Anything not everything

June 19, 2017

Mine was probably the last generation of girls who grew up thinking we’d get married and have children – and in that order.

We were encourage to have jobs or even careers, but the expectation for most of us was that, sooner rather than later, family would come first.

Younger women have grown up with different expectations, many based on the exhortation that girls can do anything.

The trouble with that line is that it’s taken to mean they can do, and have,  everything – career, relationship, family . . .

But as Deborah Coddington says in commenting on Holly Walker’s Memoir The Whole Intimate Mess:

Walker admits she saw it as a chance to show women could have it all. Isn’t it about time someone, somewhere, blazed across the sky: if you choose to do one thing you are, ipso facto, forgoing something else? . . 

Coddington has been criticised on Twitter for her view, but she’s right.

Anyone might be able to do anything, but that is very different from being able to do everything, or at the very least being able to do it all at once:

Undoubtedly changes could be made to the system in the behemoth, but raising a baby is one of the most important things a mum or dad can do. Should it be slotted between points of order, supplementary questions, constituency meetings, select committees? Certainly not when a woman ends up badly mentally and physically hurt, no matter who is inflicting the abuse.

Perhaps I’m just old-fashioned. I had my first child five days after I turned 22, 42 years ago, and I loved raising babies. But at the same time I watched with envy as my journalism colleagues soared up the career ladder while I felt abandoned in Wairarapa teaching a little one to talk, garden and cook playdough. But when my four children were at school I could claw my way back up to the top in journalism, full time, then look at those same colleagues, now in their late 30s, early 40s, struggle with IVF, difficult pregnancies and exhaustion as they juggled early childcare and jobs.

My point is you actually can have everything; but maybe not at the same time.

Definitely not at the same time, and not always when you want it.

By the time young couples have completed their education, travel, and are well on their way up the career ladder, conception might not come easily, if at all.

As a friend commented during a discussion on infertility,  Our parents worried we’d have babies too soon, our generation worries our children are leaving it too late.

A point Amanda Gillies made on the AM Show:

“I say to girls, particularly young girls, have your children early if you can. I waited, I shouldn’t have, and so I say to them: Career you can always come back to it – children you can’t,” Gillies said.

“So do it early, it’s so much easier. I’m now 40, it’s probably not a happening thing and it’s a heartbreaking thing because as a woman you do feel like a failure.” . . 

If these busy career people do manage to have children, the idea that life can go on as it did pre-parenthood seriously underestimates the demands even the healthiest and happiest of babies make, ignores the almost certainty that no baby is 100% happy and healthy, and shows little if any appreciation of the time, energy and commitment it takes to bring up children.

In most young families today, men play a much more active parenting role than their fathers did and women are much more likely to be in paid work than their mothers were.

Parents sharing the caregiving and wage-earning can be better for them and their children.

But the message that girls – and boys – can do anything needs to be tempered with the caution that if they try to do everything at once something will give and if having children comes later on the to-do list, they might find it’s too late.

 


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