The One Time I Agree with Hillary.

Last week, an article appeared on the Huffington Post entitled “Grown and Flown: Why I Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom.” It’s the latest salvo in the tug-of-war between mothers seeking to validate (or invalidate) their life choices. The writer, Lisa Endlich Heffernan, quit her corporate job at the age of 33 because, in her words, her family life was “hopelessly out of control.” Two decades later, she reflects on this decision and feels “real remorse.”

I’ve now read this piece three or four times, and a few things continue to bother me.

If I could wind back the tape, have a do-over, what would I have done differently? Looking on at my grown and nearly-grown sons, I am grateful for the gift of time we had. Yet, I wish I had tried to keep a finger, a toe or a hand in the working world to ease an eventual return. I did not have a job well suited to part-time work, and work at home was technologically impossible at the time. But, the solution required imagination, not capitulation, and with hindsight, I would have recognized that over time, my parenting and career would both ebb and flow, but neither would — nor should — ever end.

Despite the title of the piece, Heffernan states pretty clearly that she doesn’t regret staying home with her sons. What she DOES regret is closing the door entirely on her corporate career, not leaving herself an escape hatch through which to return later. The piece is filled with memories of her former job (which may have been whitewashed by time), in which she worked with cutting-edge technology in a fast-paced environment, where her education and intellect were prized, and where she surrounded by a pleasingly diverse crop of people. Now she feels all her former coolness, hipness, with-it-ness is gone, sucked away by decades at the domestic grindstone.

There’s a term for this. It’s called “mid-life crisis.”

This phenomenon has been recognized in men for decades. The sports car purchase, the new trophy wife, the sudden and overwhelming desire for relevancy through acquisition – it’s a joke now. I believe that something similar is happening to women like Heffernan, but because they don’t have a framework for dealing with these feelings (even a stereotypical one), they flounder.

Quite frankly, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to take away from Heffernan’s story. She claims she is deeply dissatisfied, yet wouldn’t do much different if she had the chance. She claims she should have kept a finger in the corporate world she left, but also admits that options that would help NOW (like working part-time or telecommuting) were simply not available when she quit.

You know what I call it when my kids raise complaints without offering reasonable solutions?

Whining.

This brings me to Hillary. Clinton, that is. In an October, 2012 interview with Marie Claire, Clinton said something that I want printed on t-shirts:

I can’t stand whining. I can’t stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they’re not happy with the choices they’ve made. You live in a time when there are endless choices. … Money certainly helps, and having that kind of financial privilege goes a long way, but you don’t even have to have money for it. But you have to work on yourself. … Do something!

Thanks to the work of prior generations, women DO live in a world with almost endless choices. But the simple truth is that every choice we make extinguishes other choices we might have made, due to finite time and resources. And it’s very easy, and tempting, to look back and imagine that if we’d just made Choice B, our lives would be better, happier, more attractive. Heffernan is wasting her finite time imagining the road not taken.

My second issue with the piece is Heffernan’s obliviousness. She complains that she let down generations of feminists because she chose to perform child-rearing and domestic tasks. She complains about using her driver’s license more than her degree. She feels that these activities dulled her intellect, limited her worldview, and (oh, the horror!) infused her marriage with a “faint 1950s whiff.”

Look. Someone has to watch the children. Someone has to pick up the dry cleaning. Someone has to do the laundry, and vacuum, and cook, and dust. Someone has to use their driver’s license to get the kids to school, and soccer practice, and piano lessons. It irritates me when self-proclaimed feminists deride these tasks as sexist and degrading….. and then hire another woman to perform them. If a woman chooses to become a nanny or work at a day care, has she let down generations of feminists? If a woman chooses to clean the houses of wealthy navel-gazers, is her life tainted with a “faint 1950s whiff?”

There are not enough hours in the day, or dollars in the bank, to have all possible choices available to you at all times. Heffernan seems to think her feelings of being “outdated,” or losing the ambition she had in her 20s, are the product of her stay-at-home-mom decades. But I’d bet that most 50-year-olds would nod along to her fear of growing obsolete.

I’m 33 now, and I feel outdated. I don’t wear skinny jeans or have a Twitter account. My iPhone confounds me on an embarrassingly regular basis. I look back fondly on the ambition I had when I graduated college, but I can also still remember the emotional roller-coaster of my early 20s.

Go back? No thanks.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The One Time I Agree with Hillary.

  1. Katya

    Windy! this is awesome! esp the idea that we don’t have a “framework for dealing with these feelings (even a stereotypical one)” and so we flounder. This is key and you lay it out so clearly! I’ve been following this whole ‘can we have it all’ debate pretty closely and I’m not sure anyone has actually brought up this point. go publish it somewhere! How about a letter huff post?

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