if we do without some things, that we’re “less than” someone else? Again, we say we understand this intellectually, but how much do we understand the consequences? It’s a question of priorities.

            Furthermore, in concurring, I’d like to stress that equality isn’t just a matter of men seeing us as equals, but us treating them as equals as well. Not in terms of measuring their or our paychecks or how much we’re paid (would we *really* want to predicate our self-worth on how much on the dollar we are paid? Does this mean that we shouldn’t aim for promotions and such? No. Only that I think we need to be mindful about not commodifying ourselves), but equal in dignity and deserving of respect, because they are our fellow human beings. Somebody on here already alluded to the way we expect men to help: if we want them to help, we can’t insist that they do everything Our Way, as if we are infallible. We can’t expect power in all areas of our life, and just letting some things go does not make us powerless. We risk endangering our senses of self and the “more” that we really should want if we make everything “either/or” or turn everything into zero-sum games.

            Turning people’s lives– or the way we perceive them as per ourselves– into zero-sum games, I think, is where we do unfortunate things like cut other women down for making choices that we didn’t make. Because society (and even ourselves) are trying to force a rather perverse polarization on women’s choices. Conformity to either motherhood or being in the workforce is not freedom or independence. We need to realize that while we may be all in this together in some respects, we are not all in this together in all respects. To insist on the latter breeds the danger of conformity, and pressure to conform breeds insecurity.

            I am in a Ph.D. program and in a part of the historical discipline that is mostly male-dominated. In fact, most of my graduate-school experience has been where I’ve been not only the token female, but the token person of color. But I’m fine with that. That’s never really intimidated me. But more to the point, I’ve found that most of my colleagues are gentlemen. One common complaint from many of my women colleagues is that men don’t want to discuss gender. But I can’t say I’ve had much of a problem. Sure, some men are not as easily persuaded as others, but it’s a question of keeping the dialogue going– with compassion and patience. And besides, why shouldn’t men ask questions about gender and gender approaches to things? All approaches to things have their limits, after all. If I were to approach them as though they’re beneath me– i.e. that I somehow think that their work “sucks” and is “old-fashioned” and “useless” because they deal with power politics instead of gender– then I can’t reasonably expect them not to get defensive (and besides, that assumption would make me arrogant, because their work really is good). At least for me, it’s not a matter of who gets “more”: men or women with something like this. I worry about whether, if we keep fighting these kinds of turf wars, dialogue suffers, and the discipline therefore suffers. I remind myself that I’m in a Ph.D. program because I love the historical discipline: it appeals to my heart and to my intellect, and not because I want to show everyone that I’m a smart, independent woman.

            I also teach students. And I try to stay abreast of a whole range of things– from gender and women’s rights to power politics and military history– because if I cater more to the women, the men will feel shut out, and if I don’t discuss gender, then some of the women feel shut out. So I have to strike a balance if I want to empathize with my students, and if I want them to learn to empathize with people different from themselves.

            Those are the kinds of considerations I certainly try to bring to my marriage.

        • Sarabeth

          The June Cleavers were always a (middle-class, white) minority. Women’s rates of employment were pretty high even in the 1950s.

          That said, things have changed. Men do more parenting and housework than in the 50s, for sure. However, women don’t necessarily do less. One of the most interesting findings of contemporary sociological research in gender (to me) is the degree to which the total amount of labor devoted to childcare has risen over the last twenty or so years, as our expectations of childhood have changed. This is only partially offset by the decrease in manual labor in the household (thank you, dishwasher!). Also, women still (on average) maintain the role of household organizer, which consumes high levels of mental labor that are often unrecognized.

          So, yeah. Better, but also not better. And the vast majority of heterosexual American families with kids still don’t share household labor anywhere near 50-50. Most probably aren’t trying to.

          • Kess

            Just learned about that trend in my gen. ed. last semester. I thought it was interesting. Thanks for bringing that up!

            Another one I heard was that the only appliance that actually saved time was the microwave. (I think the dishwasher doesn’t really because people buy more dishes, but I’m not positive about that.)

            The standards for housekeeping and childrearing are really quite ridiculous. The fact that we believe children can’t actually be left alone at home until they are 15 is one indication. History has shown that people that age can accomplish all sorts of wonders. I think the average 8-15 year old can handle themselves enough to stay at home alone. (Yes, I’ve lived in the city – not in the inner city, but a direct suburb of Detroit, and I still believe children can take care of themselves. This may change when I have my own, but I firmly believe that children rise to what’s expected of them.)

            Suddenly children can’t have any germs anywhere. Chlorox wipes are seen as time savers to disinfect toys, but it’s just something else that you ‘have to do’ if you’re going to be a good parent. It’s really not necessary. So long as you aren’t wiping down your children’s toys with a raw chicken breast and following that with a dip in a non-flushed toilet, their immune systems will generally be able to handle it.

            My mom put it this way. When my sister (oldest) dropped her pacifier on the ground, they’d boil it. When my brothers (middle children) dropped theirs, they rinsed them off. When I dropped mine, I was lucky if I got a wipe on the shirt. We all turned out fine and were never seriously sick. We ate raw cookie dough and cake batter too.

    • Arachna

      Hmm, I not entirely sure but are you saying here that if I make the choice to have children I should not feel that it scrapes my soul bare to give up on my dearest dreams?

      Yes we have choices but the choice to have a child should not cost my soul.

      I actually feel that this is part of the problem, not only are we expected to give things up but we’re expected to be happy to give things up, after all we chose to get married and have children!

      But those are crappy choices. And they are false choices.

      Like Meg says being part of a family means taking care of that family and sometimes life is hard so no one NO ONE is saying there can/should be no sacrifice ever but please can it not mean that the woman/wife/mother has to sacrifice her dearest held dreams?

      • I think that every one needs to evaluate what their dreams are and find a way that accomplishes those dreams as best and as true as possible. All the while, we need to realize that dreams can change and morph into different dreams. That we perhaps aren’t sacrificing a bit of our soul to go down one path and not another in life, but that we are making choices that will take us a certain way and we are doing so without gobs of hesitation.

        I really think that if someone feels that they are sacrificing their soul to work/have children/get married/move to a new location/whatever, then they need to not go down that path. They need to find a compromise that will work for them, for their family, for their life.

  • This morning, my husband and I had a fight about how I’m spending my days in our house not cleaning. I reminded him that I don’t clean, I hate cleaning, and instead of cleaning, I’m avoiding making messes. But the undercurrent of the whole conversation was that I’m unemployed, he makes the money, and I don’t get to have fun just because I’m at home job-hunting right now. Nevermind that the “fun” stuff he is talking about is pursuing my possible pipe-dream of starting my own photography company and that sometimes it is necessary to balance the misery of cleaning (I hate cleaning. I hate it.) with the joy that I find in creating something new that could open up new possibilities for the job hunt.

    All this to say, I needed this post because it is okay for me to actually pursue dreams while I struggle with the pitfalls of my unemployment. So thank you.

    Also, I find it really funny that you are being told that you should put your career on hold and move wherever David gets a job. I’m told that I should put my career lawyering dreams on hold and stay here because my husband has a job and what possible job of mine could be more important than his? I know a number of other women lawyers who are in this position as well, and it’s just unbelievable to me that anybody thinks it is any of their business to tell a family how to act.

    • Anna

      Ellie, your comment really resonated with me. That’s a really difficult fight to have and I think it’s interesting that the argument pigeonholes you into a domestic role while you’re trying to search for a job [that’s obviously non-domestic]. I would feel really frustrated.

      Also, good luck with starting your own photography company. That sounds absolutely amazing!

    • Liz

      ellie, i read your comment from the opposite perspective. i’m the breadwinner, and my husband is on the job hunt. he hates cleaning- but i’m not a super-huge fan either. and we needed to establish expectations so that i wouldn’t feel like i was doing everything, and he wouldn’t feel obligated to have the house spotless. neither of us likes washing dishes, but i’m at work all day and the dishes need to be washed. sure, he’s job hunting, but he has lots more free time (and resulting energy) than i do.

      this isn’t to pass judgment on what you’ve expressed- just to say there’s another side of the coin.

      • meg

        Totally. David has more time right now, which means he does more of the chores. Which he hates. But that’s part of his sacrifice at the moment, poor thing.

        • Ohhhh yeah. I know that sacrifice! I believe there is actually a sink full of dishes right this very moment. Luckily, he doesn’t get home for 5 more hours so that gives me… oh… probably 4.75 hours until I start them.

    • I was thinking about the other side to the coin as well. Many people in my field, have offhandedly indicated that they think my husband will just give up his job and move wherever I get one. Since he can technically work remotely this is likely to be the case but many of the people saying this don’t know that. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable that people make these assumptions. I imagine it might make some if not many husbands uncomfortable too.

      • Sarabeth

        Interesting. My husband is, in fact, committed to moving wherever I get a job, but people pretty much never assume that.

    • Sarah

      One of the things Jon and I talked about early on was who would give up their position and move for the other’s job, if the situation arose. We came to the consensus that it depended on the opportunity: if he received an offer we couldn’t pass up, we’d go wherever it happened to be. Same for me … if I landed an amazing gig, we’d follow that. It helps that I’m in a field that allows me to find work nearly anywhere in the world … but it’s nice to know that he’s willing to move for me, as well.

      That being said, it’s incredibly annoying each time someone asks if I’m leaving my job after he graduates. Because, you know, that “the wife’s job.” Ugh.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      The whole career balance between two people is tricky. Right now my husband and I are working at jobs we love, but 4 hours apart. Which means living apart 5 days a week. The plan is for this to be temporary while we each look for the next thing together. Many people (though I wouldn’t go all the way to most) imply or assume I’ll quit my job and move wherever my husband lands.

      My husband is a college professor and I’m an engineer with a multinational company. Once he leaves his current position, he starts over wherever he goes. Depending on the position he could be making slightly more or quite a bit less than I make. With my company, there are branches all over the world that I can transfer to. I have a network and a reputation here. I guess not everyone is hooked into the corporate culture, but it’s insane to think that a practical choice for my career and our family is for me to just quit and move somewhere with husband and hope to find something else good. And yet… the expectation. Maybe people don’t think girls are savvy enough to recognize that?

      Who knows. Luckily when my husband or I (politely) inform people that I won’t be quitting my job for anything less than a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for my husband (or Barcelona :), they are equally polite in changing the subject.

  • This post is going to be huge in the comments, I can tell. I missed the book club, and I really appreciate that we do this rehashing.

    This post, this forum, is why I am going to dash off now and donate. Because never have I thought more seriously about who I am, what I want from my life, and what I want from my partner, than I do after reading these posts. I love that I am challenged to strive for something better, even i that something is only understanding of the situation and perhaps a teensy bit of wisdom drawn from that understanding.

    Thanks Meg, for challenging us, because I can speak for myself and know that I need that element in my life.

    • Trisha

      I wanted to more than just hit exactly, but to actually say it. This is why I love APW, and keep coming back.

  • Mayweed

    I was lucky enough to have parents who did things the other way round. So although my mum stayed home with us, at least part time, until I started school, but she was always far more ambitious than my dad, so for the rest of my childhood she was the bread winner and he did more of the domestic stuff.
    I say lucky, because what that means is that I don’t consider it my job to be the cleaner and cooker (luckily for me my husband -of four weeks! – loves to cook even more than I do and actually enjoys cleaning).
    I don’t expect that when our baby is born (yay for being 12 weeks pregnant on your wedding day and not allowed to eat the cheese you’ve chosen in lieu of cake) that it will automatically me who has to choose between being taken seriously at work and spending time with our child.
    None of that will make these decisions any easier – I am incredibly, incredibly, proud of my mother and the way she constantly demonstrates, even now, that women can do whatever they choose in whatever field they choose – but I do remember feeling for some parts of my youth that she was never home.
    But my parents worked out a way where no-one had to give anything up that they didn’t really enjoy and I have confidence that we will too.

    • How fabulous do your parent’s sound? It’s my deepenst hope that there are more and more families work out ways where no-body has to give something up that they really care about.

      • Mayweed

        they are! I wouldn’t pretend it was always easy – there were four of us, and they both worked full time – but there was no sense of sacrifice in our house at all.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        When my mom went back to school to finish her bachelor’s degree (she dropped out when she and dad married) my dad switched to the night shift so he could be home with my sister and I during the day. Before that mom was a stay-at-home mom and worked part time while we were at school. When she started commuting a long way to take classes, Dad got us off to school, did most of the housework and most of the cooking. After she graduated and got a full-time job they settled on a much more egaltarian arrangement.

        People do it :)

    • Claire

      This reminds me of the dynamics of my family or origin. My parents decided (together) early on that they wanted to homeschool their children and have one parent stay at home full-time. That person was initially my mother since she had a foreign high school diploma and didn’t speak english; my father had an engineering degree so could earn a larger salary. However, about ten years into this arrangement, me mother expressed her frustration and unhappiness with her narrowly defined role and her desire to work outside the home. So they switched roles. My dad quit his job to stay home and homeshool us kids and my mom took her first-ever job in the paid workforce. I’ll admit it was quite an adjustment to go from supporting a family on an engineer’s salary to living off her earnings as a waitress. And all our friends thought it was terribly bizarre that my dad “didn’t work”. But, their negotiation and role reassignment left a lasting impression on me. I feel their example helped make me a better woman and wife.

      • Chantelle

        @ Claire and Abby Won Kenobe: Your families are inspiring. What an amazing example to grow up with.

  • Elizabeth

    This post is beautiful. I want to print it out and post it on my wall so I never forget that it is okay for me not to be happy with the expectations, sacrifices and inequalities that somehow seem to come (often) with being a woman. After last Thursday’s post about money and my ensuing responses, this post just really hit home. It is so easy to get sidetracked into sacrificing more, conforming more, or just in general taking more sh*t than we ever thought we would. Sometimes it is necessary, but too often it is not. Thank you for raising us all up to remember our worth and our dreams.

  • JEM

    I think we all have to be careful about speaking in absolutes here, or “Going Universal” as Gilbert refers to the theory of John M. and Julie-Schwartz Gottman.

    I don’t think at any one point when becoming a mother/wife/partner/etc you sacrifice it *ALL* but sometimes, yes, more things are sacrificed and you give up a bit of self. Other times, you don’t give things up but you can still be a good mother/wife/partner/etc. I think of life as a balance that sometimes shifts one way and other times it shifts the other way, and it’s actually kind of hard to get it to be perfectly aligned in the middle.

    I feel very lucky, and am reminded often by things I read on this site, that my mother did make sacrifices for my sister and I but she also stayed true to herself. I believe this has shaped how my sister and I view life now, with an independence and drive to “do our own thing” but incorporate others in to our “things” to enjoy them with us. We both have martyr-ish tendencies at times, but are able to step back and realize when we need to focus on ourselves and do not feel any guilt or shame for doing so.

  • Emily

    Right on, Meg.

