Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Perils of Housewifery

Last week, Giggles, Bax, Prim, and I attended a Zocalo event at the Hammer Museum called "Baby, I'm Bored: When Did Motherhood Become a Career and Is It a Professional Disaster?"
zocalo baby 001
From left to right, novelist Meg Wolitzer (The Ten Year Nap), journalist Leslie Bennetts (The Feminine Mistake), and [super-annoying moderator] Los Angeles Time columnist Meghan Daum had an on-stage conversation about increasing numbers of highly educated and accomplished women who leave the workforce to stay at home to raise their children.
zocalo baby 004
I find this recent phenomenon rather alarming, disappointing, and worrisome.

A few clips from the night:

Wolitzer speaks on the anxiety of today's mothers.

Bennetts opines on "helicopter moms."

Bennetts shuts down the elitist Daum and her "people like us" theory.

Wolitzer explains that not everybody has a passion.

Work does not make you interesting. Interesting work makes you interesting.

The guy is not going to take care of you. And Daum is an idiot.

Men who are not earning huge incomes often resent their stay-at-home wives.

I was very sad that I didn't capture the simultaneous collective gasp and applause when Bennetts said that being a stay-at-home mom is "really not that hard" and is not, in fact, a career and should not be considered one.

Yeah, she went there. And then some.

When I told Mr. Monkey this when I got home, he laughed and said, "You were clapping, weren't you?"

Both Wolitzer and Bennetts were thoughtful and engaging, and both had many interesting things to say about the new wave of twentysomethings and thirtysomethings who are becoming housewives in droves.

The gist of Bennetts' book is that too many women our age no longer think like the independent baby boomers of old. Instead of furthering their standing in the workforce, these women -- many of whom are extraordinarily intelligent, have graduate degrees, and once earned six- or seven-figure salaries -- are making what they believe is a well-informed decision to give it all up and instead debate at PTA meetings whether selling tote bags or chocolate would be more lucrative for their children's schools.

Of course, you can guess that Bennetts thinks this choice is not well-informed.

The choice seems fine for a couple of years. Other people, namely men and other stay-at-home moms, purport to admire this decision. It's the noble thing to do to "sacrifice" your career, your personal aspirations, and even your advanced education for the sake of your family.

Daddy goes to work. Mommy stays at home. Done.

But what happens when the 1950s paradigm doesn't pan out? What happens if your man loses his job? What happens if your man leaves you? Or, heaven forbid, what happens if your man just suddenly drops dead one day?

You're shit out of luck, that's what. And so are your kids, if you have them.

According to Bennetts, "mothering" only really takes up a full 15 years of one's life. Bennetts argues that, by the time a child can drive himself around, a mother doesn't really have much to do during the day or even during the night.

And Bennetts is no stranger to motherhood. The frequent contributor to Vogue has two children of her own.

Fifteen years is only a small fraction of a woman's adult life. If you calculate from about age 20, a woman's adult life is about 60 or 70 years nowadays.

What happens after that 15 years of mothering?

Bennetts claims (and supports with statistics) that women who are out of the workforce for 15 years have extraordinary difficulties re-entering the workforce, no matter how educated and well-qualified they are. In fact, for most high-powered jobs with corresponding high salaries, any more than three years out of the game means you're toast.

Why this would be a surprise to anybody is beyond me. Further, it also baffles me that people would actually be offended by these stats. Offended! Such nonsense.

It should be emphasized that what we're talking about here are professional careers. By "professional," I mean trained in a "learned or artistic profession" -- law, medicine, dentistry, optometry, architecture, engineering, or accounting (i.e., work that is predominantly intellectual and varied in character as opposed to routine mental, manual, mechanical, or physical work).

In other words, leaving work for a number of years and then re-entering the workforce is not too much of a problem for those in lower-paying, traditionally female-dominated jobs, such as secretarial jobs, teaching, and even nursing, but such a prolonged break is almost an insurmountable obstacle for former professionals.

And that is the saddest part.

Even with all the progress that women have made these past few decades to achieve some semblance of equality in old male-dominated fields, they are still ultimately reduced to these old roles. After giving up their awesome careers to do what some people consider the most important thing in the world, women are relegated to the lowest paying and least prestigious positions, even if they are supremely overqualified.

Worse yet, uneducated women may not even be able to get jobs at all and end up sinking into the world of food stamps and poverty.

I don't know what to say to the uneducated women. That's a bad situation. That's all I've got on that front.

But, to the Yale-trained lawyers and Harvard-trained doctors who choose to relinquish their illustrious careers and then don't know what to do with themselves when their children are grown or fret when their husbands abandon them later in life, and they have no good way to earn a living anymore, I say, "Wah wah wah!"

