A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Generation Gap.

There used to be this thing called a generation gap. The term referred to the distance in understanding between people with more than, say, twenty years between them. Where women were concerned, the term captured the often sharp division between the stay-at-home mothers of the nineteen fifties and sixties and their daughters, women like many of our moms on the front end of feminism’s second wave. But the gap has closed. Like most women working and raising kids now, many of our mothers got educated, had kids, and went to work, typically in that order. If the jobs weren’t as freely available (and they weren’t), if only a few women occupied seats in their law or professional school classes, they worked harder than many of us can imagine to crack open the doors that we have now marched through.

While lots of our moms worked, they often tackled the toughest parts of building their families and their careers in that order, serially. Most had their kids much earlier than we do today. Often, they stayed home when their children were young. It wasn’t until we entered school and weren’t underfoot quite so much, that many of them returned to school and/or work. We, on the other hand, earned considerable power in the workplace before having kids and now have to figure out how to tackle kids and our consuming careers simultaneously.

Linda Ellerbee, the Emmy award winning journalist responsible for Nick News and a slew of the most intelligent and interesting programming for kids ever to hit television, and a card carrying member of our mothers’ generation, said in a recent interview: “Now they say, ‘Well, of course you can be on the Supreme Court, as long as you fix supper before you leave for the office and go pick up the kids on your way home, too.’” We don’t think that’s what the supermoms of the 1970s had in mind when they trail blazed their way into the workforce. What they had in mind was that it wouldn’t be quite this difficult; that fathers would be equal partners as a matter of course; that society would help us figure out ways for both parents to lead flexible lives if they wanted to.

Indeed, 30 years ago when our mothers were heading back to work in large numbers, a very famous commercial for Enjoli perfume invaded popular culture. Remember: “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and never let you forget you’re a man.” At least initially, everyone thought this new supermom of the 1970s was really going to have it all. Clearly, no one could foresee how complex “having it all” would be.

We can take for granted things our mothers never could or would: that almost all doors are open to us; that we have experience and maturity on our side; that we have spouses and partners we expect to help more than theirs did; that the choices they fought for are there for us to make. But we still have to figure out how to be in two places at once.