I was on my way home from a meeting and listening to my satellite radio. Lisa Belkin was interviewing several experts on how to become more organized. As books and papers are stacked in pillars throughout my house, this subject was of particular interest to me. After dinner I googled her name to look for information on the day's guests. I couldn't find anything relevant on the guests, but I found a slew of irrate articles and blog postings in response to an article she wrote 3 years ago titled "The Opt-Out Revolution." The article investigates why so many women decide to leave successful careers to raise their children. Is biology is destiny?
This weekend I will be hosting a brunch for a friend who recently gave birth to her first child. She had put off and then negotiated with her husband the terms in which she would have children. She wanted a child, but she didn't want to step off her career path. She knew from conversations and observations that the balance between the two was going to be difficult and that the brunt of the child's upbringing, especially the first year, would fall upon her shoulders. Women lactate; there is no getting around the fact.
I couldn't opt-out of my career. I am my daughter's provider. The basics of food, shelter and clothing rest upon my shoulders. My "Woman's Work" series speaks to this very need to find a balance between work and children. I could no longer spend long tracks of time at my embroidery table. Teaching, trips to the doctor, basketball practice, music lessons, etc. pulled me in a zillion directions a day. Rather than let the stress overwhelm me and stop my studio practice, I found a way to make art that allowed me to juggle all the other demands. I began to knit installations and sculptures that could be constructed in parts and toted around in my backpack. An inch completed on the subway, another two at basketball practice and soon I had a finished piece.
Thousands of young woman graduate each year with a BFA. The percentage of those who will continue to practice art without the extra juggle of raising a family is already slim. Making art is difficult and underappreciated work. It doesn't provide immediate financial stability. A fulltime studio practice is frequently supported by at least one parttime job. Add the responsibilities of parenting and most artists give up, especially women.
I don't think it is a matter of opting-out of one's career, it is a matter of wanting something different. If one isn't satisfied with their career path, they will more likely choose to be a stay-at-home parent if that is a financial option. Women have this advantage over men as men are still viewed as the family's primary financial provider and rarely given the option to be the stay-at-home parent. (I will table the discussion that this decision is still frequently made vy a couple because the husband is accorded greater earning power in society.)
I found my balance when I let go of the ideals I carried in my head. The home will always be clean and tidy. Dinners will always be cooked from scratch. My garden will be the envy of my neighbors. I will settle only for art which is made in a studio setting. My daughter will always have my undivided attention. I will not ask for help from others. Blah, blah, blah. The balance came when I stopped trying to be Super Woman and just be myself.
This of course hasn't solved the problem of the many pillars of paper holding up my roof. Maybe I should call them installations and be done with it.