Wednesday, 1 August 2007

And now for something completely different...


So traditionally my blog has been pretty fluffy. Lighthearted stuff. No real redeeming social qualities, but I like it that way, I like it just fine.

On one of my fave sites, there's an interesting discussion going on that I thought I'd extend to my blog reading family and friends. It revolves around a book entitled The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? While not groundbreaking or revolutionary in its substance, it does, once again, bring up that age old debate about women being in the workforce after the birth of their children.

As taken directly from the book's website, www.thefemininemistake.com, here's a bit of background:
Like her mother, Bennetts raised two children while earning a living; She and millions of other working women provide ample proof that there are many different ways to have kids, maintain a challenging career, and have a richly rewarding life as a result. And yet women are constantly told that it’s simply too difficult to balance work and family. Not only is this untrue, Bennetts says, but the arguments in favor of stay-at-home motherhood also fail to consider the dangers of dependency and the difficulty of reentering the workforce after opting out. When women sacrifice their financial autonomy by quitting their jobs, they become vulnerable to divorce as well as the potential illness, death, or unemployment of their breadwinner husbands. Bennetts’ own family learned this lesson the hard way: Her grandmother suffered a lifetime of financial problems after her husband left her, and Bennetts’ mother ended up as the family’s primary breadwinner. But women who stop working sacrifice far more than financial security. Bennetts’ painstaking research documents the steep toll when women forfeit the intellectual, emotional, psychological, and even medical benefits of self-sufficiency. It’s time, she says, to get the message across—combining work and family really is the best choice for most women, and it’s eminently doable. “You never know what you can achieve until you try,” Bennetts says. In riveting interviews with women from a wide range of backgrounds, The Feminine Mistake explores both the long-term risks of economic dependency and the surprising rewards of work. These dramatic stories—some shocking and heartbreaking, others triumphant—will inspire women to embrace the challenge of figuring out who they are and what they want to do with their lives in addition to raising children, and benefiting from the joyously complex lives they deserve.

Interesting, no? I know that we've all had different upbringings, different family situations, and as such, I'd be really interested to hear comments on the premise behind the book and/or how your particular upbringing may have shaped your view on the subject.

I'll start (what a surprise.....)

The best way for me to do this is to simply paste here the long entry I made earlier on the message board. I'm not going to add anything afterwards, so consider this your formal invitation to wade into these murky waters once you've finished reading my diatribe. Looking forward to hearing other people's thoughts!!

Oh yeah... if you're a WB gal and you've read this already, you miiiiiight wanna just head directly to the comments section and leave your point of view there. :)

Over time and with age and experience, my thoughts on this subject have radically changed. I haven't read the book, but wanted to comment generally on the broader topic of women working vs staying at home.

My parents divorced when I was 7. Even before the divorce, my mother always worked. Always. We, even at young ages, were required to be surprisingly self-sufficient - make our own lunches, etc - and while at the time I thought nothing of it, as I started to see other kids' lunches with cool snacks and the crusts cut off their sandwiches, I'd start to get jealous of the kids whose mom was at home, making their yummy lunches for them. Or coming to their recitals. Or school plays. Or Christmas concerts. Or being there when they fell from the monkey bars and broke their arm.

My mom wasn't that mom. She had an excellent job, one that required her to travel often, and she had to work her butt off to continue to do well, because she was it after the divorce. And she did a fantastic job of it.

She always joked that she'd never win the mother-of-the-year award because she was away so much and just couldn't be 'there' for us when we needed her - especially since we were only living with one parent. Her sister lived with us for a while to help out, and as such I had not one but two examples of strong, working women who did what had to be done to support their families.

So while at the time I was crushed that it was my mom's secretary, not my mom, who drove me to the hospital and waited with me while my cast was setting, now I wouldn't change my upbringing for anything.

My mom taught me that it is hugely important for everyone to work to the best of their ability, and that you shouldn't/can't rely on anyone else to support you, because who knows? She taught me to work hard in school, because education is what would give me the edge in a very competitive world. She taught me that a woman can have any career she wants, and really excel at it. She was the President of an international organization and through her travels, she taught me to appreciate art, different cultures, and she reminded me that there is a huge world beyond our front door.

Because of her, I am who I am today. There was no discussion about university - it was just the next logical step after high school. And when I finished my first degree, I was encouraged to do a Master's and I did. My ambition, desire to work, and drive to succeed all came, in great part, thanks to watching my mother in her professional life as I grew up.

Until I met my now DH, career was it for me. I was aggressive, ambitious and hard working. Over a period of five years I worked for two different organizations, but held 7 different (and progressive) titles. I'd stay well past five, and had no qualms about putting in extra hours or doing some work at home on the weekends.

