I was five years old the first time I remember feeling jealous.
There were six kids in my kindergarten class; three girls, three boys. Each morning we started the day with a game of house in the little play kitchen in our small classroom, my favorite since before I can remember. Every day, each student played the same clearly defined role in our game. My role was the wife and mother, so yes, in the same year that the world starts obsessively asking us what we want to be when we grow up, I was playing out my dream at the beginning of each day.
It never occurred to me that someone else might want a turn in my role and even if they had, I am not sure I would have let them, that is how committed I was to the job I had, the role I played.
Yet even still, as I ironed fake clothes and rocked fake babies, most of my focus was on a classmate, I will call her Anna. She was sporty and fun, her personality was dynamic, and every morning as I spent my time being exactly who I wanted to be, I was consumed with jealousy for Anna. Jealousy that she found joy outside of playing the mom, jealousy that maybe she was more liked or more highly regarded by our friends. Fear that I was inadequate in my strong desire to be who I was, who I wanted to be. I was threatened by her choices being different than mine. I didn’t question what I wanted based on my own desires, I questioned it based on my confusion over someone else not desiring the same, as if my role was less validated by others’ apathy.
Now, nearly 30 years later, I can honestly say those kindergarten mornings were the clearest description of and induction into adulthood as woman.
It takes a village, we often say. And yet, when we picture that village, our desire, subconsciously, is often to surround ourselves by the women doing it all exactly the same way we are. A village full of clones of the same exact wife or mother. Why is it, so often, that we struggle against a more diverse village? Consumed by the fear that maybe someone else is more important, that their accomplishments diminish our own, that their desires aren’t good enough, or make it seem as though ours are the ones falling short.
That the woman at home is lazy, the woman at work is detached.
Now 20 months into living my childhood dream fulltime, I am still struggling with my own self imposed feelings of inadequacy, driving forward my constant quest for validation. It’s not good enough to make dinner, I have to make the best dinner, a dinner no woman could serve after a full day ‘at work’. I can’t just keep the house clean; I have to clean it with baking soda and toothbrushes, not on my feet, but on my hands and knees.
Hoping that maybe then, when I sit in my perfectly cleaned house, serving gourmet food to a brilliant and perfectly behaved toddler, I will feel validated in the choice that staying home is what’s best for our family. When I miss these goals, I often end the day consumed by feelings of failure and inadequacy, as if I failed to prove my worth for yet another day.
I can only imagine the alternative feelings that a working mother must have, or one who is, by desire or circumstance, not raising children at all.
Let alone a woman striving to run a business, a company, a country.
I don’t pretend for a second that the roles women have played for centuries are only our own doing. I am fully aware of the situational and cultural factors that have kept us bogged down and torn. But I can’t help but wonder how far forward we can truly go without letting go of our own self-imposed burdens.
So this year, beginning on International Women’s Day, I am starting the hard work to let go of jealousy and inadequacy.
I am going to consciously build a bigger village, one where the women in it know that I will gladly fill their freezer with food and tackle 100% of the carpool because that’s where my heart is. And if it means I make it easier for her to stay at work late and finally achieve the promotion she deserves, we somehow both just won, because that diverse village means we are both living a fulfilling life. It means our children see women who are driven by the work they do at home as well as women driven by their work outside of it. It allows them to see each of these different women as successful, independent, assertive, motivated, validated, respected, leaders in their fields.
Because that’s a village.
And perhaps that’s the only way we can get ourselves ready for a woman in 2024.