Stop your whining.
Stop leaving the workforce.
Stop being stupid.
Stake your claim.
Exert some control over your own fate.
Don't be left without any recourse.
Respect yourself enough to take care of yourself.

Prim didn't seem to enjoy the Zocalo event at all. She said she found it overly bleak.

Well, life is bleak if you aren't self-sufficient.

After being married about a quarter of a century, my father divorced my mother. My mother had been a housewife for my and my younger brother's entire childhood. When she became pregnant with me, she halted her schooling and began her life as a stay-at-home mom.

That's all we knew her as for all those years. I often wondered why she didn't work. She is so smart and so industrious. She had so much to offer the world. She really should've done more than just raise us. To be entirely honest, while I have much respect for my mother today, I think I would've respected her more during my formative years if she had worked.

So many times as a teen, I would think, "What do you know? You're just a homemaker."

And, while this sounds harsh, I know my mother wouldn't be crushed by this sentiment because I know she feels the same way. She does consider my brother and me her greatest accomplishments thus far in life, but she also regrets that she didn't work all those years to better herself and to gain knowledge and experience in a trade.

How do I know this? I talked to her the day after the Zocalo event about this!

Even my mother, who was a homemaker for over 20 years, agrees that women need to take charge of their own economics. She and her husband are currently fretting about his daughter's decision to quit her career to become a stay-at-home mom. But, obviously, as an outsider of sorts, my mother can't really push the issue and is wisely keeping her mouth shut.

Yes, it's every woman's own choice.

But it's a dangerous choice.

And, in my opinion, it is an amazingly ill-advised choice -- one for whom a woman will have no one but herself to blame.

Women should live by the Scout Motto.

Be prepared.

Every woman should be ready for anything life throws her way. Call me a pessimist, but life throws you lots of crap.

And who wants to be crapped on?

It's easy to prevent this, ladies. Don't stop working. Or, if you can't bear to be away from your baby, take only a couple years off from working. But go back to work. You can even work part-time. Just work in some form, any form.

It is one thing to share your life with a man who loves you. It is a whole different thing to rely on a man for your well-being.

The best way to be well is to be self-reliant.


  1. I have to say I had a slight *feeling* the controversial post was going to be about this topic. I mainly agree with you for the most part - I have first hand experiece with this. No, I'm not a mom. I'm a sister and a cousin and formally a client to women who have made the choice to end their persuit of their education and careers for motherhood. Okay, my sister, totally different scenario because to my surprise, she went back to work.

    I can go on and on and on about this but I'd rather not. Feel free to email me - it's in the profile. Or not. :)

  2. I like this thoughtful post, and I too am not surprised at the topic. I am a working single mom (me ex and I divorced after 7 years of marriage just after my first child was 1). I am always extremely aware of the fact that my profession has allowed me to take care of myself and my son, without any help, if need be.

    I do think it's a shame that our society is structured such as to create this choice of extremes for professional women, though. Most of these jobs are full time plus, often including travel. And it is, frankly, very difficult to balance with children. And kids and moms - families as a whole - do miss out as a result. But the alternative usually is dropping out completely and staying home, and I think this post illustrates a number of reasons that is problematic.

    The truth is, I really would have loved some additional time with my baby and not to have billed 200+ hours my first month back after 12 weeks of maternity leave (a lot of that in the middle of the night). I am still often torn and saddened by lost time with my son, now 4, even though I truly enjoy my job and both need and appreciate it because it allows me to support us.

    The choice of extremes makes it difficult, because there really is no good answer. Part time work for a period of time is really ideal for mothers and families, but very very few professionals will be able to work that kind of arrangement.

    sorry for the comment novel. I've spent some time thinking about this.

  3. Oh snap! This was a much heated debate on Oprah (not that I watch it or anything.....) While I can definitely see both sides, I think this world is a much different place considering its much more common to get a divorce.

    My mom took off 5 years from work to raise my brother and I (and look how we turned out! hardy har har har). She's in a much better place because she kept her career-- due to my dad being a giant douchebag and leaving us to go have a replacement family with a 28* yr old- but that's another post all together! All I'm saying is- you're right, one should be prepared for a worst case scenario. Plus- I took off 4 months last year for a new job search, and I felt like I was going to go bonkers by the last month- and all I was raising was a 3 yr old DOG! hahaha

    *the gold digger new wife is 35 now and looks old and moldy (so I hear)

  4. I can see how this topic would be controversial, but I have to agree with almost all that you have said. I don't have first-hand experience since I'm not a mom and my mom was never a SAH, but I have seen firsthand how my office treats women who return to work after several years of being a SAHM or who job-share once they have children.

    This line in particular struck me:
    "The best way to be well is to be self-reliant." That was pretty much the main dating/marriage advice my mom always gave me, even though she and my dad are going on 44 years of marriage. And as I look toward the future, it is this concept that holds me back from wanting to be a total SAHM when/if we have children. I think it's in the best interests of a family for both parents to be working in some fashion. You pointed to several of the reasons why.

