At some point, the conversation turned from from the topic of gender roles to our parents' expectations of us. I was sitting at the table with two intelligent, articulate women, both of whom seemed happy with their lives but who had clearly chosen nontraditional paths for themselves. I asked them two questions:
"Did you turn out the way your mother wanted you to? And is your mother happy with the way you turned out?"
Between the three of us, the answer to the first question was a resounding no. Unsurprisingly, none of us had done anything like what our parents expected. The answer to the second question was mixed. "I was supposed to be a nun and spend the rest of my life taking care of her", was one of the responses.
To balance out the equation, I called mom this afternoon. We hadn't chatted in a while, so we spent some time catching up on random news and minutiae of our lives. She's studying for next year's tax season, David's garden is doing fine, my stepbrother is in Spain. I've been traveling a lot this year, the job is fine, everybody's fine, la la la.
And then I asked her the two questions. As expected, no, I did not turn out the way she expected me to. And yes, she's happy with the way I turned out. I've thrown lots of curve balls at her over the years-- there's very little that I hold back from her. While she hasn't always been delighted with everything I've done (and man, you should have heard the conversation some years ago when I told her I'd quit my job of seven years, sold my condo, was headed to Europe for the summer, and then was moving to San Francisco), she's always been supportive. These days, she doesn't even bat en eye when I say I'm on my way to the boyfriend's wife's birthday party. As long as I'm happy, and I certainly seem happy to her, then she's fine with whatever I do.
"I always expected you to be more of an academic." Yeah, me too-- I thought I'd wind up with a PhD in physics or math or something. I started college in precisely the wrong way, got myself tossed out in the minimum three-semesters it took to do so, and never went back. At this point there's no career upside in my going back to school, so while it would be fun to do it's just not likely to happen.
When I quit school, she was quite adamant that I'd never do anything without a degree. I'm sure she thought I was setting myself up for a lifetime of low-wage dead-end jobs. I was lucky in a way-- I found myself in a young industry, one where being smart and capable was far more important than having credentials-- but I'm pretty sure I would have done OK no matter what. Having her tell me I couldn't was more than sufficient motivation. :-)
I really like those two questions. Did you turn out the way your parents expected you to, and are your parents happy with the way you turned out?