After centuries of belittling stereotypes, repressed potential, and squelched ambitions, ancient matriarchs set out to prove that a woman’s potential for success and achievement was equal to that of a man. They fought a hard battle and they won. They changed the world. They opened doors of opportunity for women that never before existed.
And so, dear foremothers, we thank you.
Thank you for giving us the freedom to be all that we can be—for shattering glass ceilings and giving us wings to fly. Modern women rank among the top CEO’s, surgeons, astronauts, politicians, military commanders, and leadership in every field.
Young women today have no notion of the limitations you had at their age. We tell them from birth that they can be and do anything they desire. We reinforce this throughout their childhoods, asking repeatedly what they “want to be when they grow up,” and praising their ambitious responses. When they reach adolescence, we provide aptitude tests, career counseling, SAT’s, and college campus tours to help them discover their optimum career choice.
After college, we plop graduation caps on their heads and send them forth to conquer the world. We reassure them that the tens of thousands of dollars in student debt will pay off one day as they develop their lucrative careers. During these same years they often marry, take on a mortgage, a car payment, and a “same as cash” credit deal that inevitably converts to a high interest debt when unexpected setbacks occur.
Behold! The American dream! This is how it began for many of us, and this is the course we still chart for our young women today. We encourage them to set ambitious career goals from childhood, go to college, and enter the exciting journey into adulthood shackled with debt that promises to one day bring prosperity, happiness and fulfillment.
There’s just one little problem. There’s one rather important detail that we somehow left out of the equation. We failed to mention that once these talented young ladies establish their glorious new careers, there’s a fairly high statistical likelihood that they will soon be bearing children.
We rigorously equip them for corporate success, but in an unconscionable failure on a culture-wide scale, we fail to prepare them for motherhood. Careers are the priority; families are an afterthought.
In reality, however, she’ll soon find out that it’s one thing to climb the corporate ladder, but it’s another matter entirely to climb it with very small, very dependent, and indescribably adorable little people wrapped around her ankles—people who will steal her sleep, sap her strength, vie for her unremitting attention, and vociferously oppose anything that gets in their way.
But once that reality hits, it’s too late. Her household financial structure is built upon a dual income scenario, and cutting that in half would be devastating, if not impossible. She’s trapped. Enslaved by promissory notes with repayment terms that span for decades.
And we set her up for this. We not only allowed it to happen, we advocated it. We provided the counsel, roadmap, and tools she would need to dig the pit she now finds herself in.
Somehow, we were so focused on her career life that we forgot to tell her what she would need to know about her family life—the life of a working mother. So we never prepared her for the heartache she’d feel while gazing at the newborn picture hanging on her cubicle wall. We didn’t warn her about all those mornings of forcefully peeling a shrieking toddler off of her body, and handing it over to a daycare worker. We didn’t tell her she’d be leaving her heart behind in those tiny outstretched arms, or that those screams of “Moooommmmy!” reverberating off the concrete walls behind her would send her to her car in tears.
We never told her how exhausting it would be to try to balance a career and a family. We didn’t warn her about the effect that the stress and fatigue would have on her marriage, or of the statistical likelihood of its failure, which would leave her with the impossible task of raising these children alone. We never described the hopeless futility of trying to keep up with housework and the errands. We didn’t tell her to forget about ever getting enough rest or exercise, or what a complete joke it would be to try to put wholesome dinners on the table every night after work. We didn’t tell her that she would never have the time or energy to pursue extracurricular hobbies or interests of her own, nor would she be able to give adequate attention to her spiritual life, which sadly, she would she would desperately need to lean on now more than ever.
Most importantly, we never told her she had a choice.
Our foremothers were so busy casting off confines of a life spent housekeeping and child rearing, that perhaps it never occurred to them that someone might actually want to. Maybe it never occurred to them that a woman might enjoy the life they took for granted—to be able to nurture her children, keep a clean, lovely home, and to manage the affairs of her household with thorough, orderly, and effective oversight. After centuries of feeling confined to the kitchen, it may have seemed incomprehensible that a woman would actually enjoy preparing sumptuous meals for her family complete with baked desserts made from scratch. Perhaps centuries of forced subordination hardened them to the notion that a wife might be pleased to serve and cater to her husband’s needs. Maybe these are the reasons we no longer even present being a homemaker as an option.
However, casting off the shackles of home management did not come without a price. When our foremothers escaped the confines of cooking, cleaning, and child rearing in the home, no one magically came along to carry on those efforts. Those responsibilities still exist. They’re just waiting there at the end of a long, exhausting workday.
Perhaps we’re still holding on to the idea that we can have it all. We can be champions in the board room and the kitchen. “I am Woman, Hear me Roar!” We can do it! We just have to come up with the perfect time management system to keep everything running smoothly.