  5. Really interesting topic. I agree with you about being self reliant, but most interesting to me is something it seems they talked about a little, parents' over-involvement in their children's lives. For a woman to give up the things she once felt strongly about (or why did she pursue them in the first place?) to have her life revolve around her children makes no sense to me. Kids do better when their parents have an identity outside of them.

  6. I agree with you 100% on your post. I just finished reading a book called Flux, by Peggy Orenstein, and am still debating whether the book should be given any credence. It's about the state of modern women, not being able to work full time like men, wanting to be the perfect mothers, and being generally unhappy and unsatisfied with not ever being able to dedicate themselves 100% to anything.

    The book was neither thought provoking nor particularly illuminating (unlike your post!), but it did help me accept that in modern society, women have very very difficult choices to make and that one should choose wisely before giving up something they have worked hard for (career) for the more traditional roles (SAHM) women are expected to assume.

    Not sure what the point of my comment is, but I appreciated your post!

  7. I was there too!!! It was very interesting panel but I definitely agree with your points. (I was one of those people who was applauding at everything they said and that moderator was awful!!). We keep talking about choice, but in fact women are not really given a choice rather they are pushed out of the workforce. I am very passionate about this topic (this is my line of research and my work so I have to be in many ways). I just finished reading "Opting Out?" by Pamela Stone and her book is far better that the two authors on the panel (but I have to admit that I only read the Wolitzer book but have heard a lot of about the Bennetts book). Thanks for sharing.

  8. This post was so articulate and thoughtfully written. Truly, I enjoyed reading it, even though the issue is something I know I will be struggling with in the next few years.

    It's true, the options are not good for working mothers today (limited time with your kids, guilt, etc.). But the alternative is so much worse.

    I hope that as time goes on, the sheer number of women in the workforce who demand creative and flexible working options will initiate a true change in the way corporate America views working moms. Because as it stands right now, at least from what I have seen, there's a definite underlying message of exasperation and irritation when women have to take maternity leave or otherwise disrupt the status quo.

  9. while this is always in the back of my head, upon your advice, i am doing my best to stop worrying ahead since i do still have some time until i have to deal with this head on, biologically speaking.

    both the bear's and my mom were the primary breadwinners in our families. while we both admire our moms a lot and are grateful they did what they had to do to support their families and the best they could in their circumstances, we both feel like we missed our moms (both worked long hours often coming home after we were in bed) a lot and still harbor a little bit of resentment deep down for their absenteeism during our young lives, even though we have both resolved and come to peace with it in our logical brains and are really OK with it on all but the most primal levels. that, and the fact that i have worked hard to build a career (although rarely paying 6 or 7 figures in this industry ;) ) are major sticking points that always leave us mired in between, undecided.

    i am glad i have some time.

    thanks for the summary and post. i'll have to watch the videos tonight at home, though.

  10. I really enjoyed reading this post. It's the first one I have read in a while (probably from my current avoidance about this debate), that truly explores that it's not selfish to continue in a career after children. Most articles now need to focus on the children's needs and how it effects them and simply ignores the needs of the mother. Most importantly the need for mothers to be boy scouts and "be prepared."

  11. AMEN, sister!

    I, too, am dismayed at the growing number of women who leave the workforce to become stay-at-home mommies. I have a friend who shall remain nameless who just got married in June and doesn't start her accounting job until August. Even before she has even started her job, she wants to get pregnant so she can stay at home since her new hubby has a bigshot job. She's fucking 24 years old! When she told me that, I could see the respect I had for her disappearing by the second.

    as for the correlation made to your mom, i can see where you're coming from. when my dad divorced my mom, she was able to financially support herself as well as my brother and me. if she hadn't been working, where would we be??? I don't know. I'm sure my dad would have helped, but it would have been a struggle for all of us.

  12. People always say it's different when you actually have your own baby. All I can say is that it is my full intention not to live a life that revolves around a child who'll eventually grow up and leave me. Whether or not that'll actually happen is a whole different story. Thanks for you thoughts!

  13. I think you might be surprised at the one point I take issue with: the argument by one of the panelists that being a stay at home mom is easy. I strongly disagree with that--particularly where the stay at home mom is independent and highly intelligent (which I don't think requires her to be highly educated).

    I stayed home for six months when my son was born. By the end, I was nervous about leaving him and going back to work, but I was ready. Those first days back, I would go in my office, shut the door and take a deep breathe and soke in my solitude, my privacy, my freedom. To this day, my office is my sanctuary, where nobody is clinging to me for love and affection. Where nobody calls me "mommy."

    Yes, it was hard at the firm. Like one other poster, I billed 200 hours per month by not sleeping. I even dragged a nanny and my nursing baby on numerous business trips. But I still believe that was easier than for ME to stay home.

