It’s the one with the little girl narrating while magical graphics play in the background:
My mom, she makes underwater fans that are powered by the moon.
My mom makes airplane engines that can talk.
My mom makes hospitals you can hold in your hand.
My mom can print amazing things right from her computer.
My mom makes trains that are friends with trees.
My mom works at GE.
I loved this commercial the first time I saw it, while hating it at the same time.
Why I Loved It
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s when it was still rare for girls to choose to pursue careers in science, let alone to be supported in their ambitions by their high school science teachers, the GE commercial was supposed to reassure me that we’ve come a long way, baby.
And we have. No question about it. So kudos to GE for getting the message out that they hire female scientists, and that GE’s female scientists even have kids. If I had a daughter with science abilities, I’d want her to work at GE. I’d want her to see that commercial and be inspired.
I also know that had the commercial run as “My dad builds (fill in the blank),” I would have said to my teenage sons, “Why don’t they use ‘mom’ instead? How sexist!” And my sons would have thought, There she goes again on one of her feminist rants.
Why I Hated It
At the same time, on a personal level the commercial rekindled the identity issues I struggled with for years after giving up my career to focus on raising my kids. My 15-year-old son who knows me so well joked, “Mom, why don’t you work at GE?”
“Because I prefer sitting at home all day, drinking martinis and eating bon bons,” I retorted.
I couldn’t get the commercial off my mind. Not because I regretted my decision to change course while my kids were at home. And not because I think it’s wrong to stay on the career ladder if you have kids. This isn’t a Mommy Wars question. There is no right or wrong in the choice that each woman makes for herself and her family. Choice is a luxury that too few of us have in the first place.
What I’m talking about is how we define purpose. How we, as women, define self-worth.
The voice in my head that said, “You should be that high powered professional mom the little girl is talking about…” was the tape that defined my sense of self for years before and after I had kids.
It’s the tape that the women’s movement in the ’70s and ’80s endorsed, and with good reason. We needed a battering ram to bust through barriers.
But if the commercial left me, at least for a brief moment, feeling insignificant at a time in my life when I’ve never felt more purposeful, fulfilled and content, I wondered how other women felt who weren’t building hospitals you can hold in your hand.
A New Definition of Meaningful
Here’s my hope for the women’s movement, and for society in general. That we can broaden our definition of meaningful work. I stopped asking women a long time ago if they “worked” or not. I might ask if they work in an office. Or I might ask if they get paid for their work. But it’s all work, whether paid or not, as Matt Walsh lays out so eloquently in “You’re a Stay-at-Home Mom? What Do You Do All Day?”
Most importantly, we, as individuals, need to recognize and value the whisper that comes from a place deeper than our egos, the whisper that tells us, “This is what you really love to do, so do it.” That may be building trains that are friends with trees, or that may be staying home with your kids and volunteering, or it may be starting a basket weaving business.
It’s not about the money and it’s not about what society recognizes as valuable work. Society won’t be out ahead of us. It never is. Each of us needs to broaden our personal definition of what it means to lead an intentional, purposeful life, and pull society along with us.
My husband, not wanting to be lumped into my broad statement about how society defines valuable work, reminded me that the Olympics also ran a strong pro-mom campaign. Those ice dancing gold medals never would have happened without “the moms.” And I lost count of how many athletes were featured in “Thank You Mom” segments.
He’s right, that’s progress. But my point goes beyond feeling valued as a stay-at-home mom. My point applies to women (and even men) with and without kids.
All of us have the same challenge. All of us need to clear the path between our hearts and our heads to be able to hear the whisper leading us to our purpose.
All of us need to learn to ignore the “I should be…” tape that runs incessantly between our ears.
All of us need to learn to first hear, then honor the heart whisper that leads us to our true passion and purpose, even if it’s not making airplane engines that can talk.
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