What Will We Tell Our Daughters?

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Risa Green of Mommy Track’d recently wrote “What Will We Tell Our Daughters?” in her weekly column, Tales From the Mommy Track. She is referring to the advice that we should give our daughters about “having it all,” as in “Is it even possible?” In this column, she writes about work. What do we tell our daughters about having a career and having a family? Should we encourage them to be anything they want to be, knowing that we might be setting them up for hard times when they decide to have children? Or should we counsel that they should choose careers with flexibility built into them? Or even tell them that they shouldn’t pursue any kind of high-powered career if they intend to be mothers?

Risa writes that “one of the moms [she was talking to] pointed out that we, as the first generation of mothers to fully understand and accept the idea that ‘having it all’ is an impossible goal, are in a unique position to guide our daughters into careers and lives that might, ultimately, spare them the angst that a lot of us are going through right now.”

My mother always told me that I could be anything I wanted to be, but she never addressed the issue of being a working mother. Should she have? She herself was a teacher, but she quit working when I was in grade school. She was still of the generation that thought traditionally about a woman’s role in the family (she got married in 1949). I was a little young for the feminist movement, so I was more influenced by her example than by anything those Women Libbers were saying. Obviously: I got married at the age of 20 and had four kids by the time I was 28. I didn’t work outside of the home until my youngest was four.

But my husband and I divorced when we were 29 (God, that seems so long ago–and we were so young!) and I was left without a college degree and no training of any kind. I ended up working at the post office for 16 years and being miserable. I had a dependable income and was able to support my family, but the job itself took its toll and I definitely wasn’t there for my children.

So it’s not so much that I felt that I couldn’t have it all, but that I hated my job. It was not rewarding and it was hard on my family (I worked as a distribution machine clerk on the graveyard shift for the first five years, when my kids were in grade school.) I don’t know how different it would have been if I’d had a bona fide career, instead of the menial job that I did have. I think my children learned from my negative example that you don’t want to get stuck in a job that you hate. But I wish I could have given them the positive example of a woman working at a job she loves.

Because I don’t think it’s as much an issue of whether or not you should work or how much time you should devote to your job when you have children, but of being happy with the choices you do make. If I had it to do over again, I would tell my daughters that you can have it all. It just isn’t going to be easy.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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