That's changed now - substantially. And we don't even have kids yet! While I'm still career oriented, it's not my sole focus in life anymore. I have a husband that I love and a home that we've built together that I really like to spend time in. I leave at 4:30 now pretty much every day so I can catch my train and get home to him. I stay if needed for a meeting or event of course, but my priorities have shifted.

I'm still dedicated to being the best I can be on the job, but there's a huge part of me that can't wait for a maternity leave. I LOVE my job, but I'd also really love a break! Not that dealing with a newborn is a break - I mean a break from the workforce. I want to go to swimming lessons with my baby, and not turn on my BlackBerry. I want to take advantage of the fantastic park behind my house.

And at the same time, I'm petrified about what will happen in my job while I'm gone. Who will take over for me, how they'll interact, what they might do to impact the relationships it's taken me years to meticulously build?

I also make more than Hubs, so we can't afford for me to take the whole year off, even with both of us earning good salaries. We just can't do it. So it looks like I'll take nine months and Hubs has expressed some interest in taking time too.

This both appeals to me (less time for someone to screw up my job) and angers me (why CAN'T I take that whole year like other people can?). And therein lies my dilemma.

Despite what we've been told, we can't have it all. We can't give 100% to our children and 100% to our careers - simple math tells us that. So we compromise. We do the best we can. And I hope at the end of the day that if my son or daughter ever has to be taken to the hospital by my secretary, in time they'll realize what a strong and fabulous role model they have in their mother as I did not too many years ago.

And that's your daily dash. How's your diva doin'?


9 comments on "And now for something completely different..."

Kris said...

I'm so in the same boat. I am really torn between the desire to stay home with my kids and get to experience all the Mom stuff that others get to experience. But I am the main breadwinner in our family too. So we have talked a lot about DH taking parental leave instead. He would do a great job and I'd rather have him than a stranger raising our child, but at the same time I wonder if I'd feel resentful or ripped off. I love my job and don't want to give it up. It's not fair to have to choose.

Kris on 1 August 2007 at 12:01 said...

Having just come off of my first Mat leave a few months ago I feel I have 2 (or maybe 5) cents to add here. I couldn't wait to go on Mat leave - I've held some kind of job or another since I was 15, so the idea of not working for a while was a dream come true. And I loved it. I didn't miss work one bit and was sooooo upset to have to go back at 11 months.

BUT - amazingly, since being back I am so much MORE in love with my job then ever. I have so much perspective now. I love working, but I also love coming home to the kid. I realize I would have lost my mind (actually, much of it had already left) had I chosen to be a stay-at-home mom. I NEED both and I'm a better Mom to Maddie for it.

Anonymous said...

I know I won't have any choice about being a stay at home mom as financially, we just won't be able to afford a house etc without both of us working. Having said that, I'm not sure it's what I would choose anyway. I don't know that I'm cut out for that & if I'm not, it's probably not the best option for my kids. I think we'd all be happier, healthier with me working.

I remember a girl I went to university with wanting to be a stay at home mom. I asked why was she bothering with a university degree if she never planned to use it. She said it was so she'd be an intelligent mom.

I think my parents struck a great balance for my brothers & I & for themselves. My mom stayed home with us, sometimes working part time, until we were all in school, then she went back to work. My dad was a teacher so he was home summers & vacations. We had lots of time with our parents but they also had their own 'life'.

Anonymous said...

Opps - forgot my name! Above comment by Ginelle. :)

Lisa Hutch on 1 August 2007 at 12:38 said...

I don't have kids yet, but I have a fabulous DH, and I'm studying for a career in law, so eventually this issue will be a big one for us.

While we haven't decided how we're going to make it work yet - one thing that strikes me about these debates is how a piece of the pie always seems to be glaringly and obviously missing.

What about the Dads? As both Diva and Kris have said, many women earn more than their husbands ... having kids is a team effort, and both parents should have to make sacrifices/concessions to make it work.

Again, I don't have kids yet, but I hope that the book in the original post gets into the "Parenting as a Team" aspect for those households that don't have single parents.

These issues shouldn't rest entirely on the shoulders of women. Even though I know that they end up being primary caregivers in many situations, it doesn't HAVE to be that way, especially as more and more Dads are interested in upping their involvement from the classic absent/working Daddy role.

Great post BTW!

celtic_kitten on 1 August 2007 at 13:55 said...

Okie... so I answerd in the forums, but now I'm thinking more (stupid brain... just won't stop turning *laugh*)

Looking at it purely as a woman who's mildly feministic... financial independance is a wonderful thing that shouldn't be given up without significant thought. Looking at is from the perspective of someone who wants to be a mom and do the best she can for her kid(s)... financial independance would be secondary for me to giving my kids an early childhood with parental availability.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with working when the kids are small... I just don't think it's necessarily the best choice for us. And I know that that's probably based on my own childhood.

