Can you believe that my Mother told me: “The worse thing that you can ever do is to have kids?”
News flash: That’s not the advice Mothers would normally hand out to their daughters.
Why would my Mother think to tell me this? She wasn’t afraid to be honest, real and raw, from her point of view. And, she was undeniably smart.
Thing is, I am her daughter — what was I to make of that statement?
Was she intending to hurt me — or perhaps opening doors for me?
My Mother said things to me that I had to ponder for periods of time to understand — pieces of the big puzzle of a women’s life that fell around me begging to be picked up.
Was it that she was troubled by the condition of the world and what kids will inherit? Maybe. Or, was she telling me that kids limited her options in her life?
Strangely, I didn’t take what she said personally at the time. It challenged my thinking. Maybe it gave me permission too — to not automatically go down paths that were already well-tread and obvious in my life, and ask myself who I wanted to become.
Maybe I could consider what was unconventional and dare to ask questions that might be shocking like her comment was. Maybe I didn’t have to be bound by what I was ‘supposed’ to do — but had freedom to choose my future.
I think that she was bold to tell me what was real for her.
I was growing up in changing times. Opportunities became available for me — that others could have told me where closed — but I learned that I didn’t have to believe them. My Mother’s crazy comment was liberating for me as I explored possibilities.
As a side note: I too am worried for our world — and how neglectful we are being in managing what kids of today will inherit. I truly want us to get this world into better shape — and if I had kids I’d worry obsessively for their future. I worry for all kids — that’s why women are being called forth now.
Think back to the lives of our Mothers, and the limitations that we’ve been freed from in this time span of women’s history.
Back when our Mothers were young women, it was ok to say that women were deranged by their mensural cycle, that they were the weaker sex, that women weren’t as capable, and that women shouldn’t have access to jobs in the workforce where they could acquire wealth. A women’s place was thought to be at home with the kids.
My Mother lived then.
What she encountered seems really crazy to me now, statements like: why do women even need money, or status or acclaim anyway — they clean house and cook meals. They don’t need college educations. Women shouldn’t have their own bank accounts, and certainly not credit cards. They shouldn’t own property, or cars — and single women just couldn’t be invited to a couples gathering.
My Mother grew up in the ‘Big Apple’. When she married, my Father’s path determined her life: where she would live, her social status, religion — all that was attained and all that was directed by him, that was the norm.
The women of my Mother’s generation endured for us.
Should we think that these women did this easily bringing us to where we are today?
They did not.
Many regretted being born too late to enjoy the freedoms that were emerging — like birth control that took limits off women and the course of our lives. They worried about changes and making these changes themselves. My Mother felt guilty — she had kids, and she bucked the norm she’d lived under for years and went to work.
Mother had felt insecure that for much of her life she had to ask my Father for money.
And worse, women like my Mother, witnessed the ‘crossing of the bridge’ into a world where women experienced more opportunities. Opportunities for their daughters: in the workplace, in negotiating in their relationships, in having their own money, and in independence from the status of a man. Their daughters could have lives that included a woman’s attention both inside and outside of the home and family.
My Mother challenged many norms — like only men are supposed to hold the money for a woman’s life-time security. Watching her gave me a whole new perspective — she started businesses, grew and sold them.
Big sweeping changes ignited by women, like my Mother, brought me to the life I have today. I stand on their shoulders. They saw more, activated our liberties and lifted restrictions and brought us forth.
Today, I can own a house and property, I can start a business and make money, I travel freely, I can chose or not choose to have kids, I can do life just fine with or without a husband, I am not owned or beaten, I am well educated, I have a computer and other resources, I can make changes in my life, I have a bank and investment account in my name, I can vote and protest, I can grow and expand — I can honestly say that not much limits me in life except my belief in my self.
I have a great deal of personal freedoms. I’ve been able to create my life — and life is good.
Here are three big considerations:
- We have much to learn from our Mother’s lives and the lessons they showed us, and their impact on our lives.
- Women have built us a legacy and changes to improve our lives — and you are part of this legacy.
- While my Mother and women of her generation moved us forward — what are we doing for the daughters who are watching our progress? Will they applaud our legacy for them too?
So far, I’ve been talking about the limitations my Mother experienced in her life — and how these were taken down in the timeframe from my Mother’s youth to my life now.
