So, I’ve never really considered myself much of a feminist- I’ve gone between vehemently hating feminism to almost calling myself one, and now I just avoid the word altogether and replace it with “humanist” because I find it more pacifistic and inclusive. I’ve never found gender to play a significant role in my life and identity… until yesterday.
So, or quite some time, I’ve been having a lot of feelings about my purpose in life, and feeling my time to change the world slipping away. I always thought I felt this way because death is imminent and I wanted to create something lasting before I died.
However, at age 15, my sense of urgency for purpose and meaning seemed a little premature; after all, if everything goes according to plan, I should hopefully be chugging along with full mental capacity for at least another 50 years. So why am I so concerned, in the scheme of my life plan, with accomplishing now?
I was talking to my boyfriend yesterday when I figured it out. Context: we were discussing the hypothetical situation of us having kids and how we would both work and raise them well (we like to discuss hypotheticals more than normal, I think. We are both raging idealists). I realized then, something I’d never thought before: as a woman, I expected a career and child raising to be mutually exclusive; that when I bore my first child, that was it. That would be the end of my productivity.
You see, I was raised in a family with a stay-at-home mother and a full-time working father who rarely spent time with us kids or tried to get to know us. My mother, in contrast, devoted everything to us (and she’s absolutely amazing). As a child and teenager, I’ve always wanted to do for my kids what my mother has done for me. Growing up with a distant father, I figured the parenting role wasn’t something that could be shared; it had to be one parent or the other. I also thought you could pick career or parenthood as a woman, and I would pick parenthood.
My boyfriend comes from a very different family, with a stay-at-home father and a working mother. As we were talking, he began to debunk all of my previous beliefs that I had to choose, and that I couldn’t both be a productive member of society and also be an amazing mother to my children.
Now, I’m not going to equate this to the patriarchal tendencies of our society, because I don’t think that’s what this is about. This is really about the effect that our parents and the way our childhood households work have on our conceptions of the way the world works. As a teenager branching out of home life, I never thought I carried the residue of my familial structure like I do.
This is mostly a lesson in awareness, and learning how to view the way you grew up from an objective lens. Breaking out of our childhood life structure is not an easy thing to do, especially in terms of gender, religion, and certain values or deep-seated beliefs that dictate public and personal life.
This is a process of learning what things you took as a child to be irrevocably true and challenging them. When you find yourself becoming aware of a worry or problem, try to look for the root of it: what, in your life, told you that you couldn’t do something/be someone/believe something?
Whether you decide to accept or reject what you were led to believe is perfectly okay. There are beautiful, important childhood lessons that many people choose to hold onto because they create positive outcomes in adult life. However, there are “truths” that you must eventually break free of and grow out of in order to truly thrive and escape from worries and concerns.
Will I be a working parent? I don’t know. But I do know, now, that I have the option to check both boxes, and I don’t have to mimic my family structure in the future. I still have all that time to be productive and live up to my potential, and I’m not under a 12-year time crunch. And for me, that’s pretty monumental.