Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Do we really want it all?

There's been a lot of talk in the news and blogosphere regarding women and the quest to have it all, sparked by the Atlantic Magazine article "Why women still can't have it all."  I've read along with interest as I've certainly been in the center of that struggle.  I grew up knowing I would be a working mom.  Having both a career and a family were important to me...equally important.  I saw how my mother, a single parent, struggled to get by, working multiple menial jobs that she hated just to provide the basics.  I know that she wanted desperately just to be able to quit and spend more time at home with me.  I know that she must have had many dreams that she sacrificed (although I was too selfish to ask about them).

I worked hard, too, in my own ways to extract myself out of poverty's grasp, and get the education and job opportunities that were denied my mother.  I bought into the line that I could be anything I dreamed and do anything I wanted with my life.  I keep plugging along through my dream college and on to a master's degree, and picked up a husband and birthed two kids along the way.  I expected I would continue to get my doctorate and be famous for something one day.  Wasn't that the make something of myself?

But on the journey something began changing.  I think it was me (maybe my heart, or my ambition, or perhaps just my energy level).  Motherhood was hard.  Working was difficult.  Both were full-time endeavors and I could never seem to find that elusive balance. I'm one of the lucky ones, more fortunate than most in that I have the family I had hoped for, a job that allows me to be flexible with my hours, and a husband that does an equal share in the child-raising and household duties.  I took latter as a given when we pledged our lives to one another, but over time I've come to understand what a gift that is.  Even with all of our sharing, the back and forth nature of work and home was exhausting.  In the age-old story of working parents, when I was at work, I thought of all I should be doing at home, and vice versa.  With both my husband and me in ministry, the demands were high, the work was consuming, and everyone felt that they had a say in our personal life (like the congregation member that ironically said we shouldn't have a second child if we couldn't care for the first when my husband asked for a flex schedule to help with childcare needs).  I could not seem to adjust my (ridiculously high) standards, so every thing I let slide felt like failure.  The greatest stab in my heart was when one of my daughter's first (and most often repeated) sentences was, "You happy, mommy?"  No, I was not, and I couldn't understand why.  I had the dream...a good job that was also a calling, a supportive husband, two precocious and adorable children, financial security (for the first time ever)...what could possibly be missing (other than my own sense of gratitude)?

Perhaps rest.  And surrender.  And and understanding that what I had was enough.  There was no sense in fighting (myself) to become all society expected me to be.  When I read a blog by a big-name blogger, listened to a popular speaker, or talked to someone who had secured a book deal, the jealousy would flare up (and it still does, if I'm honest).  Why isn't that me??  I still have dreams to be known, and yet, as I look around me, I see that I am.  I am known by my family, I am accepted by my friends, I am noticed by my acquaintances.  But more than that, I am being made by God who knows and loves me as I am, but also has more dreams for me.  My creation is an on-going process, and the real dreams that I can accomplish are the ones that God plants within my heart.

At this stage in my life, I'm starting to find contentment in where I am.  I'm adjusting to a life that ebbs and flows with differing demands.  Sometimes home calls to me more (and I'm grateful to be able to focus my energy there), and sometimes work demands more of my energy (and I'm blessed by my husband who takes on even more of the responsibility at home).  Balance can be found, but it's not what I expected.  You can have it all, but maybe not at the same time (at least not in our current culture, as the Atlantic article and others suggest).  Perhaps that needs to change, and I hope I can be an advocate for other women who are finding their place.  But at this point in the journey, I'm glad to be where I am, at home in myself.

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