I have a friend who like me, also works in the IT industry. But what he’d really like to do is be a winemaker. The frustrated winemaker in him expresses itself in several ways – remoteness, depression, anger and resentment. But he stays the course with his job because he has a family that he wants to provide for.
Of all the things that have come with choosing to become a single mom of two kids, the most unexpected for me is the increased understanding and empathy for men. Which isn’t to say that I was unsympathetic to men before having kids. It’s just that for all the time I’ve spent working, loving, climbing and being friends with men, none of that prepared me for the insight that came with taking on the role of Provider for my family.
Since I graduated from college, I have had a career as a computer consultant and business owner. I have provided for myself, purchased my first house by myself, financed my adventures, contributed to the household when I was married and then once I was divorced, figured out how to afford starting a family.
When I say Provider I mean more than all that. It’s the feeling that hits me in the bottom of my gut when I think about my children having the means to have a comfortable, carefree, better-off-than-I-was childhood. It’s far more than money; it’s a feeling of being responsible at the very basic level for these kids’ existence so I must be able to Provide for a charmed life. It’s more instinctive than logical.
The first time that I felt the Provider responsibility, I was weighing the many options for healthcare for my family, all of them a small fortune. I was sitting at my desk looking over the bronze, silver and gold options as if the companies were awarding medals for those who can afford to pay for basic care. Tightness gripped me not only for this decision, but for all gold options I want to provide for my kids care and education.
What became perfectly clear was that all the years that I’d worked before that moment were about money with a small “m.” Now it was about Providing with a capital “P.” Baby needs new shoes is not just a cute phrase, it’s a gut-wrenching motivation!
I have a lot of pride when I’m doing well as a Provider but when I’m gripped by the fear of being the Provider, I feel like my base emotions are winning out. I do not feel gracious, accepting, creative, selfless, or enlightened. When in that feverish haze of scarcity and single-mindedness, I can’t see a way to both evolve as a person and provide for a family.
What saves me in this situation is that although it takes balls to choose to parent alone, no one expects me to have them, so I am free to be flexible, a quality that I think has been deeply instilled in women for generations. I’m free to admit I’m terrified some of the time, which bleeds out some of the pressure. I lived more years without the expectations of the Provider than with, so I can recognize the unhelpful expectations fairly easily.
I know many women who have taken on the role of the Provider and my experience shows me that women can be just as gripped by the role and pressures of the Provider. But my new understanding makes me suspect that the Provider may be so deeply inculcated for men that they feel it whether or not they have a family, whether or not they have accepted the role the Provider, and whether or not they are successful at it.
As women, we may not have reached equal pay for equal work, but we keep pushing forward to redefine expectations for our role in society, in the workplace and in our families. But I wonder if we are doing enough to help men grow with us. Because as women change it drastically changes not only our expectations for our partners but the model for what a healthy relationship looks like. We may need to help empower men to measure their worth in being useful rather than successful. It may not change how the sexes choose to divide responsibilities but it could help to introduce more flexibility in how we view each other.
I recently saw the results of a study that showed that when fathers have daughters, it affects their beliefs of whether or not women should be expected to conform to traditional gender roles. But it makes me wonder why I’ve never seen a study of whether sons should or should not conform to traditional gender roles.
There is a story that John Lennon used to tell, “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
It’s a funny story, especially coming from a man who was very successful. It gives me great sympathy for my friend who wants to provide and also be a winemaker. I hope he finds a way to be happy.
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(featured photo from Pexels)