Thursday, April 05, 2007

Are SAHMs making "The Feminine Mistake"?

Jennifer at The Lactivist recently posted about a new book called The Feminine Mistake. You can watch an interview with the author here.

Time is limited, but I wanted to raise the following points in response to the author's argument that women should not stay at home to raise their children, because they will suffer financially if they ever try/need to reenter the workplace:

- Her assumption is that SAHMs operate under a Cinderella fantasy and that they had no idea that choosing to stay at home would limit their income potential. From the women I know--and myself too--we knew we'd be making economic tradeoffs. And we were more than okay with that! It's not something women go into with their eyes closed.

- The author's core beliefs and values center around a person's economic worth, income potential, and career. Given those set of assumptions, her arguments do have logical consistency. But for families who have rejected the idea that money and status are the key to fulfillment and happiness, her argument doesn't hold.

- Her alarmist and imperious approach (your husband WILL die, divorce you, or lose his job; day care is just as good as having a stay-at-home-parent because expert X says so; women who stay at home are just avoiding real life and taking the easy way out; women will wake up one day and be miserable and poor because they didn't go back to work right away).

- Her idealization of the glamorous, fulfilling, high-powered career. At the end of the day, a job is a job. It has good parts, okay parts, and lots of boring parts. I would hope that our core identities don't become that wrapped up in our paid employment. The author herself points out how unstable jobs are (speaking about husbands who lose their jobs); shouldn't we anchor our worth and identity in something more permanent?


  1. Judit hailing from her job!

    Yeah, it's often boring. (How else would I be posting here all the time, LOL) I feel very lucky to have it, because I believe it's practically the best match for my qualifications and my personal inclinations/interests.

    I am almost at full term with my second baby and I still have not been able to decide if I want to return to this as-good-as-it-gets job.

    My pros, cons, ands, ifs, buts and musts are just too numerous (and tedious) to list here. Let's just say it's all driving me mental.

    I may just read this book because I'd like to challenge the author to make a single point which I have not already considered -- and still I don't have a freaking decision. Sigh.

    As for SAH is taking the easy way out, I'll let the rest of you comment on that!! :)

  2. It makes me very sad to hear things like this. I am so happy to be a SAHM. As a matter of fact, my husband has been out of work for the past 4 1/2 months (he recently accepted a job offer, though, and starts Monday. Yeah!) Anyway, because he hasn't been working I took a 2-hour position working in the lunchroom at my son's elementary school. I have learned that I can't wait to get home. As a matter of fact, I will give my 2-week notice the day he starts work.

    One of the ladies I work with is appalled that I would want another baby since I already have 3. She keeps bringing up all the bad things that can happen.

    1. Your husband could lose his job - done that, 3 times actually.
    2. You might not be able to afford the baby - I nurse, how much will the baby really cost?
    3. Why would you want to bring more babies into the world when so many are already neglected? - I won't be neglecting my kids. I'm with them all day every day, loving them, teaching them, and learning from them.
    4. When I see women with lots of kids in tow and pregnant again, all I can think is "Lady, can't you keep your legs together?" - At this point I got fed up, and didn't bother explaining any more.

    I feel very, very sad that some women think, or seem to think, that the most important things in life are nice houses, nice cars, nice clothes, lavish vacations, great jobs, lots of money, etc. I just want to say, "Come on. Can't you understand that the most important thing is loving your kids, teaching them how to love God and each other, and giving them a solid foundation to build their lives on?" I'm not about to entrust that responsibility to some person who doesn't know my kid from Adam, and doesn't give a hoot what my kid is like when he grows up.

    I can tell you that being a SAHM is fulfilling, fabulous, and delightful. On the other hand, being home with my kids is not a walk in the park everyday. Somedays it makes me crazy. However, I would never, ever want to be in a position where I had to leave them everyday to go to work. That would break my heart.

    I want to be there every time my 4 yo son discovers a new fossil in the rocks in the yard, and every time my 2 yo son puts new words together into a sentence. I want to be there for my 6 yo son when he comes home from school with delightful new stories of what happened. I don't want to miss a thing, though I am very well aware that I could be out in the workplace making lots of money. Personally I'm not interested. Seeing the smiles on my kids' faces and the sparkles in their eyes is more than enough compensation for me, thanks.

  3. Nicely said Kelley!

    But. We should avoid all stereotypes. Like surely that annoying lunchroom lady is NOT earning enough money for a nice house, clothes, car and lavish vacations. Yet there she is. I know I work all day long but we still we live in a rented apt, drive a 1992 car, and our vacation is when we visit my parents. If only most womens' choices were between raising kids and consumerist bliss!

    Anyway, here's something else I wonder about: after kids are weaned, why aren't dads clamoring to have their turn to be SAHDs? Curious!