    From my experience, I've come to believe that working is MUCH easier for me given my personality and spirit. I love the intellectual stimulation and social interaction. I can't wait to get back to work and see you, Bax, Giggles and (can't remember Irish-hater's nickname) on a daily basis. Every time we meet for lunch it feeds my soul so that I can get through another couple of weeks of temporary SOH mommyhood. I miss you guys! xxxx

  14. Wow, that was some post! I lurk your page religiously and am glad that you write the topics you do. I have chosen to be a SAHM for the past 3 1/2 years. My husband has a fantastic job and was able to stay at home and raise my children for the first 5 years of their lives rather then they paying someone $1500 a month to care for my children. These have been the most trying but fantastic years I've had. I am very lucky to be able to be with them in their early years. I do plan on going back to work and I have a degree, I know it will be difficult but am more tham willing to stay and raise my babies rather than get off of work at 6pm, feed, bath, and put my children to sleep. I get to really enjoy them and for that, I am extremely lucky.

  15. You're so right... Self reliance is the key to making an informed choice. And like some of the other commenters said, the perception there has to be a choice -- and that society seems to think it's a choice only mothers need to make -- is so frustrating.

    The idea that a good worker cannot be a good mother, and vice versa, has created this misperception that being a good mother involves sacrificing one's sense of self to give their lives to their children. And the children suffer -- if mothers don't appear to have independence, then their children (rightly or not) may feel moms don't deserve to have input over their futures. If the kids don't respect the lifestyle or see how hard their SAHM works, then they will look to their fathers for everything.

    Self-reliance and a sense of self breed respect, both in children and the moms themselves.

  16. I am a working mother and up until a year ago I was a single working mother of two (17 year old and 9 year old). I am proud that I have a career, raise my children and run my household simultaneous. Although it would be "nice" to be a stay at home mom and devote more attention to my children and home I don't feel I'm doing them a diservice by not being able to. I don't think I would change a thing. It's important to me for my daughter to see her mother work hard to take care of my family and still be a nurturing and loving and devoted mother. I'm independent and want her to be independent as well. I saw my mom raise my sister and I alone, it was tough on her but she never relied on anyone else to take care of her. And neither have I. (whoa that was long...)

  17. I agree completely. To say a child will not grow up to be productive because their parent didn't stay at home with them is an insult to all the brilliant people who went to daycare either by choice or by force. It is also a disservice to women in that it underestimates us entirely. Countless working mothers have raised smart children who are large contributors to society.

    There are other benefits to mother working outside of the home (or in it for that matter) aside from career progression. Working allows mothers a time to focus on who they are as a person, rather than letting motherhood define them entirely. It also allows them to socialize with other adults and feel like they contributed something to the world and themselves other than offspring. The truth is, all kids grow up and you can't expect them not to move on just because you have nothing to do after sitting home for two decades.

    I am sure when I have a baby I will dread the day I need to leave it to go back to work, but it is also my hope that I will be setting a good example to my kids that you CAN have it all-a great career, education to see you through, and a beautiful family to boot. The world is my oyster. Why should I deny myself money, experiences and pride in the name of sacrifice? If I stayed home exlucisvely the only thing I'd be sacrificing would be my sanity.

  18. damned if you do, damned if you don't. sigh. I think another part of the issue is that women judge each other's decisions. and that's bullshit. everyone's situation is different. everyone's decision is their own. no two lives are identical.

    professional women too often look down their noses at stay at home moms but they also resent the ones who come back to work and try to juggle. so damned if you do, damned if you don't.

    i have come to believe in life there are no wrongs or rights. nothing is black or white. we exist in shades of gray. your character and your success in life is based on how you step up to the consequences of the decisions you make.

  19. I think I might need to respond via blog post. In short, I agree that women should not count on men to always be there for them. I also do not identify with housewife types. However, I will say that my upbringing was completely opposite. My mother worked my entire minor (0-18) life and it was horrible for me as a child. Lonely doesn't even begin to describe. I will say though that my mother couldn't balance. Some other women can. I don't know, I'll have to expand.

    Also, I can't get on board with the 'being a mother isn't hard' idea. Granted, I'm not, but I'll just say, to be a good one, it doesn't look so easy.

  20. p.s. My husband would be VERY happy to be a stay-at-home dad but that's a whole different set of issues. Yes, if we did end up seperating for some reason, cool, I have my career to fall back on but I can't even imagine the resentment I'd have. I resented him when I was working and he was going to school. He was in law school and studying for the bar and I was jealous!! Plus, if we don't seperate and he tries to get back into law (esp. entertainment!!) after so many years out, he'd be screwed. Not to mention, I will most likely always have less earning potential than him.

    The whole thing sucks!

