With Mother’s Day having come and gone another year, I can’t help thinking how much the expectations of motherhood and womanhood have changed so drastically from my mother’s generation to my own. She was the last of a dying breed, the woman who never considered a career, always put her children’s needs before her own, and was married before her life had really begun — and I love her for it. Gloria Steinem may not have thought that my mother’s work was important, but her four children certainly do.
I was born on the cusp of the Equal Rights Movement for women. It was a time when women were no longer satisfied to wear pearls and high heels while they cleaned their kitchens. Bras were burning and mothers were marching in the streets trying to gain some traction into a world that had been man-centric all their lives. A lot was accomplished by the ERA movement, but I can’t help feeling like some harm was done along the way.
Hear me out on this one before you write a scathing letter to the editor because I am the grateful recipient of their ideals and I know it. Before the woman’s movement in the 1970’s, the only jobs available to the fairer sex was the secretarial pool or a classroom. Women used to go to college to find a good husband and any education they did receive was sure to be streamlined towards motherhood. Now women graduate from college at a higher rate than men. We are doctors, lawyers, firefighters, and anything else we want to be. Then why are so many women constantly unsatisfied with their lives?
When we’re at work, we feel guilty for not being at home. When we’re at home, we feel guilty for not being at work. I am raising triplets (that’s right I said triplets) and people still ask me what I do for a living (as if changing an average of eighteen diapers a day wasn’t enough). The unintentional consequence of the Women’s Movement is the reality that no one can really have it all. Men are expected to have a career and HELP raise the children. Women are expected to have a career and ENTIRELY raise the children. And that’s not even taking into account the millions of single mothers who are trying to be superwomen in both categories. The problem is that our guilt is creating a generation of overindulged, self-absorbed children who have cell phones by the time they’re potty-trained.
Another perhaps even more destructive change has occurred between my generation of women and the next. Somehow, somewhere along the way, girls at 15 are getting nose jobs and having liposuction on their thighs. There is no longer a “too skinny” or a “too perfect” in the never-ending race to be beautiful. The constant barrage of airbrushed models and photoshopping celebrities has made us feel like our best is never good enough. Turn on the television and you’ll be introduced to an entirely different generation of women, the generation that believes bad behavior should be rewarded and nothing is too degrading to achieve momentary fame. It’s a surreal world where catfighting has become a talent.
It all makes me nostalgic for the woman my mother always has been and always will be. She knows what successive generations don’t -- selflessness. My mother may not know how to take a “selfie” on her cell phone and she may not be the CEO of a major corporation, but she gave us everything she had. In the process, she didn’t raise daughters who believed our only place was in the home. On the contrary, her unselfish attitude toward motherhood taught us that raising human beings is a noble calling. She worked outside of the home when she financially had to, but we always felt like her heart was with her most important job -- her children. I grew up knowing I could be anything I wanted to be because she gave her all to motherhood, not in spite of it.
I am not advocating that women relocate themselves to pearls and high heels in the kitchen again, quite the opposite. I’m profoundly grateful that I can look my daughter in the face and tell her that she can truly be anything she wants to be. I just hope she doesn’t forget that being a dedicated mother, whether she chooses to stay at home full-time or pursue a career outside the home, is the most important work in the world.
Tiffany Miller is a Tahoe resident and mother. Visit her website at http://mycrayonbox.org.