on having it all
when mr. mraynes and i were engaged to be married the plan was that both of us would be in graduate school together and would eventually become university professors. i was a good student, i had excellent recommendations but in trying to find schools that both of us could go to together, none were a perfect match and i was rejected from every program i applied to.
i was crushed. unable to believe that sometimes these things just happen i desperately grasped to the thought that maybe God was directing my life in ways i couldn’t understand. and since i am so very mormon the thing i thought God wanted from me was to have a child.
i was pregnant when we moved to arizona for mr. mraynes’ doctoral program. i often wonder what would have happened if i had decided to stay home from the beginning and live off mr. mraynes’ academic stipend, food stamps and the kindness of our parents. maybe i would have floated seemlessly into motherhood. maybe i would never have tasted the delicious fruit of a fulfilling career and would have been content to be at home. but i went to work and i was good at that work. if we had stayed in arizona i would have been the executive director of a domestic violence program or a vice president in my agency within ten years.
of course, i had enough support to be a successful working mother at that time. my parents lived ten minutes away and helped with childcare. when they couldn’t help we had an excellent, affordable babysitter who taught our son sign language. and for the last year and a half of our time there, mr. mraynes stayed at home while he wrote his dissertation. i never once worried about the welfare of my children. i never once worried about how to pay for childcare and rent. these are the privileges of the very few and unfortunately, i cannot count myself among them anymore.
when i chose to get pregnant instead of waiting a year to reapply to graduate school i had no idea of the compromises i would be forced to make in the future. when we left arizona and chose mr. mraynes’ career over mine i don’t think either of us believed that we were actually choosing mr. mraynes’ career over mine. but the reality is that my ambitions have taken a backseat to my roles as a wife and mother. i have made a series of decisions that have dramatically limited my ability to have it all without fully realizing what i was doing.
this didn’t happen to me because i am stupid or uneducated. this happened because we refuse as a society to talk about the very real sacrifices we force mothers to make. i am incredibly ambitious, i want to have a career and i believe that i could make an important difference in this world but i wonder if i will be blocked from this because i made the choice to be a mother. choices that my church and society told me were good but had no intention of actually supporting in any meaningful way.
so when the atlantic published anne marie slaughter’s essay, why women still can’t have it all, i felt like my experience was validated. i am in that small percentage of women who are well educated and privileged enough to possibly have fulfilling careers but are trapped on the outside looking in.
i have begun to think about returning to work and all of the sudden the consequences for being a mother are painfully clear. i have taken time off to be with my children during their young childhood and even though i got a graduate degree during this time it is going to be difficult to re-enter the job market. and this doesn’t even account for the overwhelming reality of the childcare costs we will pay, our student loans, living expenses and the need for a flexible schedule so i can take care of my children.
i do feel like i have been sold a bill of goods–by society, by the church, by feminists–and now it’s time to pay and i have no idea how to even start. i love my children, i’m glad they’re here and most likely i would have made the same choices.
but i wish i had known what they were going to cost me.
choices that my church and society told me were good but had no intention of actually supporting in any meaningful way.
Love this quote. I often feel like the conservative right pushes this agenda of family and motherhood but backs away from the discussion when people start talking about childcare and flexible hours. It’s all lip service until policies are in place to help families.
i agree, missy! there is a belief that mothers should provide their services for free, that even though society benefits from from women who have children, society should not have to support these women who sacrifice so much and provide a vital service to the country. this is exploitation, nothing less and women are beginning to catch on to this.
there is a reason why america is getting closer and closer to having a sub-replacement birthrate and it is because women see the choices put in front of them and having children just isn’t worth it. europe has struggled with this for a long time, it’s one of the reasons their economy is struggling, and the only thing they have found to reverse their low birthrates is to provide support and choices for women. so many countries now pay for healthcare and maternity leave and then have affordable child care so that women are free to return to their careers. the research has shown that when women have access to these things they are much more likely to have children.
there is a lot of handwringing from politicians right now about not becoming like Europe but I’m afraid this is in our future as long as we continue to disincentives having children.
