In a discussion of the topic with friends, someone stated that the problem is that stay-at-home mothers aren't valued enough for the experience they bring back to the workforce. That's true enough, probably, and yet I don't think the problem is so much that occupations that involve the education and care of children are underpaid, but also, many mothers going back into the work force don't necessarily want to work in child-care or education-related fields. The lady in the article was a journalist; I used to be a stage manager; I know some trained engineers who stay home. Being a stay at home mom does not automatically add credibility to a resume if, say, you want to get back into R&D or even Janitorial work on an industrial scale.
We had wonderful times together, my sons and I. The parks. The beaches. The swing set moments when I would realize, watching the boys swoop back and forth, that someday these afternoons would seem to have rushed past in nanoseconds, and I would pause, mid-push, to savor the experience while it lasted.
Now I lie awake at 3 a.m., terrified that as a result I am permanently financially screwed.
As of my divorce last year, I'm the single mother of two almost-men whose taste for playgrounds has been replaced by one for high-end consumer products and who will be, in a few more nanoseconds, ready for college. My income -- freelance writing, child support, a couple of menial part-time jobs -- doesn't cover my current expenses, let alone my retirement or the kids' tuition. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of two teenagers must be in want of a steady paycheck and employer-sponsored health insurance.
My attempt to find work could hardly be more ill-timed, with unemployment near 10 percent, with the newspaper industry that once employed me seemingly going the way of blacksmithing. And though I have tried to scrub age-revealing details from my résumé, let's just say my work history is long enough to be a liability, making me simultaneously overqualified and underqualified.
But my biggest handicap may be my history of spending daylight hours in the company of my own kids.
However, I think the point of the article itself is misguided. She's speaking specifically of counseling women to keep working, not because they want to work, and not as a gesture of equality, but because their husbands are likely to leave them in the lurch. There are societal and legal protections for widows that the abandoned or even divorced woman doesn't have. I find it interesting, though perhaps not surprising, that the author doesn't address her divorce at all, since the cause of her misery is not that she believes that staying at home with kids is a terrible deal (she seems to have pleasant memories of that time) but that she's maintaining you can't trust your husband to provide that constant foundation of support on which staying at home relies.
Perhaps the article underscores why marriage is not to be lightly entered into. It's been brought home to me (not in my own marriage, but in the context of societal woes) that marriage, despite the current vogue for soul mates and "sexual compatibility" and good times together, is truly a institution designed to protect the family -- to safeguard the investment of the woman, who, whether she works or not, invests much uncompensated time in the gestating and raising of children and keeping of house; to safeguard the children and give them a place of security in which to process their first encounters with the world; to safeguard the man, who entrusts his children and his home to the woman. When we lose that understanding of marriage, things get bad fast, for everyone.