Last week, I came across a comment that seemed to imply that women who balance motherhood and careers, and have "utterly crazy lives, scheduled to the hilt" are (1) not really happy, and if they write a post saying that they are happy, they are just trying to convince themselves that they are happy, and (2) that they aren't enjoying their kids, because they would need to take time off from work to do that.
My first instinct was to write a comment in reply saying how strongly I disagree with that implication. I was busy and had a fair amount of schedule in my life before I had kids- that's just the type of person I am. I am definitely busier now, but my pre-kid life was not some sort of schedule-free nirvana. In fact, "schedule-free" and "nirvana" don't really go together in my book.
I am also enjoying my kids very much, thank you. I love watching Petunia when she decides she'll put her PJ bottoms on by herself, or when she decides she needs to give her sister another good night kiss, and directs me to wait in her room while she goes and does that. I love how Pumpkin and Petunia both want to help me weed our front garden, even though they are completely ineffectual at it. I love listening to Pumpkin explain things to Petunia. I love listening to Pumpkin read. I could go on and on, but the point is just this: the idea that I am somehow missing out on the everyday joys of having children- that I am not in fact enjoying this journey- is completely wrong.
If my blog posts say that I am happy, then I am actually happy. I do not need to convince anyone else of that, and I certainly don't need to convince myself of that. If I am not happy, and I feel like writing about the reasons, then I will do so. One of the reasons I blog, after all, is to help me figure things out. You can believe that I am truly enjoying the journey, or think that it is just the corny subtitle to my blog. I don't care. I know the truth.
But then I decided (based in part on the rest of the comment, in which the writer says she does not yet have kids but will take time off to enjoy them when she does) that this comment wasn't about me.
Oh, it was perhaps written with my post on how I "have it all" in mind- she was commenting on a post that referenced FeMOMhist's blog carnival. But even if she was responding directly to my post, her comment wasn't about me, because she doesn't know me.
The comment was, in my opinion, about the person who wrote it, and the limits of her imagination. She imagines life with kids and a career, and can't see how she would enjoy that. But she can't stretch her imagination enough to see how someone else may in fact enjoy that life. So she projects what she thinks onto the rest of us- which would be no big deal if it didn't feed into the ongoing cultural angst about mothers and work.
But to be fair, imagining how someone else feels can be hard, particularly when that other person is living a life you do not live and cannot even imagine yourself living. I run into the limits of my imagination quite a bit, too. I frequently come across blog posts or comments from women my age or younger who are deeply unsatisfied with their work-life balance, often because their partner is not doing much (if any) of the parenting, or because their partner does not support them in their career. These are not the occasional "gosh this sucks" sort of thing (which I suspect we could all write), but posts and comments that make it clear that the author is really, really unhappy with how her life is playing out. These are also not generally comments and posts from women with no options- they usually also make it clear that they have education and either have or had a career.
I honestly cannot imagine the reasons why those women let their lives be that way. Was it a big surprise when their partners turned out not to view them as equals? Why do they tolerate such inequality at home?
And I know that these thoughts are unfair, because there is a larger culture at work as well, feeding into the expectations of both the women and their partners about what their home and work lives will be. Kids change everything, and I suppose that it can be hard to tell how your partner will react to parenthood. Heck, I was surprised in some ways by how I reacted to parenthood! But still, I cannot imagine living my life in that way. If I were that completely unhappy with how things were, I'd have to change something.
I don't comment on those posts, or reply to those comments, because I know that my answer of "well, if you don't like the way things are change something" would be neither welcome nor helpful. In fact, I am not sure why I keep reading them. Perhaps I am looking for the one that can stretch the limits of my imagination a bit farther, because I'd rather not project what I think onto other people, either, and I suspect that understanding why these women put up with the crap their partners dish out would help me understand why my culture is so unsettled by happy working mothers.
I think I'll just apologize in advance to all of the people this post will offend. The usual caveats apply. If the anonymous commenter wants to take some time off to have kids and that is what makes her happiest- hooray for her. I just want her to recognize that maybe the people who have made different decisions also did so because that makes them happiest. And if you are in the group of women who are deeply unhappy with your work-life balance- I truly am sorry and wish you could be happier. I just don't understand why you don't make some changes to increase your happiness. Feel free to try to explain it to me in the comments.