When I was in high school, my mother planted this idea in my head that I could get my PhD and teach poetry. I really liked this idea. I loved this idea, and I talked about it a lot. I remember being in the backseat of my parents' car, talking about it. I think we were driving to church, and my mother said, "But of course you'll stay home with your kids."
I was flabbergasted, incredulous, "What do you mean I'll stay home? I'll have gone to all of that trouble to get a degree and you expect me to just not use it? Why would I get a degree and then just sit on it? Can't I raise my kids and use my education?" I was a less than charming teenager, brimful of these half-angry questions, but I'm honestly not sure where this question came from. I wasn't, really, that educated. I was smart, but I didn't know much about Feminism. I didn't really know this was a question that had been asked, that was being asked, that every woman had to answer for herself at some point: should or could or did she even want to do both? Culturally, in Mormonism, the official message echoed my mom's assertion: I would stay home and raise my kids. I didn't know a lot of working women (did I know any?), and I'm not sure where the idea came from. Which leads me to believe the question was already in me, that this speaks to something embedded in me long before the idea to get a PhD.
Here is my theory: a woman's inclination in this regard is embedded in her as natively as her eye color. Regardless of social pressure, she's born with either a desire to be home with her children, making a home, or a desire to be a working woman, or a desire to do both. And those are just the sign posts. In reality, I think we all fall along the shades of those landmarks, finding ourselves moving between them fluidly, depending, but always nuanced, more nuanced than we're led to believe.
And the thing that changes things, the wild card, is what happens when we actually grow up, when reality hits. When we have the babies, or the careers, and when neither show up in quite the way we expect them to, and then we have to figure it out.
The way we fall on that continuum, the degree to which our reality matches our inclinations, is, it seems to me, endlessly varied. And a million factors come into play, right? Money and education and health and family support and location and housing and husbands and the temperament of our individual babies and age and on and on. Think about the women you know. Do they not all work this thing out differently, with varying levels of peace about it? Because this is what I think it's really about, what I think really matters more than messages about where we should or shouldn't be: I think we have two priorities. I think our first priority is to take care of our babies. And I think our second is to take care of our hearts. And both of them are important, deeply deeply important, and our lives as women are about figuring out how to honor both obligations. There are as many ways to do that as there are women.
You know what I think helps? Stories. Telling our stories. I started out talking about this, thinking I had a lot to say. But so far the best part about it has been hearing your stories, hearing how you work (or worked) this out, and how your heart feels in the process. I'll keep posting my story, because I do have more to say, but it struck me this morning to ask for yours.
Will you comment here, or Facebook message me, or write on my wall, or email me (dejaDOTearleyATgmailDOTcom), or send me your messenger pigeon, and tell me, in a paragraph, where your heart is? Please don't think I have an agenda or some sort of sense of which path is superior. My only and truest desire is to hear as many different stories and approaches and longings as I can. I want to hear from you if you're home with your babies, and how you make that work. I want to hear from you if you work full or part-time and how you make that work. I want to hear from you if you don't have babies and want them. I want to hear from you if you don't have babies and don't want them. I want to hear from you if your babies are grown, and how your heart feels now. I want to hear from you. You you you. Spread the word, too, if you're inclined. Ask women with interesting stories to gather here. And when I have a good crop of them, I'll collect them, like I did in this post. And then we'll all read them. And then we'll all feel better.
[Details: posting a comment or contacting me constitutes your permission that I use your words on my blog, though please tell me if you want your name withheld, or if you'd like me to contact you with how I edit your comment (for brevity, or clarity? the editing will probably be light.) before I post it. If you've already commented elsewhere and you want me to use that, tell me where to find it. And if you want an idea for what I'm looking for, read Guili's comment, on this post, which is, along with all of your other comments, what made me long to hear more. Thanks, Guili!]