Which is the American Dream (in reality)?
My dad has always been the one I call when my life seems to be falling apart. And it was on one of these days, while I was driving home from work, freaking out to him about some feedback I’d received at work, or some current parenting drama, that he gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever received: what I’m trying to achieve is not possible.
Now that’s just giving up, right? Being a victim? Not trying hard enough?
I agree, and my accountable, hard-working spirit responded in exactly the same way… until he explained himself. He started recounting life in the ’50s, and how it was expected that the mother of the family would stay home and take care of the children and the duties of the household. And yes, this is where I began to roll my eyes back in my head and thank God I wasn’t married to someone so chauvinistic… but still, I let him continue.
He explained that his point was not about whether it was the woman or the man of the family that stayed home, or whether or not they were happy. The important fact is that one parent stayed home. Because there was a full-time job for them to do there. Between laundry and dinners, house cleaning and grocery shopping, caring for the children (and the husband), it was understood that this equated to a (at least) full-time work for one parent. But today, in my house and many others, both parents work outside the home. And even though we pay (a healthy chunk of our income to) someone to care for our children, we still haven’t resolved the workload required to do the laundry and the cooking, the house cleaning and the grocery shopping, etc.
In the documentary “Happy” by Roko Belic, they explain that Denmark is the happiest country on Earth, and has been for a number of years. And whether by circumstance or a more direct correlation, they also happen to be the country with the largest percentage of their residents living in communal living spaces. The one they featured, for example, had 15+ families living in set of shared buildings. Each family took turns cooking dinner two times a month, among sharing other chores. The mom interviewed explained how it was so nice not to have to worry about dinner right when she got home–or dishes after; how it was great to just hang out with her children for that extra time each night. Now I’m not suggesting we all move in to communes and ditch the American single-family life, but maybe we need to consider the fact that chasing the infamous American dream could be a recipe for disappointment?
But if this was really the case–if the American Dream really isn’t possible–than how did I ever get the idea that it was?
The biggest reason I felt this was possible was because of my own childhood. Having been raised in a household where both my mom and step-dad worked, everything was always in its place, the house was always clean and the chores completed each week, the idea that it was not possible was completely unintelligible. But, I had to admit, when I thought about it more, I realized that there were prices paid for that American Dream status. My mom was always tired, and stressed, and neither she nor my step-dad slept more than five hours a night, and they didn’t get to just sit and enjoy life as much as I’d like to.
Another reason I felt so sure it was the only way to live was from what I’d seen on TV my whole life. Every commercial, no matter if they were selling cereal or cars, misleadingly portrays the perfect house, kids, body, marriage, you name it. The same goes for the lives movie stars. It’s only by way of gossip magazines (thus why I love them so much!) and behind the scenes documentaries do we really debunk the myths and unveil all the imperfection and professional helpers behind this tremendous hoax.
After I hung up with my dad, I realized that I really needed to sit down, write down all my expectations, to-dos, and dreams, take out the red pen, and figure out what I need to give up to be happy.
A few weeks later, I had begun to delete (or modify) some things on my list:
- I will never start my own company or own my own cabin
- I am okay with having piles of things on my kitchen counter during the week
- I will skip cable and hire a basic house cleaner
- I will make one scrapbook of photos and one video montage for each child for all their years at home (instead of one for each year)
- I will wait to start book-writing classes and my masters until my children are older
- I will leave one drawer empty to shove things in when needed
- I will pay extra money for groceries to be delivered on the toughest weeks
Already I feel lighter, but there are still so many things left on my list… I know more red-lining is in my future, but at least I made a solid start.