I’ve heard recently from a couple friends who said they could never do what I do because they don’t have the support, money, or the time to train for events, take classes, or otherwise find adventures. That’s a common and fairly legitimate complaint. Women are swamped with obligations. I recognize that I am lucky. I have a supportive spouse who happily hangs out with our boys so I can disappear. I also have an extended family living nearby, which means I can find reliable, competent (and free) sitters when I need them. And, my children are now in school most of the year, so I usually have a few free hours each weekday to myself without interruption. All of those factors make the life I am creating for myself vastly easier to maneuver than if I had a full-time, paying job or was a single parent or had a husband who was not quite as family-oriented as mine is.
However, the more I reflect on this, the more I think the real problem is that women are too adept at creating roadblocks that keep them from what they truly want. Heaven knows I did it for years. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a woman (including myself) say, “I feel guilty leaving my kids alone for so long,” or “Our schedule is already too packed to add another thing to it,” or “My husband wouldn’t know what to do with the kids if I wasn’t around,” I’d be living in a beach house on Kauai. From the minute our children are conceived, by nature, necessity, and society, we are awarded the role of primary caregivers. We’re judged if we don’t take that role seriously. If my husband flies to Utah for the weekend to go skiing with friends, no one says to him “Wow. Who’s gonna take care of the kids while you’re gone?” Conversely, though, if I take a weekend for myself, I can almost guarantee you that there is someone out there ready to award my husband a medal of honor for successfully parenting in my absence. When it comes to raising children, the playing field has never been level.
My point (and I do have one) is that we women allow this unfairness to continue. We take on everything when we could learn to let some things go. We enroll our children in so many activities that our entire day is overwhelmed with obligations for someone else. We agree to volunteer for things we could not care less about. We say, “I’ve got it” and “I’ll do it” rather than saying, “It’s someone else’s turn.” We put everyone else first. And, then we sit back and complain that we have no freedom when we’ve fostered our reality by allowing guilt and societal pressures to permeate our personal space.
It’s not easy to find time to work out. It’s difficult to negotiate fair trade with our spouses. It’s hard to convince our children that they should be without us once in a while. And, it’s challenging to tell others “No.” It’s taken years for my children to understand that we are a family, and that in a family each one of us has a right to choose once in a while. I know that deals have to be made, discussions have to be endured, and priorities have to be changed if we as a family are to carve out any time for my personal pursuits. It’s never been easy.
Ultimately, though, I think women need to stop making excuses, put on big girl panties, and stand up for what we need; otherwise someday we’ll find ourselves with an empty nest and no hobbies, interests, friends, or memories to occupy our time. You have to make some tough choices now and possibly disappoint some people if you’re going to make your life one worth looking back on. Maybe you think the struggle isn’t worth it, and it might not be for you. But, my biggest fear has always been regret. I don’t want to be in that senior center someday watching The Price is Right alone (because that show will last longer than cockroaches after a nuclear blast) and feeling abandoned, empty, and disappointed. I really hope I’ll be playing cards with friends and recounting my experience climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
I haven’t climbed that mountain yet, but I have no doubt that if I put on my big girl panties, save some money, and negotiate a bit, one day I will make it happen.