We Can Have It All…Not by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan
It is so fascinating to read books or watch films that I enjoyed before I became a mother. I still remember the pre-motherhood thinking I had before I had my daughter. The judgements of how I would do “it” better, e.g. I would not have bratty kids…ha. (Who doesn’t have bratty kids some days, right. I am talking to real moms here, so I know, that you know, what development stages I’m remembering…and of course what I have to look forward to as well.)
The other thing I remember distinctly about my pre-motherhood life is the naive notion that I could have it all. That I would seamlessly and effortless blend motherhood, marriage and career. Wow, what a big load of… Yeah, right. Now this is the thought that brings me back to the film that I watched last night. Mona LIsa Smile, a 2004 vehicle for Julia Roberts and four other actress who have gone on to have great careers: Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ginnifer Goodwin. This film was made before Roberts became a mother and also before one other actress, Maggie Gyllenhaal become a mom. I wonder what Roberts and Gyllenhaal would have to say about this film now that they are moms.
The logline from IMBd for the film is: “A free-thinking art professor teaches conservative 50’s Wellesley girls to question their traditional societal roles.” But, the film is so much more. Really it’s a statement about what women should want; that somehow motherhood and marriage is not enough. That women aren’t living up to their potential if they are striving for motherhood and marriage. Can I say that I loved this movie when I saw it for the first time at the theater, which was before I was dating my husband and I had pretty much given up thinking I would ever have a baby. At the time, I was thinking of adopting an older child. I was teaching high school full time and I had a cute little house down the road from my mother in rural Arizona. All that to say, this film really resonated with me, hell I was the target audience. And it wrecked me.
Fast forward to reconnecting with friends on Facebook and considering the lives of many of my closest college friends, many of whom are or were stay-at-home mothers and most of whom have college degrees (BAs and MAs). How to reconcile the feminist movement and the choice that women are still making to have motherhood as their top priority even when their minds are highly educated; even when there are career paths to be taken or that have been pursued. When one considers the later mother, this issue of letting motherhood takeover one’s life becomes even more interesting. Even though having a career is very important for many women, having a career may not be enough.
I believe biology is a driving force for women and men as well. The tick tock of the baby clock gets louder and louder the older women get and though I have friends who are unmarried and without children, I know that a number of them would have liked a different path. Biology is real and somehow feminism has dismissed this.
Well, I am stuck now. I have my soapbox out and I am firmly planted there, but where I am really headed with this post? I could go on and on and on about the state of motherhood, but do I really want to here or now? I think what I am really wanting say is that if mothers really want to blend motherhood, marriage and career then some real changes need to happen since we are living in a society that is rather unfriendly to mothers. Wow, isn’t the brain an amazing thing because I am back to the book I recently read entitled The Price of Motherhood, why the most important job in the world is still the least valued by Ann Crittenden.
Mona Lisa Smile while in one way empowers young women to want more, it also negates the notion of how important motherhood is in and of itself—we are making human capital that makes GDP go. Crittenden’s book really changed how I viewed my interior conflict about wanting to be a mother and wanting a high-powered career. Something’s got to give and for me it has turned out to be my career as I consistently make choices that put family life first.
As a filmmaker, I am reminded again how powerful the medium is and I want to somehow address the issues I raise in this post in my film work. The conflict I am feeling also seems to have a choke-hold on the current script I am working on entitled Adagio, which explores a wife and mother’s pursuit to bring her work as a composer and conductor to fruition. I am stuck. What I wanted to say years ago before I was a mother is not what I want to say now that I have become a mom. The question is: what do I want to say about motherhood and career and the career of being a mother? I am still trying to figure this out. It’s probably why I can’t write at the moment. It’s a puzzle that I want to solve in my mind before I commit the story to script. Maybe I can’t solve it and my script will show that. It’s so interesting to be a writer, because here again, I seem to be writing this post for me.
No pithy wrap up, just the sound of Tom and Jerry in the background as I type away here at my computer…
Disclaimer: I am not making a value statement with this post for stay-at-home moms or working moms. I happen to be a working mom, who has worked full-time and part-time and not at all during these past six years of my daughter’s life.