Partnerships can be more egalitarian
The recent pictures on a friend’s Facebook post include a grandchild, and the year before a big wedding, grinning bride and groom, and a big wedding party. Edie, the mom/grandmom who is my friend, was beaming, too.
That friend, Edie, has had three marriages, the first one when she was pregnant. Another friend, Carol, was a single mom by choice, like me, and the third friend was a single mom after her divorce.
It’s early. There is no guarantee of this wedding’s longevity. But the other friends I’ve mentioned have adult children with 15-year and 10-year marriages going. The length of a marriage doesn’t equal success, but it does say something about how the culture and expectations around us have changed.
Those of us who are baby boomer women, and maybe Gen-X too, struggled with redefining ourselves to have careers and families. Men were also hit with changes in how they were supposed to act, but was contradictory: be successful, be strong, be an equal partner, and not be authoritarian.
One friend got married barefoot on the beach, another had a potluck reception. We considered that normal, the way to afford weddings. We might wear wildflowers in our hair, or simply shack up with our old men and old ladies (who are now old men and old ladies).
I thought the rom-coms that ended happily ever after and with a big wedding were real.
We were advocating for women’s rights, but we weren’t so good at living them. How could we be? I didn’t know what equality in a marriage looked like, or what a partnership that wasn’t based on 1950s values should be.
When I looked at those happy pictures last night — an attractive young woman with a distinguished job title, a one-year-old baby, and a handsome husband — I saw the Facebook version of what I am sure is a daily struggle.
But hopefully, like my son and his wife, they are living out a family with an involved father, a mother with a solid career, and a relatively good life in the middle of a crazy world. They have already experienced, each of them, tragedies and life offers unhappy surprises ahead.
Living life without regrets
I always said I lived my life without regrets, and that is mostly true. But when I look at the lives of the generation behind me, I find myself envying their complexities in having some version of it all. I thought I could have it all — and maybe I did have my version — but not all at the same time.
I could never juggle the responsibility of my later career in the middle of being a single mother. Later in my career, I was a manager on-call in health care.
When younger, I had no backup plan for getting a sick child from daycare or leaving the house in the middle of the night. No wonder younger working adults are looking for balance, and the ability to enjoy both work and family life.
I wanted a meaningful career and had it, but at a personal cost that is only now catching up to me in neglected health and wellness. (I know — the irony of the mad life that can be healthcare.) Others, now, have planned for more support in their daily lives.
Hybrid work-from-home norms have helped a bit. An employee can step away from the computer to become a homemaker and put a load of clothes in the wash or dinner in the oven.
I was not a sensitive manager. I was the fill-the-staffing-holes, let’s all work overtime manager.
Of course, many jobs require employees to be in-person. Our society is more polarized than ever, in so many ways — more left out, struggling, without the option to work from anywhere much less a home they don’t have.
I have read the stories of the “OK Boomer” variety which talk about how our generation lucked out economically, with housing price escalation, student loans, career longevity, etc.
Each individual has her/his/their own story, although generational trends might hold. Life was easier and it is harder. I look ahead, for the years beyond my being here, with dread and hope for my grandchild.
I do have some envy for that part of the next generation’s lives that we struggled for them to achieve. Just like we wanted.
From this point of view, our struggles were a success. We can envy them this piece of how life has changed for the better.