The Gift of Enough

For a long time, I’ve been kicking around the idea of a post about what women are to women. It never completely gelled, which is why I haven’t written it. And I suspect this post won’t be a full gelling of the topic, either, but it seemed a good one to explore on a day when so many other posts would be of the “Roses Are Red” variety. Understand that my thoughts here aren’t meant as blankets. They are noted patterns, and of course there are exceptions.

Of all the struggles women encounter in daily and more broadly-defined life, I think none is as challenging, heart-rending and sometimes crippling as the struggle to know what is best for them and their families when it comes to work. In the “old days,” most women stayed home and raised their children, generally regardless of whether they wanted to or not. It was expected of them. They were greeted at the end of a long day by a husband whose further expectations, be they real or perceived, were only more wearying. Some men did help. Some expectations were merely societal and not personal. And there were fewer single mothers then.

It was nearly unheard-of for a woman to say she wasn’t sure she was cut out for it. Not sure she was doing the best job. Not certain she wasn’t supposed to be doing other things that might enrich her life, make her happier. She felt, well… a little trapped, maybe. A little let down that the “dream life” turned out to be kind of banal and maddening sometimes. And she felt guilty as hell for not being completely pleased to stay home and raise the children she’d always wanted and deeply loved… even when she thought about leaving them in a store for good.

Now, things are different. A lot more moms work. They do it because they need the extra income, or they do it because they’re the only income, or because someone invested in their education and they don’t want to waste it, or because children came later, or because they know they’ll be happier women, and therefore better moms, if they get out of the house and away from their children. They tell each other and themselves that they can handle it, that they can do it all, with help from friends and supportive partners. Or without. But always, they go to bed feeling they’ve fallen short somewhere in the day. And they feel guilty as hell for not staying home all the time, or for not wanting to stay home all the time.

These are stories to which every woman can relate – even those, like me, who don’t have children. Somewhere above is at least one thought that has crossed all of our minds, that has kept us awake at night, whether because it was our reality or our considered possibility. And with all this inner conflict, with all this uncertainty, with all this fear and worry and unspoken aching, what do we women do for one another?

We pretend to support each other while we tear each other apart.

We judge each other. Stay-at-home moms are weak, less bright, less driven, more dependent, more likely to become depressed, less likely to be truly happy with motherhood because they’re not fulfilling themselves intellectually and professionally. Women who work are selfish, arrogant, controlling, unfocused. They don’t love their children enough to make a less self-glorifying choice.

In the absence of those particular judgments, there is jealousy. Those who work and don’t malign stay-at-home moms envy them instead. Those who stay home and don’t malign working moms wish they could go to work, too.

I’m not sure I’ve ever met a mother, of any persuasion, age or station in life, who was truly happy with her place. With her choice. With her options. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a mother who didn’t sometimes wonder whether she’d done the right thing.

And then there are those of us who don’t have children. Some of us can’t, and dread the moments when friends or relatives ask when we’re having babies or why we haven’t, carrying in our wombs the ache of that which we want but cannot do. Others of us choose not to have children, whether it be because we don’t feel we would be good mothers, or because we’re not solid in our partnerships, or because we don’t like children, or simply because we’re not sure it’s what’s right for us. Some of us are childless as a matter of timing and a long search for the right partner. We all listen to the clucking of our loved ones musing that time is running out. We hear people accuse us of being too focused on our careers, as if being childless and destitute would be the better option. Or we endure the supposedly inspiring cheerleading of our “empowered” friends who insist that we put aside our “fears” and believe in that which our bodies are designed to do. They urge us on and insist that we can do it, without ever asking us whether we want to do it. And if we don’t want to do it, well… there must be something wrong with us.

All the time, what I hear and read and see is a battle of women against women. I believe, by and large, it is no longer men who hold us back, be it in the workplace or the home. It is the voices of our mothers, our sisters, our friends, our envied counterparts, our own doubting selves, making us believe that whatever we are doing is not enough.

I’ve long wondered why women are so hard on each other. For all that wondering, I have come to believe that the answer is simply that we criticize in others that which we do not like within ourselves. In the end, if we strip everything away, the problem we have is not with that other woman, that other mother, who does the opposite of that which we do. The problem is that we are afraid that, after all our self-convincing, all our preaching, all our liberation, all our choices and all our acceptance of whatever comes… we were wrong.

We are afraid that we are not enough.

That the voices are right.

That she is better.

That we have failed.

Failed our partners.

