Choice is what it's really all about

December 29, 1996|By Susan Reimer

RECENTLY, SOME people who are not my girlfriends gathered to say nice things about my work, and I insisted that my children dress up in clothes they do not find comfortable and come along to witness it.

I wanted them to have a vision of my career that was not "leaving all day only to come home in a bad mood and make a sorry dinner," which is how my son describes my work life.

It was a lovely ceremony, and I was delighted with my children's good behavior, because you never know how these things are going to go.

On the way home, I thanked my children for being there for me and asked them for their thoughts. They were underwhelmed.

Jessie was baffled by much of the ceremony. Joseph's commentary amounted to: "Yeah, well. Whatever."

I decided that I was a long way from leaving footsteps in which my children would follow.

Jessie has declared that she wants to be a kindergarten teacher. Joe has made no career plans, and I fear he will be living at home and playing computer games until he inherits the house we live in.

But they have seen the underbelly of working motherhood, and I think they have taken in all its lessons. Joe may insist that the mother of his children stay home and raise them, and Jessie may choose that path for herself.

This is one of the side effects of feminism and of women entering the work force: Our children are watching, and they don't like what they see -- the fatigue, the frustration, the guilt and sometimes the divorce.

I am more likely to be a role model for some female high school newspaper editor I have never met than for my own kids.

Our own children have not seen much evidence that women can easily fit a career around a marriage and motherhood. The strain in our voices as we urge them to hurry is their first clue. We are doing two things and feeling that we do neither one of them well, and our children can read that in our faces. To my children, I am not a heroine of social change; I am half nuts.

We had better be prepared for the day when they repudiate our choices by making different ones.

Every little girl wants to be a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher. My mother told me to be a teacher because it was something that would fit well around children. Jessie might be just another little girl who wants to be a teacher, or she might have made a decision she cannot yet articulate: It is a job that fits well around children.

It will hurt me if her career or her decisions about family and children are made in reaction against what I have done. But do I want her to think that I have raised the bar and anything less from her will disappoint me? No. Would I want her to fight the battles of a woman in a nontraditional career that I fought for many years as a sportswriter? No.

What I do want for both of my children is the baseline early feminists wanted for women: financial independence and equal opportunity to achieve it. Whether it occurs in a kindergarten classroom, a football press box or in the home office next to the baby's room cannot matter to me.

Those of us who made choices different from our mothers have been searching all our working lives for a validation of that choice, for evidence that we did the right thing, a good thing.

But our daughters and our sons may not see the fight we fought as the good fight. We should start now to find some comfort inside ourselves, because we may not see it reflected in the choices our children make.

Pub Date: 12/29/96

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