This is super long. Not for the faint at heart. Read at your own peril.
Among the many other blogs that I read as often as I can, I read OnBalance, Leslie Morgan Steiner's blog about work/life balance issues at washingtonpost.com. I do this for a variety of reasons. One is that at one time I was a WOHM, and probably will be again some day, so the issues discussed there continue to affect me. I also have the benefit of perspective from both sides of the fence, as a working mom and as a SAHM. Third, I think if anyone, no matter who they are, is going to achieve true work/life balance without having lottery winnings, trust funds, or other independent means, it behooves all of us, moms, dads, working, at home, whatever, to work together to identify and push for initiatives that benefit all of us, because that is how we as a society will evolve.
I am uncertain whether I will be able to go back to that blog or not, which is unfortunate because I really think it has the potential to be a useful tool to further society's understanding of the issue on both sides of the fence; it is very much in the public eye, and The Washington Post can use its stature of a world-leading publication to help us help ourselves. However, the continued vitriol spewed towards SAHParents and the constant devaluation of our opinions just because we are not at this moment working outside the home is starting to get to me. Yesterday's comments were some of the worst I have ever seen on there, and they get pretty bad at times.
According to some of the posters on that blog, I am a drain on society, financially irresponsible, and a waste of humanity. I spend all my time driving my luxury SUV around, going to Starbucks, going to the gym, getting my hair/nails done, shopping, and going to the country club and having lunch with my girlfriends while my nanny takes care of the kids. If I'm not doing that, then I must be sitting at home watching soaps and eating bon bons, because really, the kids are in school all day and I have nothing else to do. If I do happen to have actual work to do, I brought it on myself and haven't I ever heard of birth control? I have wasted my education by dropping out of society, and I am an insult to feminists and those who are trying to further the cause everywhere.
Now, I am going to take a few minutes and defend myself, and other SAHPs out there, and our value. Not because I am insecure about my own decision, or jealous of the “other side,” but because it is my hope to gain allies among working parents, and that by working together and appreciating what we both have to offer, we can both work in well-informed ways to make changes that benefit all of us.
Issue #1: I am a drain on society because I am a SAHP. Really, how? I am not on welfare. The only one supporting me is my husband. I am not entitled to any social services that those who work outside the home aren't entitled to also, and in fact, I am entitled to fewer. I have more time available to contribute to society on a volunteer basis, which not only has the immediate benefit of whatever service I'm providing, it also teaches my children, future contributors to society, that volunteerism is an important part of being a good citizen.
Issue #2: I am financially irresponsible. This is interesting. This generally comes up in terms of doing myself and my children a disservice because I am not contributing to my retirement, and what if my husband dies/leaves? I will address this in a couple of ways. First of all, I worked for 15 years total before I quit working, before my children were born and as a working parent after, both before and after I was married. I have built myself a retirement account independent of my spouse's. While I am out raising my children, my retirement account is still invested, still doing its good for the economy, and growing bigger to my benefit. As far as my husband dying or leaving, life insurance is for the first part. We will be more than fine. We also have life insurance on me, to cover the additional expenses that would be incurred to do the work that I do now. These choices do not impress me as irresponsible.
As far as my husband leaving, well, I wouldn't have married him if I thought that was likely, but even allowing that some day he could lose his mind and forget how good he has it here, I have skills. I have an education. I have work experience in a professional environment. If he leaves, I have no doubt that he would honor his parental responsibility – he loves his kids too much not to, and I have faith in my abilities to return to work pretty quickly. I doubt my kids' standard of living would suffer too much. A much greater concern would be the emotional issues of the divorce, but I am only addressing the financial issues here.
Another way I am “financially irresponsible” is because I am not contributing to the economy now. I fail to see how this applies. Before I quit work, we had family income and family expenditures. I quit work, but we still have family income and family expenditures. My decision to quit was largely due to financial issues. The cost of daycare for 3 children, plus the other work-related expenses like commuting, eating out, etc., wasn't justified by the income I made. My husband would happily be the SAHP, but he is capable of earning more than double what I can because I have a liberal arts degree and he has gone into computer science. Choosing to have him stay home instead would have been financially irresponsible. So I do it. Our family unit still contributes to the economy, and really our economic footprint isn't that different from when I was working. If anything, we are paying off debt rather than incurring it, because we have become more intelligent in our spending.
Issue #3: I am a waste of humanity. Do I really have to dignify this with discussion? Moving on.
Issue #4: Country Club Moms. Well, I'm sure women like this exist somewhere, but frankly, I don't know any of them personally. I live in one of the most expensive places in the country to live, and I still don't even see people like this. I think this may be one of those things that comes about as a rich/poor issue. Fact is, most of us SAHP have had to sacrifice financially in order for one parent to be home. We don't get our hair/nails done. We don't have full-time nannies. We don't have gardeners/housekeepers/personal chefs. If we have gym memberships they are places that have child care so we don't have to sacrifice our health to care for our families. We go to Starbucks far less than our working counterparts, if at all (I personally never go there). We don't eat out much, and when we do it is valued by the family as the treat it is. Oh yeah, we don't drive luxury SUVs. I drive an 8-year old used minivan, and my DH drives a manual transmission Subaru as his commuting car. Most SAHPs I know drive either minivans or ordinary SUVs, not luxury ones, and in many cases they were bought used because we can't afford new cars. We have trouble finding time and occasion to get together with our girlfriends at all, because logistically is it difficult to meld schedules, and we can't often afford the additional expense of a babysitter for that time. Frankly, one of the issues that I have struggled with as a SAHM is the sense of isolation and the huge amount of work it takes to be able to maintain relationships with the girlfriends. But I digress.
