Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Follow Your Vocation, Not Your Bliss

There's a inspirational piece going around that got my hackles up. An artist did a Bill Waterson-style cartoon to illustrate a speech which Bill Waterson gave. Click on through, it's a quick read, and the artist does a good job of imitating Waterson's visual style, which is certainly one I have a great affection for having grown up on Calvin & Hobbes.

The message of this inspirational cartoon, leaves something to be desired. (And really, it's the cartoon much more than the speech that has be annoyed.) We see a dreamy illustrator, oppressed by using his skills to draw things such as Jeep advertisements. Finally, he quits his job, goes home, and paints dinosaur models instead. His wife gets pregnant, they have a child, she goes off to work to support the family, and he stays home drawing and watching after their child. His old boss shows up one day to offer him a new job, but he turns it down because he'd rather stay home with his daughter and draw.

Really, there are two different things that bother me here. One is entirely related to the story layered on by the cartoon. The reason why the artist shown is able to do whatever he wants is because he has a wife who is going off and making the living to support the family -- doing what he is not himself willing to do. He thinks that it's degrading to work for a living, luckily, he can skip out of that and make his wife do it for him instead. Now, there's nothing inherently selfish about being the stay-at-home half of a single income family. This is, of course, the way that MrsDarwin and I live. But the cartoon doesn't really show staying home to take care of your children as being needed work -- something that is worthwhile for its own sake but also (like any form of work) often keeps you from what you would most like to be doing if pursuing the "follow your bliss" creed. In real life, there would be a lot of days when taking care of his daughter and keeping the house in order and making sure that there was something to eat when his wife got home would keep the artist from being able to sit down and draw like he wants to. Because parenting and keeping house is also work -- not a vacation.

And, whatever any feminists may say, I would also add that the configuration shown here is harder on both spouses, but particularly on the wife. There are couples for whom it has to work, but all other things being equal it does not work as well to have the wife working and the husband staying home. When we have a baby, I'll take a week or two of personal time, work a bit from home while I'm doing it, and then head on back to work with nor more difficulty than a bit of tiredness from sleeping a little less well than usual with the tiny new member of the family in bed with us at nights. Two weeks after giving birth, MrsDarwin still has trouble walking for long, and she'd have an incredibly hard time going back to a full day of work. When we see the smiling mom heading off to work to support her stay-at-home-husband in the cartoon, we don't see the bags under her eyes from being up nursing the baby at night. Nor is there any easy way to show that mothers simply have a stronger desire to be with and bond with very small children than fathers do. That's not to say that fathers don't care about their children, but it's not the sort of bond that being gone for ten hours at a time strains at all.

The second thing that bothers me here has to do with how one reconciles one's desires and aspirations (following your bliss, in the oft quoted feel good phrase) with the need to make a living. Your job's function is not to allow you to fulfill all your dreams, provide your primary intellectual and artistic stimulation, and give your live a deep sense of meaning and purpose. And let's be honest: for most of us our jobs will provide none of those.

I feel that I'm very fortunate in my job. It pays well, it's relatively challenging and interesting, and I work with fairly nice people. Is it what I most want to be doing in the world? Is it what I would do if I didn't have to worry about earning a living? Of course not. But that's okay. Your job doesn't have to provide your main sense of excitement and meaning in life. It has to pay the bills and allow you to fulfill your real vocation, which for most of us means: supporting your family.

Sure, I'd love it if I could read and think and write full time about whatever I wanted. But a whole lot of people would love to do that, and very few people want to pay for it. I'd enjoy it if someone offered to pay me to work full time researching and writing a novel about World War One -- but as it stands I'm very happy to make a good living for my family doing pricing analytics and research and write in my spare time.

Yes, there are those rare people who have talents and desires (and opportunities) such that they can do what they most want to do and also make a great living at it. If you are Steve Jobs or Bill Waterson: Follow your bliss.

However, most of us aren't Steve Jobs or Bill Waterson. And I kind of doubt that there's anyone whose great dream and passion is plumbing or cost accounting or working register or supply chain logistics. And yet we need all these things, and they're not ignoble things just because they aren't the only thing someone wants out of life. It's okay (indeed good) to work to pay the bills while being primarily focused on your family and your hobbies.

