So I was pondering Shannon’s post yesterday about expectations, and thinking about how women today are often crushed under the weight of great ones. Then I started thinking about the ways in which those expectations lead many women to feel — or be — judged.
And then, I got pinged by serendipity. First, I came across this review of “Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace” by Ayelet Waldman on “Your (Wo)Man in Washington”, a grassroots blog promoting economic equality for mothers and other caregivers. This graf hit home:
It is not just that Waldman’s memoir about some of her dishonorable mothering moments is smart, funny and poignant that kept me going. Ayelet Waldman is, on some level, EveryMom. We can all relate to the feeling of having someone tsk-tsk disapprovingly at our parenting choices. We have all suffered the disappointment of having the reality of parenthood differ from the fantasy, or the fear that our children will inherit our flaws. We are all familiar with the self-doubt that is part and parcel of being a modern-day mother.
The reviewer had me at self doubt: Do women keep looking over our shoulders because we buy into unrealistic expectations? Which in turn lead us to keep feeling judged? That we’re unable to measure up? Are we our own worst critics? Could that be why making choices is so difficult? My next ping was a Q-and A on Ayelet Waldman’s website, where, when asked why she wrote the book, Waldman replies:
Because so many women I know are in real pain. They are so crippled by their guilt, by their unreasonable expectations, that they can’t even allow themselves to celebrate the true joys of being a mom. When your little girl curls up in bed with you and says, “Your hair always smells so good, Mama,” you should be able to melt with emotion without worrying about whether she’s reading at grade level.
And then I was reminded by an email from a former student that it’s not just moms who are crippled by the fallout of unreasonable expectations. It’s their kid sisters, too. Quick backstory: In an op-ed last year on the impact of too many choices on twenty-something women, I wrote:
...The niece of a friend once confided she sometimes wished she’d been born into a world where everything from spouse to career was chosen for her. She echoes what I see: a generation of youth overwhelmed by the unintended consequences of choice overload. Many are 20-something women raised with high expectations, more options than their mothers ever imagined, and a sense that the perfect life is not only a possibility, but an obligation. Some are paralyzed by it: How can I commit to Plan A when Plan B, which might be better, may be just around the bend? Others constantly doubt themselves, obsessing not on the choice they made – but the ones they rejected.
This student had apparently come across the piece this week — go figure — and emailed in response:
I completely identify with it. And in a way, it kind of made me feel better about the next few months of my life. I have always had really high expectations for myself (thanks to my parents, too, you are right on that,) so it’s hard to just be satisfied with something knowing I have dreamed of something else. However, after a few weeks of stress… I think I am getting more excited about it– any job, that I would enjoy decently. I could talk a lot about this, but I digress….
Lowered expecations? No expectations? My final stop was a comment from Colleen, posted Thursday morning:
You never know what will make you happy, and I feel like the more expectation you put on something, the less likely it is to live up to it. It is like New Years Eve… so much pressure is put on you to have great plans and an epic night, and in the past, I have usually had more fun grabbing dinner and drinks with friends on the night before, or the night after, or any other random Tuesday. Do what makes you happy right now, don’t expect a new job or new house or new city or new boyfriend or new baby to change everything and bring you the ultimate happiness you’ve been waiting for. Like the old saying goes, wherever you go, there you are…
And wherever you go, as Shannon suggests, you ought to leave those expectations back where they belong, in fantasy land. Once you do, maybe the harshest judge of all — the one in the mirror — will disappear as well.