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Monday, January 24, 2005

Let's swallow the bitter pill

The topic of mixing work and motherhood has been a sore spot for some Mother in Chief readers. The comments are telling: a lot of people are struggling, even if they don't come out and say so.

Some childless women are bitter. Some mothers who work long hours are bitter. Some at-home moms who have been pushed aside are bitter. Some men are angry and bitter because this "feminist issue" is getting in the way of their research. It does not matter how much you plan, or how supportive your partner is, or how fulfilling your current project is. With every choice (work lots of hours, don't work, get married, have kids, no kids, go to school, hop on the tenure track), we give something else up. And once a path is chosen, we really never know the extent of what we gave up.

Deciding whether or not to have kids is a personal decision. Deciding when to have them is also a personal decision. I think Bitchitude summed it up nicely: "Regardless if any of us (male or female, mother or father) realizes it, we are all on the same page; to accomplish our own goals without interference, to raise families in the way we feel is best, to succeed in life as we best see fit, and to be afforded fair opportunities to do so."

To the women who have kids or want kids, I think we know deep down that at least some career fallout was or is inevitable. Ellen Goodman had a really intelligent editorial in the Buffalo News Monday about mixing tenure and parenthood. If you haven't seen it, check it out. On of my favorite lines: "...too few have taken on the unisex madness of the workload overload. Until we do that, having it all, in sync or sequence, is going to be as seamless and sensible as having a baby at 66."

Goodman's editorial quoted the 66-year-old new mom, who gave birth on January 17, as saying, "I always worked so hard in my career I had no chance to build a relationship and start a family, and after I retired, I regretted it bitterly."

I guess there is no right answer to finding a balance. But we all have to acknowledge that everyone is aiming for harmony, and that harmony is different for everyone. So now I'll get a little bossy:

1) To the childless women: don't begrudge women who have kids and want to be with them.
2) To the working moms: don't think at-home moms are crazy for wanting to work.
3) To the at-home moms: not everyone is going to agree with you, understand you, or stick up for you.
4) To the angry men: just because this mostly about women doesn't make you exempt. You have a mother, sisters, cousins, and (if you're lucky) girlfriends.

Mostly we just need to try and make things work and not hate each other in the process. We need to make choices, live life, and hope our real dreams don't pass us by, leaving regret, bitterness, and a life of "what-ifs", as it did for the 66-year-old mom.

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