Did we have it all and lose it?

Linnea Ista lkista at unm.edu
Mon Aug 24 23:37:27 EST 1998

A somewhat radical and perhaps unwelcome perspective here:

We will continue to struggle with these questions as long as the notion
prevails that the greatest tragedy that can happen to a woman is that she
didn't have the opportunity to be a mother.

We blame young welfare mothers in this country for limiting their
opportunities by becoming pregnant and then get upset at  the same
system that limits their opportunities when it limits ours in our twenties
and thirties. The message in both cases is the same: once a woman has a
child she is out of the game because it is assumed that it is she who will
bear the primary responsibility for care of the child. Yep, seems really
unfair doesn't it? We delayed our childbearing until a "responsible" age
and we are still getting shafted -- or in some cases blamed for "waiting
too long" and letting our "biological clock" run out.

 Some of it is biological and therefore unavoidable: we can do nothing
about the 9 month
gestation period.  But after that it seems to me that there are
alternatives to careers
getting sacrificed. I know one couple in which the wife went back to work
almost immediately and HE stayed home with the kid. Why? BECAUSE SHE MADE
MORE MONEY at her job and was more likely to advance. She was the
scientist at the national labs and he was teaching courses as a visiting
instructor at the local university.

As long as we live in a society in which women make only 75% of what a
white male does, it will only make "sense" for the woman to stay home as
the man is more likely to bring in the $$$$ necessary for the family to
survive. So the system is reinforced. 

There are many answers as I see it. 1. Make sure that there is true
equality in pay. 2. Make sure that parents of both genders get flex time
>From work to fulfill their parental responsibilities. 3. Lose the
prevailing idea in this society that unless a woman has a child she is in
some sense a failure or has not led a "complete" life.

If I had $1 for every time, particularly since I have turned 35, that I
have been reminded: 1. My biological clock is running out and therefore I
should hurry up and have a baby 2. That I will not live a fulfilled life
or will not understand the true nature of love/life/sacrifice/the divine
unless I become a mother 3. If I don't do it now I will regret it when I
am older 4. That somehow I am selling out to the patriarchy (or have
become "male oriented") because I really would rather focus on things
other than childbearing and/or rearing 5. That I must not like children or
6. Some heinous combination of the above, I would not have to worry about
Social Security running out of money two years after I retire because I
would have set aside a very nice nest egg. Interestingly most of these
comments come not from men but from other women!

I realize that there are those among us who absolutely cannot comprehend
not wanting to be a mother. But when this is held up as the ideal, the
rest of us suffer. If you are ambivalent, we are told, you should do it
anyhow or you will regret it later.

 I have found that there are many other ways to nuture the next generation
without having to produce it. The
person whose love and support I treasured most through my teens was a
childless aunt. She was the one cheering me on when I thought I couldn't
go any farther. There were teachers, both male and female, who were
inspirations. My husband is an adult advisor for the youth group at our
church and although I have other things going on that keep me from making
the same committment, I am a "resource person" for the same group... an
adult who they know genuinely likes them and will listen to them, or
chaperone camping trips or just plain cheer when they do something great
and are still there when they goof up! Because having someone who was not
one of my parents do that for me was so important, I can give back by
doing that for someone else. You can do as little as voting in school
board elections to make sure the kids are getting the best education they
can. You can sometimes be a role model without knowing it. Seeing women
being scientists reinforced the idea that girls can do science. We can
fight for equality to make it a little easier for those that follow, just
as others have done for us.

You do not have to be a mother to nurture the next generation!

Off my soapbox!


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