Issue #5: I sit around all day watching soaps and eating bon bons, and I have all this time because my kids are in school all day. Huh. I rarely, if ever, watch much tv at all, much less a soap. Rarely at night do I watch something for grownups, and if the tv is on during the day at all it is to a kid's show. Don't think I've seen a soap since my roommate used to watch them in college. I wouldn't know a bon bon if I stepped on it. My oldest is 6 ½ – she just finished kindergarten. As readers of this blog know, that leaves 2 more kids home to play with shit and make amazing messes. None of them nap. In the time it takes to pee they can get majorly into destroying part of the house. Trying to keep them safe and keep the house intact while simultaneously trying to do the dishes, laundry, scrub toilets, etc., and stay on top of the clutter of children is an exhausting, full time job unto itself. Even day care providers get time to handle these things when the children aren't there. It is physically and emotionally draining. It takes 5 times longer to get minor errands done like going to the store, post office, dry cleaners, etc. because I have to shlep 2-3 kids in car seats along and keep them from getting killed or damaging other people/property. When I was working this was a 5 minute trip on the way to or from work or on my lunch hour. When I was working I derived intellectual and social stimulation and satisfaction that is missing in my life now – I was much more patient with my kids then. Now I frequently have to put myself in timeout to keep from maiming anyone.
Issue #6: Haven't I heard of birth control? Yep. Good stuff. When you can take it. When it works. But sometimes, God or fate or who/whatever you believe steps in and says “I know you think YOU'RE in control, but you're not. I am. Guess what? You're having another kid right now.” Obviously, the only way to prevent kids is to be celibate, but I don't know too many married people, at least happily married people, who don't get busy from time to time. So you cope with the hand you are dealt. Surgery is up next for us. Those of you who complain about population impact of me having almost 4 kids, the US is headed towards negative population growth, and I know more than enough childless people, either by choice or circumstance, to more that handle my extra two in terms of replacement value population impact. Fact is, if we are to continue to have a society, there have to be people, and good ones at that. Me choosing to have kids fosters that. I respect your choice to have fewer/no kids for whatever reason; please respect my choice to have 4 kids.
Issue #7: I have wasted my education by dropping out of society. Is it better to have lesser educated people raising our children? Ideally, all people caring for children will have top notch educations; that increases our chances of raising top notch citizens. How is choosing to stay home to raise kids for a few years waste the education? Don't I still think? Isn't my education a benefit both to my family and the greater community? Do I stop being an educated, thinking, voting individual because I stay home? Nope. Just like you don't necessarily use your education for every function you have at work, either. It is a benefit to society for all of its citizens to be educated.
Issue #8: I am an insult to feminists who are working to further the cause. Actually, this issue is one of the biggest. When I was a little girl, daughter of a SAHP, I was taught I could be anything I wanted to be. I could have a career, and a family, and could do anything I wanted if I was willing to work hard. I was taught that my mom's education was no less valid because she felt strongly that she needed to be at home for her children. That she was no less a contributor for making a good home than any working mom was. So now, as an educated, adult woman, I am criticized and derided because I have exercised that choice that she, and others, worked hard for. Why? Did I not work just as hard as my compatriots before I stayed home? Did I deride others who made this choice before me? Am I not capable of lobbying government to make changes to benefit all of us? In fact, if I keep working, I can maybe effect changes at one company. The one I work for. Maybe. If I join with other voices of those I work with, we may be able to influence the corporate culture at one workplace. But now that I am at home for a while, don't I have more time, and the opportunity, to join forces with many parents, working and at-home, to lobby for changes that affect us all? Have I forgotten what needs are there for working parents just because I happen to be at home right now? No. Few women rise to the level of CEO and can make wide sweeping changes. Better for me and many of those who will never rise above the level of worker bee to join together to push for things on a level that we can. This does not, in any way, subvert the cause of feminism, which to me is about equality. I believe both parents should be able to make these choices, to balance work and life, and it is important to work towards that goal both at upper and lower levels of society.
Just because some parents are SAHPs right now doesn't mean they never worked outside the home. It most likely means that SOMEONE in their family is working outside the home, and any SAHP is affected by, and has input in, to work/life balance discussions. Just because someone isn't working outside the home right now doesn't mean they never did and never will be again in the future. It certainly doesn't mean that they've lost their intellect and ability to offer points of view that will benefit someone who is working outside the home today. Most of us will move from working, to staying at home, to working, part time or full time, at various different times in our lives to meet what works best for our families. We would do well to never forget where we have been, or where we are going.
The comments on the OnBalance blog express precisely the kind of divisiveness and dismissal of the other side that frequently prevents us as a group of parents from working effectively to make changes in society that will benefit all of us. So instead of sniping at each other, let's recognize the inherent value that all sides bring to the discussion, and work for a better quality of life for us all.
Donning fire-proof suit now – flame away.