Having It All (Piece by Piece)

Wow, we have a long time to make our mark on this planet. Think about it: the current US adult life expectancy is 78.8 years according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Let’s round up to 80 years. If you think about it, that’s a lot of time given the rampant diabetes, heart disease, and Ebola-ridden world we live in. Imagine if medicine continues to improve, you exercise regularly, and eat fewer cheeseburgers…you could live to 100, no problem!

So why, given all this time, do we (the mostly women dominated “we”) worry about squeezing family-rearing and career-having into one cramped 20-ish year period of our lives? If I’ve got another 60+ years on Earth, then I’ll take my life hurtles one at a time with rest and recuperation between each, thank you very much.

A recent New York Times article revealed a survey of college-educated millennials refusing to approach motherhood and professionalism as an all or nothing decision. “Their approach is…more give and take,” the article describes. These are my people! These are my people! I refuse to have it all or have nothing—I want everything, anything, and some things as a choice during each period of my life. Now, if only society agreed with and supported my choices…  pie graph

As a self-identified woman in the USA, I see my life in segments. The first quarter of my life was devoted to childhood, education, and learning the rules of society. I was a good girl who got good grades and did not get in trouble or push against the barriers, rules, and restrictions to women in society.

Now, in my second quarter—I’m calling it the Complementary Education segment—my resilience is tested and fortified (in the face of unemployment, self-employment, and general economic upheaval), my personal resources are being strengthened (in marriage, friendships, and self-esteem), and I’m learning when to break society’s rules (you know, the ones I just finished learning in my last 20-ish years). I’m starting to realize that I have options and the time to choose.

The option of being a 20-something year old mother: no economic security for such necessities as childcare, healthcare, higher education, or extra-curricular activities; shame and marginalization for taking governmental assistance; a stalled and biased professional career. No thanks; I’ll wait until conditions improve.

The option of making money, money, money and affording the luxuries of society: a career in finance, ignoring my social conscience, 80 hour work weeks, limited time to cook, exercise, or establish relationships and hobbies. I repeat, no thanks! I don’t want either option, why would anyone want both at once?!

The option to take life in segments: move to a smaller town to live on a meager salary as a trade-off for spending each day learning something new, creating something with my own hands, volunteering in my community, and spending plenty of time on self-reflection.

I’ve still got plenty of time for that other stuff (motherhood, high-paying careers, big houses, fabulous vacations). I’m thinking and planning 5-10 years at a time. I’ll make sure to try it all, but for now I’d rather spend my energy figuring out who I am and what society I want to live in, then learning and engaging in the community to create the society I want. Women can have it all—just piece by piece by piece.

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  • Cangle

    Do men have the conversation about ‘having it all’?

    Let’s start with how women’s unpaid labor in housework, childcare and then factor in female’s lower paid positions at work.

    Women have to also splice in the caring for the adults in their family as the children mature. The care of aging parents most often falls into the female domain. Factor that into your life splices, and it comes unbidden.

    I did stage my life. I did earn my way through university, “”postponing motherhood” it was called then, had career/travel/home before breeding at 35 and 40. I did move to rural artistic community, divorced and ran a home business as solo mum for many years. Then, I returned to city where both girls had moved for university and employment. Solo mum 23 years now, both girls graduated university.

    Some women had children in 20’s. My younger one told me she and friends compared moms. She said all the other families with 20-something mothers had big drama in their families, and a lot of mess ups. She said other classmates agreed, that older mothers were more calm and more fun.

    My spawn are now the age of other women’s grandchildren. My spawn are fun, they bring me music and keep me young.

    But, I still earned less than males, have zero pension and few savings. I had an uninsured medical expenses – let’s talk about Single Payer to relieve that nightmare. So, the spawn and I are now purchasing house together, and it has room for home business for my granny days if that happens.

    I lived what you are suggesting, OIlvia. BTW my oldest named Olivia. But, after living what you are talking about, this is what I suggest as a possible logistic.

    Instead of individual women splicing their lives into unpaid caregiving slots of patriarchy, let’s collectivize. Why can’t 2 or 3 mothers with children co-house, share childcare and build economic security together. Less domestic violence that way.

    Anthropologists recently (sorry, no link) surmised that hunter gatherers were more egalitarian until the era of agriculture brought greater wealth, then the males started showing up in the tribes of brothers at the center. The egalitarian hunter gather tribes were about the same numbers of people, but in egalitarian tribes there were not male-dominated centers of the tribe such as 4 or 5 brothers with women on the periphery.

    We need to return to more egalitarian lives. Why wait for men to help us with the Second Shift? Rearrange women’s lives so that WOMEN’S LIVE MATTER. Why try to fit ourselves in smaller and smaller boxes and little 5 year increments, can’t we have a more sweeping overhaul of female possibilities by now?

    Beguines. Read about the Middle Ages European women’s communities stubbed out by the burning times, when women ran female-only co-operative living/business together for a few hundred years. It got very successful. At first it was the Crusades widows and orphans who were taken in by nunneries, and it grew to other women in teh community who preferred living near and among their sisters and they felt safer than out in the community of men.

    Time to get Beguinines going, gals. Then there’s no more little patchwork of unpaid labor in service to patriarchy. Collectives for women/children. Voila!