Actually, at times I'm very glad that my job doesn't look too much like a vocation or a dream. One of the temptations that people seem to face in that situation is to let the job start to crowd out one's other (often more important) needs and aspirations. If I had a job that looked more like "my bliss", I'd be tempted to stick with it even if it wasn't providing my family with the income and security and time with them that they need. I'd be tempted to string things along miserably year after year of just barely making it (or not) on the conviction I was meant to do this.

As it is, one of the great things about my job is that my boss says, "Look, at the end of the day, we're just here to earn a paycheck. It's what we go home to that matters."

35 comments:

Literacy-chic said...

You have a lot that I struggle with here, as you know. And while I know that yes, most of the world simply sees a job as a job, that's not how I ever envisioned my life--because I did have a passion, and thought that I was channeling it into socially acceptable, employable outlets. I am well aware of what most people think of my dilemma--and you sum it up more nicely than most would, for which I thank you. I do think that work *can* be more, and that it's not a bad thing to strive for it to be more--after all, some people are fulfilled by doing a good job at something or making or fixing something, just like I find fulfillment in sewing sometimes, or writing a sonnet. I have known carpenters and plumbers who were very much CALLED to be carpenters and plumbers, and guys for whom wastewater treatment is a passion. And frankly, it's very cool. For them, it's not just a job either. And there are a lot of people who would NOT like to read and write for a living. I'm not motivated by a paycheck, except insofar as I have to be. And that's why I won't be an adjunct. My family is worth more to me than the vocation and I show that by refusing to sacrifice their well-being to pursue a path that would still be unfulfilling because of its explotatation of my abilities, or that has limited promise of letting me jump into something better later. The "work to live, not live to work" doesn't satisfy me as an answer because it fails to take into account how work can be a seamless part of existence, and how much more satisfying it can be not to have to compartmentalize "who I am" and "what I do" every day in order to get through the 40 hours and collect the paycheck. Ultimately, it's about balance. The cartoon model doesn't satisfy--for the reasons you suggest. But the "it's a job" model doesn't satisfy either. And the obvious answer, that it doesn't HAVE to satisfy--well, I guess I've always wanted more than that. I don't see that as a problem.

Literacy-chic said...

But--I'm a woman, too. Is it different, would you say? We're in a place where two incomes are necessary--having not prepared for the other option. My earning power is greater for now, purely by chance. Does any of that make a difference, or are you (as I supposed) speaking to the purpose of work in general? Does it matter if one spouse pursues a vocation if the other is satisfied with a job?

Literacy-chic said...

Interestingly, what my husband is doing right now is being paid to research and set up an exhibit on World War One. Not a novel, but startlingly close you your scenario.

Kate said...

Maybe it's because I'm so word-oriented I didn't find the combination of Watterson's words and the cartoon-story to be about 'following your bliss' at all. "Creating a life that reflects your own values and satisfies your soul" isn't the same thing as 'following your bliss' to the detriment of all practical considerations (and I especially liked the reference to taking "an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities.")

Honestly, the strip can only show one story, and I think it deliberately chooses a non-standard one because the point is that it takes shaking off your preconceptions to see how your life could better fit you and your family. That's a good lesson, not merely for the reluctant ladder-climbers the strip is aimed at, but also for everyone else who has gone into their adult life with a preconceived notion of how it 'should' look.

But then, I've heard 'follow your bliss' as an excuse for chasing monetary success, fame, reputation, "avarice and excess," as Watterson's words say, rather than leading a peaceful life, "happy to do his own work."

[Completely incidentally, I took the middle panels to be a flashback, going with the 'undemanding job' line, which would put the chronology of the strip as: guy works low-level job to have time for his hobbies, guy has kid, guy gets fed up with the shallowness of his job and the amount of time away from his family it requires (notice he's been doing his hobbies at night), guy resigns to stay home with now-toddler daughter in a because his wife has a job that both provides for the family and suits her (she probably loves that she doesn't have to leave her daughter at a day care), and guy does a bit of freelance work on the side.]

