Choices, like every other thing in life, are often irreversible and consequential. They do not always allow avoiding mistakes but it almost always results in personal growth. Human error is inevitable. But it comes with the chance to learn.
I came to think about a woman’s choice to domestic life. A good friend of mine, early thirties, Eastern European, career woman by day, miserable divorce by night, asked me one day, “What do you think of women wanting to become house wives? After all their education, work and self-actualization in society – they consciously choose the role of being a stay-at-home mom?”
Feminism has forced us, the women of the 21st century, to look down on domestic life. Our great grandmothers had clawed and bled to give us the freedom and opportunity to study and compete alongside men, to speak our mind and be respected for our thoughts – it seems only fair for us to revel in self-actualization and avoid domesticating ourselves after marriage (if we marry at all!).
Or is it?
Before marriage (or any other lifetime commitment), we all learned how to stand on our own two feet. My priority is me. I must learn effectively and efficiently the ‘how to-s’ of surviving the competition. To be independent and even dependable financially, professionally, intellectually – all aspects regarded as direct contribution to the social system.
But after marriage, naturally things took a turn.
On those days of scrubbing and paying the bills, I have gained respect to both lives. My life as someone’s companion and my life as someone’s co-worker. It is just as hard to maintain a healthy relationship with food on the table, deep conversations over coffee, who cleans what, when, and which space is whose. That of dreams, wonders, fears, plans, sincerity and sharing is, to me, as hard as, if not harder than, working overtime due to a hardcore deadline and presenting a proposal the next morning in a language not your native.
It is, then, a matter of priority. Priorities shift with time and is relative with each person. Each person possesses different sets of framework and each cannot be imposed on the other. That’s the art of it. A woman letting go of her chances to become productive in society to raise a child 24-7 is not less than those who choose career. She dedicates her life to the betterment of another’s without easily acknowledged personal advantage. Such sincerity and courage is not to be looked down on. A woman letting go of her chances to give birth or raise a child to be useful for hundreds or even thousands of other people is not be looked down by those who choose to raise a family. She dedicates her life to the betterment of others whom she might not gain advantage from. Such sincerity and courage is not to be looked down on.
Then there’s someone like my mother. Who does both and juggles her life as a leader and her life as a mother to a teenager going through what might be the roughest time in his life. A woman who lives with the thought of not being able to give 100% to either roles, regardless of how good the results are, is also not less than either choices. Such sincerity and courage is not to be looked down on.
Neither is less than on the other is just as true as the expressing ‘none the wiser’. They are all equals with trials and errors and learning and failing – strength is too relative to judge with limited indicators. At the end of the day, I think as mothers and mothers-to-be, we need to decide the consequences we can live with. Which choices we can fully embrace, along with is pros and cons, worst case scenarios, and what-have-yous. After all, becoming a mother is about choice. And choices are with but one characteristic.
You can never have it all.
PhD candidate, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia
Lecturer, Universitas Indonesia
Mother of Malik, 20 months