And, I thought that I did know about the legacy of women before me.
Then I got a big-ass lesson.
And, I got it — in an unexpected way that had everything to do with what my Mother said to me.
I’m about to tell you this Story.
It’s embarrassing — because I got confronted with my own arrogance. I felt so uninformed that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was floored at how much I needed to expand my gratitude and perspective.
I flew to Ethiopia. I was traveling with a group from my church, to a school that our church supports. I was excited because I was going to meet a child that I have sponsored there for many years — and her name is Kebebush.
I joined this trip at a time when I was feeling very ‘whoa is me’ because of the heck-of-a-mess divorce I was in. My life was feeling ‘not good enough’ — that I was deprived in multiple ways. I hoped by going on this trip that I might get a new frame of reference that would remind me of my blessings.
The lessons that I got did this — but not as I expected.
We flew into the Capital City of Addis Abba; and then drove in our bus for about 6 hours south to the City of Awasa where our school, Hatta Ganett, is located.
As our bus approached the entrance to the School, there were kids everywhere. I learned the sad part, though. These were the kids that couldn’t go to our school, and desperately wanted to. The School can take only one child from each family and these kids were left out. It would break your heart too.
As we wound our way up the driveway, the kids in our School awaited us. They had big smiles, warm love and obvious gratitude for our arrival.
I was so happy to meet Kebebush, and the translator helped me to learn her Story.
Kebebush is the last of 9 kids, and in Ethiopia poor families give their children away like we might give a cat away here in America. Kebebush was given away too, moved far from her family to be raised by an Aunt. She had the classic life of the Cinderella story we all know — and I mean the bad and ugly parts of that tale that abused her.
She was repeatedly berated, made to live outside with nothing, worked for the chores and given little to eat. Soon she lost her way. She went down to the river, she told me, to end her life of misery.
An older woman found her, stopped her — and told her that if she would let her help — she’d get her into school where she’d have a chance. That’s when Kebebush got into our School, and I chose her as my sponsor child — that was ten years ago.
Through the translator, we talked about education and that this is her key to a better life. We talked about how she’d have to stay away from the boys so that she wouldn’t find herself unwantingly pregnant at a young age. Her Mother had had children when she was still a child herself — so Kebebush knew this all too well, and I could see her deep thoughts about this.
Kebebush’s Story both broke my heart and made my spirit soar. Her Story is a Heroine’s Story from the abuse she’s had, the life of her Mother and the journey she’s on determined for change.
As we talked, she told me about how she needs support in school and how difficult this is. She lives back with her family now and her Father regularly beats her Mother so badly that she often can’t study. The school was involved to try to help.
I brought Kebebush a backpack full of clothes — jeans, underwear, shirts, skirt and more (maybe a couple hundred dollars worth from Ross) — and she cried when I gave her the backpack — she’d never had new clothes before. I was at their home, with her Mother, Sister, Father and Aunt — and her Father said that what I’d done for her he was never able to do.
My humility and gratitude lessons had started, but the real awakening was yet to come.
Later in the week, Kebebush came running across the School yard to find me. She had a little pink card held tightly in her hand. It was her report card. She was elated — she’d graduated first in her ninth grade class! I was thrilled for her. She had dreams.
My women traveling-companion-friends had an idea for later in our week — they wanted to gather all of the mothers of the kids at the School and have a celebration for them.
So, we planned for the tea celebration on Thursday afternoon. As the time approached, the Mothers began to crowd outside the large assembly room. They were wrapped in colorful garb, and the buzz rose as they gathered.
I watched carefully as these women-mothers took their seats inside. We served tea and these huge round loaves of traditional Ethiopian breads.
I was standing on the stage with my travel friends. Several of these women were women who were notable achievers in Silicon Valley. First Cammy, then Nancy — each introduced themselves — and I was the last one.
As I stood there, this gave me amble time to pause and reflect, to see the 200 plus women in the audience, and to think about what we were doing.
And, I was freakin shocked at myself. I couldn’t believe what I heard my inside voice say to me. “Outrageous!”, I thought. “Hush”, I scolded myself.
My inside voice said about the Mothers in front of me: “The worse thing that you can do is to have kids!”
I was literally saying what my Mother had said to me.