  • LPC

    Life is more complicated, I have found, than I expected. Everyone is different. Profound, huh? What I mean is that every person, and therefore every couple, will have a different psychological dynamic. But the biology of most male female child-producing relationships is the same. Society supports the biology better than it supports the psychology. So the two married people have to compensate. And most of all, you guys have said it here before, you have to look out FOR EACHOTHER, not just for yourselves.

    • LPC

      Oh, and to reply to myself, having children can change that initial psychological dynamic by harnessing us to our biologies. We haven’t yet found a perfect replacement for maternal biology in infant, baby, and young child-rearing. For better or worse.

    • Class of 1980

      Brilliant comment, LPC.

      I have not read the other comments yet, but here’s what I’m thinking …

      What is hard about this discussion is that we all have varying standards about what we think a child needs. I think modern society approaches child raising backwards by assuming an infant or child should fit into our current lives. We don’t ask what the child truly needs based on research.

      I’ve often thought everything would be easier if we had a universal definition of what constitutes good child care, because then we could structure society from that point. But we don’t have a universal definition and I don’t see one forthcoming. I don’t even know if it’s desirable.

      For instance, I personally don’t like daycare and I believe in at least nine months of breastfeeding, because research has shown that it takes nine months to develop maximum visual accuity.

      How would our society look if everyone felt the exact same as me? How would careers be structured? How would the workplace be structured? Would maternity leave at least be longer? Or would women give up on the inflexible corporate world and run their own businesses? Would couples designate either the husband or the wife to be a stay-at-home parent instead of trying to support two careers?

      I don’t know.

      It’s a moot point because plenty of people disagree with me on those two issues alone, or else they agree, but necessity dictates use of daycare and limited breastfeeding. Recently, the nation’s doctors put out a statement saying that all their efforts to promote breastfeeding were not very effective because so many new mothers work and it’s difficult for them. The traditional workplace does not accommodate the biology of human reproduction very well.

      And I realize that some women will look at my standards and think “Oh great, if I followed that, I could never afford to have children!” I myself opted out partly because it was too impossible.

      And all of this is influenced by governmental realities. For instance, families pay a greater share of taxes now, whereas corporations used to pay more. The financial reality is that when this one situation was different, one income could support a family. Lets not forget that government policies affect us on a personal level.

      Now we have a recession or a depression, depending on your outlook, so throw that into the mix too.

      Every woman is left to figure out her own standards regarding child raising and devise a plan for how her life is going to actually WORK day-to-day. And since we all have different ideas and standards about what children need, different levels of career flexibility, and wildly varying financial resources and support, we are all VERY ALONE in finding solutions.

      So, I am of no help at all in this discussion.

      • Sarabeth

        I may feel differently post-kids, but at the moment I actually feel my social world is full of a kind of neurotic assumption that every little decision parents make must be geared towards the maximal social/intellectual/emotional development of their children. It’s clearly a middle-class intellectual thing (for the people I’m around, anyway), and it makes me feel like I’m going to get shit for putting my kids in daycare at 8 weeks because doing what’s best for them 100% of the time would drive me batty.

        • Liz

          yes! and.

          i feel that society as a whole has a warped perception of what will contribute most to the little one’s various areas of development. wrapping your whole life around your kids- making your life into a “parent’s life” in NO WAY prepares your children for the real world. eating at chuckie cheese because it’s “kid-friendly” doesn’t help your kids any. what WOULD help your kids, is if you made that reservation at the swanky new french restaurant in the city and toted them along and taught them how to behave around adults in a quiet place and how to try new foods that they can’t pronounce.


          • JEM

            I like to think this is why my sister and I do well socially (if I do say so myself). Our parents took us EVERYWHERE. We have always been around adults and expected to interact properly with them.

            We have friends who joke with my mom and ask “What? Were your girls raised in a barn??” and she very proudly says yes. We grew up surrounded by independent, get dirty, “I can take care of anything that needs to be done” women that have absolutely helped shape who we are today. Plus, we grew up standing in fertilizer so we’re both tall. :) I am lucky to have a Mom Squad (who will be so kickass at my wedding, I can’t wait!).

        • FM

          I totally agree, and also think that most people are probably wrong about what’s “best” for kids, as in, they think things are crucial that probably actually have little bearing on whether their kids grow up having decent lives and being decent kids and later decent and productive and reasonably content adult people. Not that everyone isn’t entitled to selecting and putting into action their own child-rearing preferences – I certainly have plenty of my own and I’m not even a parent yet – but based on what I’ve seen in the variety of parenting of people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing as kids and adults, I think success in raising kids is more about the big picture of love and care than the nitty gritty. You have to make choices about the nitty gritty, but ultimately daycare vs. one parent at home or most other choices out of context doesn’t seem to mean the difference between a kid who’s a healthy or good or productive person and one who’s not. That’s not to minimize the responsibility of parenting, just that I agree with you that some people seem to think that there is a way to be a perfect parent to create a perfect kid, and I just have never seen that play out in real life.

          And I also agree with Liz that I want to raise my kids to be able to know how to appreciate and act appropriately in a variety of life situations and not just situtations created and catered for them specifically and/or kids generally. And also not to think that the world – or even MY world – revolves around them. That they’re important, but not the determining factor in every decision or feeling. I think that’s healthier for them and for me, and I personally have no interest in discounting in any way what’s good for me, because, well, I won’t disappear as an individual as a result of procreation, and I don’t want to have kids just for them to disappear into mom-identity if/when they have kids.

      • I think you’ve hit something. I too believe in a certain way of raising a child that focusses on their needs instead of my convenience. Unfortunately I am not willing to make those sacrifices so I guess I’m just not going to have children. If raising children was more of a societal issue though, there might be ways my child could be raised with their needs met (I too believe in breastfeeding for some length of time) without me sacrificing. But until child raising is returned to a communal activity, I just can’t do it.

      • LPC

        Class of 1980, I am in your mothering camp. I nursed both my children into the toddler years. I never left them with babysittters until they were a year old. I look back now and regret the few times I did leave them crying. That was what I felt was the right way to do it. That’s what I believed children need. I still believe it, but would never force anyone else to feel as I do, or shame them because they don’t. I wonder if we will turn out to have been the apex of attachment parenting, our generation. How ironic, really, if the mothers of the following generations go back to a different mode. I too sense that a lot of young women now think we were silly, misguided. Helicopter parents and all that.

        I think your point about society coming to agree on childrearing standards is a very good one. It hasn’t happened, and so much of the discussion can get coopted by the religious right, and transmuted into a discussion of women’s roles, rather than children’s well-being.

        But, you know, maybe I was wrong. Maybe my kids didn’t need what I gave them. I needed it. I’m clear about that. The research just doesn’t seem to be out there that really gives us answers. I just wish society would engineer itself so that the mothers didn’t have to make the either/or choices.

        • abby_wan_kenobi

          It’s so interesting to me to hear other people’s perspectives. I don’t have children yet, so I still think of things from the other side – how I was raised. I feel like I never hear parents talk about how they were raised, only how they are raising their own children. I don’t know why I find that odd, but I do.

          Just an alternate perspective, my family sort of has a “village” mentality of child-rearing. From before we were a year old, my sister and I would be packed off to stay with aunts and cousins for a week at a time. Cousins stayed with us frequently too. We had sitters all the time, my parents always had an active adults-only social life. My parents and aunts and uncles thought it was important to have time to themselves and I think they thought it would make us more independent or self-sufficient. Which I guess worked – we’re all pretty confident and independent, almost to a fault. I didn’t know that it was strange to leave your 8 month old baby with relatives for a week until I was much, much older. It’s all I ever knew and it was great fun.

  • Meg, beautifully written, so well rounded. And I worry too. Constantly. I’m heartsick at times about the inequalities and the seeming disconnect we have between what we want/are told to want and what there are actually hours in the day to do. Not to mention the fact that I don’t hear males my age worrying about this at all. It shouldn’t be a “woman’s problem”. And maybe all of the males I know are incredibly lucky, but I never hear any of them say they feel like less of a man because they don’t clean their house before I walk in, while I’ve repeatedly heard that from female friends. I worry that we’re all fighting these battles individually instead of together. It’s not like the right to vote where we all mobilize together. So I think the way you framed it is amazing: our choices are no choices at all. If we all get behind THAT instead of “I could never be a stay at home mom” vs “my children are my life” (both of which are ok *if you chose that*), we would accomplish things. We would band together.

    • Liz

      i think the men feel the pressure. different and perhaps unequal pressure. but it’s there. my husband gets a bit of flack for being a “stay at home slacker” while i’m out busting my ass at work. he struggles with feeling like a “provider.” you know the drill.

      but agreed to all else you said, jo.

      • Good point. I agree there is pressure for men to be way more responsible monetarily/work-wise. They can feel inadequate if their wife works/if they stay home.

  • Stephanie

    I thought you all might be interested in this timely article on Slate about women’s work-related choices in the Netherlands:

    “Women in the United States have become defined by the compromises we make. More than 75 percent of American women who are employed work full-time jobs. As our responsibilities increase at work, they do not shrink at home. We give up time with our families for our careers, and after work we give up other interests for time spent with our children and spouses—because there are only so many hours in a day. Because of part-time work, Dutch women are able to develop themselves and their relationships in ways many of us simply don’t have the time for.”


    • Erika

      Thanks for the link. I used to live in the NL so I’m really interested in this. I would argue that the model should apply to either gender. But it’s super inspiring to see how much less depression Dutch women report.

    • I put that in my personality inspiration folder last week!

    • I read that article yesterday, and it was in my mind as I read this entire post and the comments.

    • Morgan

      But don’t overlook that there is some major, structural inequality in their society. Jezebel does a bit of a take down of it – I found some of the comments very interesting. http://jezebel.com/5690698/take-your-workaholism-and-shove-it-say-dutch-womencan-we-do-this-too I’m not saying they’re right or wrong – I have no vested interest here. I’m just saying the Slate article seems to be simplifying and idealizing life a bit more than is probably fair.

  • THIS IS WHY I DONATED. I second the first comment, and I want to print this out and take it to my counselor. Thank you for helping me know that I’m not alone, that we can find a balance without losing ourselves. I think you are saving marriages and saving women’s lives — and I’m not being over-dramatic.

  • Leahismyname

    I have a feeling this will be rambling, so apologies in advance.

    Yes, this post is fabulous, mostly because it made me think deeply. Sometimes I don’t like doing that, but it’s important, you know?

    I think about sacrifices a lot. Not in such eloquent terms, probably, but I do it often. When I entered into a relationship with my partner (we’ll be married next weekend, but some of the important sacrifices were made long ago), I did some thinking and made some decisions, knowing that I would be making sacrifices.

    For example, I quit a job I loved, in a field I love and believe in, so that we could move a couple thousand miles away for him to take his first real job in his field. My field does not exist here, so I’m living in a city I hate, working at a job I hate, fighting job-related depression. I sacrificed something to be with him, but I did think it over first: I knew that having a serious relationship with him meant that I’d have to follow him wherever his job took us. That’s the nature of his profession…you go where the job is.

    I wonder if it makes sense to say that I miss my old job and my old town, but I don’t regret the choice I made. Seems contradictory, but then so many decisions are.

    We don’t have kids, and I’m unable to have them anyway. That decision is down the road for us, but I can sense that I’d be very conflicted about the sacrifices I’d have to make. Oddly, though, I don’t think they’d be career-related. I don’t really have a “career,” just a job. It would be the raft of other conflicts that I’d have to face: being defined solely as a “mommy” in the eyes of my social surroundings, for example.

    See, the way identity is wrapped up in parenthood scares me. I wanted to mention the surge of women reclaiming motherhood for themselves in the last ten years or so. Until the 1970s or so, women just automatically stayed home with their children (we can debate whether this was good or bad, but the fact remains that most women did). Then there was a generation of women (1980s-1990s) who bore children, but continued in their jobs/careers (making less money, natch, but hanging on to that one facet of their identities).

    It seems that with the proliferation of the so-called “mommy bloggers” who have made being a parent into an identity (recognizing that in earlier generations, motherhood wasn’t an identity, but was a default), there’s a generation of mothers who want to fiercely reclaim some kind of (possibly idealized) parental role.

    It’s this generation that scares me a bit more than the previous two. The first one, the default mother, didn’t have nearly the pressure that the new one faces. Because if you’re selecting motherhood as your primary identity, there can be a lot of pressure to be perfect. Thus there are mothers who feel guilty for not hand-knitting their kids’ clothes, for not feeding their babies homemade organic purees, for not homeschooling them, etc.

    It seems to me that, as Meg said, choices do exist, but sometimes they can feel just as confining as no choices.

    I have nothing profound to say here, just ramblings. But yes, this post was fantastically thoughtful. Thank you!

    • Liz

      it’s the “mother as identity” thing that i think is one of the reasons the whole concept of “reclaiming wife” is necessary. because “wife” is not my identity. it’s a piece of who i am. “mother ” will not be my identity- it’ll be a facet.

      and that’s so key. because i think THAT’S when we start to feel pigeonholed and soul-sucked. when we’re no longer individuals with various pursuits and choices. we’re just Wife. or Mom. and we find our complete fulfillment in our role rather than our true identity. that’s false fulfillment.

    • Michele

      I agree with you to a large extent, but wanted to remind us all that as Elizabeth Gilbert pointed out in the book: Women have ALWAYS worked. The notion that prior to 1970 (or any other point in time), the vast majority of women stayed home and cared for their children exclusively is false.

      Mommy-bloggers (and mommy-NON-bloggers for that matter) often appear to be “stay at home moms” to people who don’t understand that one doesn’t need an office in order to have a job, when in fact, they DO work and earn income – sometimes A LOT of it – via any number of self-directed, freelance projects (writer, photographer, graphic design, etc, etc, etc…). The same is true of the women who appeared to be stay-at-home moms prior to 1970 (or whenever). Many (maybe even most) of them also worked – often as seamstresses, transcriptionists, or a variety of other jobs that could be (and were) done out of the home.

      • meg

        Yes. This is correct. Women have always worked. It used to be that you did the incredably physical labor of running a house and possibly a farm, while raising a ton of small children. So, there is that.

        Also, I loathe the word Mommy-blogger, because I think its belittling to women who have written online for a decade before having kids. (Ya’ll realize when I have a kid, there will be people that call me a mommy blogger as a way to dismiss what I’m saying, right?) But. People like Heather Armstrong? That woman works full time and then some… she’s lucky that she can work from home doing stuff she loves, but we can’t kid ourselves that she’s not working. She’s working her *ss off…

        • MELISSA

          But many do kid themselves that people like Heather Armstrong aren’t working. Or that doing something that doesn’t make you wish to be hit by a bus some days is somehow less work. You don’t have to hate it and it doesn’t have to make you dream about long-term disability to be WORK. Just a little of my own personal hate/hate relationship with the finance industry.

          P.S. I may have just accidentally hit the button to report your comment. Oopsie.