  21. I was raised by a single mother. A single mother who worked hard. She didn't have an education, but she had a spitfire personality, a great knack at sales, and so she was able to do her own thing.

    I always wanted to be independent. Resilient. She raised me that way. I didn't want to feel so cornered financially, as my mom did many times.

    That being said, I have a little one on the way. It's probably very easy to say that everyone should keep on chugging along at work, but there is an incredible sense of being torn when you have a baby. Your baby. That baby's sense of self, sense of comfort, and sense of the world, come from you. If you're not around to support and nurture that, that's a HUGE sacrifice. If someone isn't interested in having children, they may not see it that way. But when you are, and when you love your child, it becomes a seriously thorny issue.

    I personally, would not want to be home full time. And I'm so blessed that I've worked out an accommodating situation with my job.

    It's really a personal choice - stay working or stay at home. It is hard to judge or cast opinion on who chooses what, because we each have our own realities and own personal situations. It unfortunately, is not black and white.

  22. Diabolina said it best, "damned if you do, damned if you don't." I also had a feeling your controversial post would have something to do with this subject. I appreciate your summary and careful thoughts. As a well-educated teacher with a master's degree, I'm trying not to take offense that my chosen career isn't considered "professional". But that's another topic ;)

    I'll be honest, while education is my passion over advertising/marketing, a predominate thought when changing careers was that as a teacher, I would have great hours and summers off, assuming that one day we'll have a family. I feel that taking a few years off during the baby/toddler age is definitely beneficial for the child as well as for the family unit. Something I hope to do when it's time for a little Tucker. Then, we'll see where it goes. Part-time is a good option. My mom worked part-time and we loved being able to have our mom home after school. As a teacher, I would have the same hours, so that's irrelevant for our situation. It's a win-win when there's a teacher in the family. As a "professional" however, the debate continues. I'll say this: if your child tends to veer towards trouble, part-time may be the only option to keep your child on the right path. On the other hand, if the child is super responsible and trustworthy, full-time could work.

  23. thank you for such a interesting post. i for one am very independent so being a sahm & depending on my DH would not be me! i would be bored too death! i work over 40hr weeks so i have thought about just cutting back to 35 hrs. that's my limit.

    i don't have kids of my own yet but i know i'm just not that kind of person to give up my personal space 24/7. i believe women are very creative so we can always make time for everything that is meaningful to us. that includes career, kids, husband, family, friends, personal space, etc, etc.

  24. I think we have the same mom when it comes to this topic - mine quit her career and was a homemaker to my sister and I once she had me (previously an editor for a publishing house), and she still doesn't have a "career" job and isn't looking for one. She's all but completely dependent on my dad financially.

    I especially thought that the clip about men being resentful was very interesting, but not necessarily surprising.

    Thank you so much for this post - it was so well thought out and written. Wish I could have been there to see it all in person.

  25. I concur with everything you said.

    My parents are not divorced. My mom was never a SAHM. She was/is still a very strong, independent and business oriented woman.

    I used to not understand why women chose to be SAHM in this given day in age when women have fought for so long for equality and when we were given the opportunity for equality, we basically repeated history. But a friend told me it is different nowadays because we, as women, are given the choice whereas before society dictated that women needed to stay home. How do you comment to that? That you have a choice nowadays whereas before you did not. Does that mean that we, as women, are not making educated choices or are we making choices that are still considered socially accepted.

    I must say, I respect the SAHM who "choose" to stay home knowing full well what may or may not happen when she re-enters the workforce more than the SAHM who feels like she is sacrifacing her career/life or those who expect equality after many years out of the working world.

  26. I'm just going to be honest:
    I've been taking care of my husband for 5 years. I think he should return the favor when I have a baby.

    My perfect scenario:

    1. Have a baby
    2. Stay home for 3 years
    3. Put the kid in pre-school and go back to work part-time for 3 years
    4. But the kid into grade school and go back to work full-time.

    I can hear you all laughing at me, I can hear it! If my DH dropped dead or divorced me after I had a baby, financially I would be OK because of the investments I have. He's lost his job 4 times so far and we have dealt with it. Luckily our parents are willing and able to help if an emergency like that ever happened. We are lucky. I might not feel this exact same way if I actually liked my job!

  27. One more!

    I know you are correct in your statements. My mother hasn't worked in over 30 years. Recently my dad had a cancer scare and they both started freaking out about how she would survive if he died. I can't believe they hadn't been thinking about it sooner. I also can't figure out what she actually did on a daily basis after my brother and I got into high school and college. I think she just went shopping.