Failed our children.

Failed our parents.

Failed ourselves.

This Mother’s Day, I ask every woman to shut out the voices that tell her she is not enough and listen to her own. I ask her to ignore what tells her she is not enough, and to decide for herself and her family what is best.

And I ask all the other women who are not her… to mind their own damned business.

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38 thoughts on “The Gift of Enough

  1. Beautifully constructed, powerful post. Since you were OK with PDX reblogging, I am going to follow suit. It is too good not to share on Mother’s Day. You are my first reblog! Thank you.

    • Thank you. I appreciate that you shared. I don’t mind it at all when it’s properly attributed, and obviously linking does that job. I am humbled by other bloggers’ willingness to share what they find worth a read.

  2. I agree that women should quit calling each other out and judging their choices. There is never one ‘right’ way – the right thing is determined by the individual. I’ve personally never felt guilty for my choices, but sometimes a bit sad that I didn’t get the opportunity to stay home with my kids when they were young. But they are amazing people, full-on adults, and I have no regrets in how I raised them or the choices I made. Happy mother’s day to you, and to every mother of every kind, including those who don’t have children, but who make a difference to a child in their life.

    • Thank you Julie- you’re right, we all have a chance to make a difference in the lives of the children who surround us. I’m blessed to have three nephews I love fiercely and another Godson I adore. Happy Mother’s Day to you – and well done!

  3. I was a bit surprised by “as if being childless and destitute would be the better option”. To tell the truth, I expected “as if being with child and destitute would be the better option” because that’s what some people (right fringe supposedly christian people, mostly pharisees) would prefer to force on others, right now, in this country. We are so demanding on women. Many men would not be able to take that type of pressure.
    All in all, I think there is a lot of truth in your article.

    Happy Mothers’ Day
    but also, Live and let live.

    From a middle age man

    • You’re right, Julien – being destitute either way is obviously not good – that particular part of my post just happened to come in the framework of those nosy folks who assume careerism is related to childlessness. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment as well!

  4. Excellent. And spot on. It’s a rotten situation, one that isn’t helped by sensationalists publishing headlines like, “Are you mom enough?” Yeesh.

  5. Whoo hoo hoo! You hit the nail on the head with a honkin’ big hammer, here. I’ve often thought that the women’s movement was a mixed blessing – now that we can have it all, we feel like we’re expected to DO it all. And who can do everything perfectly?

    • Thanks, Peg-O. That’s a subtopic I wanted to address but didn’t work into this post – was it actually better for us when we weren’t expected/expecting to do it all? I might do that post another time.

      • I don’t think it was better. My mom, an educated woman, loved being a mother, but resented having to stay home. Although she did a lot in the community with her talents, she was frustrated and a bit resentful, and did a lot of escapist reading and as little housework as she could!

  6. Amen. Women are so hard on each other. Maybe we’re biologically hardwired that way, to compete against each other with snarkiness and judgment, kind of a female human version of bull elks butting heads. TIME magazine’s confrontational cover and provocative headline only fan the flames.

    • I stopped subscribing to Newsweek some time ago when they veered off a course resembling journalism and into something ridiculous. I’ve thought about a subscription to Time, but now won’t do it. Overboard just got worse. It’s good that it starts a conversation. It’s not good that it contributes to the problem.

  7. For a number of years I was a stay at home mom. I did daycare to help supplement and bring in a little bit of cash. It is one of the decisions in life that I have never regretted. I raised three wonderful daughters and I truly believe having a parent home and involved in their lives helped contribute to that.

    But having said that I try not to judge others who make different choices than I do. Being a woman myself I understand the push and pull that comes from within. I try to always support the women in my life with whatever their choices are.

    I have one daughter that has two children, one who doesn’t have any (yet) and one who doesn’t want children. Rather than judge my daughter who doesn’t want children, I am actually quite proud of her. She loves her niece and nephew dearly but just doesn’t feel like parenthood is the right choice for her. In a world over-flowing with abused and neglected children I can’t help but feel proud of her.

    What a lovely, lovely post. Happy Belated Lovely Sunday.

  8. As always, well said. I agree wholeheartedly: putting someone else down often says more about our own decisions than it does about theirs.

    BUT – and I can’t decide if this makes me part of the problem or falls into a different category – I believe it’s completely fair to take aim at people who present themselves as “holier than thou” regardless of their position. Sort of like how I got my old roommate to eat bacon after I endured WAY too many lectures about the morality of vegetarians.

