Points of view change as we age. Meaning, how we assess ourselves, others, and society shifts as we grow older.
Aging’s like ascending a mountain. At birth, we’re at ground level. As children, we climb higher, but not so high as to hurt ourselves when we fall. During emerging adulthood, we rise higher, nevertheless, and can be injured if we plummet. Midlife, we’re farther up the mount. As oldsters, we rise even higher.
With each increase in elevation, our perspective improves. As babies, we see nothing except the feet of the people who care for us. As children, we see their knees. As teens, we see their eyes. We achieve even more height in early adulthood.
However, in approaching life’s pinnacle, we lose sight, literally, of the levels below. We can scout a greater distance than can youth, but, simultaneously, we cease to be able to behold the details of earlier echelons. At the zenith, minutia merge; individual trees appear as copses and particular dunes look like random bits of arid land.
Almost all facets of life seem different as we transverse years’ heights. My lifetime’s shifting perspective on women’s work, for example, illuminates how viewpoint changes with age.
When I was a child in the 1960s, women were “moms” and “housewives.” Whereas many middle class ladies hired part-time help for ironing clothing, washing windows, etc., in spite of that assistance, their identities were linked to their management of their homes. No one asked women about educational or employment aspirations.
However, by the time that I was a graduate student in the 1980s, the Second Wave of the Women’s Movement had surged. Women conversed about studies and professions. They were attempting to ape men in status and dress. Most career ladies, who crusaded to become managers or other experts, donned pantsuits and enrolled their offspring in childcare.
I was a young woman who liked words and people and who wished to teach people about words, so I became a rhetoric professor. Yet, in academia, it was supposed that whereas young, female professors might marry (older female faculty had been discouraged from similar commitments—they were expected to be married to their work), they certainly wouldn’t have children. Sequencing (life priorities) was not yet popular. At the time, all the same, female professors were asked to make inequitable sacrifices.
Nonetheless, akin to many women of my generation, I had no intention to work full-time once I had children. Caring for home and hearth was still, in my esteem, the ultimate occupation.
In the 1990s, when my children were born, the Third Wave of Feminism was coursing. Accordingly, later, younger colleagues would criticize me for taking a fourteen year hiatus before seeking to return full-time to the university classroom and my program of research (I renewed my academic pursuits in 2004, delivering my research to a sociology conference in Washington D.C. and to a communication ethics meeting in Pittsburgh.)
As a stay-at-home mom, my life had been filled with Queen Anne’s lace crowns and mud cakes, slumber parties that involved four children, three cats, and blowing bubbles until almost ten at night. During that span, I pursued additional “women’s work.” Namely, I learned herbal medicine, belly dancing, and basket weaving.
Basket weaving proved to be a traditional men’s art. Herbal medicine was revealed to be the province of both genders. Belly dancing, though, was confirmed to be a female activity, not so much as a means to entice men but as a means to ease labor pains.
While I engaged in those “womanly” pursuits, my children grew in critical and creative thinking skills, and, more crucially, in their deportment with other folks. I’m appreciative that I remained focused on them for nearly a decade and a half.
In 2005, my family merited to make aliyah. We moved to Israel, a land where it is standard for women to work (regard both kibbutzim’s communal children’s houses and the need for double incomes that is created by the local high cost of living.) Even so, Computer Cowboy and I decided that I would accept no more than part-time hours so that I could help our children with their klita as my man was globetrotting to solve work-related crises and as our sons and daughters needed at least one parent to join them in being culturally confounded.
Today, my family’s seventeen years beyond our landing at Ben Gurion. My grown kids are part of the generation that takes it for granted that women work outside of the home, maternity leave excepted.
One daughter, who is blessed to have many children of her own, remains a high school teacher and administrator. One son supports the dreams of his girlfriend, a lawyer intent on becoming a judge. Another daughter, too, is a lawyer and can’t see abandoning the career for which she arduously trained (she’s licensed here as well as abroad) to “babysit” offspring. Similarly, our youngest, who’s already in his mid-twenties, anticipates marrying a wife who works full-time.
As years passed, I ultimately lost interest in again embracing full-time scholarship. Instead, a paragraph here and a page or two there led me offtrack to full-time writing. Fulfilling book contracts, Baruch Hashem, is my current trade.
Nonetheless, my “lack of “professional dedication” continues to be questioned. Not only had my university associates articulated incredulity that I left “the sacred halls” to tend to children but my own scions can’t accept that I prioritized them over a hard-earned career.
Be that as it may, I can’t believe that friends or family audaciously poke(d) at my choices. I guess their outlooks are more limited than mine. The higher that aging blesses me to move upward, the more that I reckon that any specific type of family/work balance never did and never will fit all.