I am a nurturer. Not necessarily by DNA, but because that was the task assigned to me when I was young and it has hung on there for a lifetime. It is, as they say, “woman’s work.”
I have always been taking care of someone. Child, adult, cats, dogs, everyone. Cooking and shopping. Making sure it all got taken care of … somehow. These days, as my ability to do a lot of things I used to do without even thinking about it become increasingly limited, I wonder what will happen if I can’t?
There’s no point in worrying about it. Life will bring what it brings, for good or ill. Everyone will get sorted out. Those who never thought they could do “that” will discover, after all, they can do a lot of things they didn’t think they could manage.
My mother was a reluctant nurturer. She had so many projects going on at the same time. Painting, sculpting, sewing, knitting, rug hooking. That was what she wanted to do. She never learned to cook, but she did it anyway … which encouraged her children to learn to cook early and often.
I’m sure a woman who could do all those artistic things could have learned to be at least a passable cook, but for some reason, the kitchen was where she drew the line. I grew up in that changing period when women were expected to do everything. We won the freedom to have a full-time career and raise the kids while making sure the marriage hung together.
Mostly, it failed. Almost all we “superwomen” of the sixties wound up divorced. It turns out, we weren’t super. No one can do it all. Something had to give. Typically, the marriage went first, but eventually, other things, too. For many, careers went down the tubes. Other women just ran for their lives or simply disappeared.
It didn’t seem like such a heavy load in the beginning. When you are young and have tons of energy, you bounce from the job to the kitchen with a supermarket in between, balancing childcare and work and a social life. But it grinds you down, even if you don’t notice the process. It’s like a potato being slowly peeled until one day, there’s no more potato.
Your partner doesn’t understand because it never seemed like a big deal. That’s what all the wives did. You were doing what you were supposed to do. Carrying on. Taking care of everyone. Knowing where the mittens were last seen, making sure the cupboards were full, know when who was supposed to be where and when.
Time has played havoc with much of that. These days, I can’t remember anything unless I write it down — and I have to first remember to write it down. Then I have to remember to look at the calendar because writing it down was just step one. Getting it done — the harder part — was steps two through however many more steps were required.
I don’t know if young women today see themselves as nurturers the way my generation did. Despite the grueling nature of the process, we were proud of our ability to balance everything and somehow, make it work. I don’t think they see their lives like that and that’s for the best.
It didn’t work out well for us and trying to recreate a reality that didn’t work before doesn’t seem likely to be any better now. The time has really come for an equal partnership where both members of a couple pull together. Willingly. And fairly.
The thing about women’s liberation is that it wasn’t freeing. It wasn’t liberating. What we won was the freedom to do everything and be good at it. Better at it than anyone else. Because being as good as the man next to you wasn’t good enough for a woman to make it.
We had to be better.