MrsDarwin said...

I ought to 'fess up here that I was the one first irked by this cartoon, but I wasn't able to blog about it because despite being at home while my spouse works to support me, I spent last week holding wet washcloths to feverish heads or wiping up vomit from floors or scrubbing toilets or doing laundry or walking around in a daze after being in the ER in the middle of the night with a severely dehydrated child. And when I wasn't doing that, I was staying up until 3 am writing this lousy novel thing, because oddly enough staying at home is a full-time job that doesn't leave me enough time to pursue my hobbies.

Also, it's worth noting that Bill Watterson never had children, and has a net worth that will support him and his wife into a ripe old age in the jolliest of nursing homes, so though one can appreciate his perspective coming from someone whose talent has paid off big time, the rest of us might find that money "sure comes in handy down here, bub."

This review of J F Powers' letters, edited by his daughter, seems particularly apropos.

Doubtless, the equation changes as the children get older, but now, in my child-bearing years, I'm grateful that I can stay at home and work on that demanding but flexible schedule not just after childbirth, but during pregnancy too. Women are capable of a lot, but thank goodness for the freedom to put up my feet or go throw up without the scrutiny of boss, coworkers, customers, or clients.

AnnieB said...

I love you guys but think you're missing the point of the comic. Having one spouse at home full time is a countercultural choice nowadays, whichever parent stays home. Dad stays home here, which adds an element of the unconventional that helps highlight that this couple is breaking away from what's expected of them. It's not a panegyric to stay-at-home fatherhood specifically.

I took the dinosaur-painting scenes to be occurring the evening after Dad quit his job, which he did just before Mom has the baby. It's pretty clear he didn't quit to focus on his art -- he quit to care for his daughter, and other than the one panel, that's what he's doing the rest of the strip.

I thought the strip was perfectly lovely. As a mid-twenties woman with an interesting, well-paying, exhausting job who hopes to be outta there as soon as a baby shows up, it really spoke to the desires of my heart.

pilesandphiles said...

What I read into this post puts me in mind of Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood, by Marsha Sineta, where the author in the beginning brings up the point that we spend close to a third of our waking hours (on average) working, and that is far too much a chunk of our lives to complain about, but that is exactly what all too many of us do.

She then asserts that part of the happiness that we are made for is to enjoy what we are doing, that we are made to be creative and passionate (in the good sense of the word) and not to be forced into a mental, spiritual, and occasionally body-numbing routine that simply pays the bills. Thus, what we should be doing is discovering what our 'passion' is, and find a way to integrate that into our lives that makes it a fulfilling part of our work.

Now, Sineta doesn't pretend that following our passion will make us instant millionaires -for one thing it takes effort and education, and opportunity; for another, not everybody *wants* to be a millionaire- and is quite candid about admitting that it can take years, not just months, to turn your passion into a viable paycheck.

She also acknowledges that very few people are willing to try to find their passion and to venture out to turn that passion into a fulfilling career, because so many of us are afraid to take responsibility for our lives, to accept the Risk inherent in branching out. Even so, she says, if we but try, the effort will always be worth it. [A note, Right Livelihood is part of the Eightfold Noble Path of Theravada Buddhism].

Now, I'm not saying that those of us who are stuck in 'menial' positions for which we are either 'overqualified' for or temperamentally unsuited for, yet find ourselves engaged in to make ends meet are cowards, just that we've possibly learned to accept lowered expectations for ourselves, learned to fear success.

pilesandphiles said...

That said, her work brings up a distinction that I think you did not, that between 'job', 'work' and even 'vocation'. What do as our "job" is not necessarily the same thing as the "work" (or the task) we perform at our job, and one's vocation is not limited to or even primarily directed toward- our economic life, but is the calling to a state of life. We may not like our job, but we should like our work, and we should place both job and work and accept that both have their place within the total vocation -or calling- that God has placed upon our lives.

Darwin said...