        • Leahismyname

          Yes, of course, which is why I used the word “mommyblogger.” To emphasize that this is a perception about how the bloggers (or homemakers without blogs) live their lives.

      • Leahismyname

        Yes, obviously. But my point is in how they’re perceived by the external world. That is what creates identity: it’s in how people see you and your actions. Women prior to the 1970s were *perceived* as not doing work, women in the 1980s and 90s were *perceived* as wanting only their careers, and contemporary women who want to reclaim an identity as a proud homemaker are perhaps pigeonholed in just the same way as their ancestors.

        • meg

          I think that’s part of what I’m talking about. I think women prior to the 1970’s were perceived as working really hard, and it’s a damn shame that we’ve lost that outlook. Childrearing hasn’t gotten any easier (though keeping a house has, thank goodness.)

          • Sarabeth

            It was always a double-edged sword, though. Women’s work in the home was more valorized, but women’s work outside the home (and many, many women–particularly black women and poor women–did work outside the home) was less valorized. Now we’ve reversed that, more or less.

          • Class of 1980

            You are sooooo right. Those women felt zero need to justify their existence.

          • Class of 1980

            You might find this interesting.

            Back in the late sixties/early seventies, there was a character in a soap opera that was a newly-married woman who wasn’t having any luck getting pregnant. She was childless and didn’t work outside the home and no one thought anything of it.

            She seemed to always be at the center of emotional dramas, and since she didn’t work or have any children, her character always had a lot of time on her hands to make waves.

            I have often thought that this is a character that would never get written today. ;)

  • ann

    In response to the concern about how maybe-we-don’t-have-the-option-we-think-we-have, here’s a thought-provoking article from Slate:


    To give you a taste, the sub-headline is: “Women in the Netherlands work less, have lesser titles and a big gender pay gap, and they love it.” Now, if this won’t give us something to debate over, what will? Have at it, Team Practical, I’m excited to hear your thoughts.

    • Leahismyname

      Well, I loved this article! I’m all ready to move to the Netherlands! My main thought all through reading it was this: are their male partners really all right with them working part time and having coffee with their girlfriends?

      Maybe it’s such a part of the social fabric that it’s totally normalized, but if I were working full time and my partner was off having coffee and going to the park every other day, I’d be a bit resentful.

    • Class of 1980

      About 15 or 20 years ago, an article came out called “The Mommy Track”. The author had what they thought was a good idea.

      The idea was to have two different career tracks in corporations, one for childless women who wanted to get to the highest position possible and work the longest hours, and a “mommy track” for women with children who would be content with middle management and less overtime.

      That article was shouted down as a terrible sexist idea. Americans seem to be made of different stuff.

      In the mid to late nineties, I used to work at a hotel with lots of young Germans who came over on 18-month work program. They told me that most women in Germany quit working once they had children. Their attitude about it was very relaxed and I could sense the lack of pressure they felt.

      • Lethe

        I’ll be happy about society adopting a “mommy track” when all the men who are currently working, attaining very high level positions, and having children are told that they need to hop off and go on the “daddy track.” ;)

    • Melissa

      I hate working. Maybe when I get the hell out of my industry I won’t, but for now I do. However, I do not want to only raise children and keep the house. The only in that sentence sounds pejorative, but I don’t mean for it to. I just want to do something else that is about ME. The Dutch model sounds like a dream come true. However, we/I (maybe it’s just me) have all of these knee-jerk reactions that doing things this way seems lazy, it seems unfair to the significant other who is working full time, it seems less respectable. I would worry that I would seem like I was inferior to my husband or weaker than my husband. But that society is saying that’s okay, you’re just a woman we’ll take care of you. And then I’d get a nice, metaphorical pat on the head. Maybe if I were Dutch, that wouldn’t be an issue because I just wouldn’t have been brought up to think that way.

      • Class of 1980

        Maybe this has changed, but every study I’ve ever seen has shown that people work more hours in the U.S. than every country except Japan.

        Yes, we very much worship work in this country. I deal with people overseas who go on month-long vacations.

    • Kess

      Americans that work full time do have some of the longest working hours in the world. This bugs me, especially because my chosen career field, engineering, is one where you CANNOT decide to do part time work, unlike some of the more creative (not that engineering isn’t creative) fields like graphic design, writing, and such.

      This means that even though both my and my FH would rather both work part time (engineering jobs tend to pay relatively well, so we could afford to live off the equivalent of one salary) we can’t because you can’t in engineering. In fact, it’s often the norm to work more than 40 hours a week. The majority of engineers I’ve worked with (I’m still in college, but have had many internships) probably worked at least 50 hours a week, they didn’t get overtime, but if they didn’t they probably would be seen as bad employees.

      I think the Dutch system should be fine for both genders. If someone wants to work part time, I wish that every career field gave that option. It’s possible that sometime in my life I may quit engineering simply because I won’t be able to take staying in the same cube for over 9 hours each day. I’ll probably go and train dogs.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        I’m an engineer, I work in the automotive industry. I probably work 50 hours a week every week and 60+ when things get busy. If I put in 40 and went home at 4:30, I’m positive I’d be fired pretty shortly. I’m expected to be available to work weekends and off shifts when needed. I don’t receive any kind of overtime pay or any time off as compensation. It can completely drain you. Though, I don’t spend my whole day in a cube. That would kill me.

        I do know a few engineers who don’t work full time – mostly retirees, but one or two who have other means of income. They work as contract engineers, we hire them to come in and work on one project usually just for a week or two at a time when our resources are spread too thin. They mostly work 8 hour days. They can pass on jobs that are too big of a time commitment – or interfere with deer hunting season. Keep the faith :)

  • Jen

    Haven’t been reading or commenting on APW much lately, but really…this one is a golden post. Very thoughtful and great ideas being thrown around.
    That is all! :)

  • ‘Because here is the thing: the more we talk about marriage here, the more I worry. I worry that we’re being given the illusion of lots of options, and the reality of really sh*tty options. I worry that the sh*ttiest of options (over-work, under-appreciation, enormous sacrifice) are being sold to us under the guise of “independent womanhood,” instead of under the guise of “life is hard sometimes, and you can make it through, but you should fight for things to be easier.” ‘

    I think “life is hard sometimes, and you can make it through, but you should fight for things to be easier” is really the most important thing here. For one thing, there are sacrifices we choose to make about various things, and then there are sacrifices that circumstances – unemployment, disability, eldercare, etc. – thrust us into. If the focus stays on the ability to choose from different options instead of making things easier in each option, a lot of people — male and female, partnered or solo — are going to be screwed at some point.

  • Arachna

    This is my favorite post on APW. Thank you Meg.

    And if its not passe I’d like to post a link to another blog that went up today on the same exact topic.

    It’s a little more blunt, but I think it makes the same point.

    If children cost us the fabric of our dreams what is the point? That our daughters grow up to sacrifice their own dreams and souls to produce more daughters? When does that cycle end?

    My grandmother feels strongly that it is the woman’s job to cook – but she doesn’t think I should have to learn how to.

  • I think her grandmother is comfortable with the choices she made, and happy about her life as a mother and wife, but wants to live through her granddaughter. It’s the opportunity to be a young, career-oriented, high-achieving powerhouse that she had passed up those years ago. It’s living vicariously.

    When I was applying to college, I ended up with two choices: an interesting liberal arts college where I could explore everything, and a uni-directional vocational school where I would end college with a direct path to a career (in something I enjoyed, absolutely). My mother had gone to art school and became a designer and didn’t have the chance to take anthropology and art history courses, and she strongly, STRONGLY wanted me to go to the liberal arts school. She tried to hide her bias, but it came through anyway. She wanted me to explore the things she never did.

    I think part of the shared experiences of a family is the chance to witness or experience the Other– the choice that was left unchosen. Even if we’re HAPPY with our own choices, or if we’ve come to terms with those choices, we still are curious about the road not taken. We don’t know if it’s better, or worse, or anything else, and so we try to support our loved ones in whatever they choose, and whatever choice is best for them, but I think a part of us wants them to show us the way we didn’t take.

    Or, alternatively, we want people to choose the same path, to validate our own choices. Sometimes our subconscious has a way of worming out into our relationships and affecting other people in odd and uncomfortable ways. And I think that’s why it’s so important that we make choices for OURSELVES, and find ways to be okay with them. If we sacrifice, we sacrifice, and if we are overjoyed, we are overjoyed. But be okay with why we do what we do; our actions and choices are what shapes the lives we live.

    • Morgan

      “Or, alternatively, we want people to choose the same path, to validate our own choices. Sometimes our subconscious has a way of worming out into our relationships and affecting other people in odd and uncomfortable ways.”

      Wow. You’ve just described my mother in way I hadn’t thought of before. It doesn’t change how uncomfortable the behaviour makes me, but it does explain where a facet of it is coming from.

      Okay, I’m offtopic, but thank you.

  • I’d like to see a post on this topic from the (sort of) opposite perspective. Because all of Gilbert’s examples (that are discussed here; I didn’t read the book) are about women who sacrifice their independent career lives to stay home with kids/make their kids clothes. So much of the rest of what is being discussed is how to avoid having childcare and household chores “scrape bare the walls of the soul.” But what about the other women, the women who find their joy in raising kids but are “scraping bare the walls of the soul” by working? I know they’re not explicitly excluded from the above post, but they aren’t exactly included in any of the examples, either. In my life, however, they’re much more prevalent than the women for whom childcare and chores are soul-scraping.

    Some women find life without long showers to be an unavoidable facet of life with young kids (because you can’t exactly leave toddlers unattended for long periods of time – so sometimes, by the very fact of their existence, your kids do ask you to give up showers), but not a soul-scraping sacrifice. Women like my mom, who would have loved to stay home with us kids full time, but, since my dad wasn’t willing to sacrifice the financial security of two incomes, she instead sacrificed by working (almost) full time. Or women like my aunt, who recently turned down an offer for a full-time job, because she has a toddler at home and it’s hard enough to work part-time from home, but now is having second thoughts, not because she wants the job – if you saw the resignation with which she decided to ask her boss about the position again, you’d know – but because they could use the money. Or all of the millions of women out there who simply can’t survive without working. Or women like I think I will be, who made the probably ill-informed decision to go to grad school when I knew that, deep-down, I’d really love to stay home with my kids when I had them. Coming out of an upper-tier university, the social pressure was totally for good jobs and more education, with no suggestion that your future family plans should have any impact on your choice of career path or further educational pursuit. But now I’ll be married in 6 months, we’d like to start having kids in a couple years, and I know that staying home with them – no matter how much I want it – won’t be feasible until my student loans are paid off, by which point they’ll probably be in school already. I’d like to know how women deal with those situations, especially when, like in my case, you find the situation to be one entirely of your own making. And no one gets to put themselves on a pedestal for going to work every morning. Staying home with the kids and going without mascara is – in a paradoxical sort of way – a glamorous sacrifice. You can see it as being for the greater good, and the results as being more than you’ve given up. And I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that. If you’ve chosen to sacrifice something, who’s to say that there’s anything wrong with luxuriating in it a little to make it an easier sacrifice to bear? But going to work full-time is either expected, or it’s seen as negative, anti-maternal behavior. No one brags about it in facebook memes. You just do it, because you need to pay the bills. What happens when it’s a soul-scraping sacrifice that can’t be avoided?

    • Liz

      i think that if we remove motherhood from the picture entirely, many of us can relate to working soul-scraping jobs because there’s rent to be paid. i think we all know how that feels.

      and i’m going to prematurely respond- because i’m not a mom yet, but dammit i’ve been thinking about this crap for months haha.

      my husband still doesn’t have a job. and (i’m surprising myself by saying this) after 7 months of being so wholly connected to this little person, it’s really painful for me to think of needing to work while josh stays at home with Baby. i would be jealous. i would be resentful. i really can’t stand to think about it- but there’s rent to pay, and no one is responding to the flurry of resumes he’s sending. i would be soul-scrapingly sacrificing to feed my child by going to work everyday. and it sucks.

      but i think that’s sort of the point. that most of the time, you’re choosing one soul-scraping option versus another. there are few options that allow you to pay your bills, raise your children, and pursue outside interests all at the same time without completely draining your time and energy. i think that’s what liz gilbert is getting at.

      • liz, i’ve thought the same thing. i’ve always wanted to stay home with my kids– for me, not doing so always felt like it would be soul scraping– but recently things are looking like when that day comes (hopefully several years down the road!), i might be the one who could better financially support our family. and the emotion that comes to mind when i think about that situation is downright jealousy. it’s surprising to me, but true.

        why do sacrifice and hard choices always seem to involve money??? sheesh.

      • Oh, Liz. Nail on head, again.

        C’s parents both worked from home, raising and schooling him together. He works from home. I work in the community and am super passionate about the work I do, and don’t want to leave that. But I’m also one of the most maternal people I know, and while my inner fam-nazi (JOKE) cringes, I know that I would be horribly, desperately unhappy if I left my child all of the time. Just as I would be horribly unhappy if taking care of children/home was my entire day and I didn’t have other outlets. Can you say complicated three times fast? :)

        I can’t know what financial position we’ll be in at that point, or what career point I’ll be in. We’ll have to cross those bridges and make some sacrifices. But we’ll CHOOSE to. And along the way I’ll fight my a$$ off for better daycare programs, maternity/paternity leave, and other options that are sadly lacking for not just you and I, but all other women/men/children here and now.

      • meg

        Our Liz nails it. And Liz Gilbert talks about the other side of sacrifice as well in this passage, I just didn’t quote her here. But yes. My mom worked for a while while I was little, and it scraped bare the walls of her soul. Then she stayed home, which was better, but still… she actually wanted to share a teaching contract (which can be done now, but wasn’t done then), and that wasn’t an option. It’s still not an option for enough people. There are not enough options. Like paid maternal leave, so everyone can afford to stay home and breastfeed for 6 or 9 months… or part time work, or what have you.

      • Erika

        The opposite is also true. Fathers are jealous of the time that mothers who work fewer hours (or not at all) can spend with the babies. And that’s a typical one-two punch of biology plus men (generally) earning higher incomes.

      • abby_wan_kenobi


        Small reward for the people out there doing what has to be done for no other reason than to pay the bills.

    • Sarabeth

      Also, I know I keep saying this, but: class matters. Poor women are the ones who have to work outside the home whether they want to or not. And who face the worst choices in terms of the childcare that they put their kids in while they work. The idea of sacrificing by giving up one’s career identity only makes sense in a context where 1) you have the skills to be in a career that you find fulfilling, and 2) someone else is earning enough to support you while you aren’t working.

      The point I’m trying to make is that, just like women’s work is often less valued, the sacrifices that working-class people end up making don’t get the same kind of credit.

      • B

        First, thank you Meg. This post was lovely. I completely agree.

        I wanted to comment about 2 things: the sort of debate about motherhood and career and sacrifice, and the issue of working-class/subaltern women.