My mom stayed home with us until I was about 11... she was available for school volunteer work... field trips... there to hear our stories as soon as we came home from school... to make things better if the other kids had been mean... to ensure we got quality balanced meals. She did some casual work as a house cleaner, but she mostly made her own schedule and was always home before us. When I was 11 she found a job-share which became a full-time position. Her return to the 'regular' workforce gave us a sense of independance because we were home alone for several hours each evening before she and my father returned.

My HOPE (and I can't say plan, because I know well enough that life throws curve-balls more often than not) is that after 6 months or so of mat leave (I'm really not sure we can afford for me to be off longer than that) I would return to work part-time (I know my company does this, as I used to work with a mom who worked 2 days per week) while my hubby took the remainder of the allowed parental leave and hopefully I'd be able to continue part-time until the kid(s) was/were old enough to be home alone for a couple of hours after school. I'd have the availability during the early years to pick them up at school... to make the lunches... to do the cooking I never have time for now *laugh*... time for family, but also time that's "family free". Not because I expect to dislike family time, but because I recognize that interaction with other adults (in a variety of situations... not just my kid's classmates parents, teachers, or th cashier at the grocery store ;) ) is just as important.

I'd say let DH be a stay-at-home dad, but I'm just a wee bit too selfish to go along with that ;) I don't want him to have all the 'first' moments with any kids we might have.

All of that said... if we happened to win the lottery, we'd likely do some joint investments and then split the rest down the middle... so I'd be able to 'retire' and still be financially independant ;)

I spent too many years fending for myself before D ever made his appearance to be ok giving that up entirely to become a dependant.

Anonymous said...

I've been following the debate as well, but my view is somewhat jaded I guess.
I fell in love, got married, now divorced with one child.
I am not in the position to be a SAHM, and never have been.
Before I was married, I worked since I was 14. I put myself through University and learned how to be financially independant very early in life. If I wanted a new pair of jeans at 16 yrs. old, I bought them with my OWN money.
I lived on my own for quite a few years before meeting my ex. When he suggested he move in with me..I had a thought the night before he did..."I could lose everything".
Well, sure enough, 12 years and a divorce later, I almost did lose everything. My ex racked up huge debt that was now considered "joint" because we were married. I earned more than he did and he tried to get spousal support, even though custody of my kid went to me.
I bought him out of the house and struggled for years to get back on my feet financially.
I am finally at a point where the debt is now MY debt, and it's manageable. I can now safely take my kid out for dinner and we can BOTH eat.
I'm in a new relationship now, where my new partner is better off financially than I am and it is a possibility that I could stay home and just help him with the business.
But....guess what? I simply cannot do that.
I have to maintain my career, my own earnings and look out for me.
I would go insanely balistic being home alone all day and not seeing that paycheque arrive every 2 weeks.
I have somehow managed to find a work life balance, and my kid is thriving. I can afford to put him in those much needed organized sports.
What gets my goat lately, is that in this day and age I still hear girls in their 20's thinking that "all I need to do is get a man, get married, and then I can stay home a make babies".
Where are your personal ambitions?
Women have come so far not to fall back into this mentality that we need men to take care of us.
A friend of mine left the workforce to be a SAHM, raising 3 kids. Her youngest is now 8 and her husband left her. Her skills for the career she had before getting married are now outdated, she has nothing to put on a resume and she's financially strapped. It's unfortunate but it does happen...sometimes ex's do not support their families.
While I feel sorry for her (and try to help her out when I can) I think she's eating all the words she ever said about working moms not being as good a mother as her.
Part of being a Mom is teaching your child to be independent...how can you do that when you're not independent yourself?
Food for thought.

p.s. Sorry for the lengthy post...I think I need my own blog!

Kris on 1 August 2007 at 15:50 said...

An amazing book for anyone who is or is considering getting pregnant:

"Misconceptions" by Niome Wolf

I think many of you would enjoy it. She wrote the Beauty Myth and has a lot of interesting things to say about this topic and many others.

One thing that I remember clearly was how it was seemingly inate that men and women fall into these traditional roles once a baby is born. Mom takes care of baby unless otherwise specified. If I want to go out with girlfriends I have to make arrangements for dh to be home and "babysit/parent" on time. Because it isn't always a given. She talks about the power shift that takes place as soon as the women is on Mat leave and not bringing in money - and how it happens to even the most modern and forward-thinking couples. it was shocking, and sad.

I've enjoyed reading all the posts.

K.

celtic_kitten on 2 August 2007 at 08:27 said...

I'll have to check out that "Misconceptions" book... could be entertaining.

Honestly, I have no fear of DH reverting to the dark ages when/if we have kids... it's not in his nature, and I know how to crack a whip if I have to ;) (There are times I live up to my zodiac sign and turn into a lion *laugh*)... I just want to be the one to stay with the kids if one of us does because I want to see all the 'moments'... it's my selfish moment. ;)

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