  28. Hubs and I had different experiences with our parents growing up. My mom was a hard worker and, at times, would be very consumed in her career. His mom stayed home for most of the time that he was a kid and then went back to school when he got older. I have a small amount of resentment towards my mom for not being able to attend different events I was a part of in high school, but ultimately, I like to think that I get my sense of independence and self-reliance from her. This debate also touches particularly close to home since I will be going back to school soon, but still hope to be a mother. I'd like to think I can have it all, but as has been previously mentioned, that's not been an option for women. I know that ultimately there will be some sacrifices either personally or professionally.

    However, I have also seen what can happen to women when they are ultimately left behind by their spouses with their children (as what happened to my mom about 7 months after she had the twins). Luckily she had only been out of the workforce for a couple of months and was able to go back easily, but I can't imagine how it would have been for her if she had taken an extended leave.

    In some respects, I think that these high powered industries should take some steps to ensure that working parents have resources available to ease the transition back to work. Places that have on-site daycare and the like are win-win because the employee can focus more on work while they're at work, but also don't feel like they're neglecting their kid.

    I have a lot of thoughts about this (obviously), but I'm glad you wrote about this. It's given me even more to think about!

  29. uneducated? check.
    SAHM? check.
    thinking ahead to when the girls don't need me at home full-time? check.
    happy as a fucking clam? check.

    my mother was a working mom who missed damn near everything important (at least, the things that a child considers important, like spending time together, attending school functions, performances, etc.). it sucked, and that's part of what's driven me to do whatever i have to do to be there for my daughters. you only get one shot, and i'm going to do a damn good job at it. i was a working mom for the first 11-ish years of the teen's life, and i really feel like i missed so much as a result. i'm so grateful to have the chance to be home with her and the bean, and i still manage to get "me" time and hang out with friends whenever i want to. i don't feel as though motherhood defines who i am, not one bit. sure, it's a huge part, but there are plenty of other sides to me.

    you know i love you, dude, and i know you have very strong feelings on all things motherhood-related, but i'm floored at "what do you know? you're just a homemaker." yikes. not to mention that it's not anyone's place to judge someone else's choices. ever. as california girl said, everyone has different situations. and assuming that those of us who make this decision jump in without thinking ahead to the future isn't fair. it's pretty damned difficult to make assumptions about things you haven't yet (or ever will) experienced.


  30. Wow, talk about a successful post. It was well thought out and well written. I agreed and disagreed with a lot of it. And I feel that every single comment on this post made a point, one way or another. I'm not sure there is much more that I can write on this post that hasn't been said already. I will say one thing, my experience of working at a preschool has shown me that there is a HUGE difference in how a child progresses when they get picked up at 3pm compared to a child who gets picked up at 6pm. There has to be some sort of compromise with a career and family. While I don't think one's entire life should revolve around a child, it was a decision that they made and they should be aware that there will be sacrifices. If you can't agree to those sacrifices, for God's sake, don't have a child. My one student who is usually the last one to be picked up every day as mom rolls in with her Bluetooth in ear, who won't even bother to get off her cell phone to ask her daughter how her day is drives me nuts. Her poor daughter is a sad, stressed, depressed, underachiever, who doesn't think anyone gives a damn about her and I get really pissed off about it. Diabolina said it best for me. You have to compromise and if you make the decision to have a child, you damn well better make it work one way or another.
    This is an issue that I don't think I can elaborate much more on since I feel that experience is necessary to really come full circle and make a judgment call.
    You're biggest service to this blog community is that shit happens, and you better be prepared to handle it. I think that is the number one message that all women need to take to heart and consider. Thank you WEMO for having the cojones to bring this up. I know it's not easy to lay out your opinion like that and I respect you tons for doing it!

    P.S. this comment was written at 1:25am...sorry for the mistakes.

  31. I'm delurking because this post was way too interesting to pass up.

    I can see that you're very set on your beliefs. That is very commendable. There's nothing sadder than someone who gets married, has kids, and comes to the realization that it is not what they wanted. You know what you want/don't want and that is great.

    Me? Well, I'm lucky. I get to work full time and am a full time mom (with the help of a fantastic husband). I'm sleep deprived but, I'm happy. And, I would be a SAHM in a heartbeat. Only until my kids were of school age. Afterwards, I would jump back into my career (and I don't think I would be any less capable or accepted...but that's just me).

    Thank you for a very thought provoking post.