        1) Motherhood.
        I am in graduate school, want to become a professor, and I want to raise a family with my husband. For me, it might be feasible to have a baby while still completing my graduate degree, as this will provide me with health care, a monthly stipend, and flexibility. However, I don’t know how I’ll feel once I have a child. Will I want to stay home all day for 1 year and then want to re-enter the work force part time? Full time? Will I want to stay home for 5 years? Will I want to go back to work after 6 months? NO CLUE. I just wish our country had more jobs that paid a living wage, and gave more/better maternity/paternity leave. However, I think we need to advocate for this at all levels of employment, which brings me to

        2) Class issues

        I totally agree with SarahBeth, and I kept thinking about this when people wrote about wanting to hire help for cleaning the house. That help is affordable for upper middle class folks is due in part to how much we have undervalued housework. http://www.amazon.com/Global-Woman-Nannies-Workers-Economy/dp/0805075097 “Global Woman” is a fantastic book that I think would be a great book club book! If we want to advocate about our right to better benefits, I think we need to simultaneously fight on behalf of domestic workers and those who make the minimum wage to have the same benefits. Otherwise, we are complicit in the ongoing oppression of women.

        • Class of 1980

          Interesting. There is a book called “Deer Hunting With Jesus” by Joe Bageant. He grew up in a poor white southern family, but got out of there.

          He examines political attitudes among his people and notes that they often vote against their own best interests. He gives a reason for it too. He argues that in the sixties, upper middle class people were fighting alongside poor people for better wages. Nowadays, it’s every man for himself and poor whites are subject to being joked about as rednecks.

          He feels that people on the left have dropped the ball when it comes to their less fortunate brothers. There is a white underclass that gets squashed and doesn’t see any benefits to progressive politics.

    • Class of 1980


      You wrote about something that has confounded me for years. I’ve seen soooo many young women start a career and never give a thought to how it will fit with child bearing/raising, until they get to that point.

      And I’ve seen so many of them feel bitter and frustrated when reality happens. I partly blame society as a whole because for so long we’ve had this message of “you can have it all”, but with no practical ideas of how that works.

      And when these women are very young and in school, they assume that since they keep hearing “you can have it all”, it MUST be true. They don’t realize that the truth is glossed over and left for a later day, so they never think to plan ahead.

      APW is a step in the right direction.

      • FM

        Well, I think the flip side is that many of those careers shouldn’t be as bad for family-raising (or pursuing other outside interests in general) as they are. And once you’re in them, you can maybe help change them for the better.

        • Lethe

          Precisely. If we curtail our choice of careers from the start in a way that men never have to, then those fields will never, ever change.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        Yeah it isn’t so much that you can’t have it all as it is

        you can’t have it all
        all at the same time
        all the time

        Striking that balance between work and caring for a newborn is different from working and parenting an 11-year-old which is different from working while parenting a college student. It might be impossible to work and parent your baby the way you want to but that only lasts as long as your baby is a baby – then you have to figure out what’s best for your family all over again. You probably can have it all sometimes (if you’re wise and lucky) but nobody has it all the time. And that’s okay. We need to know we’re not failures as women and mothers when one thing gets the short end of the stick.

  • Wow. Incredible post. This pretty much sums up why I can’t decide if I’m going to have children or not. Thank you for telling it like it is!

    I’m so afraid of giving up my identity and resenting my children (who didn’t ask to be born). I keep hoping that its all worth it and won’t feel like a sacrifice. I think that I want to be a mother, but at what cost? Recalling a post from a few months back, I’m going to wait until I really have the “urge” or “calling” or whatever it is and re-evalutate then, even if that means its too late to have them myself and we adopt. We definitely shouldn’t do it just because society says it’s time (I’m in my mid 30’s).

    Hopefully by the time I’m ready, Reclaiming Wife will be fully launched and feeding me even more valuable insight and wisdom on how to be a mother and have it all :) Time to make another donation!!!

  • I’ve always been the girl that you see in the movies, the one who can’t wait to get married and be a stay at home Mom. But soon after I graduated from college and was loving my career, I realized that wasn’t me anymore. I wanted to keep my job no matter what but I still wanted to be a good mother. Now we’re married and I started a new job, one that I love even more, and the thought of giving it up for our future kids just doesn’t feel right.

    I hate knowing that once I have kids no one in my industry will take me near as seriously a man in my situation. I hate that knowning if I run to take kids to doctor appointments and sporting events I’ll be judged. I know in the future I will be sacrificing for our kids, but I also know that I can once again prove every old stubborn man in my department wrong.

    I’ve recently come to terms with this. I’ve dedicated my “work” self to proving that I’m the person for this job, at least until I have kids. When I have kids, I’ll have proven myself to them already and be able to do both. I know there are things I will sacrifice, but I know that having both in my life will work. I grew up with a working Mom and I have her mentality now. She always felt that no matter what she would always be my mom and her working would not affect our relationship in a bad way. She was right.

    • Kess

      That is something that has been weighing heavily on my mind as well – if I have children, people will assume I’m less serious. I am in engineering, which is obviously a very, very male dominated field. Add that to the fact that I want to continue into academia someday, and it’s incredibly difficult to find any female that has children, but nearly all the men do.

      While the majority of male engineers have kids, the majority also have a wife that either stays at home or works part time as the typical engineering salary allows for a very comfortable lifestyle with one salary.

      They never have to stay at home with a sick child or pick a child up from school because it’s taken care of. Many of them are excellent fathers and spend as much time as possible with their kids, but they never have to deal with the unexpected. They may coach the baseball team, but they know it’s coming and they can deal with that. If they do have the unexpected kid thing crop up, people applaud their parenting.

      If a female were to do the same, I know they’d be looked down upon and people would think “She actually has the audacity to have children and a career!!?” even though that’s the norm for men.

      • It’s kind of ironic that you replied to my post beacuse I am in the engineering field as well and my “new job” that I love is at a college.

        When I was still working with an engineering firm I knew that I couldn’t do both, not take both being a mother seriously and my job seriously, especially because of the long hours and being out of town a lot. Now that I’m working at a college I know that I can do both. My job now is one in a million and I know that, I’m one of those lucky women who other women talk jealously of her job once she has kids. I know that.

        I am very lucky to have a job that asks us to be at our work place from 8:30am until 4:00pm with a lunch break. We can take days off whenever we need as long as our stuff is taken care of and with the exception of class and lab times they don’t mind if we have to run out to do stuff. Therefore I know that I can do both, and do both well, as long as I keep my current job.

        But I can relate, I know how it is when I was working for an engineering firm. Even when I got engaged they were very “oh so that’s the life you’re going to choose” about it. After that they treated me like I was a bit less of a serious employee beacuse “I was going to get married and quit”. It’s a hard field to go into knowing the difficulties of being a wife, mom and worker bee.

      • Meredith

        I, too, am an Engineer and also work in industry, though not at an engineering firm. The culture at my company is far different from what you are describing. I work in a combined engineering/ manufacturing role, so about 90% of my immediate colleagues are men. However, I don’t get that ‘now you’re goign to quit and have kids and take your career less seriously’ vibe from any of them. But I do agree that the hours are definitely less flexible. I work 7:30-4-ish, M-F. And its just the nature of this job that the flexibile hours are not at all feasible. All of the planning and manufacturing take so much time and man-power and requires many meetings with people from all different groups that you really need to be at the office and available.

        I will also add that we have fully paid 6 weeks of maternity leave.

        • I have a friend that work in the engineering/manufacturing and she has told me how hard it is for her as she’s just gotten pregnant. The hours are much more rigid than my job. And you’re right, you can’t be flexible with a job like that as you do have to be there for meetings and other things.

          I guess it really just comes down to person to person and job to job and country to country I should say too. I do live in Canada and do get the full year of paid maternity leave, which I honestly didn’t know was uncommon until I read comments in the post. (I feel so sheltered!)

  • Nicole

    Not sure if the timing on this is intentional, but yesterday the Paycheck Fairness Act died in the Senate: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/17/republicans-block-paycheck-fairness-act_n_784849.html , http://jezebel.com/5692167/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-paycheck-fairness-act
    It would have provided tools to help enforce the Equal Pay act. One of those bills that you think, “No way will that be voted down! It is COMMON SENSE that we should make sure that women are paid the same amount for the same work as men!”
    But, um, no. SERIOUSLY?
    You are right on, Meg. We shouldn’t have to accept wifehood and motherhood as difficult when WE (society, congress, etc.) HAVE THE ABILITY AND POWER TO MAKE IT EASIER. I don’t want to have to be a Mama Grizzly. Why can’t I be a Mama Panda? Cuddly and loving but without the attaching and the big claws?
    Flames… on the side of my face…

  • Abby C.

    “Because here is the thing: the more we talk about marriage here, the more I worry. I worry that we’re being given the illusion of lots of options, and the reality of really sh*tty options. I worry that the sh*ttiest of options (over-work, under-appreciation, enormous sacrifice) are being sold to us under the guise of “independent womanhood,” instead of under the guise of “life is hard sometimes, and you can make it through, but you should fight for things to be easier.”

    YES, YES, YES! I haven’t read all the other comments yet, but this resonates with me so, so hard. Over the summer I argued this very point with the women in my family, all of whom have struggled with this. Yet strangely, their reaction was more along the lines of, “Shitty options are good enough, stop complaining.” And I couldn’t really voice why this felt so, so wrong to me.

    • I’ve gotten that reaction too. Sometimes I feel like the generations above me in my family think I’m saying I don’t appreciate the progress that has been made. Usually these kind of comments come along with, “Well, when I worked, women had to wear SKIRTS. And get COFFEE.” But I don’t think we should have to be complacent just because now the boss has to get his (or her) own darn coffee.

  • Ahhhh this was a tear-provoking post.

    I hate that my “choices” are to keep my all-consuming job and never see my family, or to quit and see my family but give up my career. I work at a job where people think there is something wrong with you — that you aren’t “driven” enough or “committed” enough to the job — if you want to go home in time to have dinner with your spouse or family. But I work in a field (law) in a place (New York) where there aren’t a lot of part time options, or less intense workplaces.

    When I look around at the women who have “done it all” — kids, marriage, and making partner, they all look EXHAUSTED. All the time. And then they are required to get up in front of people during Women’s History Month and talk about how great it is that they can stand in the back at their kid’s school play and take a conference call and they don’t feel like they are sacrificing anything at all. Yeah. Right. It’s not just the school play you miss, you can’t really focus on the work either. So your enjoyment of your kid’s event suffers, and your work suffers. But as a woman, if you say you can’t take the call at that time because of a family commitment, everyone shakes their head at you. Rock, meet Hard Place.

    • Lethe

      Amen, and so much sympathy. The legal profession (also my field) is one that is largely based on the model of working-dad-stay-at-home-mom. It’s extremely difficult to keep up the hours and commitment expected for advancement in the big firms without having a nonworking partner to support you by taking care of all the other necessities of life. It’s just not realistic to expect every lawyer to have that anymore. And even if it WERE possible, it’s not very appealing to me. Don’t all those working parents (including dads!) want to spend some time with their kids too?? The whole profession needs to rebalance its expectations of its employees.

      The only place I’ve found that is better are some of the small public-interest firms. But even many of them suffer from these unrealistic expectations, and the norms of big firm life influence the whole field.

      • Liz

        you would think this structure would fall by the wayside if only for the recent demonization of absentee-fatherhood.

  • “Wanting more doesn’t make you less of a woman, or a wife, or a mother. It makes you better. Better for you, better for your family.”

    Thanks for the reassurance… Sometimes it seems really hard to justify wanting more. I moved across the country so that my husband could get a phd (in academia) at the school of his dreams– willingly. It didn’t feel like a sacrifice. Since then, I’ve struggled for months trying to find a job, and there literally are none here for new grads in my field, despite endless phone calls and repeated knocking on doors. Now, he’s not so happy with his program and questioning his career goals. Huge stuff, and I support him all the way and am trying to help him work through it– BUT. I have my own life goals. I went into a career that I really love, and if I ever can land a job, I may not want to leave it. Back when I was in school, I felt like it would be okay to just follow his job around the country, but now… well, I’m wanting more. For myself and for our baby family. It all feels rather unsettling at the moment, and we’re working through some big stuff. It’s really hard for me to see the line between selfishness and sacrifice sometimes, if that even makes sense. Because at some point, loving someone else means you have to make decisions that are better for you both, even if you might have chosen differently for yourself alone… but at the same time– there’s this post. Oh, the inner turmoil!

    • Sarabeth

      I want to say, as someone whose husband 1) moved for my Ph.D. and 2) will move for my job: its OK to renegotiate the deal you have. I feel profoundly lucky that my husband is on board with moving for me. If he had changed his mind, it would have been really tough. We probably would have fought, I would have cried. But I would also have recognized that he deserves a voice in our future. As it is, he’s using his voice in other ways (ie, if he wants to be a stay at home dad later, he gets to. If he wants to quit his relatively lucrative tech career and become a yoga instructor, I will support that.) But it’s your life too, and you get to have an opinion.

      Also, by the time he’s done with the Ph.D., he may be much less excited about relocating somewhere random. Definitely happened to me. I’m applying to most jobs in my field, but there are places I won’t be happy living, and I would rather leave my field than move to those places.

  • Erin

    As far as having more options, I’d like to think it might help if living didn’t COST SO DAMN MUCH. And, y’know, if the economy wasn’t so broken. In reading these comments, it seems clear to me that a lot of the societal changes we hope for with regard to gender and careers may be in the works, but not the way we’d like. As in, many commenters here, and families that I know in real life are struggling with an unemployed partner — in many cases, the husband/fiance — while they are building their family identity, and growing their numbers. For families in their 20s, early 30s, I wonder how different these conversations about sacrifice and choice will be 5, 10 years from now — what our children will say about which parent raised them, and how, and why.

  • Marchelle

    Brilliant post, Meg.

    It resonates with me in a hundred different ways – about how devalued the acts of ‘mothering’ are in our society, and how false the choices for women are, and how little real support there is for family life, and how I ache for the concept of the village, and how it distresses me to hear women say feminism is outdated and unnecessary, and how hard we have to battle to forge the emotionally robust lives we need, and why is all of that still so.

    This is one to keep open and ruminating on. Because we’re not going to find the answers if we don’t keep asking the hard questions.

  • Lethe

    This is definitely my favorite post ever on APW.

    Someone above asked about the same-sex couple perspective. Not that I can speak for anyone but myself, but: being engaged to a woman is interesting because there is no person “automatically” designated to make family sacrifices. Clearly this is not how it plays out in all my straight friends’ relationships, but there is often an unspoken social assumption those women have to confront that they will be the one to sacrifice their career to move somewhere for their husband’s, they will be the one primarily responsible for childcare, etc. Neither me or my partner is the designated “martyr” in the eyes of society. So that means with every decision we don’t have the option to retreat into what is socially expected – we have to hash out our own individual expectations based on our individual strengths and interests. Which is hard, but also keeps us really honest with ourselves. I think I have the “martyrdom” tendencies Meg was talking about (maybe having inherited that outlook from my own mom), but being in a same-sex relationship is revealing in that it really forces me to confront those tendencies.

