So instead, I want to riff a bit on false choices, and the way they narrow and poison arguments.
This is related to Mother’s Day, I suppose, because the topic came out of the post over at Modern Mrs. Darcy I linked to yesterday. Anne suggested (crazy!) that society needed more women in leadership roles, and many of the barriers keeping women out of such roles are (my word) stupid. I tend to find this statement uncontroversial, but a handful of the folks making comments headed straight toward the usual dividing lines of such arguments. Women can only handle one big thing in life at once. If a woman has a big career, she must be a (insert word implying “bad”) mother. No one can have it all! Sometimes there is an additional, more self-righteous twist implying that the person offering this comment has much better priorities than other women.
This is certainly one way to have an argument. I enjoy the specific phrases people sometimes use when making these points: praising women who “refuse to ignore their families to go help a corporation make more widgets.” Or “If you get your joy from a paycheck and a pat on the head, go for it. I prefer hugs and dandelions.”
But there are many other ways to look at this issue, too. Is making mindless, meaningless widgets the only sort of career one might have? Or are there other careers that might nurture the soul, and perhaps humanity, far more? I can think of many -- healing people, teaching people, ministering to people, creating art that inspires them, starting businesses that make useful products that people can’t imagine life without. Personally, I’m glad some people take time to do these things, even if they risk other people feeling superior because they are doing these things instead of interacting with their families in the way some people deem proper. And by the way, does working require ignoring your family? Women spend more time interacting with their children now than they did in the 1950s and 1960s, even though the vast majority of mothers work now, and far fewer than half did then.
Likewise, could it be possible that getting joy from a paycheck -- which gives you the ability to support your children, whatever happens with their father -- need not preclude also enjoying hugs? And dandelions? It is a caricature that ambitious people don’t enjoy clementines, as the Real Simple editor’s letter implied, and likewise, in 168 hours, there is space for many things. Today I made a big pancake breakfast with my kids. We played outside with the tricycles and the dandelions. We spent time observing the patterns water makes as it runs through the flower petals on the driveway. Very relaxed. And I worked today, too.
I find that life is more fun when you see lots of possibilities beyond narrow arguments. Because narrow arguments can get us in trouble. If missing a soccer game makes you a bad parent, that’s a problem, because you can chuck all paid work and other commitments from your life and still miss a soccer game because your other kid has a gymnastics meet. So it goes. Things are seldom black and white.
In other news: Check out Daily Worth founder Amanda Steinberg’s WSJ piece on her desire for “self-funded princesses.”
Photo courtesy flickr user Acutance