Thursday, August 04, 2005

Stay At Home Rambling

     I was listening to some of my coworkers talk today. The wife of one had undergone surgery and he was filling in for her household duties, including grocery shopping, driving the kids to soccer practice, making dinner, etc. He commented on how hard it was, and then turned to me and said, "When you get to the point where your wife is a stay at home mother, don't ever tell her what she does isn't hard work!"
     Let me say a few things as background. A) I'm going to get fired for this. Really this time. B) All of my coworkers, and this is not an exaggeration of any sort, are White men between the ages of 48 and 53. C) Of the ones who have children, the wife of every single one is a stay at home mother. In fairness, they have all also relocated with work multiple times, which makes it difficult for a spouse to have a career. D) Every single one of them is Republican, Christian, and yearns for a return to 1950.
     Of course the assumption for them is that when we have kids, my wife will quit her job and stay home to take care of them. Now, I won't say this won't happen. Our baby-making days are still decently in the future, so anything is possible. But considering that she already makes more than I do and she's been working a third of the time I have, it's not something you'd want to bet the farm on. (If you have a farm. Lucky you with all the subsidies you get.) Stay at Home Moms are the Right-wing ideal, along with 23-year old virgin daughters and Bible study in public school. I'm not disparaging what they do. It's a tough life, eschewing adult contact, spending your hours chasing after toddlers or spending 10 hours a day driving kids to school, from school, to swimming, to soccer, to ballet, to the mall. It's not a job, though, unless you're a nanny or a au pair. It's a lifestyle.
     I don't really understand why people think SAHM must be a job. If you firmly believe that you're doing the best thing for your family and your children, why would you be ashamed for not having a job? Why is having a "job" more important than your core values? Of course, if you're only staying at home because of financial necessity or because you don't know what else to do, then I guess it makes you feel a little better saying you're "working". I'm reminded of the insurance commercial that shows people getting ready for work that says, "Why do we work? Why do we get up and go to work every day?" For me, it's so I have enough money that one day I don't have to work. I wouldn't be ashamed to retire are 45 or 35. I don't exactly volunteer here at the job. I do it for the money. When I have kids, it will be for the love. Not the money. So taking care of my kids won't be a "job", even if it's the hardest thing I ever do.
     I also don't understand why the assumption is that it will be my wife that stays at home. Is that because she has a vagina? I have to go fight traffic and wear a tie and talk to strangers all day because I have a penis? The Truth is, we both want to be stay at home parents. Why have kids if you can't enjoy them? My coworkers don't understand. They don't even really know their kids. They spent their kids' childhoods working 10-12 hour days or more. Their kids were their wives' "jobs", not theirs. Someday, my company is going to ask me to relocate, and we're going to have to decide where our priorities are. I think it's telling that my company is already having extreme difficulty finding people willing to relocate. 2-income households aren't exactly rare these days.
     The conventional wisdom is that it takes a lifetime of work to be able to retire comfortably. "Idle Hands are the Devil's Tools" - a phrase that I feel sums up the Protestant work ethic. But when I visited Costa Rica and St. Thomas, poor people were living lives that the wealthy American tourists envied. How many people work 40 years so they can have a little house on the beach? One of my managers is preparing for retirement now. A multi-millionaire many times over, he bought a ranch in Texas and a double-wide trailer and will live there, 90 miles from the nearest town, shooting deer and squirrels. Now really, how many years did he have to work to achieve that? Was it worth not being home with his children when they were growing up?
     We work so much more now than we ever have before. If raising children is important (and it is), why do we still assume this is the sole province of women? Why in a workplace where people wouldn't dream of asking you about your sex life or how you pray, it's taken for granted that the woman will give up her career for her children while the man will give up his children for his career?


Ben said...

I few souls stuck in the 50's does not a consensus make. I think that attitude is changing in our generation, and more and more men will stay home.

I read about a girl who made a lot of money out of law school, took a vacation to the Caribbean, quit her job and stayed and became a tour guide. She gives tours part of the day, and spends the rest of her life relaxing on the beach or partying. I don't think many people in our generation would look down on her for that. She's living an incredibly enjoyable life without the stress of a crappy job.

On the other hand, it's because of all those crappy jobs that we have so many wonderful toys. There are people out there who would be happy living in a hut on the beach, or hunting everyday from a cabin in the woods, but then there are people like me who would miss TV, and the internet, and city life and being around tons of people and all that, and you have to have a decent job to be able to experience most of that. You can't just say you're going to quit and move to a hut in the middle of the city.

My sister spent a summer in Costa Rica. When she first got there, she felt as you do, that these poor people were living lives you and I could only dream of. It was only after she spent three months living that life that she realized how much she missed from her normal life that she could not do without a job and the city and all that. There are always tradeoffs, and each person has to decide on their own what is really important to them.

Incidentally, my fantasy is that I make a living as a novelist so that I can stay home and really get to know my children (need a girlfriend first, I guess... know any single ladies in their 20's?), and be able to afford them lives that my parents couldn't afford for me.

