In a recent piece for the Washington Post, Elsa Walsh offers some healthy reflections on motherhood and career, hitting at some of the key themes I pointed to in my recent post on family and vocation.
She begins by discussing her own college-aged feminism, saying, “I wanted to be independent and self-supporting. I wanted love, but I wanted to be free.” With marriage and children, however, her views on freedom, family, and success would eventually change. “I’ve come to question many of the truths I once held dear,” she writes. “The woman I wanted to be at 22 is not the woman I wanted to be at 38 — not even close — and she is certainly not who I am now at 55.”
Tying things to the current discussion about women and career — driven largely by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s popular book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead — Walsh notes that, much like the revolutionary feminism of the 1970s, there’s something narrow and unsatisfying in the way that womanhood and career are currently being discussed:
Every few years, America rightly plunges into a public and heated discussion about women and feminism, work and family. The latest round has been stoked by Sheryl Sandberg, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Marissa Mayer, who have become symbols and participants in the argument over what women want. Yet, I find it to be a narrow conversation, centered largely on work, as though feminism is about nothing more than becoming a smart and productive employee and rising to the top.
Parenthood and family are much more central to our lives than this conversation lets on. The debate has become twisted and simplistic, as if we’re merely trying to figure out how women can become more like men. Instead, let’s ask: How can women have full lives, not just one squeezed around a career?
It helps to take a longer view of a woman’s life.
Focusing specifically on Sandberg’s own views on motherhood and career, Walsh argues that motherhood and family mustn’t be so separated and isolated from our thinking and doing when it comes to career and vocation:
Success, particularly the kind Sandberg calls for, requires ever more time at the office, ever more travel. It requires always being available, always a click away. Sandberg is almost giddy when she describes getting up at 5 a.m. to answer e-mails before her children wake up and getting back on her computer once they are asleep.
“Facebook is available 24/7 and for the most part, so am I,” she writes. “The days when I even think of unplugging for a weekend or a vacation are long gone.”
Imagine what that life looks like to a child. Imagine what it looks like to yourself when you are 80.
That is not how I want my daughter to live, and it is not how I want to live.
This, of course, applies just as well to men on so many levels.
I myself have called for a way forward that involves “integration” or “fusion,” rather than “balance” — a push toward properly ordered, God-centered whole-life discipleship, rather than knee-jerk, earthbound individualism and pleasure-seeking. Over at Fare Forward, Cole Carnesecca recently described such a place as “the meeting point of opportunity and obligation.”
In any case, much like our own “workplace” endeavors, we mustn’t view parenthood as some box to check — some “job” — on a taller ladder of so-called “success.” Like all work, there is transcendent meaning and purpose in parenthood itself.
Or, as Walsh concludes: “Motherhood is not a job. It is a joy.”