Literacy-chic,

I have known carpenters and plumbers who were very much CALLED to be carpenters and plumbers, and guys for whom wastewater treatment is a passion. And frankly, it's very cool. For them, it's not just a job either. And there are a lot of people who would NOT like to read and write for a living.

This gets at something which I didn't really touch on, which is that even seeing a job's primary purpose as being the support of one's family, one doesn't pick a job arbitrarily. The job you end up working is the result of some combination of your interests and aptitudes, and the opportunities that end up available to you.

So, for me, pricing analytics is not what I would do for kicks if I could be left to do whatever I could do, but it does have a strong problem solving component that I like, and it depends on the ability to thinking multi-dimensionally and be rigorous in addressing problems with data, which I also like.

In my spare time, I enjoy building things with my hands, and if I was employed as a carpenter or builder, I'm sure I'd take a lot of satisfaction in that too, because again there are aspects of that which I find interesting and rewarding.

However, it seems to me that in the vast majority of cases, even if you've managed to get into a career which fits well with your interests and aptitudes, what you actually end up doing all the time is not much like what you would be doing if you were simply doing it as a hobby. Being a professional carpenter has only a certain resemblance to being a hobby carpenter. (Actually, one of the things that set me against the idea of trying to be a professional writer was knowing a couple professional writers and seeing what tradeoffs they had to make in order to try to make a living doing something which they "loved". I think that in many ways I have a better deal making money doing something I like and having time to write as I would like to, rather than being stuck having to write what I'm told because I'm desperately trying to make a precarious living as a professional writer. And that's assuming I could make one at all, which most people can't.)

So I'm not exactly saying "do something that you hate -- it's just a job", but I do think that it's important to keep in mind why we have jobs. It's not for fulfillment, it's for sustenance. Yes, we should do a good job and find a way to get fulfillment out of what we do, but if we expect it to be "our bliss" we'll almost always be unsatisfied in the end. I don't think jobs are well set up to fulfill that function in our lives.

Jenny said...

AnnieB,

"As a mid-twenties woman with an interesting, well-paying, exhausting job who hopes to be outta there as soon as a baby shows up, it really spoke to the desires of my heart."

It does speak to the desires of your heart (mine too), but what if it also speaks to the desires of your husband's heart? Then what? With the desires of your heart in mind, reread the cartoon and picture yourself not as the protagonist, but as that bit character who makes a brief appearance, his wife. Is it still a lovely cartoon?

bearing said...

"I took the dinosaur-painting scenes to be occurring the evening after Dad quit his job, which he did just before Mom has the baby. It's pretty clear he didn't quit to focus on his art -- he quit to care for his daughter, and other than the one panel, that's what he's doing the rest of the strip."

I think we can very easily read the dinosaur-painting panel as nothing more than a homage to Bill Watterson, the originator of the quote.

I agree with Darwin that the SAHM situation is more in tune with human nature -- on average -- than the SAH-dad situation. I expect that families trying to decide who will be the primary breadwinner and who will be the primary caregiver take this into account as a significant factor. As a result I expect that more families will prefer the SAHM choice. But it really has to be a quite individualized and private decision between the parents, and it's silly to criticize every instance of a SAH-dad as unrealistic and out of touch with human nature. Some families will decide that it's still, on balance, the best choice even with the obvious complications that arise from taking on non-traditional gender roles.

There is nothing inherently natural about having one parent working out of the home and one parent isolated in the home for 10 hours a day, five to six days a week. Humans evolved under different social pressures. We're already in an unnatural situation and must compensate.

Jenny said...

pilesandphiles,

"...and is quite candid about admitting that it can take years, not just months, to turn your passion into a viable paycheck.

She also acknowledges that very few people are willing to try to find their passion and to venture out to turn that passion into a fulfilling career, because so many of us are afraid to take responsibility for our lives..."


Since it can take years and not months to turn a passion into a viable paycheck, doesn't it follow that the reason so few are willing to chance it is because they *are* taking responsibility for their lives not that they fear it? While one spends time turning that passion into a viable career, how do the children eat? Where do they live? Someone has to take financial responsibility or risk burdening the children with loads they should not carry.