Alisa said...

My uncle is "Mr Mom" with five kids and his wife is a senior level executive at a major telecommunications company.

It seems to work just fine for them.

Shamus O'Drunkahan said...

It's different for everyone. I took a different job wih fewer hours so I could be around more to help out. But not everybody can do that. Or wants to!

Ben said...

I think one of the things I like best about the United States is that you have so many options about what kind of life you can live, as long as you are willing to put in the effort to get there.

Scott said...

You mean like all the female Presidents we've had, and that every company that offers maternity leave also offers paternity leave, and that children with "White" names were more likely than those with "Black" names to get good evaluations or be referred to gifted programs?
Contrary to conservative propaganda, not everything is based solely on "working hard". The United States still has a long way to go to be a place where "hard work" was the most important qualifier for success and choice.

Ben said...

You were right, you aren't anymore. We have two women, one of them black, who could be their parties' candidates for President in the next election. There are tons of CEOs who are women, or black. Minority culture is no longer minority, it's pop culture. The opportunities are out there, if you can put down the do-rag, stop skipping school, and try to get good grades.

If it weren't for affirmative action putting people who aren't qualified into positions, or in to schools or whatever, then "black" names might not be such a stigmatism. How do I, as an employer, know if Latisha got in to Harvard because she's black, or because she really deserved it? And yes, if someone comes to me with the name Anthonie, I'm going to think their parents can't spell. But if I interview them, I'm not going to care about their name, I'm going to care about their ability. There is still racism out there, but by and large, I see much of the latent disparities as a result of continuing to claim victimhood status instead of going for the brass ring. As far as Hispanics go, the resistance to asssimilation and learning English is the primary problem, not whitey. At any rate, we are FAR more advanced in that area than most countries. Europe, for all their talk, has tons of racism, as anyone that has spent much time there can attest. As does most of Asia, Africa, etc. I stand by my statement. If you come to America from anywhere, with any color skin, hard work can open up more chances than in any other place on Earth.

Do you realize that I, a nice whote boy, was recommended to be held back in elementary school? It wasn't because I was black. But then they tested me, and put me a year ahead in math and reading instead. That test had nothing to do with color, and everything to do with parents who cared enough to spend time with me outside of school expanding my horizons.

Sylvana said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sylvana said...

It's easy to say that there is no discrimination when you are not on the receiving end of it.

Ben said...

I received anti-Semetic discrimination, and get to see people saying things like "Screw the Jews" all the time. I get to hear people say "I got Jewed," or "Don't be Jewing me" and such like that. I get to hear people say, "Too bad Hitler didn't finish the job." You know why so many people hate Jews? Because we never embraced victimhood, we moved on and worked hard, and have met with success everywhere, until people get jealous and try to kill us or drive us away. Read a history book, it's happened again and again at levels far beyond anything done against blacks in the U.S.

Don't tell me what I have and have not experienced.

I work in a building where probably 50% of the employees are black, and there is NO discrimination. If there was, then why are most of the managers on my floor black? Reverse the roles and you would cry discrimination. I look at all these people and don't see black or white, I see people who worked hard to get where they are.

Anyway, I clearly said there is still racism, so I don't know why you are saying I don't see it.

Mainline Mom said...

Keep up the great comments, Ben. I totally agree with you. This country is great because anybody can pull themselves up with hard work. Sure there's discrimination, but the real winners push past it. And Stay At Home Moms are only talking about how hard their "jobs" are because they get treated like crap in our society. People think they don't have a brain in their heads. They work, yes work, much harder than lots of people do at their full time jobs. But there are no raises, no performance reviews, not even a "good job" from the boss. Just ungrateful charges. Yes, we chose to stay home because we think we can do a better job parenting than someone else. I don't think moms that work full-time are bad moms, but sometimes I do see the disadvantages pretty clearly. My neighbor has a real problem getting her kids to listen to her, and I think it's partially because her kids are in daycare all day and their dad isn't around evenings because he works second shift. I might be wrong, she might just not be very good at discipline. I have seen plenty of kids whose moms don't work that don't listen either. Why do more women stay home then men? I think it's partly traditional, partly a result of biological, genetic differences. Men can't breastfeed. In general, they are more task oriented while women tend to be relationship oriented. My husband and I decided from the very beginning that his career would take priority over mine, because my role would be more focused on child rearing and helping run the house. I have turned down numerous lucrative job offers, including a fabulous one yesterday, because of our priorities. I have accepted that I'm on the mommy track and, as smart and talented as I may be, my career aspirations will be dampened somewhat because of it. I am extremely lucky to have found a job flexible enough to let me work from home and keep one foot in the game. Those kind of jobs are very hard to find. But it means I have to work twice as hard. Hard work pays off. At least in this country.

By the way, legally if a company offers maternity leave they must offer comparable paternity leave. I did the research.