Of the feminine spirit, I did not know I had
When I was younger, my beliefs were clear: I should try to be more rational than emotional. Not show weakness or subordination in romantic relationships. Not get too involved in housework. I should become a lawyer with ambitious career goals, and maybe start a family along the way. In this case, I would not allow my family to be an obstacle to my career. All seemed clear, but life has different plans.
In my late twenties came the first reversal; I got married, and with a man with a different way of thinking and a powerful personality (in a good way). I realized that if I wanted my marriage to work, I had to give myself without reservation. I understood that, although we would make decisions together, one of us would have to take the lead and the other must follow as to keep from always pulling in the opposite direction. So, I decided to focus my assertiveness on certain areas in my life and follow my husband's general vision and direction.
The second reversal was professional. We came to live in a foreign country where my career in law was not very helpful for us. Job opportunities were seldom, and most would have involved a long daily commute or living separately. I decided not to put the pressure of distance on my marriage. I eventually found employment, but between my professional goals and the emigration, it took me seven years to decide to have children. I didn’t want children to be yet another obstacle to my professional ambitions.
At some point, I felt ready for motherhood and thought that if I kept putting it off, I might be giving up on it. My first daughter was born and, after extended maternity leave, I continued to work part-time, - I was able to balance work and being a new mother. Having a second child soon became my greatest wish, and three years later, my second baby was born. The global health crisis escalated into a pandemic around three weeks after I had given birth, and thinking about my family and my professional future, I panicked. At that moment, the third reversal came, which was rather a true change of direction.
In my new reality, the math didn’t add up. With only seven days in a week and 24 hours in a day, if I wanted to continue with my job, then the time for my family would be limited. I seemed to have only two options: quit my job, dedicate myself to my daughters and accept that I would be the housewife I never wanted to be; or work while running my home and throw my life out of balance in a way that didn't interest me. To be or not to be? It is said that is the question, but what did I really want?
I discovered the answer during the early days of the pandemic, when so many of us turned to baking to cope with the anxiety and uncertainty. While baking a cake, I couldn’t help but eat some of the raw dough – I loved to do this at my grandmother’s house when I was a child. The taste of the dough and the sensation in my hands took me to my childhood, to my grandmother, to my mother. As if by magic, through the illusion of my cake, I saw and understood why my mother, an accomplished woman, had stopped working to dedicate herself to her daughters. It had not been an easy path. It had been a tortuous path in which fatigue does not seem the result of work; in which noise only stop at the end of the day; in which nobody thanks you, not yourself, not your children, not the bank account, and especially not your retirement fund! But it had been the path she had chosen out of true conviction. I realized that I had unconsciously avoided repeating my mother's story because I always considered that her choice was a blessing for me and my sisters, but a mistake for her.
Finally, I understood my mother; I, too, wanted to fully enjoy each day of my daughters' early years (even though I desperately want them to fall sound asleep at the end of each afternoon!). Give them the best of who I am, of my time, of my energy. Nourish their bodies, minds and souls with dedication. I understood that no one else would take on that role with the same dedication as I had. It is the only job for which I truly am irreplaceable – and I was not interested in having someone to try to replace me. I also felt the importance of making time for myself and my husband. I didn't want to return home exhausted at the end of a hard workday and cross two words with him as simple roommates.
I understood what perhaps I always knew subconsciously: building a real home requires quality time and sacrifices. Sure, I could try to have it all, but my days would still have 24 hours, and trying everything would mean dividing myself, giving less, wearing myself out. This reflection was both a shock to my system and a balm to my panic.
There was a third option I hadn’t seen before. Quit my fixed-hour job, dedicate a few years to my daughters and turn most of my time into being a proud housewife while slowly reinventing my profession based on my time, priorities and strengths.
This reflection forced me to accept that my feminine nature was strong; stronger than what I had wanted to see. I had ignored my feminine nature, all the time trying to forge myself into the image of superwoman that society seems to demand. Still, my feminine side was there, latent, showing me that serving those you love is a satisfying and dignified job. Looking at myself in the mirror, I could see empathy, awareness of my emotions, my availability for service, my ability to build relationships. That was me! I recognized myself and accepted myself with love. Dare to be me; that was the answer.
I know that my feminine nature is not the same as that of all women. I know that many women yearn for something different and that for many, their nature is stronger, more rational and more competitive. I also know that many of us pursue what we believe we must, and we strive to be and appear what we are not instead of seeking our true essence. It is equally possible that time, circumstances or love changes us.
Until that day, I had understood feminism as equal rights and opportunities for women and men. It also means recognizing my feminine attributes and being as much of a woman as I want, even in the most traditional sense of the role, and not punishing or judging myself. I know that not all women have the option that I had. There are some, however, who have the option but hold back from contemplating it out of fear. I wish all people, anywhere in the world, who feel called to care for their family as their vocation, could do it, earn a decent income and even a decent retirement pension. Also, to find part-time job opportunities if they wanted to. That would be a real revolution.
Today, I thank my husband for always supporting me. I thank my daughters for opening my heart. Finally, I thank my mother and my grandmother for their love and care.