Caroline said...

Actually, some people do want to be plumbers, or logistics, or any number of things that I would hate doing. Different stokes and all that. Similarly, some of us women would love to stay at home, but some would rather pitch themselves out of a window. It's a big world out there, as noted just in these comments.

Jenny said...

Bearing,

I would argue that couples who are actively making a decision about which one of them will stay home probably needs to be warned about the difficulties of having the father home during the child-producing years. Most adults of child-bearing years today come from very small families and do not have much memory of life with a baby. The sheer physicality of it all is easily dismissed as a lesser concern than the finances. Then you have to live with the consequences of a decision before you really understood what you were deciding.

bearing said...

After a while it starts to sound patronizing. Adults can live with the consequences of their decisions.

Donald R. McClarey said...

There is a reason why work is called work and not play. Time in off hours to pursue whatever one wishes to pursue. A man with a family has duties and that most definitely includes financially supporting his wife and kids.

A very good post. Please put it up at TAC. The comments will be colorful!

Jenny said...

Believe me, bearing, I'm living with the consequences good and hard.

Darwin said...

Don,

One of the reasons I sometimes don't get around to posting stuff on TAC is because I don't feel like I have time to keep up with the spirited discussion and figure I should stick to uncontroversial topics like "How Mark Shea Convinced Me To Support Intervening in Syria", but you're probably right.

Darwin said...

Bearing,

I'm not sure if you recalled this from prior threads, but Jenny works full time while her husband stays home with their kids, so I would imagine she's in a good position to comment on the topic.

Kate said...

Bearing,

"There is nothing inherently natural about having one parent working out of the home and one parent isolated in the home for 10 hours a day, five to six days a week. Humans evolved under different social pressures. We're already in an unnatural situation and must compensate."

This is so very true, and so often forgotten. Being a SAHM (and a homeschooling SAHM at that) was an awful choice for me-but one that I made almost without any thought at all, because that was the expectation in the sub-culture I came from and wanted to belong to. Really, saying that "a woman will find being away from her children" hard is somewhat useless as a persuasive tool, because which of us thinks of ourselves as merely a member of a type? I have much fewer misgivings about a couple, between themselves and in consideration of their own circumstances and personalities, deciding that the husband will stay home than the inverse situation, because every case of a SAHM is an individually considered case, whereas many cases of a SAHM are not really ever considered at all, outside of assumptions based on one parent being male and the other female.

And now I should stop, before someone accuses me of feminist theory. ;-) Which would be missing my point, which is also akin to Watterson/the artist's point, I think: that we need to act fully out of our individual personhood, whatever it is we end up choosing, rather than allowing ourselves to be merely acted upon by forces and social pressures outside of the good of our own families.

Kate said...

(Full disclosure: I'm still a SAHM. (Actually a WAHM). But I send my two older kids to school, and my youngest goes to childcare whenever I need the quiet.)

Kimberley Bayer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Crude said...

I haven't followed whatever path the conversation has taken in comments, but I will say this:

And I kind of doubt that there's anyone whose great dream and passion is plumbing or cost accounting or working register or supply chain logistics.

Don't be so sure. Not everyone has really grand, amazing dreams and passions. The fact that some people really, really love programming should indicate as much.

Molly said...

I don't disagree with what you say about vocation/bliss and that the dynamic of the working mom/SAHD is tough, but I just wanted to show how I saw the comic - as someone who's tried to make art pay the bills and has done a lot of what Waterson says in his original quote (ie take an undemanding job because it allowed for time for other things, not climb the career ladder and become family focused)

When I read this I saw the quote text as giving a little bit more to the storyline.

1) Talented artist guy works at advertising company and it's draining his soul.
2) His coworkers combat this by drinking (note none of them are rushing home to be with their families)
3) He resigns.
4) Coupled with the text of the quote I assumed that the Artist Man had taken an "undemanding job" that allowed him time to enjoy his life a little more, and during this time they started a family.
5) When baby is older (she looks like a toddler to me) Artistic Dad and Mom decide that Dad can quit, stay home with Baby and freelance
6) Old boss comes around with offer of money and fancy career.
7) Artistic Dad is tempted, but is then reminded of joys of his simpler albeit unconventional life.

