My mom died recently after having spent nine days slowly shutting down in hospice. She was 92. Being at her side throughout was heartrending. I have been surprised to learn how many friends have gone through similar times. But this is not an obituary. Nor will it be morose. This is a call to celebrate the lives of our “Boomer Moms.” Theirs has been a uniquely challenging and inspiring journey.
Going through mom’s papers after her death, I came across the deed to her house. She was a single mom, raising my brother and me with little help from our dad. She managed her money and put together a down payment that she invested in a small, unassuming house. On the deed it said “Marian Kozachik, a divorced woman.” This was in 1970. She, and all other women of her era were defined by her husband. Even after their separation.
When World War II broke out, the young men put on uniforms and went off to war. The young women went out into the workforce and kept the economy going. It was a shift in roles that showed women they had what it took if they wanted to chase dreams that lay beyond the home. That changed when the boys came home after the war and retook jobs, and young women were supposed to go back to their domestic focus. The baby boom followed.
For the moms who chose to support their family through work in the home, the opportunity was honorable. There is absolutely nothing demeaning or “less than” about raising a family and managing the affairs of the home. And yet, the expectation was that would be universal, and that the men would resume their “proper” role of provider. Women’s work existed in the home, and venturing beyond violated social norms.
But normalizing a return to pre-war roles was like putting the genie back in the bottle. Some women had tasted a new direction for their life and wanted to pursue it. Others, like my mom, had to embrace the role of provider after divorce. Glass ceilings and occupational pigeon-holing were social constructs to effectively keep these non-compliant Boomer Moms in their place.
In the ’60s and ’70s we saw efforts at significant social change. That included civil rights legislation, environmental legislation and a general attempt to break down some of the old ways and open new doors. Women took part in those efforts. Even so, the Equal Rights Amendment was one legislative change that was not adopted.
When Mom bought her house in 1970, she was still defined by a relationship that had ended over a decade earlier. And to get a loan, she was required to have her former husband’s signature. Boomer Moms’ fight to be equal players continued.
Today we see changes evolving. Women are being accepted more and more fully in non-traditional occupations. They are seen more and more running large firms. This past year they made significant gains in holding public office. Glass ceilings are being broken down.
And yet, this past year we also saw signs that the hard work our Boomer Moms performed to change perceptions is still a work in progress. The #MeToo movement shouts testimony to the fact that far too often, women are objectified and indeed treated as “less than” in our society. And the ERA is still not the law of the land.
My mom, and Boomer Moms across the country have been fighting the social mores that imposed restricted options since the day they were sent back home after the war. Many fought the mold and successfully balanced dual roles – loving and nurturing mothers, and working outside the home in occupations that allowed them to grow more fully as persons. For them all, it was a fight. To the extent they’ve made progress, our sons and daughters are the richer for their service to our country.
There is work yet to be done. Today is the time to recognize, and to thank our Boomer Moms, like Marian Kozachik, for having laid the groundwork, and broken down some of the barriers so that hopefully in the not-too-distant future, the ceilings are shattered and persons are free to choose their path, regardless of any of the socially imposed restrictions that have been far too slow in coming down.
Find a Boomer Mom – perhaps your own if you still have her – and give her a hug for the hard work she has done to make us better people.