We came out of college ambitions ablaze. This was the 1960s and 70s. We weren't going to be our mothers. Even though the culture and our parents told us otherwise, we went out and got interesting jobs--jobs our mother's couldn't even dream of. One of my college friends got a public relations job at Lincoln Center. Another did research for a consulting firm. I was a letter's correspondent for Time Magazine, answering reader complaints about Time's coverage of the Vietnam War or its cinema reviews.
Then we married, had children and realized how easy it had been to be trailblazers when we were young and unencumbered. When, and if, we tried to go back to work, there were no supports for us--no reasonably priced day care or after-school programs, no cultural acceptance or parental encouragement.
I had coffee the other day with my friend Sue who I've known for decades. We reminisced about how it had been in the 1960s and 70s. She talked about how, when her first child was 8 months old, she decided to take a part-time job. Although her husband was supportive, her parents and his parents were not. They drove from their homes in suburban New York to her apartment in downtown Washington D.C. to dissuade her, telling her that her baby son would suffer from her "neglect," that she was being a bad mother. "I was part of a woman's support group--we were 5 neighbors who were also stay-at-home mom," Sue recalled. "We talked through the guilt and conflicts we faced if went to work or to graduate school, and that's what saved me." She took that part-time job, had another child and went on to start her own successful management consulting business. Two of the women in her group became lawyers, another also started her own business.
When Sue's sons married, one of the brides was in medical school; the other, an investment banker. When her daughters-in-law had children there was, Sue says, no question they would continue their careers.
In my family, my daughter, like Sue's daughters-in-law, never questioned that, once she had my beautiful little Grand, she would take her hard-earned PhD and continue to become the professor and writer she wanted to be. My daughter-in-law took a different path: She had been a bank manager but now she loves being a stay-at-home mom to three children. She takes her work as seriously as my daughter takes hers.
We have come a long way, even if our daughters and granddaughter are sometimes knocked about by glass ceilings and under paid or are dismissed for being a homemaker. One proof of how far we've come: When our daughters and granddaughters hear about how it was for us, they can't believe it was ever so. But it was. We moved the needle a little bit. That's our gift to them.
READERS: What sort of experience did you have as a young mom re-entering the work world or deciding to be a stay-at-home mother. I welcome your comments here or send me an email.