Great post. Beautifully expressed. I read Slaughter’s article last week and loved it. I thought about my own life. . . looking back over the past 25 years. I’m on the other end of it. And I am not a successful attorney or tenured university professor, but I remember well the sacrifices, the frustration of the child bearing/rearing years . . . I’m sharing this with you in case my own experience can offer a view from the other side.
I raised three children (successfully and by the grace of God) mostly as a single, working mother. More than once I was offered more lucrative, interesting and professionally beneficial positions (I’m a registered nurse who went into management out of school) and with each opportunity, I prayed and was given a specific answer. Every time. The same answer. After many years I actually got tired of hearing it. “Take care of your family.” These precise words. Over and over. The implicit message was: “Be with your children physically and emotionally for as much time as possible. Every day.”
Each woman’s experience is unique and each woman must make choices to find a balance between mothering/family life and fulfilling professional life. I had no spouse to offer the freedom you have available to you. Interestingly, I’m not sure I would have chosen to spend more time away from my children, even if that had been the case. As it was, I felt that I was constantly pulling myself back to my children and home whenever my professional drive was pushing me forward. It required every bit of my formidable constitution to hold back and “be home”. My greatest sacrifice was that I delayed returning to school for my ultimate goal of a Master’s Degree – Nurse Practitioner – because of the time and energy this would require.
I am not you. My situation is quite different than yours but, for me, looking back, I did the right thing by choosing mothering over all else. I wept a lot with every opportunity I surrendered in favor of mothering. I gave my blood, sweat and tears to those babies. I gave all my heart.
My heart grew into three incredible human beings and I’ve wept more recently as I observe the fruits of my sacrifice: my grown children – happy, healthy, good companions, starting their own families. No professional, social, artistic or any other [pick your adjective] contribution could equal this for me.
And the answer to my prayers changed several years ago. I was quite shocked with the silence the first time it happened: Nothing. Just silence and time for me to consider new possibilities. Now God seems to be saying, “Whatever you want, honey. Go for it.” I’m back in school at fifty.
i love this so much, melody! thank you for sharing it with me! my favorite part of the slaughter article was where she said that there would be more regrets for not having a meaningful family life than having career advancements. i absolutely believe this is true and while i wish things were different in some ways, mostly i feel lucky that this is my problem.
you are an excellent example to me, along with women like Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Sandra Day O’Connor, of waiting until the time is right to fully pursue a career. my problem has always been patience but it’s something i’m working on.
I have been struggling with a similar problem lately. I am a 30 year old woman. I’ve been married for almost 8 years, but unlike you, we have been unable to have children. I have had nine unsuccessful pregnancies.
Growing up religiously, I assumed I would have a family and stay at home. But that hasn’t happen. Unfortunately, I chose a career I assumed would match my life: school teacher. Yet, here I am, years later and I hate my job. Had I known I would be working professionally for this long I would have chosen something different. I would have gone to graduate school. There was even one point in our marriage where I mentioned wanting to go back for a different degree, but it didn’t make sense to my husband because we assumed I would eventually be at home with our children.
It is highly unlikely we will ever have kids. So now what? I wish I would have been taught to be ambitious as a woman, to get a degree in a field I found interesting rather that one that would fit with the socially acceptable role for me. I wish I would have been taught that it was okay to find a good career as a woman; that it is okay to be successful.
oh, jamie, your story breaks my heart. i am so sorry about the loss of your pregnancies, i can’t even imagine. and i’m sorry to hear that your professional life is unfulfilling as well. stories like yours are the reason i think religious communities need to stop pressuring young women to have babies and stay at home. there is just no way to guarantee that all women will have this life.
what would you do if you could go back to school or have a different career? i am 29 right now and will probably be 30 by the time i get back to work so i am right there with you. it feels really old to be re-starting my career but i try to remember that i have forty years of employment to look forward to. and even if it takes me a while to get my feet underneath me, with hard work and ambition i will most likely be where i want to be in the end.
good luck in figuring out your next step. i am sending good thoughts your way.