Are we winning at the generation game?
How one conversation with my mother-in-law changed the way I see myself forever
The other day I had a conversation with my mother-in-law that’s had a really profound and liberating effect on me, and I want to share it with you in the hope that it might do the same for you.
We were just catching up about the blog and how it’s all going, and I was filling her in on how I’ve been working on ways I can help and empower mums in the same position as I am – trying to deal with the monumental shift in our identities and regain our confidence now we’ve joined The Motherhood.
She let on that she’s a little bit in awe of women nowadays and how we (outwardly, anyway) seem to be more able than women who were raising babies several decades ago to balance (ha!) parenting, relationships, career and home life.
It gave me a fascinating insight into how expectations on women have evolved in what is – when you think about it – actually a really short space of time.
Little disclaimer: I’m definitely no historian and I’m sure this wasn’t the way for everyone. I’m just relaying her story to you in the hope that it will help you as it’s helped me.
My mother-in-law had her babies in the early 1970s in the South of England and gave up work after she’d married their dad to raise them. She said this was what society then expected women would do and their cultural and educational conditioning reflected and prepared them for it. Girls studied home economics and needlework while the boys banged stuff with hammers and gathered firewood. Or something like that.
There were obviously many women who built amazing careers, but they’d be more likely able to afford a nanny, she said. If the household couldn’t afford a nanny and the woman went back to work it was perceived that the husband couldn’t support his family with his income alone….which would have brought inconceivable shame.
So society as she knew it had evolved to the point that women were respected educationally and professionally, but for the most part they were also pretty much expected to shelve their academic and career dreams the minute they got married and put that side of themselves on hold. Once the kids were at school full-time, it would be deemed socially acceptable to return to work.
Fast-forward to today and the change in expectation that has happened between a woman who was born in 1948 (my MIL) and me, born in 1983.
This generation – our generation – of women have had very little in the way of support or preparation for becoming a parent and raising a family in today’s world.
We’re taught from before we can remember that we’ll be contributors to society. That we’ll be educated to ever-higher standards and that we’ll carve a fabulous career for ourselves. This is what our culture and educational system prepares us for.
I’m not suggesting that any of that is a bad thing. Of course it isn’t, and as females we’re unbelievably privileged to exist in an era when we’re the beneficiaries of the fight for a voice and freedom and equality that previous generations of women yearned and bled for. Not to mention that we have a state-provided education system that girls are entitled access to.
What this has meant though, is that as a generation we are entirely under-prepared and ill-equipped for our other role, THE BIG ONE……that’s just supposed to slot seamlessly alongside our professional and academic achievements.
It has also facilitated the development of the (IMO) utterly despicable stigma that a mother who does not work is ‘just a mum’. My thoughts and feelings around how degrading and unfair it is to label someone who is the primary caregiver of an ACTUAL HUMAN BEING, tasked with giving a person their entire moral compass and value system as ‘just a mum’, is another blog post (or book!) in itself.
That part of our conversation was over in just a few minutes, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
It’s so obvious to me now.
The way I feel about my inability to achieve that utopic ‘balance’ is not necessarily just about the pressure I heap on myself. It’s there because society has evolved at the rate of knots and the support for women to back up that evolution is just lagging behind a bit.
OF COURSE we’re going to feel overwhelmed by all the plates we’ve found ourselves spinning. There’s more expected of us by our society than of any other generation before us.
OF COURSE we’re going to feel like we’re winging it every day as a mum. Our education has endowed us with the skills to tell an isosceles and an equilateral triangle apart. But it hasn’t helped us to understand the reality of parenthood in the 21st century.
OF COURSE our confidence is going to take a battering. And the fact that it does isn’t our fault. We’re just used to feeling like accomplished, successful women who have their sh*t together, because that’s what our culture demands of us.
Society is not doing women of our generation justice. So it’s left for us to do that for ourselves.
We’re proving every single day that it’s possible. But we must redefine how we see and feel about ourselves.
If we could do that, just think what a legacy we’d pass on and what our daughters and granddaughters might accomplish in the world.