But after a few decades or roaring, women are beginning to go hoarse. The mythical “Supermom” of the 1980’s was the greatest lie ever perpetuated upon womankind. We can’t do and have it all. We’re discovering that there is no system, no chart, no planner, no color-coded calendar that makes it work. We’re figuring out that the reason it feels like we can’t manage it all, is because we actually can’t manage it all. We can’t be physically, spiritually, and mentally healthy and keep the hours we’re putting in. And we’re learning that raising children who are physically, spiritually, and mentally healthy requires a great deal more effort than we’ve been giving it.
It turns out that the responsibility of raising young people into well-adjusted adulthood is a lot more work than we’ve made it out to be. We were led to believe that we could do the family thing on the side, outside of working hours. “It’s quality time, not quantity time that’s important,” they said. Squeeze in a story at bedtime, hit Chuck E. Cheese on the weekends, and everybody’s happy.
But everybody isn’t happy.
If we gave our careers the kind of attention we give our children, we’d be fired.
Little bursts of quality-time squeezed between cellphone calls to the office do not make for happy, healthy, well-adjusted children. Raising children was meant to be work. We’re supposed to be deliberate about it. We’re not meant to just passively survive endless days of chaotic activity together. That’s not what a family is supposed to be.
As parents, we’re supposed to be nurturing, guiding, protecting, teaching, and shaping our children into strong, stable, caring, contributing members of society. We’re obliged to instill honor and integrity, and teach them discipline and self-control. We’re supposed to help them learn to navigate the world they live in, and hopefully leave it a better place than they found it. We’re supposed to envelope them with so much love that they don’t struggle to understand what it means to know God.
We can’t do that by dumping them in daycare 10 hours a day and tossing chicken nuggets over the backseat while racing to soccer practice.
And we’re beginning to figure that out.
Most modern-day working mothers are exhausted. They’re stressed out, depressed, and guilt-ridden. They don’t eat right, exercise, or get enough rest. They work around the clock both in the home and in the workplace, and never have time to focus on the things that matter most to them. Their marriages are strained, their children are desperate for attention, and their spiritual lives are in shambles. They wish for change, but feel hopelessly trapped by financial burdens. Even with their added income, there never seems to be enough money. We’re now seeing an epidemic of working mothers who desperately long to be home caring for their families, but have little hope of ever being able to afford it.
But since this way of life is so deeply ingrained our culture, it is very difficult to break out of it. Our society still doesn’t honor the occupation they’ve come to refer to as “stay at home mom.”
On this Mother’s Day, I can’t help but sadly wonder, “What if we were a culture that really did esteem motherhood?” Wouldn’t it be something if we experienced a rebirth of reverence for the institution of the family, and a renewed respect and appreciation for full-time mothers?
Today’s feminists should still promote a woman’s right to pursue a career if she so desires, but they should also be informing women about what that will mean for her should she decide to start a family. We need to be truthful with them, and encourage them to count the cost and plan accordingly. Young women should understand that if they choose to take out student loans, they could be enslaving themselves to a lifestyle they might later regret. We should be asking adolescent women whether they even want to pursue a career, and offer them the alternative option of raising a family instead, without guilt, shame or judgment.
As a society, we should examine the results of the last few generations of children raised by daycare, video games and the internet, and analyze the cultural impact. We are in the midst of a mass identity crisis where we know longer know who or what we are, what our purpose is, what brings meaning and fulfillment in life, or the difference between right and wrong. We need to do better than this, and it’s time we start talking about how to make that happen. Today’s work-orphans are tomorrow’s citizens and leaders, so it’s a conversation worth having.
We needn’t roll back the clock, and take away everything our foremothers fought so hard to acquire. Many modern women are passionate about their careers and are very pleased with their life choices. Some women don’t have children, and enjoy the lifestyle that their income affords them. Some women have children who have grown and moved out, and are very happy to be working outside the home. Others have flexible arrangements, or get help from friends or family that make balancing family and career more feasible. But there are masses of other working mothers who feel trapped in their careers: hopelessly, miserably, desperately trapped. Their children are being held for ransom on the other side of a mountain of debt that long working hours barely chip away. The children will be grown before they ever reach the other side.
It’s time for a new model: one that doesn’t put that mountain between a mother and her children. One that doesn’t set her up for a lifetime of guilt, exhaustion, and hopelessness. One that doesn’t abandon her children to figure life out for themselves.
And so, Dear Foremothers, we thank you. Your contribution is valued, and we honor your achievements. But the pendulum swung too far and it’s time to bring it back to center. We appreciate everything you did, but we’re stressed out, burned out, with our hearts torn out, and we’d just really like to go home.
Mireya Angel, 2015, Age 6