A couple weekends ago, I took my kids to an historic farm run by our local forest preserve. The buildings there have been authentically restored, and the staff and volunteers roam the property in costume and in character to give visitors a pretty-close encounter to what it must've been like to live and work on a family farm at the turn of the last century.
So when one of the in-character volunteers stopped hammering the chicken-coop roof, stepped off his ladder, tugged up his suspenders, and asked if we had any questions, I wasn't entirely surprised by his answer to my question.
I pointed to the fluffy black and white chickens racing behind their wire and asked, "What color eggs do they lay?"
"Dunno, ma'am," he said. Then he smiled, betraying his character entirely. "Chickens are women's work."
As he continued on about how his "wife" had an egg-selling business so she could buy "pretty things" from Sears Roebuck, a weird stream of envy washed through me. Truth be told, this same weird stream trickles through whenever I read Edith Wharton or read or watch anything about times and places where gender roles were fixed, expectations rigid, and life (and death) somehow more certain.
This is weird, of course, because I'm a liberated woman. I call myself a feminist—unapologetically. And I have since I was a girl. I was born in 1972, the year Helen Reddy and her woman-roaring made the charts. My early childhood memories are of parents, teachers, and Brownie leaders telling me I could do and be anything.
I grew up aware of the doors being thrown open all around me, the ones I'd be able to skirt through more confidently than any other generation of women in human history. I stood under some ceilings as they shattered, and throughout my professional career, my writing life and my motherhood I have continued to push (with the Spirit behind me) on those doors and ceilings that have yet to budge.
All this to say, you'd think hearing such things like historical "women's work" wouldn't make me jealous but rather happy or relieved. And yet, not so.
Or perhaps you'd think that when I finally sat down to read the much-hyped study as reported in Time magazine's" What Women Want Now," I'd feel sad—or at least surprised to read this (also much-hyped) statement: " … as women have gained more freedom, more education and more economic power, they have become less happy." But, alas, I am not.
Because while I am grateful and humbled to have the opportunities that being a woman in my generation affords—that I can "opt out" of full-time employment to be home with my kids and continue to run my own business, to edit other people's words, and keep my name in bylines and book jackets—I'm not sure that happy is a word I'd throw around to describe myself. I'm not sure many of my friends—in similar juggles—would use it either. At least, if they were honest.
But that's okay. It's appropriate, actually. Because happy shouldn't be the goal of our lives. The choices and freedoms and opportunities that women (at least in the U.S.) enjoy today shouldn't be celebrated because they bring happiness, but because they allow us—finally!—to follow God's calls on our lives more fully and freely.
My life is crazy. It's exhausting. It's confusing. It's stressful. It's difficult to navigate—because there are few maps for those of trekking this new(ish) frontier of womanhood. For these reasons, on my worst days, yes, I'm jealous of eras when my role would've been fixed. When I would've gotten married knowing that when my husband left the house at 4 a.m. to milk the cows, I'd get up to start breakfast for him and the farm hands. No balancing. No juggling. No constantly checking family calendars to make sure somebody would be home with the kids. No bitterness because I was the one who had to arrange childcare when we both had meetings.
Instead, I'd do my chores, gather the eggs, sell the pretty white ones for my own pretty things, while using the brown ones (I learned all this from the wife on the farm-house tour) for that breakfast. While it doesn't seem great or fulfilling or what I'd be good at, it seems simpler. I'm not forgetting the zillion other non-simple stresses of this era (I probably would've died giving birth to my oldest son). But the lack of freedom and choice seem easy—at least mentally.
But just as God doesn't call us to be happy, neither does he call us to easy. He asks us to follow him—and that's what I, along with many of my Christian sisters, are trying to do with our freedoms, come happy or high water. I believe God ordained my crazy, hard-scrapping, confusing life. And I believe these freedoms we now enjoy are a gift—something we've been given, that much is expected of. While this may not always make us happy, there is a joy for us following Jesus just knowing he's trekking with us in our crazy, frustrating, not-always happy, but often wonderful, lives.
Caryn Rivadeneira is a writer, editor, speaker and mom. She's the author of Mama's Got a Fake I.D.: How to Reveal the Real You Behind All That Mom (WaterBrook Press, 2009). Visit her at www.carynrivadeneira.com.