As so often happens in life, I had two starkly different experiences within close proximity of each other. Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a wonderful woman who passed away at 93 years young. I was fortunate to sit near her in synagogue and at a weekly Torah class for the past few years and sharing a greeting and a few comments with her always gave me a lift.
As he eulogized his mother, her son provided some context for those who, like me, knew his mother as a vital, active, loving senior but who hadn’t known her in her younger years. He spoke of his mother going to work as a secretary in order for his parents to afford a private Jewish education for him. When she was directed to post an ad for a regional sales manager, she told her boss that she could do the job. Although in those years a woman sales manager was highly unusual, he gave her the chance to prove herself, which she proceeded to do. Yet, as her son pointed out, while she certainly took satisfaction in her work, the goal of working was to build her family and its future. Family and faith were always the priority. Yesterday, about sixty of her descendants paid loving tribute to that choice.
Today, wanting to get a feel for what the general culture is offering, I tuned into a podcast aimed at young mothers. The hosts of the show were interviewing a successful writer who has two children, an infant and a toddler. The guest made the point that it is vital to get as much help as one can during the fleeting years that one has small children, so that one can retain focus on one’s career. After all, she said, (and I’m paraphrasing), your career is going to be the entire rest of your life.
Being able to choose to hire childcare so that one can focus on work is, of course, a privileged woman’s option. Mothers who are working so that there will be food on the table and a roof over their family’s head do not have that choice. But, the bottom line is, that while working for money and family may need to co-exist for many mothers, there is a subtle and not-so-subtle difference in how one lives based on which is the priority. Do we take time off from work in order to have children or do we take time away from our children in order to work?