Thursday, August 19, 2004

Families, cont'd.

Let’s think about the women of the "Greatest Generation" for a minute. During the war, these gals were asked to man the assembly lines, manage  busy offices, ride the range, weld cars, build airplanes…to basically hold down the economic fort while their male counterparts were overseas, or serving the military in some capacity. For a few shining years, gender bias in the workplace was put on hold, and the women were given as much responsibility (though surely not as much pay!) as they could shoulder. And then came 1945, and victory. No more war. The girls were admonished to lay down their welders, their microscopes, their typewriters, their independence , and go back to doing what girls were supposed to do. Unless you were rich, brilliant, very talented, and/or had a hide as tough as a rhinoceros, your "career path" was now going to consist of landing a husband and shortly thereafter, producing offspring. And for the most part, that’s what they did. They got married, had kids, made homes, and raised their families because that was what was expected of them.

My mother was particularly fertile, and managed to crank out quite a brood in short order. Imagine creating five children in eight years. This would put at least one, often two, perhaps three of them in diapers at once, during a span of about ten years. Consider getting over that hump, and having no time to catch your breath before the first one hit puberty. Imagine having multiple teenagers in the house for another decade. Wouldn’t that be enough to drive you crazy?.

I’m sure there are thirty-something super-moms out there that are saying, "Well, of course it wouldn’t drive me crazy. My best and highest calling is to be a mother, and in becoming one, I have dedicated my life to the ultimate good of my children… and blah, blah, blah." Trouble is, I don’t think the couples of my parents’ generation ever invested that much science into having a family. They didn’t even consider that they might have a choice in the matter. Or that parenthood was a calling to which they might not be particularly well suited. They did what society expected of them.

Think about it. All over the country, young women got a taste of what it was like to be independent, self-sufficient, competent in the big, bad, world…and then were told to go home now like good girls and go back to playing house. It’s not too hard toimagine that they might have felt cheated. That they couldn’t exactly concentrate on being super-moms, because they felt like society had sold them out…used them when it needed them, and then threw them back into domestic obscurity. These were the mothers of the "Baby Boom"--- the mothers of one of the most amazing population explosions in our history. And THEIR history had turned them into something irreconcilably different from their own mothers. What they needed was a double dose of domestic genius…what they GOT was the distraction of the siren song of "career." And WE, the members of this gigantic blip on the population scale…we gave them the hardest time we possibly could.

I offer the above as partial explanation for why the "perfect" families of the fifties and early sixties degraded into the generation that coined the word "dysfunctional." Why we boomers chose to shake off the anonymity of being part of the faceless horde into which we had been born, and burst forth behind the banner of "Do Your Own Thing." And why my mom started to drink, just as I, the last in the line, started off to high school…

To be continued….


  1. Lisa, this is wonderful.  I know I should think about my comment before making it, but I am so in awe of your insight and  perception.  Do you think anyone has done an indepth study on these women, to collect their stories. As the men, our fathers, are dying, so are their mates.  The Greatest Generation.....

  2. Lisa, I  am loving reading your 'herstory"!.

  3. Wow, what a fascinating thesis.

    I would add one additonal aspect (and I'm sure others have more): many of these women of The Greatest Generation also experienced tremendous losses due to the war.  My Wicked Stepmother lost the love of her life in a downed plane over Italy.  The expected marriage she made after the war was an unhappy one which nevertheless, also as expected, produced four children.  I can only imagine the different path her life might have taken had she not seen marriage as an accomodation to sorrow.  No wonder that she could only process the lives of her daughter and me in terms of boyfriends and husbands.

  4. Lisa, this is excellent, and you're truly onto something.  Following every war up until Korea in which this country has participated, there has been a subsequent uprising of the cult of domesticity.  When our culture, for the first time wasn't primarily agrarian, after WWII, domesticity practically became a religion, because the work opportunities that their mothers had keeping the farms going while their men folk were away simply weren't there. My mother spent the war years as a quality inspector in a munitions plant, and that attention to detail, that order was something that she never could release.  She was meant to be a sales executive with her personality and discipline, and I've wondered many times how different things might have been if she had had the career for which she was meant.


  6. This is so interesting.  Can't wait to read more.  Lisa, I'm having a hard time with the font.  I think it's my old age creeping up on me.  Could you make it a little bigger for this old hag????

  7. The expectations of the fifties and sixties are still there.  In the UK, the government spews out the importance of 'family values' and preaches the way of the 'righteous' to us all.  Society has expectations of women that still eminate from a predominately male perspective.  Your comments would serve as an excellent debate :-)

  8. My mother wasn't quite of this generation, but I think her options were limited---get married, or become a nurse, secretary, or a teacher. I have always felt that she has regrets, especially since *I* am basically the reason my parents got married. It makes for a difficult relationship when you realize your mother is not fulfilled. But on the flip side, she was always very supportive of things I wanted to do, simply because I could do things she wasn't allowed to do at the same age.
    I look forward to your continued exploration of this topic.

  9. FIRST OF ALL....
    I'm gonna start calling you Frank (of Whining Well) because of the well written, enchanting storylines that have cliff hangers.  Damn!

    This is fabulous stuff Lisa!

    And, I agree with Karen, could ya make it a little bit bigger for us old ladies?  Please?  With sugar?

  10.    I have always thought that being a mom was the most important job on earth. i still do. if your mom had 5 kids in 8 years my black stetson sweeps off to her in true admiration, and respect. Growing up my mom worked sometimes and didnt work sometimes. I never expected her to do one or the other. Knowing my mom she never gave one damn on what society expected of her. I will tell you a secret. As a man unless you are rich, brilliant, talented or tough as a rhino, your career will go no where either. I have never went to a job interview and had someone say" well you are white , and male, here is the job! What do you want to be paid?"  You cant see me but right now I am raising a glass in thanks to your mom, and mine, for doing the most important job on earth. Being Mom.

    p.s. as for the pay aspect  ask Opra if she thinks a woman can get a fair shake around here.

  11. Great entry!
    I too, grew up in a big family! 5 children and I was smack dab in the middle. I never thought of it as a lost place like some do. I thought it was great. I was a baby to the oldest and Boss to the youngest!

    I am also trying to come to terms with middle age! I have another journal called Getting old ain't for sissy's and other stuff. It is a light hearted look at aging.

    I will be back again to read what you have written. I am impressed with your writing style.

    Mary Louise of Watching My Sister...Disappear

  12. Wow, this is amazingly well written. You should submit this to a magazine. I'm hanging on every word here. I guess because even though my mother and grandmother fall a bit older than your parents and you but I think its the same scenario that affected my mother and who she became.  :-) ---Robbie