The unpleasant truth that life presents a series of choices

Caitlin Flanagan has written a provocative and significant article in The Atlantic Monthly concerning women and mothers and children and nannies and working and not working: How Serfdom Saved the Women’s Movement. What Flanagan seems to realize, more than most, is that there are no ideal answers. Near the end of her lengthy essay she writes:

What few will admit—because it is painful, because it reveals the unpleasant truth that life presents a series of choices, each of which precludes a host of other attractive possibilities—is that when a mother works, something is lost. Children crave their mothers. They always have and they always will. And women fortunate enough to live in a society where they have access to that greatest of levelers, education, will always have the burning dream of doing something more exciting and important than tidying Lego blocks and running loads of laundry. If you want to make an upper-middle-class woman squeal in indignation, tell her she can’t have something. If she works she can’t have as deep and connected a relationship with her child as she would if she stayed home and raised him. She can’t have the glamour and respect conferred on career women if she chooses instead to spend her days at “Mommy and Me” classes. She can’t have both things. I have read numerous accounts of the anguish women have felt leaving small babies with caregivers so that they could go to work, and I don’t discount those stories for a moment. That the separation of a woman from her child produces agony for both is one of the most enduring and impressive features of the human experience, and it probably accounts for why we’ve made it as far as we have. I’ve read just as many accounts of the despair that descends on some women when their world is abruptly narrowed to the tedium and exhaustion of the nursery; neither do I discount these stories: I’ve felt that self-same despair.

Desipite her cheerless — yet all-too-obvious — conclusion, Flanagan writes with humor and style. Further, the article appears to be a solid survey of the literature on the subject.