As most everyone reading this blog knows, several of our daughters also have blogs—much more popular and well-read than ours. When you have a public “mommy blog,” there are real trade offs. On the one hand you may influence others for good, spread good family or marriage or parenting ideas, and give other moms a community where they can commiserate about the ups and downs of raising kids and maybe feel a little less lonely in the process.
But you also open yourself to a lot of criticism and misunderstood motives, and you become subject to “snarking” from those who enjoy judging others and tearing down lifestyles and perspectives that they don’t agree with.
As the husband and dad of family bloggers, I see a lot of this judgment and criticism, both in the comments that sometimes appear on their blogs, and on “snark sites” which are totally devoted to going after bloggers, often with words so rude and so anonymous that they would never be said in person or with a name attached.
I usually ignore these, as do Linda and our daughters, but sometimes, truth be told, I read and even enjoy them because the more intelligent comments can give some new perspectives and make me aware of other viewpoints very different from my own.
I saw a comment the other day though, that just couldn’t be ignored—partly because it gives me reason to say something I’ve been looking for an opportunity to express. The comment went like this:
“The Eyre's daughters and daughters in law…all seem to be bright, competent women; just think what they could contribute to the larger world if they expanded themselves from being good girls in this family and ventured outside their domestic roles. “
Well, first of all each of our daughters have expanded themselves far beyond our family and their domestic roles in all sorts of ways. But embodied in this comment, I believe, is a deep misunderstanding of marriage, of parenting, of children, and of life. The assumption it makes is that the way to gender equality is for for women to live life and play roles more like men. To be equal, the reasoning goes, women must do exactly the same things as men and prioritize the things men have traditionally done in society.
Wait a minute: If equality and sameness were actually synonyms, it would mean that, to be equal, a corporate vice president of marketing would have to do exactly the same things as the corporate vice president of research and development. This view ignores the fact that very different people, playing very different roles, can be equal in every important respect.
But the problem with this blog comment is even deeper than that. It assumes that the way to improve a woman’s life—the way for her to find her greatest fulfillment and make her greatest contribution—is to “get out into the world—make money—climb the corporate ladder—succeed professionally.”
What if this was all horribly and totally backwards? What if the greatest fulfillment and joy and the most important contribution was raising children and developing loving and lasting family relationships? And what if everything else in life was supplemental and supportive of those goals.? What if C. S. Lewis was right when he said, “The homemaker is the ultimate career; all other careers exist to support that ultimate career”? What if the more happiness-and-fulfillment-producing thing we could do was not trying to move women toward the traditional roles of man, but to move men toward the traditional roles of women?
I can tell you one thing: No one, on their deathbed has ever said “Oh, how I wish I had spent a little more time at the office with my co workers.” The regrets, and we see them all the time with the Baby Boomer generation we work with, are for not devoting enough time and effort and energy to relationships and to family. For so many, the realization comes too late—that their real legacy is not their professional accomplishments but their familial relationships—their children, their grandchildren, and the time and traditions and love they have built. How they wish they had understood it sooner and devoted themselves more to it.
One of the great ironies of the women’s movement is that as it has focused on making women more like men, more and more men have begun to realize that they actually want to be more like women in the sense of being heavily involved and invested with their kids, devoting themselves to prioritizing and building a strong family, and understanding that their work and careers are not ends in themselves but the means by which they can obtain and support strong families.
More and more men as well as women today get it that if all their thought and effort goes into their job they are missing not only the most joyous part of life but the most lasting part. We are figuring out that it makes more sense to work to live than it does to live to work. Careers are important, but they are a means rather than an end.
So when someone says “Too bad your capable daughters haven’t used their smarts and their talents to make a name for themselves or to reach recognized professional success,” I just say thank goodness they knew there was something more important than that—and thank goodness their husbands knew the same thing. Thank goodness they are trying to work as real partnerships to raise great kids and value their work and careers as the support mechanism for their families.
And by the way, it’s not either-or. Single parents as well as couples can, if it is their goal, find ways to contribute and make a difference in the broader world even as they put their own family first. Most readers know of Saydi’s contributions as a Social Worker and she and Shawni’s photography professions; and you know of Charity’s and Saren’s work in education and Saren’s worldwide organization and Power of Mom’s website. No question they could do more and devote more time and energy to career and profession. And no question that Linda could have had a much more extensive music career if she had not made the choice to prioritize her children and her family. And let me go a step further: Each of their husbands (including me) could have made more money and had more titles if we had been willing to put work above family and to think of family supporting the career rather than the other way around. But that is just the point. We choose not to. And it is a choice more people, men and women are making today than ever before.
Is all this a nostalgia for Ozzie and Harriet, for Leave it to Beaver, for the way life was and the rigid roles of men and women in the 50s? Of course not. In a way it is the exact opposite—it is looking to the future rather than to the past—it is recognizing that a type of equal marital partnership, based on commitment and mutual agreement to prioritize children and family solidarity is more possible today than it has ever been before and that the rewards of putting family at the center and seeing all other aspects as support mechanisms are both momentary and long-term.
This is also, by the way, a great framework in which to fit faith. If we see our families—our marriages, our children, and our extended family relationships as the most important and highest priority of our lives—as the goal or “end” for which we are striving, then we are likely to see all other aspects of our lives as the “means” or the support mechanisms that will get us there. So not only is career a means, so are our churches, and our communities, and our schools—and even our hobbies and our passions and our sports and our music.
So, with all due respect to those who see things differently, when someone says "Too bad your daughters didn't do all they could for the world," I say "Oh yes they did, and oh yes they are, and oh, if only you knew them!"