    I once did research for a professor on “work-life balance” and came upon statistics showing that, on average, women in same-sex relationships earn more relative to men than women in opposite-sex relationships do. (Though still less than men overall.) And the researchers came to the conclusion that a large reason why was because the queer women’s employers assumed they would not have children, therefore it would be less of an economic loss to employ them! This is not only completely insane discrimination against childbearing women, but it’s also a crazy assumption since so many women in same-sex relationships DO birth children. But that statistic really convinced me of how important it is to fight for supports for working mothers, including paid maternity leave and paid childcare and all the rest. Because such a big part of job discrimination against women comes directly from discriminatory reactions to childbearing.

  • SaraW

    Hi, just had to chime in to make a correction on your reference of the Hobbesian dilemma…

    You’re talking about “Hobson’s Choice,” which is distinct from a Hobbesian choice. The latter was articulated by English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, in The Leviathan, and it means something altogether different. The Hobbesian dilemma is about choosing a form of governance, knowing you risk, on the one hand, the insecurities of anarchy that come with total liberty, and on the other hand, the predatory despotism that comes with the absolute rule of a monarch. Hobbes pointed out that that any sovereign powerful enough to enforce the rules necessary for a society to escape a state of war will be powerful enough to violate those very rules and carry us into a state of war for his own benefit.

  • greteanemone

    This post totally hit home for me today. I’ve been struggling with exactly this issue since we got married in May. On the one hand I have always thought that I would have my own career, and on the other I always knew I wanted kids someday. The two are more difficult to reconcile, and I agree that the options are not actually ideal. We do have some more choices than our grandmothers or great grandmothers now, but I don’t really feel like I have any options that are ideal. I think Sweden may be on the right track. http://bit.ly/beWrr0.

    Thanks Meg!

    • Chantelle

      ummm, I think I’m moving to Sweden.
      And I live in Canada where mat/pat leave is normal (mat leave is a year at a certain % and dads can take a portion of it, or all if they like, still have to do my research), although it is still new to see dad’s taking advantage of paternity leave, it is being done.

      But Sweden, hella smart country. Wow. I did a number of double takes whilst reading that piece.
      40 paid days ANNUALLY to be able to stay at home with a sick child. Ridiculous and amazing at the same time!

      One thing that stood out in the article is that both political parties support women in the workplace and that a deliberate decision was made to foster women’s growth in the workplace and specific policy was implemented to make it happen. It’s not wishing and hoping and praying, its governmental change in policy.

      • I’m just throwing this one out there:

        Could it be that it’s tricky living in a society where it is “normal” to get married before one (or both) partners are fully on their career path? I mean.. it used to be the case that a “man” (yes, a man) could only marry when he was financially viable (ok not in all societies. But I am thinking of.. last century America?..)

        What I mean is – the fact that grad school is a tough situation – and I can imagine that it’s really tough – do you think that comes from the changing times?

  • Wow – thank you for writing this!

    Having been raised by a soul-scraping mother, I worry a lot about how I’ll deal with motherhood once my husband and I decide to expand our family. Right now, the “sacrifices” that I make are so minimal that I hesitate to even call them sacrifices. But after watching my mom push herself to the absolute brink to be the “perfect,” I worry that I’ll try to do the same thing. I remind myself that I have many more choices than she did – this is partly due to education, partly due to the time we live in, and mostly due to the fact that I’m not trying to follow the narrow religious beliefs that she held – but at the same time, as Meg said, they’re still sh*tty choices.

    Not to beat up on womankind, but I think we make it harder than it has to be. I know I’ve worked with (older) women who made nothing but disparaging comments about other (younger) women who were trying out non-standard work/parenting schedules, just because the (older) woman “didn’t have it that easy” whe she was raising her children. But shouldn’t the point be that we all work to make it a little easier for our sisters and for the next generation of women? If women spend their time posting stuff on facebook like Meg mentioned, that’s time they’re not spending talking to their bosses about a salary increase, or talking to their partners about how to share the load. We’re getting bogged down in the details of work v.stay-at-home or salon v. ponytail and that’s not the point at all. If women stopped competing over who took the fewest showers (for example), the competition would end and we could go on to build a better future.

  • Sarah

    Someone mentioned it above, and I’m just going to take it as a springboard…

    I think one key thing that will help with becoming overwhelmed in sacrifice is to remember that we need to realign our priorities as we have these huge life changes. (This is not to say we DON’T sacrifice, but I’ll get to that in a bit.) For example … two years ago, my priorities were all about myself (meaning I could/would prioritize the different aspects of my life based on how they would affect ME … as they very rarely affected anyone else) … and now, I need to do it based on US. I mean, when I moved to the DC area I was INSANELY homesick for California (where I’d left my entire family and all of my friends). I COULD have moped and whined and cried about it … and my husband (then fiance) would have moved us back, if it’s what I needed. But he was a priority to me … and keeping him in the school he loved was a big one. So here we are.

    So, yes, with him in school, I work longer hours than I’d like … and with everything that goes along with that, it sucks. But it’s right in line with our priorities right now. Give it a year (when he’ll graduate) and those will change, I’m sure. The moving, the working, the whathaveyou … OF COURSE they’re sacrifices. Sometimes BIG ones. The trick, for me, is to remember that these are things I chose to do, for a reason. That doesn’t mean I don’t stop and cry about them occasionally (not being home for Christmas this year, for example, is especially hard for me) … but in the end, it’s the decision I made in order to enable us to do what we wanted to do, in the long run.

    It’s like when you’re in school … and you have to sacrifice some hanging-out-with-friends time to study. Sure, it sucks, and sure, you COULD always go hang out … but if your priority is to learn/graduate/get the grades/etc, it’s the choice you’re going to make. Or buying the boots vs. using that money for rent … yah, the choice is there, but you have to figure out which is more important to you.

    Same goes for when we have kids. We may give up the apartment we love to move to an area with a great school district. I may stay home, if that’s what I decide to do. Heck, Jon may stay home, if that’s what he decides. But no one is forcing us to decide one way or the other.

    That’s why it bothers me to see society pressuring women in so many ways. To see so many girls thinking being a “good mom” means giving up everything that makes you … you. Everything that you enjoy. Everything that makes you feel like an individual. As we all know, it’s not even remotely the case. Take my best friend … had her son at 24. She was one of the best dressed/well groomed new mothers I know … not because of money (there really wasn’t any), but because she didn’t subscribe to the idea that she had to go without normal showers and makeup and cute clothing just because she had a baby. If the clothes fit, she wore them. Started taking showers during the times he was napping, and getting ready while he was either still napping (on a good nap day) or sitting in his bouncer. If she wanted to go out for coffee, she took him along. And it didn’t hurt him in the slightest if she wanted to watch Ghost Hunters while feeding him. She still did the things that she enjoyed … with the accommodation that getting out of the house was going to take a little longer, and she couldn’t just hitch a ride with a friend, now that two seats were needed. Turns out, he (at 3) is one of the better behaved, well adjusted children I know, and he has parents who love and support him … and each other … and themselves. Yes, they’ve given things up, but I honestly don’t think they’ve considered them sacrifices.

  • I completely agree – this is probably your best post ever, Meg. Thank you.

    I too hear so many women – even women my own age – say that things are so much better than they were back when women couldn’t vote/were the office slaves/had to stay home with the kids, period. And I get frustrated when none of them seem to feel the need to add: but things still aren’t right and we still aren’t equal. We are still presented with a bunch of crappy choices and told to keep on a shit-eating grin because it’s better than it used to be.

    This is difficult for me in another way, because I’m currently asking my partner to make a huge sacrifice for me in terms of career goals, and NOBODY is telling him that he should be happy to do it, that he should give up his dreams, that he should happily take on a martyr role to support me. Which is true – I don’t want him to give up his dreams, and I want to make sure that I support him in other ways so that this sacrifice doesn’t consume him…. But. For over a century, nobody heard a peep from the wives of male diplomats, because that was just what they did – they gave up careers if they had any and followed their husband around the world with nary a complaint. And a small, horrible part of me wants someone to assume that my partner will do that, instead of people constantly acting surprised that he’ll be going with me, because he’s a man, whereas nobody asks my male colleagues if their wives will be quitting their jobs and accompanying them overseas – because of course they will – they’re women.

    • YES. I’m in this position too – my husband quit his job to move halfway across the country to where I wanted to go to graduate school. Luckily, he was able to find a job soon after (2 months in this economy – woohoo!), but with a 20K paycut and in a field he has less interest in. And his mother was MAD. Why couldn’t I just find a job where he was? (no jobs in my field in the city he lived in at the time, but he could have easily found one where I was – that obviously wasn’t an option to his mom) Why didn’t I go to grad school in the city he was working in? (no jobs in my future field in that city either) Why not go to grad school where they live, or at least stay in the Midwest? *I* was supposed to make the sacrifice, not him. Thank god, he did so willingly and happily (most of the time) and stood up to his mom on all fronts. But it did show a different dynamic – his mom had given up her career for his dad’s sake, and she expected me to do the same for J. Um, NO.

      • Liz

        i honestly just don’t know how the generations before us had healthy marriages without the mindset of mutual sacrifice. i just don’t get it.

        • Michele

          Well, I’m not entirely sure couples gave much thought to the concept of “healthy” marriages. I think that’s a relatively recent development and in many ways, a luxury.

          • Sylvia

            Darwinian evolution of relationships maybe??
            In a society where we’re told 50% of marriages end in divorce, we’ve all got to work to make our relationships “fitter” so there’s a chance of survival – to my mind this means working on ways to form partnerships that don’t foster resentment (the enemy of happiness). Equality and shared purpose seem like a damn good start towards this to my mind! And this is exactly what we’re talking about here.
            APW I love you.

  • Chris B

    This post is an eloquent description of my current state of confusion about my career. What kind of career can I keep up if I want babies? And I do want babies. And I know I would be a better research scientist without them. And I also want time to read and exercise and eat pomegranates on the couch with my husband-to-be and do other fun things.

    And why does it seem like only women have these gut-wrenching decisions? Are men just quieter about it? Are they more energetic and/or optimistic so they don’t foresee any competing demands on their time and energy? Or do they place fewer demands on themselves in the one arena so they feel more confident promising their energy towards the other?

    This has me all worked up.

    • Nina

      Brilliant questions I want to know the answers to, like really, really do.

    • TOTALLY. Even when I bring up these decisions to Eric, it’s like they don’t seem to have the same effect on him. Sure he worries, and thinks about the future and recognizes that there are difficult decisions to be make, but it doesn’t seem to have the same effect on him as it does on me. I’m sure that has a lot to do with our personalities (he’s a zen warrior and I’m a big crier) but I also wonder if it’s because we’re raised in a society where the woman freaks out and cries while the man stoically carries forth.

      • Liz

        yes to what you say about society. i’m only NOW (i’m effing 7 months pregnant) finding out that josh has been worried sick (literally- he’s gotten sick over it) about being able to navigate providing for baby, who stays home, etc. he’s been straight-faced, silent and stoic through the whole time.

        i’ll come home from work and wail about how i’m concerned about these things, and he just sits and nods. and only since it’s recently surfaced have i realized he feels that he has this weight to bear- this need to be provider and caretaker and emotionless and stable. and- it’s bizarre. because we ARE NOT the cookie-cutter couple. we don’t strive to fit into socially acceptable roles.

        but maybe there’s something so life-altering about BABY (much like weddings, eh?) that made us retreat to the “safe” expected norms.

    • Rebecca

      Hey Chris,

      I can’t offer answers – as a science based PhD I am not sure how I’m going to balance these things either. Although being in New Zealand (which is not as progressive apparently as Sweden or Canada, but a bit less work-driven perhaps than the US) I think I will have an easier time than many others.

      I can, however, offer a glimmer of hope (well, I see it as such, clutching at straws maybe but whatevs). I attended my first big meeting this year and was stoked to see that, not only was childcare on offer for attending Mu(o)ms and Dads, children were also scattered around the theatre at plenary lectures and no one was batting an eyelid. These were well-behaved kids, mostly plugged into laptops with Shrek/Cars/Madagascar screening for their private viewing pleasure, admittedly.

      But I have hope for a life as a researcher that doesn’t require me to sacrifice being a good parent, and look forward to travelling the world with kids in tow (sometimes anyway), and opening up a wider worldview for my kids as a result.

      • FM

        As a kid who grew up sitting in the corner or the hallway at my parents’ meetings – I think kids who are taken to such things and are expected to entertain themselves and be reasonably behaved tend to develop the ability to meet those expectations. It can be done.

        • Chris B

          Wow – thanks Rebecca and FM! That’s actually really comforting/inspiring/helpful.

  • Kess

    Thank you for this. I was trying to explain this topic to my boyfriend, but I’m not very eloquent at all. I’ve been having some issues with the thought of being a ‘wife’, but wasn’t able to fully explain them to him. I am the one holding back getting engaged; this is the main reason why.

    The main reason I’m stalking wedding blogs and such is to see if it really has to be just tons of sacrifice and if there is really any alternative to the traditional ‘wife’.

    I’m still coming to terms with the whole idea, and hopefully my boyfriend will understand a bit better as he reads this.

    • Liz

      ACK. kess, you need to rifle through the WHOLE reclaiming wife part of the archives. for serious. because being a wife doesn’t necessitate giving up who you are.

    • Go read all the Reclaiming Wife archives. Go, do it now. It will be infinitely helpful. <3

  • Faith

    Whew, not even through all the comments yet, but I feel the need to write a comment before all my thoughts fly out of my head…

    I do agree with many of the things mentioned up there, and there are some things that are becoming more clear as I am looking at a soon-to-be marriage and re-evaluating myself as I will become someone’s wife. My view on sacrifice within a marriage is that if both partners are willing to and then actively sacrifice for the benefit of the other person, there is less room for one partner to say, “I’m doing all the sacrificing and you don’t appreciate it”. I know that my going to work every day at a job i don’t absolutely love and putting my money into savings for our future instead of doing whatever I want with it is a sacrifice. But it is more than that. My sacrifice makes my family, my partner better, but it makes me so much of a better person. Traveling and spending money on myself is fun, but giving yourself and desires up for another person is selfless, which is why I’m getting married in the first place.

    Marriage is beautiful when both are sacrificing, both are appreciating each other, and both have the others’ back.

    • Exactly. When both partners are sacrificing it is an egalitarian relationship. But as soon as it becomes one sided, that is where I’d have a big problem. I feel really lucky to have found a partner willing to have the kind of relationship where we both sacrifice.

      But the reality is that there are a lot of nice men out there that haven’t been taught that they need to sacrifice in their relationships. Or that their end of the sacrifice ends the second they get hitched, because that is the model of marriage they’ve ingrained. I’m not saying these guys are bad guys, but they don’t release the damn they are doing to their partners by expecting all the sacrifice to come from the women’s end.

