Society has never quite figured out how to deal with women and women often struggle to figure out how to deal with themselves. Biologically women are designed to bear children, but that is not the only thing they are equipped to do. Women have proven themselves to be intellectually equivalent to even the most brilliant men. Nonetheless, it has taken centuries for women to be generally accepted as equal to their male counterparts. They have made great strides in demonstrating their abilities to tackle jobs that were once only the domain of men. They now head corporations and serve in powerful political positions, including the Supreme Court and the vice presidency of the United States. Still, their salaries are often lower than their male counterparts. They are questioned about their dedication to balancing their careers and their families. They walk an uneasy tightrope that can be confusing and exhausting.
I was watching a Master Class featuring Hans Zimmer describing what it takes to create music for movies. At the end of his discussion he noted how his passion had often taken him away from his family for extended periods of time. He missed Christmases with them, worked through nights without knowing what was happening to them. He indicated that success in his chosen craft often depended on his dedication over all else. He told a story of asking his son if the work had made him a bad father. The son responded that he was a good father, just different.
Sadly, I find that women who are good mothers, but just different, are all too often judged as somehow being derelict in their female duties. Women are still asked if they have a steady beau and when they plan on marrying, albeit not as often as in past times. In unspoken ways a woman of childbearing age is often considered a risk when it comes to hiring and promoting. Our society still places the bulk of the child-rearing duties on the woman, leaving the man freer to devote himself to work.
While we have certainly progressed in our attitudes toward women the balancing acts that they must perform often make them wonder if they are only mediocre at every task they do. I found great joy in teaching. My work never fit into an eight hour five day a week timeframe. The forty hours registered on the official time clock was really more like eighty as I stayed late tutoring, planning and conferring with parents and my fellow teachers. I took home work in a rolling cart every single night. I lived on a tightly run schedule that required me to give my best to both my job and my family. It didn’t always work out as well as I wished.
There were so many times when I felt as though I was neglecting every facet of my world. When my mother was sick and I was helping her, I let my job slide as well as my care of my daughters. When I was in a particularly busy time of the school year I hardly saw my children or my mother. When I took off time when my children were sick or to be present for their performances, I felt as though I was letting down my students. Guilt was a constant companion and I harbored a feeling that I wasn’t particularly good at anything that I was doing. I suspect that my story is much like that of every woman who attempts to juggle and spin plates at the same time.
Now that I am retired and looking back on my life I realize that I did my very best. I loved all of my responsibilities and my accomplishments both at my job and at home. In the long run, however, my family was indeed more important to me than any of the other things I attempted to do. I hope and pray that my husband and my daughters realize that nothing ever meant more to me than they did. Unfortunately I think that the mere fact of being a working woman creates such doubt all too often.
I have friends who devoted their lives to caring for their families. They were phenomenal in ways that I was unable to duplicate because there were not enough hours in the day. I have other friends who chose to dedicate themselves to careers that lead them to the highest ranks. They too have my deepest admiration. Both sets of women made choices based on their personal needs and preferences. I applaud them for following their hearts.
I’m among the many women who have divided themselves into many parts. Somehow we find fulfillment in our lives even as we sometimes limp along frustrated and so very tired. In the end the only questions a woman needs to consider are, “How happy are your choices making you?” “Do you feel that you are doing your very best?” It’s okay to attempt to be a good worker, mom, spouse, friend even if the way you do it is different.