Here I was looking out over this sea of women. Women who I knew had eight, nine, ten and more kids — each of them. As I thought of this, a rage moved up through me that wanted to explode.
“Outlandish!”, my inside voice blurted out: “Why are we celebrating all these women — they have all these children — and they can’t care for them or support them, and they dump them with others, have more kids, and it’s all those kids begging at the front of the school — and WHY, WHY are we celebrating you, for God’s sake????”
I was appalled by the conversation going on inside my head! How could I? How could I think such a thing? Was I horrible for asking this? I felt like I had been struck flat on the stage — even though all this action was going on in my head. I struggled to recover, as it became my turn to introduce myself.
What could I say? I stumbled through my introduction, gasping at the profundity of my thoughts.
And then lightning struck me and my heart broke open.
A voice of higher wisdom entered with me into the conversation in my head — responding to the questions that I was fervently asking.
Then, I got it — a real gift.
It tenderly pointed out: “These women — look more closely, Joan, they have nothing for their lives.”
“They can’t read or write, they are not educated, they have no money of their own, they have no job opportunity, they own nothing of their own, they are the lowliest, they are shamed and thrown away — they get beaten by their husbands regularly because they are his, and deemed to do what he says.”
“They cannot go, leave, change their circumstances — they’re stuck in them. Birth control is not available to them, or much medical care — when the husband wants sex, they must give it, and can’t say ‘no’, or ‘no more’. It’s not their fault if they have more kids.”
“If their husband dies all is taken from them and they are discarded; they need a husband, without, they aren’t counted. They have no way out.”
“They eat as best they can, but have to sacrifice for their family. They care for their children and are saddened for them. They can do nothing — they are destine to this life, hammered with baby after baby and considered chattel. This is their life. They have no leverage. They have no say. They have no courage to speak. Their misery is their burden. They are broken. Their strength is between them to hold each other up.”
With the very same statement that my Mother had made to me — I got a blatant understanding that these women have no liberties. They don’t have control of their bodies. They represent the very beginning of the journey of women to liberation.
Simply: They have no choices — I have choices and options. OMG, that’s huge!
That’s what the Heroines before me have done for me — I stand on the shoulders of many for blessings — blessings that I have been way to casual about acknowledging in the drama of my own life.
I am really really lucky. And, I desperately wished for options for the women sitting in front of me to soften the burdens they carry. I started crying on the stage.
I got my own arrogance, judgmental and severely limited thinking. I saw this big expanse roll out in front of me of the history of women. I was clueless about where women have really come from, that gives me the life I have today. I’d come here to discover my own gratitude for my life — a life that is so far down the road of women’s history that I was already born lucky.
The voice in my head said: “You stand in front of these women that don’t have the power to stop having kids. And, you are critical of them? Oh, my — do you see now?”
I was totally humbled.
Humbled for their lives and mine.
What I got in a flash was the whole panoramic view of women — women starting with no liberties, identities, choices, just bodies here surviving — all the way up to the lives of women I’ve known as early as my Grandmother. I was seeing the first half of the women’s movement embodied in the women sitting out in the audience — and I got an understanding that my life entered well into the advancements made for my sex.
I saw a big span of the shoulders of women before me, that I stand on today. The Heroines that made changes for me, so that I enjoy the freedoms that I do today.
I got really grateful for my life, thankful for what I am able to own, happy for the liberties and changes that are available to me, sincere about the protection from harm and aware of so much that is there supporting and helping my life. I am really blessed.
I desperately wanted these women to have options. My Mother had wanted me to know that there are options — and I wished this for them too.
My heart flew open. I had a fresh look at the women in front of me. My blessings went out to them. I celebrated them for their courage to live. I appreciate their children, one birthed Kebebush and she’s on her way to leadership.
And we’re making progress. Kebebush passed the national exam in the tenth grade, and now she’s in college. She’s smart, determined, and I believe destine to make a big contribution with her life — she’s a Heroine leading change.
I know that I’m not doing life alone. The legacy of women before me has lifted me up and given me my life today.
My Mother — opened doors for me.
A Heroine’s Journey travels all the way to contribution — and her contributions light up the lives of others.
Thank you so much for reading my Story! I hope that you’ll leave me a comment and say how you’ve grown in your journey.
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Journey Onward, Joan