    I truly enjoy your other posts, too. I look towards your blog when my hubby and I want to explore a new restaurant. :)

  32. i think this is something most women who are considering having children struggle with. i know i do and we're not even sure if we want kids or not. :/

    that being said, did i respect my mom any less for not working when i was growing up? hell no! she was able to really be there for us when we were growing up and for that i can't thank her enough. i learned so much from her, through her common sense, her people skills, the way she was able to keep our family on balance when it so quickly could have spiraled out of control. she liked to always say that i got my "smarts" from my father. bullshit. just because she didn't have a college degree didn't mean she wasn't a smart woman -- something that has been shown to be true today as a divorced woman who is plugging along quite well.

    i think you bring up some great points in that crap does indeed happen and women have to think ahead and figure out what they'll do if they find themselves in a horrible situation. in fact, it was my stay-at-home mom that encouraged me when i was growing up to a) get a good job and b) always have a "nest egg" just in case.

    ultimately though, i think everyone has to make their own decision and it's not for us women to judge each other based on those choices.

    very interesting topic. are we going to have more like this in the future? ;)

  33. I've been hesistant to add any more comments but have been lurking ;-) I was a SAHM for 18 mos with my son. The first year was really tough. But honestly months 12-18 weren't hard. I took last summer off from my big law job to spend with my son (then 2.5 y/o) and, although not challenging, it was a lot of fun.

    I DO feel more fulfilled while working. However, I think my child is the most important thing I will ever do and nothing should come at the expense of that. I can't imagine going back to work any earlier than I did and I wonder about women who have 2 children close-ish in age - that's at least 4 years out of work.

    It's good to be aware of the risks but the long-term fear of having a husband who dumps me/dies without life insurance/etc doesn't outweigh the short-term reality of the importance of my child. Honestly, if I hadn't changed jobs I would've quit to SAH. My previous job took too much away from my son.

    I agree with MrsBumblebee-if you can't sacrifice, don't have a child. The reality is that women can't have it all and you just have to pick what you're willing to give up. That's said-I agree with the message that women should be aware of what they are doing and not place misguided faith in their husbands.

  34. Wow, just got through all the comments - surprisingly uncontroversial for the most part! Looks like most of us agree with you to some degree. I started thinking about this last night because I started thinking about how much flexibility my current job offers. My parents both worked when I was little, but since they were older they'd built up enough seniority to have flexibility and enough savings to have live-in nannies for me. Far from feeling neglected, I felt like my nannies (I had several over the years) were these cool big-sister types for me, an only child, and when my parents came home I was definitely their focus. My mom worked longer days than my dad when I was really little, and he and I would go to the train station every night to pick her up, which was always the highlight of my day. I remember being sad in the mornings when she had to leave, but I'm pretty sure it hasn't permanently damaged me.

    By the time I was older, my mom was able to come pick me up from school every day and do any additional work at home. That situation was the best of both worlds for both of us. I was proud of my mom for being kick ass in her field, and my mom didn't go crazy sitting at home waiting for me to get home.

    I agree that there's no one solution for everyone, and I can't know how I'll really feel until I do have kids. But thinking about it now - in my early 20s, with kids quite far on the horizon - I think it's important to start planning. Am I working in an industry/company that that will allow me to work part-time or telecommute? Am I with a guy who would be willing to consider staying home part of the time? (Yes, and I love him for it!) Am I managing my money in a way that will hopefully give me financial freedom in the future for everything, including childcare options? I realize that I'm white and upper middle class (let the hating begin) and have started from a level financially that a lot of people don't have, but in MY reality these are the questions I'm asking now so that I don't end up screwed in 10 years.

  35. Wow. So many comments that are thought out and intelligent responses. Bravo. I would have expected some arse to come in with arms flailing and weapons drawn. ;)

    Motherhood and the choices made to support it will always be difficult. Just like each person is different, so is their situation when it comes to child bearing/raising. With that said, and as a previous single mother, I am torn.

    I could go on and explore this topic for pages and pages. It's very interesting and will never be resolved one way or the other. What I will say now is that I respect both working mothers and SAHMs. Each has sacrifices they've made in life to be one or the other.

    In my personal experience w/friends and family the choice to do either is not taken lightly. No one I know expects to be taken care of for the rest of their lives by their man. I don't think the SAHM mentality automatically equates to the 1950s version of women and their place in the home. The women I deal with are aware of reality and what could happen so they're at least mentally prepared.

    OK, I feel myself going on and on and not sounding nearly as intelligent as I'd planned. I'll stop now. ;)

  36. I had figured based off the polls on MM & the local boards, this is where this was going. ;) I can largely say I agree with you - my mom worked PT once we were in grade school. My father left her when I was in 6th grade and he left her in a big way (no child support, cut off access to assets, took her car). It really cemented the idea that I need to care for myself in that "be prepared" scenario.

    And in that case, I'm blessed. I own my own company that's successful. I work out of my home. I still work 40+ hours a week, but I can stretch my hours to suit a changing schedule. Babies aren't that far in the future for us and we've really thought out how to make this work since I don't want to be a SAHM and lose the seven years of work I've already put into my company. There will be changes and minor sacrifices, but we can make it work - and we wouldn't even attempt to start a family if we couldn't. Planning is everything & being prepared was our #1 goal.

