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Modern Motherhood: Is Freedom its Own Trap?

There’s a new book out that examines the struggles of modern-day motherhood, particularly those tied to our careers. TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood is an anthology of essays edited by Samantha Parent Walravens. I’ve not yet read the book, but Deborah Netburn’s review in the L.A. Times caught my attention because of my recent post on the emotional challenges of motherhood. According to Netburn, the book is a compilation of:

47 essays by women of different ages, income brackets and in various stages of their careers. What binds the writers together is that they are all mothers, and (almost) all of them struggle with the choices they’ve made. … most of the essays underscore what modern moms already know —  achieving a balance between career goals and parenting goals is generally impossible, and all you can do is your best. It’s not a new thought, and Walravens admits she had trouble selling the book. “The big publishers were like, motherhood’s been done and anthologies don’t sell,” she said. But the point that nobody actually has it all is made all the more compelling when it is made by a choir of voices.

Neal Pollack, columnist for Vanity Fair and author of Alternadad and Stretch, says of the book:

TORN is a poignant look at how a generation of mothers is trying to forge its own identity while honoring the legacy of 60s and 70s feminism. Sometimes freedom can be its own trap, and this book illustrates that principle beautifully.

I appreciate Pollack’s review, but I prefer thinking of freedom as a double-edged sword, not a trap. Modern moms simply need to be savvy when wielding freedom’s sword. Earlier this spring I interviewed Jill Savage, author, speaker, and chief executive of Hearts at Home, and she pointed out that moms today often set unreasonable expectations for themselves as they decide what to do with the boundless opportunities available. We’re also seeing a highly educated generation of mothers, she noted–women now have degrees far more advanced than they did in the 1950s, for instance. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 1997-1998, women earned 43 percent of all professional degrees; by 2007-2008, that number jumped to 50 percent. In terms of doctorates, women earned just 42 percent of them in 1997-1998, and 10 years later, they were earning 51 percent of all such degrees.

Savage offers an optimistic takeaway for all moms:

I think you are starting to get moms who say, ‘I can have it all. I just don’t want to have it all at once.’ I think that’s very key to balance for women, and those that are really trying to have it all end up [with] a greater level of stress than we’ve ever experienced. … More women are saying I could have a career and raise my family [but] I don’t want to do both, because I can’t give my best [to both].

To help set her family-and-career priorities, Savage identifies what she can do later in life:

You can’t go back and parent again–you are only given one time to do that, and [identifying] that has really helped me. I have been asked to speak internationally on two different occasions in the coming year, and I have turned both down because my youngest is a freshman in high school. I can speak internationally for the rest of my life but I can’t go back and raise him again, and that has helped me prioritize what I can and cannot do. … When I start to think of my kids as interruptions, I know things are getting out of balance for me. And I have to turn things around.

Different Ways of Wielding Freedom’s Sword

I recently interviewed several of my friends and family members–all moms–about these issues. Two stay at home with their children, and two work outside the home full-time. They offer differing takes on the challenges they face as they try to balance their careers and family lives. In the next few posts I’ll be offering a closer look at their experiences, all of which I believe underscore what Savage suggested: Women are beginning to realize that you can have it all, but not all at once.

If you’re interested in sharing your stories, please contact me.

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6 Comments
  1. I can definately see the difficulties facing women with balancing work life and home life. I am able to see this first hand with my wife having to to back to work and the sorrow and guilt associated with having to be away from her young children. I wonder if there are any support groups for women struggling with these similar situations?

    • Hi Jeff–you raise a great point about support groups. I’ll look into that and get back to you. Guilt is a big deal for moms, I think, and we need to do more to help quell it. I don’t feel like God intends for guilt to be so much a part of motherhood–it rather steals some of our joy. Thanks for the feedback.

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