I don't see him as lazy or a flake - it would be one thing if the artist rendered a messy house an exhausted, unhappy mom going off to work or Artistic Dad worrying over a pile of bills and then shrugging it off to go doodle. Rather I see a guy and his wife making (unconventional yes) decisions to create a "life that reflections *their* values and satisfies *their* souls"... kind of like what my own husband and I did not so long ago.

Just sharing an alternate way of reading the comic. =)

Anonymous said...

Your theory about gender determining who should work seems pretty facile. The demographic trends show women starting to outstrip men in earning power, which means that it makes more sense for women to be the wage earners. I know many couples where the women work and the men stay home with the kids. The first few weeks/months are also a time where FMLA or banked hours or money allow both parents to be home.

Jenny said...

"The first few weeks/months are also a time where FMLA or banked hours or money allow both parents to be home."

Ha! For someone accusing facileness, you certainly seem to conveniently ignore how FMLA actually works. All FMLA does is guarantee that you cannot be fired for 12 weeks. There is no pay attached to that guarantee. The mother is completely dependent on banked time to continue drawing a paycheck during her leave.

My employer only allows 30 days of banked time. It takes many months of working to build that time so you better not take much time off before or during pregnancy. When that time is used up after childbirth the question becomes how long can your household go without a paycheck? Whatever that answer is is when the mother has to go back to work. It does not matter how crappy she feels or if the baby is well-adjusted or not. The family needs the money and she is the only source. When she returns to work, her banked time is exhausted. You can only pray that no one gets sick or hurt and an actual vacation is not even on the radar. Lather, rinse, repeat for every child you have.

FMLA could guarantee three and a half years of leave, but without a paycheck, it is essentially meaningless. I mean it's great you can't get fired for having a baby. Whoopee! But money is the driving force for the length of a maternity leave.

I fully admit that I am hormonal and emotional about this issue right now since I work full time and have a young infant. After you have had all your children and the youngest is weaned, set up your house anyway you like, but in the active child-bearing years, this situation is insanity.

bearing said...

Yeah, I should add that my comments being generally supportive of choosing the mom-works-dad-stays-home arrangement if that's what is for the best are largely contingent on (a) no actual childbearing going on or (b) enough resources to manage a maternity leave of 8-12 weeks (which strikes me as an absolute minimum).

Even done that way, it still introduces a lot of hardship, so one would hope that the parents have lots of good reasons to prefer that arrangement.

Anonymous's comment seems weird because while it seems to argue against Darwin, it's basically the exact opposite philosophy of the one expressed in the cartoon. According to Anonymous, money is the single most important criterion for deciding which partner should work. If mom makes more money, it's mom; if dad makes more money, it's dad. This doesn't seem to match up with what either Watterson or the cartoonist was trying to say.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I do know a bit about FMLA, from it's long history and current application. I could post my 20 page research paper on it, but that seems to be a bit much.

The families I know where the father stays home have had multiple (2-5) kids and the wife has used FMLA with banked leave to cover her salary for this. What DC seemed to be stating is that gender determines who works, since a woman would be a worse worker in the first weeks after having a baby. That's not reflective of how working families typically manage new children and it is not a reason why the stay at home parent should naturally be the mother.

Darwin said...

Anon,

Research papers aside, I think it's still worth looking at the practicalities. Yes, you can use banked time to cover FMLA maternity leave, but that depends (as Jenny points out) on how much banked time you have. So, for instance, at my employer you get ten days of vacation time per year and one personal day, none of which can be rolled over from year to year. You also get an undefined amount of sick time (it's at manager discretion, not banked) but the sick time can't be applied to planned leave. With an accomodating manager willing to bend HR rules, you could maybe pull off four weeks of paid maternity leave, but at the cost of having no other time off all year. This would be just barely workable at a health level for most women but still definitely way harder than for a man. I typically take about five vacation days, and then work from home a bit my first week "back" after MrsD has a baby. So I still have time off left for vacation or holidays elsewhere in the year. Baby #6 is due right before Christmas, so I may be able to get nearly three weeks at home while only taking four or five vacation days.