      • Faith

        Absolutely. Nice men that just don’t know or get it.

        • I think a lot of this will change when “our” children grow up. I think there are a lot of women actively thinking about these issues and they will teach their sons that they should be sacrificing as much as their partners. I have great hope that the kids being born now or in the next 10 years will be a lot more progressive in terms of what love, marriage, relationships are and mean.

          • Liz

            well, yes. and i think we’re experiencing the on-going process of women rejecting the idea of a mama’s boy. many of the older (my grandparents’ generation, into some of my parents’) couples i know have very unhealthy marriages now because men were infantized by their mamas- catered to, fawned over, idolized and cared for. many of the women i know in their 60’s are married to men who still do not know how to iron a shirt or toast a slice of bread. where and when would these sorts of men learn to sacrifice?

  • Michele

    I’ll tell you what Meg: You just made me like this book a whole hell of a lot more than the author herself did!

    • Michele

      Also: This post and the subsequent discussion have reinforced for me something I already know: I need to try harder. That’s probably a bizarre sentiment in the midst of a discussion about sacrifice, but the truth is that I can’t even remember the last time I felt the kind of pressure that so many of you have written about, and that’s NOT because I’m a martyr, or because I’ve got it oh-so-together and have somehow managed to “have it all.”

      No, it’s because I’m lazy and complacent and I’m really not trying very hard in life right now! As a result, I’m not stressed or depressed or resentful, I don’t feel as if there aren’t enough hours in the day, or as if I’m bearing any kind of a burden.

      But I’m also not joyful, I’m not achieving, I’m not daring to dream and building a better life.

      I’m just living the one I’ve got, which for the most part, is pretty damn good.

      But it could be better.

      • I know exactly how you feel.

  • Arachna

    An important possible solution to child care that hasn’t been brought up is family. And by that I mean I fully expect my mother to do 50% of caring for my baby when I have one in a couple of years. With myself, my husband and paid babysiters taking the other 50%.

    Now I’m not happy that it’s my mother and not my father and its super important to note that my mom is the one pushing for this and really really wants to. Most people don’t have this luxury.

    But, having more adults around to take care of the kid is key. Have the dad do a whole lot more, as mentioned. Have grandparents or uncles or nannys or ideally all of the above. Taking care of kids IMO should really be more of a group activity and that would be easier on all adults.

    • Liz

      oh my lord, YES.


      we in the states have a crappy concept of caring for one another in community- raising our kids, taking care of our elderly, the whole she-bang.

      • Liz, you are touching on so many topics that I’ve recently thought a whole lot about. You’re killing me right now. But yes to this community stuff! It is something that I try to do very hard, and since most people don’t have the luxury of living near their family (I don’t), the “village” becomes it. I watch my friends’ kids whenever possible. When we’re in a group, I keep an eye on them.

        I intend to know my neighbors and interact with their children in a way that I want my kids looked out for. I think it’s really important to come together as a community.

      • I think having a communal child raising experience would be the only way I could have a child. I feel like my partner and I lead to much of a private island life to be able to do this though. We are incredibly far from our families and most of our friends.

    • I dunno. On the one hand I think that is an absolutely fabulous model, on the other hand those are really slippery areas to try to negotiate, especially when families are blended (as they always are when you are including multiple generations like this), and we are in a geographically and socially mobile society.

      I’m glad that you note that it’s a luxury; so much depends on geography and timing beyond just inclination — for grandparents to be taking care of childcare while the parents are doing their outside employment requires the grandparents to be not only in the same geographic area, but also to not be having to be working themselves, and if they are not working, not yet be to the point of aging and declining health where they can help rather than require help themselves. (That last part becomes more and more of a factor as people have children later in lives.) I know in your case you say your mom is pushing for it, so that’s awesome, but the word “expect” just really makes me bristle. Mostly because this is pushing buttons about the things that are the biggest challenge for us right now, admittedly.

    • Agreed. Before I was old enough to go to school, I was kept by my grandmother/aunt doris as well, and I’m sure it must’ve been . . . well, I don’t know how my parents felt about having to work, but at least there was a safe, (free!) alternative. I always thought I’d want that same kind of support, but due to geographic factors, I’m not sure we’ll have that in place

      This was something that I thought a lot about while reading Committed, and something that came up in the Toronto APW meetup, this idea of community. We tend to view our marriages, our families as such private things — which they absolutely are . . . but on the other hand, that leaves us vulnerable to the idea that we shouldn’t have to ask for help, that we shouldn’t need any kind of outside support in order to raise our families to the best of our ability or in order to preserve our sanity and sense of self. And, well, everyone is made better when a strong community network exists, for various reasons. If it’s family, great, if it’s not family, that’s great too — I just feel we should open ourselves more to the idea of it, and the good that can come from it. Oh, and that it doesn’t make us any less capable.

    • Class of 1980

      It almost seems like a luxury to have a mother available.

      My mother worked before she was married in the fifties and until her second child was born. Then after a long absence she went to work part-time when I was in high school, and was full-time a couple of years later.

      By the time she was 45, she had started on a career as a graphic artist with a corporation, which she did until age 67. Taking care of a grandchild was not an option.

      Yet, my grandmother took care of me until I was almost three. My mother only has one (grown) grandchild and she never was able to spend the time that my grandmother did.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I read all the responses here and I think we’ve missed something – what about the freedom of the empty nest? My mom (as her friends become grandparents) complains about this all the time. Her group of friends have had a terrific time in the last 5 years or so as all their kids have left home and they have more free time and expendable income. They’re all young and healthy enough to really live it up and my parents have been taking advantage of it. Suddenly, my mom can’t get a lunch date with a friend because her grandson has tee ball practice. My mom calls it “helicopter grandparenting”.

      She gets really mad about it, most of her friends made a lot of sacrifices for their own children, stripped their souls bare as it were, and now they’re doing it all over again with their grandchildren. Literally attending every soccer *practice*, baby-sitting all the time for free, playing the chauffer again. And they do it willingly, they offer, they love spending time with the kids, but it’s…. concerning to say the least.

      My mom told me that if we live near her when we have kids, she’ll babysit *sometimes*. Make an appointment. She’ll attend softball games *when it fits her schedule*. Basically she said, I’m not attending every freakin’ thing in your kid’s life, that’s what parents are for. Grandparents are for spoiling and trips to the zoo.

      She has her own life now and she intends to keep on having it. And I think that’s pretty awesome.

      • Liz

        yeah, totally- that’s why i think the whole “community” concept is essential, though. because i wouldn’t be depending solely on my mother- she’d pitch in whenever she volunteered. that’s one of the perks of grandkids, right? they go home. in my present (lucky) state, i have about 6 people who are begging ME to be at the top of the list for babysitters. (there’s some benefit to having the first grandkid on both sides)

  • Caroline

    I want to knit this post on a sweater and snuggle with it every f*ing day. Love.

  • Meg

    So this really reminded me of an interesting article I read by Kathleen Gerson “Moral Dilemmas, Moral Strategies, and the Transformation of Gender” from her book Hard Choices.
    Through interviews with men and women she determined that both sexes strive for the ideal of an egalitarian relationship, one in which moral responsibility is shared, however, they also find this ideal to be unachievable and therefore cope using different methods.
    Women seek autonomy, that is, they would rather go it alone then be unhappy in a relationship which is unequal. Men, on the other hand prefer what she calls “neotraditionalism” which allows both parents to contribute through work but expects the woman to be more devoted to family life and her work is just “helping” where as he is truly the breadwinner and has less domestic responsibility. I find this arrangement to be very common today and women have accepted it as a step up when it is not! Men prefer this arrangement because it allows them to retain the privileges of a traditional division of moral labor.
    Perhaps things will change as time goes on but I find it pretty sad that these are our options, go it alone or contribute like your husband without the privileges and respect along with being domestic.

  • Mary Jo

    I loved this post and wanted to send it to my mom and aunt, but I couldn’t find a button to do that automatically. While AWP is getting improved, that would be a great thing to add!

  • Jo

    “I worry that we keep thinking that there is something profoundly wrong with us when these choices cause us stress and pain and heartache, because we believe we should be feeling joy. I worry that the illusion of progress has stopped us from fighting for more significant change, and has stopped us from looking around for other answers.”

    I heard from a doctor at one point that if anything hurts, that means something is wrong. I think that applies to both physical and emotional pain. And sometimes the wrong means you have to make choices about what you are willing to do or not, but how important is it to keep an eye on what you are sacrificing, just so you’re clear about your choices. And even more so, when we find we’ve chosen something that just hurts too much, having the “fire in our hearts” to want more. The fire in our hearts is stoked by the air that blows through this amazing community. Thank you, again, Meg.

  • Jason J

    Over-work, under-appreciation and enormous sacrifice should not have to be one’s options or choices. What’s interesting is that even though I am a man, I can relate to what all lot of the women on here are going through. A wide discrepancy in earnings can also affect a partner as it may make one feel like less of contributor, even if they are putting in the same amount of effort and dedication into the marriage. Even if the higher
    bread winner completely views his/her partner as an equal contributor, it’s easy for people to struggle with issues of inadequacy. This often leads women to think that as long as they keep the house up and take care of the kids… then that should balance out the status-quo.Seldom does this work out and it is not a positive approach, at least
    for the modern couple.

    I personally have experienced all of these things with my previous partner and know only too well the perils of such issues. I am currently in the process of remarrying and would like to credit my FW with introducing me to this blog.Through my own marriage and divorce I learned many things:

    Appreciate each other. This does not mean the occasional thank you but a true appreciation of what married life and raising a family is asking from each of you. Such an appreciation should foster open communication and through that both will need to learn what exactly it means to support each other and this should and needs to result in something tangible.

    Discuss and work together to come up with a game plan where each partner can succeed with their goals. Ask yourself what you want out of life and out of married life and there is a difference. If someone is aspiring to be in a career or lifestyle that asks a hell of a lot out of their partner and causes one person to put their life on hold for a long spell with no personal return on their own investment, then that is not conducive to a happy balance.

    Sacrifice coming from a place of love is a beautiful thing – but again, it’s easy to see this turn into resentment. Should married life be about martyrdom ? I think not. We should chose to share our lives with people so that we can improve the quality of our own lives. If you chose to sacrifice something for the betterment of your married life, then do so with a goal or intention in mind. It is OK to have intentions. There is nothing wrong with thinking of yourself. If you don’t love yourself and share that choice with your partner, then you will not be able to be truly happy making him/her happy. If you find that you have issues with sacrificing or that the very word itself is a problem, it’s OK. However, you need to clarify that with your partner and figure out what to do.

    A marriage in today’s times should not be about the quality of a man’s life getting better while that of his woman suffers. Where is it written that women should experience higher blood pressure, stress and regrets while their male counterpart does better over time? Women may deal with stress a lot better in the immediate but over time they tend to suffer greater than their husbands. Instead of fearing these things, we must understand why this happens and address those issues so that when the union happens both partners are wiser. I have seen this in my own mother’s case where in her later years she is struggling with health related issues as a result of stress due to precisely the above. That’s not a good thing for any one.

    A lot of people are not ready to get married, not because they have not met the right person… they simply just don’t know what the hell they are getting themselves into. This is why pre-marital counseling is so important. It allows both partners to understand and learn more about their needs and those of their future spouse in a completely different light. A lot of people too are not really ready to leave the single life behind them. By single life I am not talking about just relationships, sex and partying. I am talking more about independence and having to be accountable for your actions to someone other than yourself. The way in which you act, behave and live your life does have an affect on your spouse, because you are now part of their lives. Being married should not mean that you lose your independence or desires, dreams… but if one is stressing so much about the potential loss of independence and is genuinely having trouble with not wanting to have to consider another person when making decisions, then one is clearly not ready for a commitment. The problems arise when one spends more time being afraid of losing such things, rather than being aware of all the positive things they
    are gaining from the marriage.

    It’s OK to want more and no it does not make a woman or a man less of a wife, mother, husband or father to want more out of life or to want more out of their married lives. The secret is to be able to achieve that with your partner and instead of viewing marriage as a threat to that – learn how to make your marriage give you the love, strength and quality of life that you both deserve.

    I think committed is a great title for all of this, because maybe for once… we can think of it as not being committed to the institution of marriage, but rather, being committed to increasing the joy, happiness and quality of each others lives through choosing to spend
    the rest of our lives with that person – which is what we happen to call marriage.

    • Sarah

      So, so wise, Jason … thank you!

      The paragraph about being ready to be married … this has been a topic of pretty heavy discussion in our home lately. You’ve summed up (far more eloquently than I could have) exactly what we’ve been trying to stay.

      Forgive me if I steal it … but I’m thinking my husband will enjoy your words just as much as I have. =)

  • peanut

    I’m pretty confident that my husband and I will be able to both maintain our path toward our career dreams; our extended families are very supportive of women not having to transform into Happy Homemaker the instant fertilization occurs.

    However … I am worried that *I* will want to stay home and quit my career when our babies come, because I am a perfectionist and deep down think that no one will be able to raise my children the way I will. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but I know that once the kids hit semi-self-sufficience I will totally regret giving my career up to stay home. It’s scary.

    • Lethe

      I think this is what many of us forget: babies don’t stay babies forever. Or even for very long. By the time a kid is six it’s in school full-time (if not sooner). How to balance childcare and work is a decision that evolves over and over again as a child’s age and needs change.

  • Rebecca

    So… the question in my mind is now, “How do we make these better options for ourselves?”

    Because (to borrow from plastic-free blogger Beth Terry) personal action is key to showing us where the societal limits are. Once we do everything we can to better our lives, we can clearly see what larger issues are holding us back.

    Personally, I believe the first step to having more and better options is “needing” less. For example, if my family can reduce our material belongings and fit comfortably in a 1- or 2-bedroom house or apartment rather than a 3-bedroom, I can either work fewer hours or take a lower paying job that may be closer to my true passion. If we can sell one of our cars we may find a freedom that’s even better than convenience. (In reality, my husband and I live in a 720 sq. ft. apartment, which feels pretty good to a little big size-wise, even if there was a baby in the mix, but it’s still too full of clutter. And we’re taking a trial run on the one-car thing… taking my car off the road and not paying insurance on it, hoping to sell it this summer.)

    We’re swimming in a rising tide of unnecessary *stuff* that is reducing our abilities to live focused, meaningful lives. Face it, houses wouldn’t need so much cleaning if they didn’t have so many square feet… dishes wouldn’t need so much doing if you didn’t have 12 place settings to pile up… bathrooms wouldn’t need so much cleaning if there weren’t so many of them… kid’s toys wouldn’t need so much putting away if they weren’t there in the first place. Our consumption is encroaching on our dreams… and after we change that, we can figure out what our *needs* truly are.

    A couple women worth reading on this topic:
    Dee Williams: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/sustainable-happiness/living-large-in-a-tiny-house
    Tammi Strobel: http://rowdykittens.com/

    • Abby C.

