Swimming Upstream: Why do women have to justify their life choices?


I made a new friend recently. Many years ago, she turned down a marriage proposal to take her dream job as a travel agent. She has never looked back, she says, though at times she gets lonely. I have to admit, I envy her freedom in many ways, released from having to justify her life choices.

Though many years ago my life was similar to hers. I had a fantastic job in publishing (with plenty of overseas travel) which I eventually left to fulfill my own personal dream of becoming a writer. Gathering all the notebooks that I’d scribbled in on aeroplanes over the years, I took the plunge and moved to the Welsh seaside to the home of a family friend where I sat at my computer looking out at the sea in the distance and wrote the first draft of my novel Swimming Upstream. My inspiration came from the pain of a long-term relationship break-up, when events from my past came rearing up to haunt me. Little did I know that the worst was yet to come.

Life changes direction

I met my husband in 1998,  re-trained as a lawyer and in 2002 our first son was born. But at 9 months of age he became ill and was diagnosed with epilepsy and Global Developmental Delay (GDD). We were told that his problems were “significant”. When we asked if he would ever walk or talk, the doctors couldn’t say. My son is now 10 and I haven’t got on a plane for the last 9 years. I have developed a fear of flying which has nothing to do with plane crashes. My fear is rather that my son might spend the entire journey crying loudly and trying to open the exit doors. He still can’t talk, feed himself or walk without help, yet, unlike many other children with severe learning difficulties he is unable to sit still for very long.

Like many women I am stretched to the limit at times, now that I am juggling two careers as a writer and lawyer with bringing up two children, one of whom has significant additional needs. When I told my friend, Ingrid, that I had recently resurrected and re-written my novel, she laughed. “So, working full time and bringing up two children’s not enough for you, then?” she said. “You needed something else to do after you’d finished tea, put the kids to bed and done the washing up?”

Like many women, I cope because I have to.

I have chosen to experience both the immense joy of raising children and the stimulation and fulfillment of an interesting career. At times it is truly exhausting but I am lucky to have the emotional and, on occasion, practical support of other women in my life whose own life choices (and whose fate) have left them a little more free. I completely respect and admire those women who have chosen not to have children and to focus on their careers instead, just as I respect and admire those mothers who choose not to work and to devote themselves full-time to their families.  We all make different life choices.

Yet, I find it hard to comprehend why we as women should feel the need to justify our life choices to each other or to anyone else. I don’t believe there is any “best” way to raise children. Surely the best lesson that we can teach the next generation, by our own example, is how to be happy. After all, can any job be more important than that?

Author: Ruth Manchini  Orginally a guest post for 3Plus International



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