    There really is such a gray area, though. Not everyone is as lucky to be in the situation I'm in. Nearly all of my friends went back to work after their maternity leave (a former friend is a midwife and was back to work 2 weeks after delivering her daughter). The ones who didn't are such polar opposites of those who did - one of my best friends is in a miserable marriage with two kids and KNOWS she's stuck because she decided to be a SAHM and can't get back into her professional career because of the time that's elapsed.

  37. I'm having a hard time composing a comment that is worthy of both your post and the other comments, and I am coming up short.

    Thanks for writing this, though.

  38. Wow! I don't disagree about not leaving the workforce or only taking a short absence in order to have children. I think this issue came up in the 80's, together with the term "Supermom." Women are expected to do everything, and we don't want to look bad, so we do, even if it is to the detriment of our health and sanity. I also don't think it is ever a good idea, past the age of about 22, to be financially dependent on anyone else, including a spouse or one's parents. And I agree that being a good parent does not mean completely giving yourself over to your children and letting them "rule the roost."

    However, I do take issue with one sentiment expressed in the following two paragraphs:

    "It should be emphasized that what we're talking about here are professional careers. By "professional," I mean trained in a "learned or artistic profession" -- law, medicine, dentistry, optometry, architecture, engineering, or accounting (i.e., work that is predominantly intellectual and varied in character as opposed to routine mental, manual, mechanical, or physical work).

    In other words, leaving work for a number of years and then re-entering the workforce is not too much of a problem for those in lower-paying, traditionally female-dominated jobs, such as secretarial jobs, teaching, and even nursing, but such a prolonged break is almost an insurmountable obstacle for former professionals."

    This is only propagating that same "elitist" notion that you criticized Daum for having. Teachers, nurses, and administrative assistants are professionals, and it is not easy for them to go back to work after long absences, even if they worked part time. Not all of it has to do with chosen field, some descrimination also occurs due to age upon return.

    Furthermore, I think that Bennetts refutes the idea that you have to be in a high paying job to find it rewarding and stimulating when she says that even women who worked at McDonald's found it to be rewarding and an important part of their daily lives.

    I also think that attitude re-inforces the idea that careers that are traditionally dominated by women, such as nursing or teaching, are somehow inferior and less valuable to those traditionally dominated by men, such as law or medicine, and contributes to the reason that they are historically low paying.

    Last, even though I wasn't there, and it seems like Daum is a real twit, she has a point about women choosing to study in fields that aren't necessarily money makers. I don't know how many articles I've seen since high school that discussed surveys of chosen field of study and income for men versus women, showing that women tended to study subjects they really liked, Daum uses poetry as an example, and men chose business and engineering even if they didn't like them because of future earnings potential. Daum sounds like an ass for saying as much, but she's not wrong.

    For the record I studied math and philosophy, but only because I liked both subjects.

  39. Wow, awesome post! Great clips, and of course, a very thought-provoking and interesting (and very relevant) post.

    We plan on having kids. I don't plan on being a SAHM. Well, I do plan on it, in a way. The plan is to be in a position that I can do a lot of work from home. It's definitely a work in progress that hasn't fully been thought out yet. I'm not even sure if it's going to happen the way I want it to. All I know is that I will need to work. I am just one of those types. As I mentioned in the meme I did recently, I would work even if I won a billion dollars.

    I agree with a lot of the points you've made, especially because of my own experiences and watching my dad get really sick and thus being unable to work. Luckily, my mom had already been teaching for quite some time at that point (she even worked and put my dad through college - before he got sick), and she was able to pull off being the breadwinner of the family. There is no way that either of them could have foreseen that my dad's brain hemorrhage would render him unable to work again. Because of this, I see how important it is for a woman to learn how to take care of herself and to not be overly dependent on her husband.

    What is so very hard about this topic is that it seems like there are so few options for working women to be able to work part-time to spend more time with their families. It seems like it's all or nothing. And naturally, it's a women's issue and doesn't seem to be a huge source of concern for working fathers. That is problematic.

    I could go on for a lot longer, but I'll just stop here. Thanks for posting this.

  40. Wow, this seems like such a judgmental post. I don't think until you've walked in someone's shoes you can say how easy or hard they have it. I'm not a mother, and don't plan to be one, but I work with A LOT of women who have babies and come back to work part or full-time. I am in a professional position. I see the struggle and HARD it is to be a working mom. I'd venture to guess, because I know a lot of them too, that being a SAHM is really hard too. Life throws curve balls that everyone deals with one way or another. I just don't think one way is the only way people can choose to live their lives "just in case" or "what if?" What if...? You work it out. Many women have and will continue to. I'd give up my profession if my husband could support me and focus on creative pursuits and volunteer work. In.a.heartbeat.

    Also, I'm curious why you don't consider nurses to be professionals?

  41. Well written? The list of "professional" careers have many careers that you could go back after a few years. Teaching as not a professional career? That is truly offensive.


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