    If it helps, it was a HE, so I wasn’t attacking the sisterhood. Mainly pigs.

    • Oh, no, totally allowed to smack people who are sanctimonious. And I swear all vegetarians love bacon. My sister tells me her OB said bacon is not a meat, it’s a fat. And everybody loves fat.

  9. This is a wonderful, powerful post. I’ve been by several times to respond but I can’t, not without taking the time to give it some serious thought. For now, I’d say that criticizing in others what we dislike in others is both a masculine and feminine trait. I read somewhere that men’s friendships are built on activities while women’s are built on relationships. So women are more able to strike at the heart with their criticism. I know that raising a daughter was harder for me because my daughter knew instinctively how to pierce my heart. I’m also inclined to agree that women are harder on each other because in years of coaching soccer, I’ve observed that women players are nastier to each other than men … and in more subtle ways. But I also think that men have the same fears of failure, they just process them differently. I need to think about how.

    • Your perspective is valued, Bud. I can’t write from the perspective of what men do to other men. Do you judge each other in all arenas of life? Do you fear that “he” is better than you are at the things that matter to you? There is much more to this topic than what I addressed in this post, but it was all I had worked through at that point.

  10. Great post! I may try to reblog it, too, although I’ve never done that. I agree with so much of what you said. I have to add, though, that in my experience–both personal and professional–the women in my life have been more consistently supportive and caring than the men. It may be that, in the largely male profession where I worked, the men were the ones I was competing with, not the women, who were mostly very supportive. And yes, I’ve been married, twice, to very nice men, but both of them basically wanted to control my life; they either did not understand or could not support my aspirations. Is there something in the neural wiring that prompts men to try to control others and women to try to care for others?
    I have, of course, run across manipulative and snarky women. Haven’t we all? I just avoid them after the first few encounters. In my life’s friendship log, I’ve only managed to sustain a couple of long-term male friendships (neither was a romance), whereas I still have several wonderful and supportive female friends from decades ago.

    • I’m glad you’ve had such good experience. My female friends are very supportive, except now we’re in a place where I’m the only one who’s single and childless, and they’re sort of trying to drag me along. When the difficulty is in relationships and not passing acquaintances, it’s a whole different ballgame, I think. Professionally, I have had three female bosses and found all of them passive-aggressive and sometimes openly hostile. And I’m not the only person (male or female) to have made that observation. My female coworkers who are on the same level as I am are supportive – but then when one of them had a baby and started calling out sick once a week and leaving the rest of us to do her job, we weren’t thrilled – we understood she had a child but felt we shouldn’t have to suffer for it.

      • It may be that women aren’t quite as tolerant of those who take a different path than men are. Single or married, parent or childless, probably matters less to men than to women when relating and interacting with friends. You’ll probably need to train (confront) a couple of your closest friends about why their comments or behavior bother you. You have every right to chose your own life’s direction!

  11. Another thought: I think we men grow up with jocular put downs and insults as part of our culture. We are trained to laugh at the insults of other men or insult back, even when the insults cut deep. We respond in anger instead of hurt. But here’s a not-so-secret from someone who spends a lot of time around men who open up more than your average GI Joe: We internalize our fears and doubts, often not even admitting them to ourselves, where they eat at us from the inside. I think that’s part of the reason men are more prone to heart attacks and die younger than women. It’s also why therapy and things like a fourth step inventory are so freeing for men .. they finally discover what’s been eating them from the inside out. If you Google “Father Wound” … and skip the hijacks of the topic by religions … you’ll get a sense of what I mean. Many men go through life wanting to hear dear old Dad say, “I’m proud of you, son” even long after dear old Dad is gone.

    This is not to minimize your post. I’m inclined to believe the sexes suffer from the same psychological issues, we just suffer them in different ways. Perhaps this is the heart of a Father’s Day post for me.

    • I don’t think men and women are different here, Bud. I was the oldest of four daughters and was raised to either laugh off or fight back at insults as well. I internalized all my fears and doubts – still do, particularly in professional matters and relationships with men (who wants a “neurotic” woman?) Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women (though much of that risk increases at menopause when the hormones that help regulate heart health decline). These points are not made as arguments; rather, they point out our commonalities. And they might explain why I don’t believe men are at the root of the challenges for women to the degree they used to be. But the larger point is: we don’t see and hear, in conversation and media, criticisms of men by men when it comes to their personal decisions about their lives and families vis-a-vis their careers.

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