      Actually, my FH and I have been forced to do exactly this! We’ve recently moved his sparsely furnished 3 bedroom house and my separate, furnished leased 2 rooms into one small, 1 bed, 1 bath apartment. To do it, we both had to purge like maniacs, and my heirloom furniture went into storage. We’re really getting creative as far as organization to save space. It’s also forcing us to be cleaner, which is a bonus, and a new skill for me! Actually, the purging and the having of less “stuff” felt really cleansing to me, and I don’t feel crowded in the new space.

      In a bigger city with better public transport, I’d totally be down with one car.

      On the other hand, though, your solution isn’t going to address some of the larger issues that are facing alot of women. Yes, cutting your cost of living will make it easier to pursue passions at the cost of higher salaries, or to have a single-income household if that’s what you want. However, that doesn’t address larger issues of societal gender-based wage and employment discrimination. If you truly want to have a full-time career and kids because you have both the drive to work and the love of children, paring down may give you more money for daycare, but still isn’t going to address an inflexible employer who won’t give you time off when a kid is sick.

      I think the more important issue to address in your entire life is balance. Balance the workload of household chores, earning money, and childcare between both partners, even when there’s income disparity (as there likely always will be, in our household). The answer to balance isn’t that the partner who makes less money has to take more of the burden of household chores or childcare – that is too often the case in the traditional nuclear household and I think that it breeds alot of problems and sacrifice that women too often have to wrestle with.

      Balance doesn’t necessarily mean straight-up, 50-50 equality either. That’s not always possible, and even when it is possible, it’s not always a good answer. I don’t know what that sweet, balanced spot actually even IS, or what it means to most couples. What I do know is that a good partnership means constantly wrestling with that concept until you have an arrangement that makes you both happy, both within the relationship itself, and with societal issues outside the relationship.

    • meg

      I think these are great points, and something we practice (and have always practiced as a couple, living in big cities). We have one tiny car with no car payments (thanks to the in laws for giving us their old car when they didn’t like the trade-in value), and a one bedroom apartment that gets purged of stuff on a regular basis. Of course, I wouldn’t say our cost of living is low, being in San Francisco, but it’s low enough. Plus, living with less stuff and less space makes me always have a feeling of what matters, and that’s huge for me.

      Of course there are bigger issues (as discussed in the post) but this is such a great place to start.

  • ka


    Thank you for this one. It’s killing me to not join in on the martyring conversation or this one, but see, I have this day job I need to be martyring myself at… ;-) Kidding aside, it’s been massive amounts of things for me to process.

    The thing is, I’m not sure that I know what life without soul-scraping looks like. Funnily, enough it was a 2 hour heart-to-heart yesterday with one of my bosses that uncovered that. She called it people-pleasing, and asked the question, what would it take for you to do something for yourself? This was coming from a woman volunteering to rework/cut back/do-whatever-I-asked to my work schedule, and all I could do was sit there stunned. Because I just do not know. I don’t HAVE an identity outside of being this or that company’s employee, or this person’s girlfriend, or that person’s friend…

    So, to whip up some kind of feeble conclusion, it is NOT the sole domain of marriage or motherhood to make you lose your sense of self, sometimes life can quietly take it away when you’re focused on other things, like survival…

    Anyway, yea, must schedule some soul-searching…

  • One other thing.

    I was a daycare kid. From 0-5 I went to the daycare next to my dad’s work from about 8am to 6pm every weekday. It was great! I think it was really good for me, plus it was good for my parents to be able to both work while I was a kid.

    And I don’t think that daycare is some depersonalizing, community- and family-destroying recent invention. It’s merely the modern version of all the old grandmothers taking care of the kids while the mothers and fathers are out working fields, etc.

    So please don’t be too afraid of, from an early age, dropping your kids off in some (well-researched, trustworthy) hands for the day while you continue your awesome career. It’s still a choice, and comes with some sacrifices (I may have had to be formula-fed at daycare; I certainly had to be bottle-fed), but it can actually be a really good thing. Other kids! Parallel play! Sharing! Unplanned running-around-outside time! Yay!

    • Chris B

      Wow, I never put this into words, but I’ve always felt the same way. I was a daycare kid too, in several different variations of day care, and I felt it was for the most part a great thing. I remember crying for my mom about once, when I was four, and aside from that all my memories were good – other kids, other adults with different perspectives and different toys to keep me entertained, a sense of the outside world. Contrary to feeling like I was left somewhere so my parents could go off and do important things, I felt like daycare was a time when I was going out and doing important things – playing, sharing, learning. Sounds corny but it’s true.

    • TNM

      I totally feel the same way. And how weird is it that I’ve never actually told anyone that I loved being in daycare as a little kid. The relative independence, the time with my friends, games outside, all the silly art projects: loved it. It’s like the sentiment is so far out of the conventional norm that there is literally no “space” to speak it.

    • peanut

      I think that the concept of raising your children entirely on your own is a fairly new, middle-class concept; in many cultures, the grandparents or aunts or older children still contribute a significant portion of child care, and nannies have been employed for the upper classes for centuries. It totally bugs me when people get all uppity about how they didn’t “leave their children to be raised by others”.

    • FM

      Also a full-time day care kid here with two full-time working parents. When I was in elementary school I also went to a day-care-ish program they had before and after school. It certainly didn’t hurt me (or the many, many people I know who grew up going to day care) on any measure of success people seem to throw around.

    • We originally thought we were going to homeschool our kids. Then we met them. :) Our highly social, energetic little girls were SO MUCH HAPPIER once they got to go to preschool and have serious other-kid-play-time and stimulation we just couldn’t give them. When budget demands meant keeping them home for the summer after my hours were cut, they were really happy for the first week, and then, well, they really wanted to go back. Which was a big rebuttal to the “I’m not sacrificing enough for my kids” voice in my head.

    • Kate

      I too was a daycare kid, from the time I was a baby until I was about 10 (with different iterations and frequencies). I didn’t always love it, especially after the age of 6 or 7 or so, because I was overly sensitive and cried a lot as a child – and though it was miserable at times, I look back and know that it had a lot of important functions for my development because I am an only child and needed exposure to children who weren’t necessarily my friends. I think it has made me a more highly functioning adult today, really.

      It also allowed my mother to continue her career as an engineer – and only as I have gotten older have I appreciated that she is in a male dominated career and really flourished there. I don’t think of her as any less of a mother for it at all, which now that I think of it, is something to remember if I ever run into the daycare guilt.

    • ddayporter

      yes! me too! I remember loving daycare. as the youngest child I didn’t get to interact with babies that often, and I just remember loving to sort of play mommy to the toddlers running around. this was where I saw my first penis (nothing too sinister, my friend just decided to just pee outside right in front of me). one of my earliest proud moments I can remember was when I stopped a baby from eating dog poo in the yard (you may begin to question the daycare center I was in after this, I have no idea what kind of standards they had, we were poor). preschool was even better because they had MONKEY BARS. haha. anyway yeah. ain’t nothin’ wrong with daycare.

  • “I worry when I hear about many of us not pooling money and support with our husbands, because we’re independent women.”

    Even when we make more money? Or the same money? Or frankly, just like to shop more and prefer to separate out the shopping money from the bill money? There are so many ways to handle finances as a couple and if all the bills are being paid and everyone is happy it shouldn’t matter whether it’s all in one pot or not. It’s also good to keep a line of credit in your name so that if you want to run off and buy that super secret expensive gift for your spouse you can be approved on your own financial merits. Like that used Rolls Royce I plan to buy some day…

    • Abby C.

      Gosh, there are a million ways to go at the money issue in marriage. I’m SO glad that APW is doing a money series.

    • Rebecca

      As (I think) one of the triggers for this comment in Meg’s post, I think her issue was not with women maintaining some financial independence but with how money is shared within a marriage.

      My situation, which I wasn’t happy with (and which has, with some scrapping and hiccups along the way, been addressed – we now have a system we are both pretty happy with) was that while both my husband and I worked pretty equal hours and shared housework etc pretty well, he earned 60ish% of our “combined” income. And once we’d paid our equally shared bills, he had play money and I had basically none. And this was what I, Meg (and in fact most of the significant women in my life) took exception to.

      Money is weird – it seems to be the trickiest thing to resolve within a lot of relationships.

      • meg

        Indeed, and I’m so glad that you’ve worked on that, and that you were ok with a bunch of us saying, “Because we care we’re going to say that we’re really worried about this.” Most people would have just screamed at us.

        As for sharing money in general, I’m pro. I make almost all the money, and of course I share that with my husband. For me, that’s the whole point. But we’ve gone into that in other posts, and discussed all the iterations, and all the ways people have made it work. I’m not sure it’s as simple as, “If everyone is happy is fine,” but I’m not sure anything is ever that simple.

        • Rebecca

          Honestly, my first response was pretty defensive (but you don’t know us/how great everything else is/but he moved to my uni town cos grad school was a deal breaker/hey I said we were working on it, we’re just not quite there yet). Then I put on my Big Girl panties and went for a run, and thought about what would be a system I would feel good about. And then I went home and we nutted it out. It’s not the Meg System, but it’s one we’re both comfortable with, and which we have agreed to review as necessary.

          So thanks to you, and Class of 1980, and my real-life bestie who, luckily, is supportive but calls BS when necessary, for pushing me to get things really sorted. The community you have built is incredible, these ladies give me a strong voice in my marriage and I’m learning to have a strong one in the bigger world too.

          And I wanted to tell Class of 1980 – please don’t feel horrified for my generation, all the other committed (however they define it) couples I know manage money in (variations of) an equitable way you would be proud of!

  • Clarissa

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post, and for this website. I’m 24 and just beginning to step down the road towards marriage; I’ve only been regularly visiting APW for about a month now, and already I feel like this community has widened my view of what I need to be thinking about as my boyfriend and I discuss our future together.

  • Christina

    Over-sacrificing yourself and your needs does not make for well-adjusted children.

    Having watched this happen with the children of my father and his second wife (my half-siblings) – I can say, the mother giving up everything for her children caused my half siblings to deal with some serious issues, the most obvious being that they equate this total sacrifice with love and anyone that gives them any less is seen as selfish and unloving towards them. As I watch them grow up now and start dating, I can see that they struggle with both independence for themselves and the independence of those they are dating.

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  • Faye

    Meg, I’ve been following APW for over a year, on and off, just because I like your voice, the sanity of the posts, and seeing what everyone does for their weddings. (No wedding on my horizon.) I’m also San Franciscan and practically the same age, but I don’t quite move in the same circles as you – so a lot of the times, I’ve appreciated the fresh perspective you’ve brought to me, and a lot of times I’ve agreed, but I never looked at a post and thought, “Wow. That’s *exactly* what I’ve thought.”

    This post did that. I’m glad I’m not alone in thinking it’s horrific to hear how tearing yourself up doing things earns you bragging rights. My parents didn’t do it, and theirs is (for all appearances) a traditional marriage. Why would I? I don’t think it’s any different than people who work 12+ hours frequently and think it’s the sign of a productive, effective worker. (Believe me, I’ve caught myself doing it! Yet I’m so much happier and on-key when I do a solid, productive 7 hours.)

    I wonder when, as a society, we started thinking the guise/act of sacrifice is more righteous and good than than the product/outcome of sacrifice.

  • Christina

    Ok – this might be a little superficial side note – but!

    When I have children, I REFUSE to have a house that looks like an aisle at a fisher price outlet! I have a pretty good sense of style when it comes to home decorating, and people keep telling me I’ll have to give that up when I have kids. UM. NO. Sure it’ll be stupid to have pristine white couches when you’ve got kids, but GIVE UP STYLE? Never! It’s my hobby. It makes me happy. There are so many ways to have an attractive home with children. Seriously.

    • Liz

      i’m right now wrestling with finding high chairs and kids toys that aren’t lumpy and puffy and plastic and grotesquely covered with cartoon animals. (we’re actually going on a “return spree” tomorrow with many of the chunky plastic gifts from my baby shower)

      i’ll let you know how it goes.

      • Christina

        Why must everything for kids look like that? When I have children I think I might make a request about gifts, like “If it didn’t exist in the 1940’s then No.” But my friend told me that’s just being elitist… maybe I’ll keep that to myself.
        Good luck on your return spree!
        This blog is pretty great, if not a little above my price-range but still full of the cool: http://www.ohdeedoh.com/

        • I LOVE that requirement! Not sure I could bring myself to impose it on people giving me gifts, but from here on out I may impose it on the gifts I give others . . .

        • Liz

          YES i love ohdeedoh! and as far as price-range, i’ve lucked out in finding similar stuff and just using the site as inspiration. (for example, ikea is actually wonderful at making solid-wood kids stuff- i would never have guessed)

    • peanut

      UGH, there’s another example of the “you’ll see”ers …. “Your apartment is so cute now, but JUST WAIT until you have kids! You’ll see!” bleh.

      • FM

        But! Ok. The flip of “you’ll see” from people on the other side is the judgment from people who aren’t [yet] on that side. Not that it has to be that way, but maybe some of the people who have it that way have reasons that you’ll end up relating to.

    • Abby C.

      You know, Young House Love, which is a home renovation blog, has a young child and did a post about how to keep things kid friendly but also with good style. They also did a breakdown about how much having their baby Clara cost them and how they dealt with it. One of the best pieces of advice is that they tried out alot of baby toys before purchasing them by borrowing them from friends. That expensive, door mounted bouncer? Their daughter just slept in it. Item: Returned to friend. Saved: Lotsa cash. That sort of practical, innovative and thrifty way of dealing with it was great. You should check it out.

      Oh, and they have a white living room. Just sayin’.

      • We don’t own a home or have a child, but I LOVE that site!

      • Christina

        Ok you MAY have just convinced me to keep my beloved white petrie couch :)

  • When I started reading this post, I was nodding my head. By the end, I felt like crying.

    I’m in a PhD program in the sciences, and the typical next step is to have a postdoc at a handful of locations, continuing research. Obviously I hope to do this but the reality is that my boyfriend is in the military. There are specific bases he can be sent to, and he won’t really have a say in where he goes. Of course, it makes sense for after we’re married, for me to move to wherever he will be based.

    This is a decision I have made, and I’m owning it. But at the same time, I am afraid. I’m scared that I won’t find meaningful, exciting work … or any work. I’m embarrassed to tell others that yes, I am a woman who will be moving for the man’s job. That I might put his career over mine. At the same time, I feel angry to be embarrassed about that–why shouldn’t I sacrifice for our relationship? And then I feel guilty for feeling all of these emotions, haha.

    But, it’s okay to feel all of these things. When you sacrifice for love or children, it might hurt–that’s what a sacrifice is. But, it’s okay to want more, it’s okay to be scared, and it’s okay to do it anyway, if that’s what you choose.

    • When I decided on my masters program, it was in the same city as my future fiance. I turned down a scholarship at another school to go to the one by him. Everyone asked if I did it because of him. At the time I couldn’t admit it — that I made a decision about my life and education based on a man. But looking back, the fact that he was there was a huge factor and influence in my choice. I’ve been able to own that choice now for what it was but it was difficult to come to terms with. So I totally understand where you are coming from.

