A new roar for women

March 16, 2004|By Kimberly Flyr

AS I AWAIT the arrival of my third child, I've been thinking a lot about mothering and how it has changed since my mom awaited me.

She was a teacher then, and she was forced to retire when she started "showing." She was a stay-at-home mom by culture dictate, not by choice. I believe her when she tells me of her limited choices, and yet I honestly find it hard to believe how much has changed in one generation.

As I grew up, the women's movement was in full swing. My generation was raised with images of Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat up and whirling in joy at her independence. Helen Reddy sang on radio, "I am strong; I am invincible; I am woman." The women of my mother's generation changed their world so dramatically and quickly.

My mother, thriving in the freedom of the women's movement, raised her daughters to believe we could do anything. We would be educated, choose any career we set our mind to and take on the world.

And many of us tried. We enjoyed the options our mothers had fought so hard for and we didn't need to fight ourselves. We got accustomed to making plans and having life fall in line.

Until we hit the ultimate roadblock on the planned-life road: We had children. I assumed I would keep working after my first child was born. I knew child care was out there, and I figured that I'd find it and barely miss a beat. (I am strong; I am invincible.) It took me about three minutes to discover it wasn't going to be so easy.

What I learned - what every mother learns - is that I wasn't going to be the center of my world anymore. I wasn't even a close second. And it didn't take me long to move from this realization to a core truth of motherhood: that this child needed me with a primal fierceness. And, to my great joy and horror, he knew the difference between me and someone else. I couldn't just drop this child off and pretend he didn't know the difference. He did. I did. This was not in the song, not in the plan.

And so I scrambled and searched for what to do. And so did other women my age. We were confused and questioning our choices for the first time. We were accustomed to feeling independent and grateful. We were not accustomed to feeling ambivalent or needing help.

So, instead of banding together and demanding change from an unresponsive workplace, we suffered alone. Instead of talking together and acknowledging the difficulties of our time, we muttered phrases such as, "No one asked me to have children," and figured we'd just have to find a way. Self-reliance to a fault.

It's time to let go of some of our self-reliance and ask for the support we need to raise healthy children. Like our mothers, we need to fight for change, but instead of independence, we need to focus on connection. We need to connect the needs of our families with the needs of the workplace.

We need a culture that respects and values that women may need to work differently once they have children. We need paid childbearing and child-rearing leave. Some women might need to take long leaves of absence. Some might need to work part-time. Some might be able to continue a demanding schedule. The truth is, no woman can know what she can handle until she meets her child and gives it a go.

Having so many children in fulltime child care is a new experiment in our culture. Time will tell how our choices affect this generation of children. Some children will inevitably thrive. Some will not. Each mother knows whether she has a "thriver," and each mother deserves the right to make choices based on her judgment. No woman should be demeaned, demoted or demoralized for wanting to raise healthy children.

So how is the workplace supposed to handle these changes? I'm not sure, but the workplace has managed to change with the times before. Women raising children today need to figure out how to start demanding change.

We are a generation accustomed to having things handed to us before we ask, but we now need to ask that our politicians and business leaders respond to the new challenges that our families face. It is time for this generation of women to find its voice.

Kimberly Flyr is a teacher, parent educator and writer living in Howard County.

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