I grew up in what I suppose was the first generation of American women who were expected, as a group, to care deeply about the jobs they would choose: to invest not only time and effort, but emotion and commitment in them, and to do so throughout the greater part of their lives. College-educated women had a special duty to strike out from the example of previous generations by “using” that education, rather than “wasting” it on child care. We were expected to find interesting, challenging things to do in our professional lives, and we were not expected to jettison those lives because of the unreasonable and unnecessary sacrifices past generations had exacted from their womenfolk.

My generation watched reruns of 1950s television series, and saw models of stagnating women marking time before the Feminist Revolution. And the sixties were still close enough to us to make a revolution in women’s feelings, instincts, and expectations seem entirely possible. Babies were nice, yes, but motherhood was mostly defined by what you were giving up for it. The seventies’ feminist mentors repudiated what they saw as drastic self-abnegation, and so of course they had to argue that such self-abnegation was unnecessary. Men were to share more of our burdens; the government and private corporations were to help out with baby care and the like. Women would be happier, psychologically healthier; and our children would doubtless benefit from our contentment.

I do not wish to debate career versus family or day care versus home care. Neither will I explore the economic necessities that make the word choice seem like a cruel joke to many hard-pressed families. What I mean to do is to see how my own experience dovetails ...

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