But for me, the purpose of taking that time off is just to help out around the house while MrsD is down and out, there's no physical tole on me from giving birth, and a father doesn't have the same need to be with the baby all the time during the first weeks that most mothers feel.

Plus, of course, there's the toll that pregnancy itself would tend to take on work (and that working would take on a pregnant woman.) Sometimes when pregnant, MrsD would tell me, "Yeah, it was just hitting me really hard in the afternoon today, so I had to put the kids in front of a movie in the afternoon and get a nap." A lot of jobs either don't allow that kind of flexibility, or taking that kind of flexibility will end up taking a toll on your advancement.

Even beyond pregnancy and childbirth, it seems to me that often women have more of a desire to be with their kids full time than men do. For instance, I've on a number of occasions had women I work with (who are in two income families), on hearing that my wife is home with the kids full time, say, "You guys are so lucky. I wish I could do that." Whereas I've never had a male coworker say that. How much of that is culturally determined is obviously something one can argue about, but there certainly seems to be something there in many cases.

Now, that doesn't mean that it's bad for a woman to be the primary breadwinner, it's just that all other things being equal it's often going to be more difficult.

Also one note on your point about women making more than men: Statistics about income by gender often get played lots of different ways and there's a lot of confusion about them, so it's worth being extra clear on such things. The effect that you're referring to is that, particularly in the lower income sectors of the economy, the sort of work women often do (service and administrative) has been growing in employment numbers and pay more rapidly than the stuff that men often do (manufacturing and construction). This has created a dynamic where in the working class women are often more regularly employed and higher paid than men. In more upper middle class sectors, men and women make pretty comparable incomes if you control for tenure and commitment, but in practice women often make less because many of them take at least some time out in their childbearing years and they often trade income for flexibility so that they can have more family time.

bearing said...

Anonymous:

"What DC seemed to be stating is that gender determines who works, since a woman would be a worse worker in the first weeks after having a baby."

Wow, that's a very work-centric, family-needs-at-the-margin interpretation. I don't think anyone is saying that.

The problem with going back to work right after having a baby isn't because the postpartum mother is a "worse worker." The problem is that she (and often the new baby) will suffer physically if she must return to work too soon. A postpartum mother needs rest. She needs recovery time. She and her baby need to bond with each other. If she is feeding her milk to her child, she needs time to get the milk supply established and stable, and that requires time with the baby. Otherwise the baby risks illness and she risks breast infection.

I'm probably the most sympathetic woman on this thread to the notion that a SAH-dad situation can work well, partly because I spent several years in a dual-part-time situation which was tough but workable, partly because I know some families where it seems to work out pretty well, partly because I know some dads who long to be the at-home parent. But I am not too sympathetic to the money-and-work-are-the-most-important-criterion attitude.

Jenny said...

Anon,

"Actually, I do know a bit about FMLA, from it's long history and current application. I could post my 20 page research paper on it, but that seems to be a bit much."

Oh good, you're an FMLA expert. Then look at your research paper and tell us the percentage of working pregnant women that even qualify for FMLA. Then tell us the percentage of those women who take their full 12 week leave. Then tell us the percentage of those women who were maintained on the payroll for their entire leave. What is the average leave? What is the average length of paid status during a leave?

It is there you will see the true picture. New mothers do not return to work 2-12 weeks postpartum because they are busting their gills to be fulfilled at their job. It is because they need the money. Look at the opinion polls if you doubt me.

"The families I know where the father stays home have had multiple (2-5) kids and the wife has used FMLA with banked leave to cover her salary for this."

Of course this is the way it works. I did not say it was impossible to do. It is not impossible. I've done it. Repeatedly. I only posit that it is not quite sane if there is any other option available.

