Reading ‘Busy Wife’s Achievements’, an article about 1950’s modern day American housewife reminded me of a woman in a very similar situation, but one that as time went by broke out of that suburban rut. I witnessed this transformation in my youth and it remains strongly a part of me because as I grew, so did she but in more ways than just biologically. This woman happens to be my mother.
In a country where this way of life for women was still common in the 1980’s, my mother went to an art college after high school knowing that whether or not she got a degree, whether or not she got a job, she’d be okay because she would get married and it would be her husbands job to support her. As such, she got married as a sophomore and gave birth to her first child (out of three) as a junior.
After graduating, she was just like Marjorie; running the house, taking care of the children and getting dolled up for her husband (my father) was her job. Like Marjorie, she was pretty and popular too. She would make an effort to get ready and apply her makeup before my father came home from work every evening and then she’d get busy with the preparation of dinner. They would entertain friends and family occasionally and this was their mundane, suburban life. Despite her being an avid painter and reader, she had no mental stimulation in her life. She felt like she was stuck in a void that she couldn’t find her way out of and she was also bored. She didn’t feel like she could connect to her husband either because gender roles did not permit them to have much in common.
Three kids and twelve years later she realized she was unhappier than she’d ever been, and she couldn’t figure out the reason for her unhappiness and dissatisfaction. She had everything she could want, (a grand home, three healthy children, a husband that earned a steady salary) why wasn’t she happy? Betty Friedan best describes this feeling in her book ‘The Feminine Mystique’. My mother had spent her youth trying to be the epitome of the ‘perfect wife and mother’, never once stopping to think of herself, of what she wanted in life. This was probably because she had been brainwashed by society into thinking that being the ‘perfect wife and mother’ was the only thing she had wanted for herself.
This wasting away of her twenties made her regret some of the decisions she had made in her life. My mother knew she was worth so much more than just a pretty child-bearer and she realized she wanted to get out there and experience the world in a way she hadn’t ever before. Despite strong disapproval from her mother in law, she decided to put that graphic design degree to use and look for work. She didn’t completely forget about her family, rather she managed to find that difficult balance between family and work that only few manage to achieve.
Eventually, after trying out several jobs over the span of ten years, she settled for teaching at her alma mater. She is a much more vibrant person now. Brimming with vitality, she is also much happier. Being her only daughter, she has been very adamant that I receive as much as education as I can so that I am able to thrive in the competitive world of today, get a job and independently support myself. Though, she would eventually like me to get married, it wouldn’t matter to her if I chose not to. Her hopes for me are much greater than those she had for herself.