DEBORAH CROMBIE: As some of you may know, my mother passed away a week ago. She was ninety-two and had been ill for at least a decade, so while I am sad for my sake, I am not sad for her. But I have done a lot of thinking about my mother's life, trying to put it in some sort of perspective.
As an adult, and particularly since I became a published writer, I've always had a very strong network of female friends. We go out to dinner together, we travel together, we keep up by phone or email on a regular basis, we provide one another with support through tough times. Most of these women are MY friends, and our relationships function outside my marriage except for the occasional intersection.
And so over the years I felt slightly superior to my mother, and thought that her life was lacking because she did everything with my father and she didn't have female friends that weren't "couples" friends.
Well, the other night at dinner, a (female) friend pointed out to me that I had it exactly backwards.
Consider the fact that my mom was born in 1921. When she was twenty, she married my dad, who was fourteen years older. My brother was born in 1942, and I suppose for the first few years she did stay home while my father worked and traveled, but I suspect it was not willingly. By the time I came along, my grandmother had come to live with us, freeing my mother to become my dad's full-time partner in work and life. They ran their own business. They traveled together. They played golf together, they went to the horse races together. There were no "men's nights" for my dad, and no "ladies' lunches" for my mom. (She'd have been bored to tears...)
My friend pointed out to me just how modern that was, in a generation where middle-class wives stayed home, taking care of the house, looking after the children, getting supper on the table for husbands who came home from the office and settled down with pipe and slippers.
My mother led a life that was, for her generation, shockingly liberated.
And I wonder how I could have been so focused on the importance of my own life that I didn't see it.
So, dear Reds, do you consider yourself more modern, and more liberated, than your mothers? (And what, I wonder, will our daughters say about us?)
(I thought the photo, above, of the film, The Women, from which we take the title of our blog, was quite appropriate for the topic! And what is with the Princess Beatrice hat? We'll get to that later in the week!)
RHYS BOWEN: Debs, so interesting to hear about your mother's life because it mirrored my mothers, in a similar time period. She had me at 21 but worked for her whole life (she ended up as a school principal). Her work was her life. She was always arranging district music festivals and such. When she wasn't working she and my father did everything together--shopped at the supermarket on Friday evenings, walked the dog, went to restaurants. After they retired they were never apart.
She had a couple of women friends from school but it was my dad who came first. Thus, when he died, she had a hard time coping with loneliness. She never learned how to make friends and when she was dying was surprised by how many people loved her.
I've been a writer for most of my life, thus not part of the daily grind, so my women friends are of major importance to me. I have a terrific support group in California and just starting to make lovely friends in Arizona. I enjoy doing things with my husband but I have such fun with my women friends. One of them claims we've saved each other thousands in therapy bills, and it's true!
HALLIE EPHRON: My mother didn't have any women friends. She and my father wrote screenplays together, and in those days she would not have had a peer group of women. Besides, a woman had to be so competitive and driven to be successful in the way that she was, it didn't leave room for friendships. Her social life was THEIR social life, and I'm quite sure that she was intensely lonely because my father had his own social life that revolved around tennis and poker, "guy" things. She died when I was 22 and not old enough to have asked her all the questions I now wish I'd asked.
I love my women friends, but my husband is my very best friend. We're very compatible, shared interests galore. He doesn't do a lot of "guy" things and, come to think of it, I don't do a lot of "girl" things. I wouldn't think of making non-business dinner or travel plans without him. Plus he makes me laugh.
LUCY BURDETTE: My mother had four kids in the span of six years and she also felt obliged to follow where my father's career led. This meant quite a few transfers from NJ to Illinois to NJ to Michigan to NJ. She did not get a lot of pleasure from cooking or homemaking, so eventually went back to school and became a teacher. I don't know if any of that explains the fact that I'm not sure she ever "found" herself. She had women friends but I'm not sure how much she confided about what she felt--and she was certainly lonely too.
Like Hallie, I feel like I have a very lucky constellation of blessings in my life, a husband who's a great friend and supporter, a compelling career, and terrific women friends! Woman today certainly have challenges--like realizing we can't have it all, not all at once--But I do think it's an easier and more satisfying time to be a woman than in my mother's lifetime.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, I don't remember any of my mom's--oh, wait yes, I do. But she didnt have close women friends when we (five kids!) were growing up. There were woman who Mom did things with, but in my memory, they were the wives of my step-father's business acquaintances.
AND you know me--Jonathan and I do everything together. I don't have any urge to dump him to go off with the girls--although I adore you and love when we hang out. And I certainly would never make a book world decision without consulting the Reds. Jonathan has a group of men friends who from time to time have an MBE--Male Bonding Experience--where they have dinner and go to a bad movie. The "wives" --some of whom are my dear friends--are now lobbying to go with them.
I wonder if--because of our jobs and career pressures--there's something that has to be "given up." I think it's so true that now that we can have it all--we've realized we CAN, but only a few things at a time, if we're going to be successful at any of it. So much of our lives, now, have to do with choices.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: In some ways, my mother has had a very traditional life for a woman of her generation. Got her "MRS" in college, followed her husband's career around, and spent a great deal of her time as a stay-at-home mother. However, she also survived an early widowhood, poverty as a single mother who worked as a substitute teacher to support her children while going to night school for her masters, and has picked up stakes and moved lock, stock and barrel more times than I can count.
My mother wanted all her children to have happy marriages, but she always stressed the importance of being able to make a living - for yourself and for your kids. "It's harder to find a good job than a good husband," she said. Mom has always been very social and sociable - officers club, bridge club, volunteering at her church, exercise buddies. Of the two of us, I'm the one with few friends, male or female. I can be very hermit-like and hard to get hold of. I agree with Hank - that may be the result of my choices. I protect my work/family/marriage time by keeping other relationships low maintenance.
DEBS: Such interesting responses! Like Julia, while my women friends are a very important part of my life (and have, as Rhys says, saved me a fortune in therapy bills over the years) I tend to be very protective of my time and of the energy expended in those relationships. Nothing takes precedence over my Friday night at-home movie date-night with Rick, or time spent with my daughter...
And then we start to think about how our mothers as models affect our female characters... Isn't that another can of worms????
What about you, our RED readers? Do you feel that you are more liberated than your mothers?
As a last note, here's one of my favorite photos of my mother. I think it was taken sometime in the late 80s or early 90s, and it's the one I used for her obituary, but I had to crop out my dad. It was very hard to find a picture of her in the prime of mid-life without him. And that, I think, is a pretty nice epitaph.