You should ask these wives you know if they felt happy, rested, and optimal while working full time with young infants. Or more likely, were they exhausted and white-knuckling it because it all had to be done? How did they feel spending an hour a day hooked up to a pump? How did they feel when day after day the baby wanted mommy into the late evening and then woke up and wanted mommy two or three times during the night and then they still had to leave the house for work early in the morning? Rested and functional? Not likely.

"What DC seemed to be stating is that gender determines who works, since a woman would be a worse worker in the first weeks after having a baby."

The reason gender is a good determiner of who works during the active childbearing years is not primarily a consideration about the ability and quality of work. It is out of compassion for the physical demands placed on the mother that the father cannot take away from her no matter how much he desires to do so.

Darwin,

"A lot of jobs either don't allow that kind of flexibility, or taking that kind of flexibility will end up taking a toll on your advancement."

Or you hide in an office, accomplish nothing, hope nobody notices, and silently chant the mantra, "Stay awake; don't throw up." :) Not the best way to climb the career ladder.

Matthew Lickona said...

I just want to know if I have a shot at the Jeep account now.

MrsDarwin said...

It's interesting how many different interpretations people can read into this cartoon. I suppose we all bring our aspirations and insecurities to it. For my own part, the reaction I just couldn't get past was, "This guy is going to quit his job right before his wife has a baby?"

Matthew, you don't get the Jeep job. You have to follow your passion and stick to writing, but you can send your wife out to do the soulless corporate work. Look how happy it makes cartoon characters! Besides, she could drink any of those ad guys under the table.

Jenny said...

bearing,

"Yeah, I should add that my comments being generally supportive of choosing the mom-works-dad-stays-home arrangement if that's what is for the best are largely contingent on (a) no actual childbearing going on or (b) enough resources to manage a maternity leave of 8-12 weeks (which strikes me as an absolute minimum).

Even done that way, it still introduces a lot of hardship, so one would hope that the parents have lots of good reasons to prefer that arrangement."

In spite of my emotive diatribes here, actually I am in favor of non-traditional arrangements of household management with the large caveat being that no actual childbearing is going on. It can work well depending on the personalities of those involved. I find the common notion that fathers are incapable of taking care of the children or that he is 'babysitting' them offensive. I hate the Mr. Mom joke. He isn't their mother and doesn't act like their mother, but yes he does fix lunch.

But in my own little world, nobody warned us about the hardships involved and we, obviously, didn't have good enough foresight to figure them out on our own. Truly the only voice of concern was raised by my mother-in-law who thought I needed to be at home to cook her son's supper. Well...since I am a crack water-boiler and that's about it, that concern was laid aside and we went on our merry way.

MrsDarwin,

" For my own part, the reaction I just couldn't get past was, 'This guy is going to quit his job right before his wife has a baby?' "

Here is probably why I had such a strong reaction to the cartoon. It reminds me of me. Not the exact order of action, but the caviler attitude about doing it however I wanted to do it. The cartoon family made bold and not easily reversed decisions before they knew the outcome of the pregnancy and how it would affect the mother. That's me I'm screaming at saying, "Don't do it." And once these decisions are made it's a hard knot to untie.

Anonymous said...

Women aren't really blasting past men in earnings potential. The recent trumpeting of the new age of the female breadwinner was very misleading. It showed both parents working with mom earning more outearned father working and mother staying home. The articles doing the trumpeting left out that father alone working earned almost exactly the same as *both* parents working when mom earned more.

Women are getting more of the 40-60k 'good jobs', but not earning enough to comfortably support a family on one income (75k+). That remains the preserve of men to a large degree and is unlikely to change.

Also, FMLA-Anon is arguing from the anomaly. SAHD are such a statistically tiny group that it's very much like the arguments in support of gay marriage-- you aren't talking about that many people, and the ones you are talking about aren't representative of the larger group they come from (married couples with children).

Anyway, this SAHM has a maid and a f/t nanny and if we couldn't afford that, we'd turn to our church and blood families for help and support. The assumption that we all just have to settle for this ridiculous isolation and atomic individualism is very old and American, but it doesn't have to be the assumption. We can try living like the other civilized peoples of the world instead.

--MJ