  • Kim

    I remember seeing something or reading it which said
    “A woman and man can love their kids but ultimately they should love and value each other more. Your kids will move away, have their own lives. Your relationship will always be. It’s not selfish to be selfish. It’s important to be who you need to be so your children can learn to honor and understand that being themselves is the best gift they can give someone else.”

  • Thank you for this Meg. My husband and I are experiencing a kind of poverty I never have before and sometimes it’s too easy to loose myself in the shuffle. This post and your post on martyrdom really helped push me to take a second look at the way I was approaching our hardships.

    We keep our spirits up by dreaming big and always talking about our dreams, no matter how big, as if they are just about to become a reality. The importance of dreaming and allowing yourself to not only fulfill your needs, but your wants as well is so critical.



  • Cassandra

    Bless you.

    I have been having one of *those* days. The dark, awful days where I criticise everything I’ve done in my life and all the choices that I’ve made. And I needed this reminder that it’s a blessing that I *have* these choices, and that I made them, even if I don’t always like the outcome of them. I have spent the last year and a half (plus a good chunk of time in the year before that) living away from my daughter. I’m in a PhD program that requires me to complete a lot of coursework, to work as a teaching assistant for crazy hours and little pay, to go on research trips to Africa at the drop of a hat. And to do this, this big life-changing thing that I *love*, I had to make a sacrifice of my daily life with my beautiful child. I am beyond thankful for my parents who put that little girl to bed every day and drive her to school and go to parent-teacher meetings and take her to the doctor and watch her ballet practices and cheer her on at her soccer games. They gave me the gift of doing what I love while taking care of the one I love, and they allowed me not to have to quietly fold up all my dreams and tuck them away. I am making a major (huge, enormous, can’t even put into words how hurtful) sacrifice by being away from my daughter, but it’s a sacrifice I chose, and when everyone else is reminding me what a bad mother I am, my parents and the boy are there reminding me that it’s *okay* to want something better, for me and for her and for our just-starting family.

    We’re also, as a couple and a newly-forming family, preparing to make more big-big sacrifices. The boy is finishing up his MA this year and applying to PhD programs all over the world. We don’t know yet who will make the big-big sacrifice, whether I will pack up myself and my kiddo to join him (losing a hell of a lot of the privileges I’ve gained from my program) or whether he will give up his big dreams and stay here to do it. Or whether we’ll make an even bigger sacrifice and put up with a year or two of long distance family life so we can both have our dreams in the end. Mostly, I am just so thankful to be loved so much by people who are willing to let me live out my dreams, even if it’s hard on them sometimes.

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  • By the way, can someone get Madame Gilbert on the line? The woman should know what amazing conversation she’s sparked. Isn’t this why most of us write…to connect and to ponder and question and hope that it just might lead one or two to do the same?

    Anyone got her digits?

    Hi, Liz, this is Meg, from A Practical Wedding…

    I’m just saying. She’d be so proud.

    • TNM

      I think this is a great idea. I’d be very curious to hear her reaction. And what’s there to lose in asking?

    • meg

      I know, I’ve been thinking that since yesterday. I could go through her agent, but that might get lost. I do, however, think I know someone who knows her, so perhaps I’ll see if she’s willing to pass it along. Only because I think Ms. Liz would want to see this. I keep debating if I would want to see it if I were her (I know what it feels like to have a swamped inbox), but I think I would….

  • This post and all the comments has given me so much to think about, lots that I’ve already been pondering for a while.
    What strikes me is that it’s really not a clearcut subject. What sacrifices may be required by a wife depends so much on context, on the country she’s in, on the family and community surrounding her, on the shared beliefs with her husband. And so any decision has to be made within a thousand different variables.
    I’ve tried writing my thoughts and responses down so many times in the long discussion above but always get stuck because I try to answer one thought and it raises another question. I guess the answer is it’s not easy. But I am so glad we have this community to support us through the figuring it out.

  • Okay, I am going to say something that may be wildly unpopular, but where else besides “APW” can we talk openly and honestly.

    I love Meg’s initial post, I need to reread it again. While it wasn’t the largest portion of her post, the motherhood sacrifice thing sparked a lot of debate – how we better take care of women who have kids, how other countries have it right in providing better support, etc. and something really bothered me.

    While I agree that there should be better options for women (and men) who want to have children and continue to work – options including longer paid leaves, and part time/ telecommuter/ work from home, I can’t help but feel a bit of resentment that this model is unfair to women that choose to not have children.

    If this ideal, parent supporting model is reached, I have to wonder that it might be unbalanced to women who are career focused by choice. They may not appreciate the fact that a coworker can work half days in the office (at the career, I know that the portion that they spend at home is work too) or take off a year and come back with no adverse effects to their career path.

    We all agree that parenting is somehow for the greater good and helps society as a whole, and I get that, but I think having well adjusted women who take care of themselves and strive for good (and get to be great Aunties in the Auntie Brigade) is important too. And if a mother can take off at 2pm to go to a soccer game, I would like to get off at 2pm to go to a lecture at the New Museum. If a dad can take off for paid six months paternity (not in this country, but let’s go with it) then I want to take a six month paid sabbatical where I tour the world and come back to work recharged and a more well rounded contributor to society.

    If you don’t have children – you don’t get these benefits (even as paltry as they are sometimes) and that makes me feel the inequality for the childless by choice.

    Not to go crazy, but I am reminded of a “Sex and the City” episode – give me a second here – where Carrie Bradshaw resents women who get to have a wedding registries and parties and people showering them with presents, because don’t women who choose to be alone deserve some nice dishes too? Marriage isn’t always the wisest choice for women (wrong man, wrong time, any number of reasons) and yet they get Le Creuset pots. Motherhood isn’t always the wisest choice either, and yet they get paid time off and a job held for them and the empathy of other women. All deserved – but don’t the childless ladies striving for success deserve that too?

    • Arachna

      Yes but the answer is to work for more for everyone not less for group X because its upsetting if someone else has more than you.

      I.e. I’d rather work for your 6 months sabatical (or mine!) than work against 6 month paternity leave – no one, no one givse 6 month paternity leave right now! And I make you a deal, if you work for the maternity and paternity leaves I’ll work for the sabatical.

      Think of it this way, if you get sick, and any of us could, do you think its good that a company will let you leave for six months to recover? What about if your parents have an accident? None of us are immune from circumstances that make 24/7 job availability impossible and it benefits all of us to have a job that is flexible and empathetic.

      Sickness, children, family/spouse emergencies are all IMO more urgent problems than sabaticals. But trust me, I have nothing against sabaticals.

      • Andrea

        Just an aside, the rules here (Canada) for parental leave are:

        55% up to $447/week for 50 weeks (15 weeks maternity + 35 weeks parental leave shared with father)

        So you could technically do 6 months paternity leave, but that would just leave 6 months for mom. You can split it however you like, aside from the first 15 weeks which are reserved for mom.

      • I was taking the broad, imaginary in this country, six months leave as a point. The article about Dutch families who have enormous leave time for new parents doesn’t cover much about the policies on leave/part time/ family emergency time for everyone else that is not new child related.

        It is a slippery slope, though and I wonder when governments or companies make the decision to provide service for a group and not another then can we nitpick everything? If I am a pacifist should my taxes go to pay soldiers salaries? If I don’t smoke should my company give me more leave time to cover for my co-workers smoke breaks? Who says my cat’s vet appointment isn’t as important as your mother’s dentist appointment, etc. (I don’t have a cat, and have military family members, so these are just crazy examples)

        I agree that you shouldn’t limit one group for the sake of the other. Rather that a rising tide should lift all boats – that we should do better for new parents, but not leave out those that choose not to be parents. I will happily work for other’s maternity so that I can do __________ (sabbatical, family leave, etc)

    • Liz

      you said a few of the things i’ve been ruminating. i’m limited in my expectations of what a job or govt should be required to provide (i’m very fiscally conservative). so i don’t exactly side with those who have argued that they wish daycare was govt funded, etc.

      so, the reason i’m annoyed that i won’t have insurance during my maternity leave is only because i realize that other short-term disability leaves do maintain their insurance. there’s a difference, because i’m pregnant.

      and i think that’s how we need to consider this. pregnancy is a medical condition and it requires an amount of recovery. (in fact, i read an article detailing how pregnancy and childbirth combined take the largest toll on a human body, as compared to other medical experiences) do you agree that someone who is hospitalized for major surgery should have their job held during a leave of absence? perhaps even be paid during that leave? this is the perspective with which i view it.

      similarly, i think family ties should be encouraged. things like fmla cover folks who take time off to care for invalid mothers, etc. it’s not just a child-rearing choice that is benefiting from these sorts of established practices, but familial choices in general. i think even those of us who are single and perhaps without family ties could argue for more allowances in taking care of loved ones.

    • meg

      I’m not for parents having more rights than non-parents, I’m for appropriate rights for appropriate groups. I am, in general, a supporter of the social safety net. I actually earn pretty good money, and pay pretty hefty taxes, and am happy about that (and would willingly pay more). Why? Because I grew up poor, and I saw that people didn’t have access to the tools they needed to pull themselves out of poverty, and I want people to have those tools. Also, I want sane mammas, and I want equal acess to health care for everyone.

      So, I don’t have access to food stamps right now. I’m THRILLED about that, because I don’t need food stamps right now, thank God. But I’m willing to pay out so that some single mom with no job can buy her baby milk. Same with schools. It’s important to me to pay for them, even though I don’t have a kid. Why? I want kids with no money to get the kind of education that gives them a chance to work hard and make it on their own.

      Do I think people with kids should be able to get of work early because they have a “family” and I “don’t”? Hell no. But I do think that woman who have just had an infant should be paid (partially by me) to have some months off to care for and nurse that baby, because good child care is important for the greater good. I’m totally fine with not getting those six months off, because, hello, I don’t have to never sleep and nurse nonstop, so I don’t need it, just like I don’t need food stamps. I’m not pro-paid maternity leave because I think parents should be rewarded with a vacation. I’m pro-paid maternity leave because I think we’re all better off when newborns can be cared for by sane mothers not worried about paying the bills. I’m less willing to pay for single people to have six months off to go on vacation… or anyone to have six months off to go on vacation. Vacation is great, but it’s not part of the social saftey net. Its not necessary for the greater good (like infant care, or food stamps, or public schools, or military defense).

      So that’s me. And I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.

      • ddayporter

        bless you Meg. I was totally one of those kids eating by the grace of food stamps. I can’t even think where I would be without welfare and federal student aid and whatnot. anyway thanks for this comment. sniff.

        • Liz

          and see, i think that’s why i’m a little hardened against the system. because we were on wic and food stamps and chip. but we knew so, so, so many people who took advantage of the system and relied on it when they didn’t need to.

          also, i think that we should be relying on our community to meet the majority of our needs. not our govt. but in the states, our system of community has greatly collapsed. and the ones still in place (churches, etc) are NOT fulfilling their jobs of meeting needs/ministering/helping.

          • meg

            We have some churches out here in SF that do a fantastic job of ministering/ helping/ running soup kitchens/ giving free health care, like, mind-bogglingly fantastically amazingly good jobs. But even in the mostly wealthy SF, the problem just totally eclipses them… which is why I’m for more broad based mandated services. I’m basically British, is what I’m saying ;)

            I respect your point of view though. On the East Coast there are a lot of people that are fiscally conservative in just that way, and put lots of their own money into charity, and I totally respect that, though it’s not where I’m coming from. Weirdly, on the west coast fiscal conservatives are not very interested in charity and just want to keep their money. THAT is mind boggling to me in a way I can’t even fully comprehend. Aren’t we supposed to help people out who are in need? That’s what they taught me in church as a little one… bwaaaaaa…. head explodes.

            TANGENT! The end.

    • meg

      (Though I’m TOTALLY pro paid time off for family or personal emergencies, as Arachna brings up.)

      • Arachna

        I also think a six month unpaid sabattical with guaranteed no negative impact on your job when you come back to it would be truly truly fantastic and would do a lot of good for society. Obviously this would not be terribly useful for people who couldn’t afford to take it but for those who could and did… it would IMO make them better people and nicer coworkers and more productive people.

  • Sarajane

    I just wanted to post a link to an article in the Wall Street Journal my mom sent me. This is related to the mother-martyr conversation that’s been going on here.


    It should be free to view, but if it somehow doesn’t work, go to wsj.com and search Mother Madness by Erica Jong.

    I mentioned the martyr post to my mom over the last weekend and she said she had this in the mail to me already. It’s nothing new to people in the APW community, but it’s nice to see it mentioned in a large newspaper.

  • Meg is on target. Especially her statement “I want more choices for all of us. I want for us to fight to make that happen.” Women need to advocate for better choices for themselves. Women (and others who do caregiving work) need corporate and public policies that support caregiving as the vital work it is. For motivation ~ consider that while women reportedly make 78 cents on the dollar compared to a man, when examined over a 15 year period, women make 38 cents on the dollar – due to caregiving responsibilities that take them out of the workforce for periods of time, cause them to cut back on hours or turn down opportunities for advancement that don’t work well with their caregiving. (Institute for Women’s Policy Research) For research and anecdotal evidence on the economic impact of caregiving ~ read Ann Crittenden’s “The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is the Least Valued.” For up-to-the minute discussion on these issues ~ read http://www.WomaninWashington.org.

  • Kristin

    I understand the pressures that society puts on us, as women, to make these “sacrifices” for family. However, I think it’s highly debatable whether or not we have to accept them. I went to a very competitive engineering school and work in a field that is close to 90% male, and very rarley if ever feel discriminated against because of my gender. I have extremly supportive managers and feel my salary is competitive with the other males of my experience. Please note that I do not say my peers – on my project I have been promoted into a management position well above my paygrade and the Corporation refused to bump my salary up to that of the other managers. However, when I compare salaries with the males I graduated with, I am consistently on the top end. You just have to be vocal and aware of what you should be paid at.

    Additionally, I just got married this past May to a very supportive husband who makes a fifth of what I do. He is the one who has relocated to support my job and is willing to make the sacrifice to be the stay at home dad when we decide to have children. My career was very important to me and I made that expectation clear at the very begining of our relationship. When we moved in together, the first thing we did was evaluate our finances and credit reports and set very clear, defined budget expectaions that we review each year when we do our taxes. We did the same thing with our wedding budget. It’s not perfect, but we do our best to communicate with each other. We’ve done the same around the house. With my mother coming in for Thanksgiving, my husband did a large chunk of the cleaning (specifically the bathrooms, which I hate cleaning) and we both did dishes, laundry and folding. We had a conversation very early on in our living together that I did not enjoy housework but it needs to be done. He’s helped me and has made an effort to be more aware of what needs to be done. He also pointed out how frustrating it is when I leave my shoes and sweatshirts all over the house. ;)