Sunday, April 22, 2007

Career or Family?

"...the problem is that when I go around and speak on campuses, I still don't get young men standing up and saying, 'How can I combine career and family?' "
-Gloria Steinem

This subject has come up twice in the past two days, from two close friends, and I think it merits a blog post. This issue is no less important in other careers, but I feel that ESPECIALLY in international development, women have some tough choices to make.

See, it's the international part that causes trouble. It's in one part an exciting homecoming (in some ways I have felt more alive/relaxed/comfortable living overseas than I ever have state-side) and one part excruciating, especially as parent's age, family members get married, friends move on and biological clocks tick tick tick away.

Mostly, it's the last one I've had friends secretly admit fear about. As one friend put it, "I don't want to have an exciting career but end up being 38 years old and alone." As a result, I see her limiting her job options - and she's only 27. This makes me so irritated, I can't even wrap my mind around it - why should women be so afraid to be 38 and alone? You're only as alone as you feel, right? Better to be alone and happy than in a failing marriage, right, RIGHT?

Sigh. I wish it was as simple as that. Of course, we all know that society and (sigh) our only biological clocks, have other ideas.

My friend A. was recently awarded a prestigious fellowship to study in Senegal for up to a year. She told me yesterday that she was trying to get it paired down to 6 months, because as she put it "I spent my 22, 23, and 24th year in Africa. I don't want to turn 30 there."

Again, I must say, I completely understand where these women are coming from and I don't begrudge them their own decisions. We are all in charge of our own happiness, of course. But I don't seem to be hearing these same sentiments from my male friends. In fact, considering the huge amount of emotional capital women spend dissecting their career moves, the men that I know are strangely silent on this topic. Do they think twice about going overseas? Do they wonder who will stay and take care of their parents? When and at what age to have kids?

I don't look down upon my lady friends who have chosen to stop their careers and have kids - just the same as I love my divorced or 40-and-fabulously-single friends. All us women deal with this subject in the way that we think is going to optimally affect us.

I do think, however, that a few of us make these life choices out of fear (ie, if I don't marry this guy, what happens if another one doesn't come along?) and perhaps rushed things just to have "everything perfect." Or perhaps turn down career opportunities for the simple fact that being 38 and alone is just so unfathomable an outcome that everything must be done to prevent it.


Emira said...

I find it rather funny that somehow to have a family you have to have a man. My favorite professor that has inspired my dissertation and has kept me going when things seemed lost, is a single mom. A single mom that adopted. She has the most beautiful family there is. Why can't we be satisfied with ourselves, our children, our siblings, our sibling's children???

Why does everything, everything have to revolve around a man to share it with. I am sick and tired of thinking that I have to make a choice before my eggs go bad. My eggs are good until at least 38 and by the time I reach 38, they'll probably extend their shelf life even more. So, why worry. Why not spend your 30th b-day in a foreign country? Why not do something for yourself, by yourself, even though you are 30 or 38. This life is yours, and only yours, so why not make the best out of it.

Family, what the hell, I already have one, my dad, mom, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins. It's more family than anyone could want. Why does everything have to be yours, my family, my husband, my kids. There is time for that, you just have to make it. And, finally, what is it about choosing between family and career? You can have it all, and eat your cake too, on your 38th birthday.

Loves ya much.

Mtanga said...

Thanks, Em, I appreciate it. But the thing is, I don't really believe that we CAN have it all and our sanity at the same time. I think that's a perpetuated myth sold to young girls via sparkly purple and pink Lisa Frank stickers that read "Girl Power!"
What I wish they said was - you can live the life you want, but it takes guts.

And while I think it's sad that in some ways it's devolved into this 'either/or' situation, I don't really think you can do both without both suffering. That's not to say that they would both be awful, but neither would be as good as if you spent your entire time on it. This maxim works on most things (ever tried to drive and talk on a cell? Watch TV and work on a term paper?)

Maybe I should just be happy with the family I have now - and happy with the family of friends I've built up around me.

But there are CHOICES, real, honest and difficult choices dealing with career, location, family, etc, that I think women specifically are called to make every day, in tiny increments. And they all add up to a life.

I didn't really think this blog through when I wrote it - I guess I was just trying to express how much these choices affect us as women, and how unfair it is to have to turn down a job in an exciting part of the world because you're afraid your eggs will go bad. :(

Oh, and how married people are pretty much the smuggest people EVER.

Megan said...

Ouch. That's a tagline that really blows away anything I might've said.

Anonymous said...

That cuts pretty deep... but I can't control what you think or how you feel. What I can control is what I have to say about it. And that is this:

I can't speak for every married person in the world, but I can say that I did not get married to make you feel bad. Nor do I flaunt it, rub your face in it, or go out of my way to make you feel like a bad person because I'm married and your not. I refuse to apologize for it because I've done nothing wrong.

I just hope you remember when you are married some day how you've completely alienated your married friends by victimizing yourself.

Mtanga said...

You're absolutely right, I don't believe that married people exist to rub it in my face. I don't care if you're married, single, gay or have a peg leg. (In fact, a peg leg might be fun). I don't choose to be victimized by them, either.

But what I DO chafe at is when married people give me unsolicited advice about my relationships, couching it in the tone of 'well, I'm married now so I have all the secrets of a good relationship.' We all know that that is crap, so please stop preaching to me. I don't think for one moment that getting married makes a person have it all figured out, and understandably, I get irritated when someone tries to sell me that baloney. I'm living MY life to the best of MY ability according to MY standards/beliefs. Go take your perfect marriage and life somewhere else.

I'll admit, I cut the swath a little wide there with that last comment and I apologize. I'm irritated about a specific event and a specific person, I just didn't want to name names.

Oh, and I am 100% sure I'll change my mind - but that's part of life.

Megan said...

...well, nonetheless, I cringe at the thought of ever offering advice to you again. Or mentioning my husband. Or relationships in general. Or work, or career, or family, or life, or anything that could be construed as advice, solicited or otherwise.

My comment stands: ouch. It still hurts.