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

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Safety Net?

Salon runs an article with the sensational title Regrets of a Stay-at-Home Mom.

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As of my divorce last year, I'm the single mother of two almost-men whose taste for playgrounds has been replaced by one for high-end consumer products and who will be, in a few more nanoseconds, ready for college.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.

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.

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.


Jenny said...

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! It amazes me how folks do not connect the failure of marriage to the failures in society. It is very sad how spouses are encouraged to view each other with suspicion.

Erin said...

Thanks so much for writing this! I IMMEDIATELY thought the same thing when I read the article--why doesn't she talk about the divorce at all? If the writer and her husband were still together, things might look really different for her!

It goes without saying--no woman should stay in a marriage where there is abuse, repeated serious drug use, etc.

But so many people get divorces fior such vague, unbiblical reasons--like, "We just wanted different things!" And then women are left destitute.

After reading this article, I hugged my husband upon his arrival home, and thanked him for being such a trustworthy, reliable spouse and provider.

Thanks for this blog post!

Anonymous said...

Ditto. I sat there wondering "Who really left?" Did she or did he? I hate these "no-fault" divorces, because winner was always going to be the husband. What was she thinking? Was he an alcoholic, abusive, or just annoying? And does she wish now that she had just shut her mouth and put up with it, or does she feel "free"?

Skywalker said...

It seems more and more the reason for not staying at home is that you can't trust your husband to stick with you, which is horribly sad for this couple and for the country. I can't imagine that kind of fear is good for a marriage, either. Of course, I think that the hardest thing about staying at home is the isolation of modern moms, most people don't live nearby close friends or family, and that can be terribly lonely.

entropy said...

I can't tell you how many times I was told, and now even my girls (at 12 and 9) are given advice, by the older women we know to get their education before they get married so they'll have "something to fall back on" ... I suppose the end of that sentence is "for when he leaves you (or you leave each other)"

I wonder if, while cynical, it's not also practical?

Certainly I pray my girls (and boy) will take seriously their vows of marriage but what if their husband doesn't after a while? I've seen my mom's friend's marriages end in divorce. Catholic friends. 20 years of marriage. I have seen it among my own friends after only a few years.

Jenny said...

I think it is wise advice to have an education before settling down to marriage. Every adult should have the ability to make a living at some task to prepare for any eventuality (natural or unnatural).

This advice is not the same thing as advising parents to outsource the raising of their children solely to be prepared for the destruction of their marriages.

JMB said...

Divorce is truly for the rich; someone like Camille, Kelsey Grammer's ex wife will walk away from that marriage with allegedly $50M. For the rest of us, unless you can support two households it really doesn't make any financial sense whatsoever.

In my own limited experience with divorce (friends & relatives who've gotten divorced), all but one woman worked throughout the marriage. Maybe the woman who doesn't give up her job is worried that the marriage isn't going to make it, or maybe she just wants to make sure she can support herself if she ever bails on her husband (or vice-versa). Maybe it really comes down to a lack of trust in the partner from the get go. My friend (who left her husband last year) planned it so she could get out when her youngest started first grade. They lived very modestly throughout their marriage and she was able to buy her husband out of their house and support her kids based on her salary alone.

The.Baroness.Von.Korf said...

I am planning to be a stay at home mom and am already a stay at home wife. I am planning to get a job but that is only because I need to work for a specific amount of time to receive a full license in my field. I want the ability to work on my terms not on societies terms. I am not doing this because I think my husband will leave me someday. I'm doing it so that if for some unforeseen reason my husband is unable to support us that I help bring in that last bit for us not to go into debt. I honestly believe that our mind set that you can leave whenever things don't go your way is a major cause of the loss of family values and therefore societal values. It all started back in WWI and WWII when women joined the work force. It's just taken this long to fall into the depravity that we find ourselves in now. My grandfather who is 97 never understood why I wanted to go to college. He was worried that I was setting myself up to be left because I was not allowing my husband to do his job as a husband by supporting me. I truly believe that many of our current problems are caused by women working outside of the home. Birth Control so that you don't have children to take care of, husbands having affairs with women from work, lack of moral teachings because the woman has lost her identity as a homemaker and care giver, the economic demands to have two full time salaries to survive in our consumer driven society. When we as women demanded to be equal we cut our safety cords. We have put ourselves in these circumstances, only we can demand that they go back.

Anonymous said...

I think there is a strong argument for at least doing some part-part time work in your field, for the just-in-case scenarios. It doesn't have to be divorce -- could be the death or disability of your faithful spouse.

And I am aghast that there is no option of protection for SAHMs as far as disability insurance. You cannot buy it privately. (I tried). You cannot pay into social security.

You really are economically vulnerable as a SAHM, and there need to be protections put in place so that women who stay home don't get put into a lurch in the case of a crisis. Including decent alimony.

(And Mrs. D, none of that is disagreeing with you.)

One of us ought to start a staffing firm with attached childcare for professional SAHMs wanting to pick up small jobs here and there to stay current.

Gail F said...

How bizarre that she didn't talk about her divorce. Perhaps, for people who accept divorce as a good thing, the "collateral damage" of the destitution of women and children is considered acceptable.

bearing said...

I don't think it bizarre that she didn't write about her divorce. It's not very classy to tell all, even if it's common.

But it would be bizarrely foolish for anyone wanting to learn from her article not to notice the absence and be aware that there's a big chunk of information left out. I give her the benefit of the doubt that it may be left out for good reason.

Andy said...

I guess my wife will just have to trust me. I'm honored that she does.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

It's not no-fault divorce that's created this problem for non-working wives--no-fault divorce was a necessary and good thing (legally speaking) that lifted the burden of collusive divorces, where both husband and wife lied in order to "qualify" for a divorce, from the courts. The blame lies on unilateral no-fault divorces, whereby one partner could simply legally abandon the other, plus the disappearance of alimony. These left marriage as one of the few areas in law where two parties are legally unable to enter into an enforceable contract, and created a strong disincentive for a division of labor within the marriage, no matter how beneficial that would be, as it would leave one partner uniquely vulnerable. The legislatures and courts have succeeded in making American marriage far more power-imbalanced than marriage critics like Shaw could have imagined.

The leftie in me can't help drawing parallels to the disappearance of union contracts for working men in the U.S. and the now-univerality of firing employees for "good, bad, or no reason."

Unknown said...

I have a very interesting theory on this issue. I think that our culture is all about giving to "the kids" and virtually "zero" about giving "to your spouse." My number one job as a married girl is to learn from Christ each day how to better love, honor and cherish my spouse. The BEST thing I do for my children each day is love their Daddy!