‘All the world’s a stage’. This is how Shakespeare begins the monologue in Act II, Scene IV, in the play “As You Like It”.
‘And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;’
Shakespeare’s verses came to my mind after the visit to my workplace where I am currently on parental leave. It was a grey and rainy day of Autumn when I couldn’t spend much time with my baby outdoors. So, I figured out I could pay a surprise visit to my work colleagues. When we arrived at the campus, I was the one who was surprised. Most of my colleagues were away. In the department, there was a deadly silence, which was disturbed by the squeaking of the pram wheels . The only open door was to my boss’ office. He is the best boss I’ve ever had, so with a smile on the face and my baby in the arms, I stepped into his office.
Yet, he wasn’t the usual smiling guy. “Maybe he has a bad day.”, I thought and carried on the discussion, on a cheerful note. He asked if I can get some help with the baby so that I can return to work. (Note to the reader: The law in this country gives to women the freedom to choose to stay at home for the first three years of motherhood, without running the risk of loosing their job. )
“Of course, the problem is that your parents are living abroad. This makes it more difficult for you.” He mused.
The uneasiness became heavier with every minute, so when my baby started whining, I bid farewell and left his office.
I was about to get in the elevator when another colleague stepped out. She is very fond of my baby, therefore, we followed her to her office so she could cuddle with him.
“Can I ask you what are your plans?” She asked at one point.
I replied that I choose to stay home with my baby for one more year.
“You know, over here the competition gets fierce. These people have even higher expectations about publication performance.”
“Well, competition is always good, isn’t it?” I replied.
My head was spinning when I left. My boss wanted me back on the research stage. My colleague set the stage for me, by updating me on the atmosphere at the department.
In his play, “As You Like It”, Shakespeare describes the seven stages of a man’s life: Infancy, Childhood, The lover, The soldier, The justice, Old age, Mental dementia and death. What about the stages of a woman’s life? How many are there? Shakespeare is not addressing this question in his play. To me, it seems that in a woman’s life there are only two stages: Before and After getting married.
‘Before getting married’ stage starts very early when baby girls receive as gifts their first dolls. I received my first doll, the day I was born. My father bought it for me when he heard he is the father of a baby girl. It was my favourite doll until years later when my sister broke its neck. Nowadays, toy manufacturers outdo themselves by producing super dolls, which can be fed and which poo. As girls grow up, they get tips about how to behave when they get a husband, “when you are old enough”. Because a respectful woman should not get married before the proper age.
In the ‘After getting married life’, we are expected to focus on the well-being of the family, on having children and raising them. All these while carrying on with our professional life. There is a certain time window during which a woman is expected to become mother. And unfortunately, the Mother Nature supports the expectations. Nowadays, this time window can be between 25 and 40 years old, depending on the country. I’ll refer to these women as ‘mainstream women’. But since life is not like in the romantic Hollywood movies (I wish it was!), there are many women around the world who should be in this stage, and they are not. And there is very little sensitivity shown to them, these ‘other women’.
Getting 30 is the threshold when people start thinking, “There must be something wrong with her that she is not married!”. I happened to read Melanie Notkin’s article, “Single and Childless Can We Just Move On?”. Melanie Notkin is best known for her bestseller, Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers, and All Women Who Love Kids. The article above-mentioned was published in Psychology Today, on September 26. Melanie is about 40 and she gets tips from people about what online dating services she should use. No matter what their intention is, most certainly, they invade her inner world. The main idea in her article is that she came to terms with the thought of not being a mother, despite the fact that is wasn’t easy to do so.
What if a woman didn’t want to date any man any longer? What if a woman doesn’t want any children? There are destinies, which are meant to be meaningful in other ways than married, with children. Take as an example, Elizabeth Gilbert, the writer of the bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love and the sequel to it, Committed: A Love Story.
I agree that marrying the right man and becoming the mother of his children gives the meaningful touch to life. You are a lucky woman, in the same way he is a lucky man. This is when your life, the mainstream woman, gets even more challenging. Once becoming a mother, the entire perspective on life changes. The brains start having a brownian motion, higher than before, and you become the master of multitasking. You will never again buy a dress for yourself, without feeling guilty that you should have bought instead something for your kid/kids.
The biggest challenge is to balance between being a mother, a wife, a woman and a career woman. In the first stage of motherhood, national laws stipulate how long a mother has the right to stay at home with her baby. The problem comes in the later stages of motherhood, when the mother returns to work. Out of 24 hours in a day, how much time does a mainstream woman dedicate to her work, to her family and to her baby?
I was given the right to choose my priorities. And yet, I feel the judgement in other people’s eyes when I tell I am a stay at home mother. The ultimate challenge is to be able to silence the voices of other players and connect to the core of your inner being. Over there, there is no role to play, only the authenticity of a meaningful life.