(The winner of last week’s Valentine’s Day contest is Karen of the February 8th, 5:46 pm comment! I’ve emailed my boss so she can send you your Amazon.com gift certificate!)
Here is something I’ve noticed: that working mothers will sometimes say they wish they could stay at home, and that at-home mothers will sometimes say they wish they could work—but what they really mean seems to vary widely.
Sometimes these wishes seem like the normal “path not taken” wishes, or “grass is always greener” wishes: the other way looks temporarily better to us, even though it’s not really what we want. That’s one I think we can all identify with. Working mothers would like it to be known that a part of them wishes they could stay at home instead—whether they mean they mean financially, or whether they’re talking about personal preferences, or whether they’re talking about ability. At-home mothers would like it to be known that a part of them wishes they could work instead—whether they mean for the financial aspect, or whether they’re talking about personal preferences, or whether they’re talking about ability. Women doing a combination would like it to be known that a part of them wishes they could change the balance, or do more, or do less.
Sometimes it seems like what we’re really saying is, “I would like people to realize that the path I’m on is not an easy one.” Again, I think this is something we can all identify with. None of the options are all good and no bad, or else we’d all be doing that one. Some days we want it understood that even if someone else is looking at us with grass-is-greener eyes, we don’t like the trade-offs required and they wouldn’t either.
Sometimes these wishes are deep-down genuine: our life choices and/or circumstances have led us to a situation that is not what we want, and we wish it were otherwise. This is the saddest one, I think.
Sometimes these wishes are designed to hurt others: we want to do it the way we’re doing it, or maybe we don’t, but in any case we want to make the women who are on the other path feel bad about it, and like they’re the ones who got the lucky break, or like their path has no trade-offs, or like they’re the ones who got to make a choice while we got screwed, or like the few vocal jerks on their path also represent everyone else on that path. This is the one that causes all those idiotic and tired debates.
Here is what I would like us to talk about today: What does each of us REALLY want? Leaving aside finances. Leaving aside circumstances. Leaving aside ability. If you could have your own ideal balance of working and being at home—what would you want? Would you want to work, with all the advantages and disadvantages that come with it? Would you want to stay at home, with all the advantages and disadvantages that come with it? Would you want to work part-time or from home, with all THOSE advantages and disadvantages? Close your eyes: pretend there are none of the usual limits constraining your choice. What would you, personally, WANT?
(I hope that during this discussion we keep in mind that we can all tell when someone is phrasing her answer in a way meant to make other women angry and upset. What we’re asking here is not “What do you think all women should do?” or “What do you think women SHOULDN’T do?” or “How can you state your own preferences in a way that disparages other preferences?,” but rather “What would YOU specifically want? What would be YOUR individual ideal FOR YOU? What, after weighing the pros and cons of all the options, do you think would be YOUR best choice?”)