Having Her Cake and Eating It Too

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/02/24/having-her-cake-and-eating-it-too/

Who would have guessed a tiny pill could bring down a civilization? No screaming Vikings rowing ashore taking over villages.  No barbarians with swords and knives galloping through medieval gates.

No. A tiny pill destroyed a culture of family. Some still agree the family was the foundation of western, but also eastern, civilization. The family was protective hearth where children were nurtured, rituals and stories were repeated, and crucial training took place. That is, until children went off to school.  

The Pill was the reproductive breakthrough at the time. Why not have women control their reproductive cycle so they could fulfill themselves and pursue their professional goals? It seemed like such a good idea.

Why should women make all the sacrifices for their children?  Just to show thinking at the time, my husband and I hosted Betty Friedan, doyenne of the feminist movement, at our home during the early 1970s. She gave her standard speech on women’s rights and urged us to hang up our aprons and go out and carve up the world. Even more, women could have their cake and eat it too. 

We could act on our sexual drive and not pay a price. No more girls getting pregnant their senior year and having to get married. No more settling for someone simply because you wanted sex. Then it was possible to have affairs on a business trip and come home to the hearth. Or, the Pill at least made it possible. It’s all about choice. 

So now we have no natural barriers to our worldly goals. It is as though in the past our bodies stood in the way of human progress. “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Who could settle for such modest ambition? The hand that rules the boardroom and the lesser workspaces no longer has time to rock the cradle.  o be sure, some women can be cancer specialists or cardiac surgeons or stock portfolio managers and still have their 1.2 children. But at what price? Sometimes the career uses up one marriage.

If the family is foundational for most civilizations, how is it faring? Even without data searches, we know. We see it.  We read it every day. The family is stressed. Marriages dissolve. Bored and under-supervised, children try drugs. So many are anxious or depressed.  Loneliness reaches a new high. High!  How about street corners with pot shops, sad figures looking for another remedy for what ails them?

Soldiers dying on battlefields always called for their mothers. Sweet and sad, the sacrifices on all fronts. When most of our generation was growing up, our mothers were always home. They were there to hear about the day at school and our complaints about teachers and friends.  They weren’t just raking leaves or baking pies. They had their social and community commitments, as well. We felt sorry for latchkey children coming home alone because their mothers HAD TO work.

Now, maybe, there is a nanny who acts as mom.  Imagine the small child who goes to daycare at age two, often in tears. In Finland children stay home, don’t even attend school until age 7. And, by the way, Finnish children lead the world in academic achievement! Could it be that children learn best when they first learn from their mothers, until they are ready to learn from someone else?

Now that women can control their reproductive cycle, they can be put to work in the marketplace. Also, women can boost the economy. It must be a win/win situation. Unless you read the stats on families. Surely businesses benefit from working women. After all, women do well in the tech world, in the science lab, in teaching. They are diligent students and loyal employees. If only they just didn’t have those inconvenient desires to rear children.

Women don’t simply drive the engine of capitalism; they are also boosters in the consumer economy.  Without working moms needing to feed the families, we don’t have the aisles at Whole Foods jammed with desperate moms searching for tonight’s takeout dinner. GrubHub for a while had a corner on the food-delivery market and now has competitors. Their recent shares decline has also been credited to a need to rejigger its focus to better woo “promiscuous” (their word) diners.

And then there is the guilt.  Guilty moms spend more, even indulge their children to make up for not being around when their children need them.  In this state of mind (and it’s so easy) they click Amazon Prime often to fill the larders and also fill the void.  Isn’t technology here to help us manage all these business and family affairs? Guilt keeps the wheels going round and round.   

The Middle Class has convinced itself it needs two incomes to provide more than it had growing up with. Or even just to keep afloat. It’s hard to overlook this economic pressure. And clearly some women are forced out of their homes to care for the needs of families.  Single mothers, in particular, are the victims of our current arrangement.

Modern married men have pitched in with household chores but being an employed single mom is especially challenging — unless she has a network of support.  In many cases, grandparents fill in the childcare appointments and school-pickups.  And nothing gets cheaper as single mom needs expensive shortcuts.

Having a job … having a career … is more than missing those formative years in the lives of our children. Or making the decision to stop at one or two children so we can devote ourselves to work. What does it do for us as companions to that man we promised to love, support, and cherish? How good a daughter can we be to our aging parents?

Were we hoodwinked into believing we could have our cake and eat it too? It’s still a dilemma for each woman. After all, we hosted Betty Friedan at our house, all the while thinking we were achieving our long overdue rights.


Marilyn Ryan is a writer living in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.