New Moms

What I Could have Been, a Mother's Look Back

| by Suzanne Venker

Like most women, I could have been a great many things. Specifically, I think I would have made a great lawyer, talk show host, or restaurant owner. Of course, I didn’t know these would be good careers for me when I was in college. At that age, no one knows himself or herself well enough to know what they’d be good at it (which is why college is a rather dumb idea for an eighteen-year-old, but that’s another subject.) Even if I had known myself well enough, I still wouldn’t have pursued these careers. I knew instinctively they wouldn’t bode well for motherhood, and motherhood was first on my list.

Thus, the problem women have faced since the beginning of time. Who will we be other than mothers? And how will these goals fit in with motherhood? For those who’ve never desired a life outside the home, the conflict is moot. For those who do—which is to say, most of us—it’s front and center. And while I may not have had a solid grasp on which career I’d be best suited for when I was younger, I still knew some of the goals would be out of my reach. If you were to ask a feminist about this, she would quickly assure you this isn’t the case. You can be anything you want, she’d say. Sky’s the limit. You can even be the President of the United States.

Well, yes and no. Technically, I could have been anything I wanted if it suited my personality and drive—no one was going to stop me. On the other hand, I’d pay a huge price. I could have been Oprah if I so desired (not really, but you get the point), but then I wouldn’t have what I do have—which is priceless. I’m referring, of course, to my family.

The issue of work and family, particularly as it pertains to women, gets an inordinate amount of attention in the media. Round and round feminists go, trying to make life fairer for the female sex. They’re like children, feminists. The other day Ann Curry of the Today Show—whom I happen to like very much—was interviewing three women about their choice of mates, and she commented on the fact that “women still make a fraction of what men earn,” suggesting there still isn’t equality between the sexes.

I wanted to reach into the television and shake that woman. Why can’t people understand this basic concept? Women, on the whole, don’t make the same amount of money as men do because they’re choosing not to do the same work. When you compare the minority of women who work at the same job for the same number of hours as men do, women absolutely make the same amount of money as men. But the majority of women don’t choose such a life; they choose to spend the bulk of their energies on children and home. Whatever work they do pursue is almost always pursued with this other goal in mind. Thus, women sequence their lives: they move in and out of the workforce as time allows, which gives them greater flexibility and allows them to be fully engaged at home. This is why women “make a fraction of what men earn.” It’s also the reason I never pursued a career that would take me away from my number-one goal: motherhood. I knew early on that these two worlds would conflict, and I chose a life that allowed me to be physically present in my children’s lives.

Women can do one of two things about the inherent conflict between work and family: complain, or embrace what life does offer them. I may not be a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom, or a constant presence on television, but what I do have is far better. I have peace, serenity, happy children, and a sideline career. In addition, I have time. Time to myself, time for my marriage, time for my friends, and time to sleep.

How many truly successful women (if, by success, we mean money and prestige) can say this same thing?