My mom friends and I swap parenting stories like we're vets reliving our time in Vietnam. It's amazing how the two foot angels we call children can also become demon terrors who make grown women cry. And yes, sometimes you're seeing so much red rage you shut yourself in the bathroom to protect them. Or yourself. You're not sure, but once again, you're probably crying.
Parenting isn't for cowards.
Yet in the midst of the messy and the monotonous and the downright maddening, there are moments that take your breath away. As a parent, you have a front row seat to watching an individual unfurl their wings and find their place in this world. We're the heroes toiling away, often with more criticism than appreciation, raising future citizens and world impacters.
Whether originally wanted or not, motherhood becomes one defined by sacrifice. It has to or it simply won't work. You lose a lot in the way of your body, your dreams and your wants. But you do it day in and day out because you know that leaving a legacy doesn't happen in one glamorous moment but in the slow, consistent and often messy work of shaping and teaching the next generation.
Marie Claire recently ran an article giving voice to women who have failed to get that. Mothers who regret their children having ever been born and genuinely think they might be living better, more meaningful, possibly more exciting lives without these extra humans dragging them down. They're just sure their lives would be marked by career accolades and fancy travel destinations rather than midnight bed wettings and worn-thin yoga pants.
But we're blaming the wrong group for the disappointment and the frustration. It's not the kids who are at fault for "ruining" their mother's lives. You can instead thank a feminist movement that has failed women.
When Betty Friedan first wrote her status-quo rattling piece The Feminist Mystique, she wasn't advocating that motherhood was a lesser role compared to working outside of the home. In an interview with Playboy magazine, as recounted by Susan Bowers in Subverted, Freidan said, "Women are the people who give birth to children, and that is a necessary value in society....Feminism was not opposed to marriage and motherhood."
But poor Betty, she failed to see that this was exactly what her Sexual Revolution counterparts were going for, feminism defined as freedom from men, marriage and/or children.
Key architects of the movement like Gloria Steinam equated marriage to prostitution and Helen Gurley Brown, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, wrote in her book Sex and the Single Girl, "Hard work and sex will set you free (as long as you don't have children)." If you did happen to have or even want children, she had this nugget of advice, "Never waste time feeling guilt, never agonize too much, and have a lot of paid help at home, and never, ever, let them interfere with the long climb to the top."
In other words, untangled and unattached sex will set you free. Losing your single status or even worse, getting pregnant, could be the death of your career, your sense of freedom and the claims to yourself. Except that neither Steinam or Gurley Brown knew if that was actually true since neither had children. And ironically, both were married. But they couldn't be bothered by such trivial inconsistencies. They, along with others, just assumed they knew best and hijacked a promising feminist movement as a vehicle for their misleading and damaging sexual propaganda.
When sex is stripped of its intimacy, or its possibility for future life, and becomes about what a person can get rather than give, it is no longer empowering or powerful. It has simply been reduced to another way of feeding our selfishness. Ironically, numerous studies cite that married, rather than single women, report having the best and most frequent sex.
Could it be that those 1960 sexual liberation champions were wrong? That sex is most what we crave it to be when it is not used simply as a tool for personal gratification, but as a means for creating a bond between two people and even, new life?
And could it be that we as individuals, both male and female, can find our greatest purpose in serving others rather only trying to build our own empires?
What started as a good -- pushing for women to define themselves as women, and not merely by their relationships -- has swung to the opposite extreme. Anything or anyone that makes demands on our time, our energy and our independence becomes a burden and a drain, rather than an opportunity. As a result, today we have a brand of feminism that is only inclusive so far as you're willing to sacrifice your children on the altar of individualism and professionalism. If you need proof, look no further than two of the heroes of the current feminist wave, Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL, and Cecil Richards, President of Planned Parenthood. Both have received praise for proudly proclaiming their choices to abort their children because it just wasn't the "right time."
Women today stand at a stunning place in history. Never before have there been as many opportunities for us to pursue careers and passions in whatever form we desire. We can also manipulate our fertility in ways that could not have been imagined. We can choose to shut it off, turn it back on, and use medical intervention when it doesn't function as we desire.
I cannot speak for every women, but for myself, all those choices sometimes leaves me paralyzed and overwhelmed, wondering if I'm making the 'right' choice in work, parenting, marriage and the constant struggle to hold it all in the balance.
Because the barely talked about secret that we all come to painfully realize: you cannot have it all, all the time.
There comes a choice for every woman who becomes a mother, whatever the circumstances may be that led her to that point: will she sacrifice for the good of her children? Will she surrender some of her immediate dreams, her daily wants and her comforts so that another human life can have the opportunity to thrive?
Those women regretting their children are regretting a life they think they might have lived. One they imagine would be marked by more wealth, fame, and autonomy. But those women could just as easily be facing loneliness, a sense of unrest and a stagnant career.
None of us really knows what an alternative life might look like. When life gets difficult, it can be easier to imagine the pain away with unknown possibilities, rather than looking to make something great out of our present reality.
Fifty years from now, most of our names will just be whispers on the wind and no one will care about our Instagram feeds. Our legacies won't be in the vacations we took or the jobs we held, but in the lives we brushed up against on the daily and the countless little moments where we served someone in need.
As a country, we're losing the capacity to think beyond ourselves and sacrifice for the good of our fellowman, let alone future generations. It's infecting every area of our society, from politicians to Wall Street investors to teenagers are posting or saying anything to be part of the crowd, even if it leads to someone's suicide.
It's not always glamorous, it's clearly not trendy, but service and sacrifice are the life fabric of a society. Learning that foundational truth begins at home, modeled by moms and dads. If we cannot see that those under our own roof are worth sacrificing for, then it's no wonder we're becoming a Me-First culture.
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