As I approach the end of my first pregnancy, I wonder if my life as a new mother in 2009 will really be better than those of my grandmothers 65 years ago. With opportunities for women at an all-time high, is life easier than it was in 1944? What I wholeheartedly believe is that my grandmother’s generation did so much more with so much less.
My grandmothers, Katie and Helena, were World War II wives and stay at home mothers. They spent the early years of marriage and motherhood with fears that their husbands may never return from the battlefields. They went through their pregnancies with their husbands overseas, lived with extended family, and worked in factories until they could “set up housekeeping” when their husbands returned. Yet all of the wisdom that I gleaned from my grandparents tells me that their difficult lives were actually simpler and happier than our own today. They had fewer choices, more faith, and less time to worry about themselves and their psyches.
They raised healthy, happy, productive citizens, and they did it without all of the things that I have at my disposal today. They did it without internet message boards, play dates, cell phones, and psychopharmaceutical drugs. They did it without dishwashers, disposable diapers, and pre-natal yoga. They didn’t go to therapists, watch Oprah, or have existential crises every few years. Their kitchen ware was for actual use, and it certainly did not come from a Williams Sonoma bridal registry. They didn’t have ovulation kits. IVF, or ultrasounds that told them the gender of their unborn children, and they didn’t have the Super Nanny to teach them how to control their own children via time outs. As expectant and young mothers, they didn’t obsess about the possibilities of ADD and Autism.
I look at my modern day friends and I don’t see women who have it all: I see them struggling to balance motherhood, wifehood, and womanhood. I see women who take meds to help them cry less and sleep more. I see women who wish they could afford to stay home and raise their kids.
We work full time, go to the gym, earn master’s degrees, pay to have our groceries delivered, get take out for dinner, and we never feel that we are doing enough. Advancement in one area equals deficiency in another. Maybe our houses are a mess, our marriages need attention, or our children are closer to their day care providers than they are to us. Maybe our parents gave up retirement plans so that they could raise our kids and we can go to work.
In 2008, I have it all: a beautiful house, a 2-car garage complete with two cars; advanced degrees and a teaching career, not to mention a healthy, loving husband. So why am I writing this? Because at night after I have logged off my pregnancy message board and done my last downward facing dog of the day, I think about my grandmothers and how they did so much with so little.
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