  4. Eric is dying to stay home with Zari. I actually think a lot of men would like to but get boxed into being the primary breadwinner. Plus--selfish maybe, but true--I have no desire to work full time at this point in my life. I don't think it's laziness, because I work hard. Just don't get money for a lot of the things I do. Like work on this blog, for instance, or write my dissertation.

    I think that the answer to many women's (and men's) dilemmas about work and family responsibilities will not be found in simply having all women go back to work when their babies are 6 weeks old, as the author advocates.

    Why is it so hard to find jobs that will allow you to bring children with you? Why don't we have more telecommuting positions, so parents can work from home? Why can't we have a better system of health care and other benefits so that people aren't forced to have a job simply to get the benefits (because if one mildly catastrophic accident happened, they'd be killed by medical bills)? Why doesn't our government support parents like many others do, with much longer maternity/paternity leaves, etc?

    Being able to stay home with young children is a luxury that many people can't afford (and that some don't want to afford)--lack of education and thus good paying jobs, living in an area with insanely high housing costs, single/divorced parents, etc.

    Judit, good point that we can't assume women who work do it for the "extras." At the same time I think it's important to really look at our level of consumerism. Perhaps we could recategorize many of our "needs" as "wants." I freely admit that we could definitely live with less, and on less, than we do. And we're not big spenders to begin with.

  5. I really want to stay home with my children (when I have them), but sometimes I feel guilty for wanting to stay home and expecting my husband to work. He has mentioned he would love to stay home while I work, but I get jealous just thinking about not being able to spend most of my time with the children. We have jokingly discussed the possibility of both of us working part time, but I don't know what options would be open for that. But it is an interesting idea--That way the father, not just the mother, also gets to participate in more of their children's first steps, words, etc.

  6. Yeah, that's exactly how I feel too! I do feel bad that Eric has to work. At least he has more flexibility because he's in academics. Recently though it seems like he has 2 full time jobs with all the work he has--the only difference is that he does most of his work at home.

    We all need rich, dying uncles who can make us independently wealthy!

  7. Oh Kelley, I forgot to say congrats on your dh finding a job! What a relief for your family.

  8. "women will wake up one day and be miserable and poor because they didn't go back to work right away"

    I understand needing to work for financial reasons, but I think more women (and men) wake up these days miserable and realize they spent too much time at work and not enough with their families. Babies grow up too fast. I hate the "6 week standard!"

  9. Judit,

    Having my husband for the last few months has actually made him much more interested in staying home so we can raise our kids together, though not until our finances are completely solid. I am building a business from home that will allow us to earn residual income - income that comes from doing the work once and getting paid for it over and over and over - and thus be able to have the lifestyle we would like and still be able to stay home with our kids. My husband is all for it. These past few months have been wonderful for him, though the income problems have not been nice. We look forward to the time when we can do both if we so choose.

    About the "6 week standard" - that's just when babies are getting really interesting. Newborns are truly wonderful, but, as my dad is fond of saying, they don't do much more than eat, sleep, and poop. 6 weeks is when things start to liven up. I'd hate to miss anything after that.

    I do understand that some mothers really don't have a choice when it comes to working or not. That is not where my concern lies. My frustration with some women, and this lady in particular, is that the status and money ARE so important to them, and they can't understand why it is not more important to me. One of the things she keeps asking me is how we can possibly afford to have so many kids. Don't we go on nice vacations and like to do fun things? Don't we buy junk food for our kids? Don't we do this? or this? or this? Well, no. We don't. Because we choose to have a family and for me to be a SAHM, we choose to give up some things. Things and clothes and cars and looks are very important to her. They are not to me.

    I'm not trying to make this into a diatribe against women who work. It is merely a frustration about the mentality that some women, including the woman who wrote this book and the lady I work with, seem to think that money and outside fulfillment are more important than doing a good job raising our kids. In my personal opinion, it is my responsibility to put the needs of my kids above any outside wants. I hope this is coming across in the way I want to.

    Judit, I do understand that some mothers have to make a tough choice, and I certainly hope you are able to do what works best for you and your family. Good luck with the upcoming birth of your little one. I look forward to reading your story on c-birth.

  10. I try not to judge or comment on others choices but I can comment on my own. I worked when my oldest was seven months until she was 2 1/2. I have to say I have never been more fulfilled than staying home with my kids, homeschooling them and sharing their lives. I have worked at a career and it just didn't fulfill me the way watching my children change and grow does. The thing for me about the author's comments is that she is taking away my choice. Women fought long and hard in this country to be able to have a choice and I am not giving that up. Saying that all women should go to work at 6 weeks is similar to saying they should all stay home or they should all wear blue skirts. I just don't understand why we would all want to be cookie cutters of each other. As for the financial impact I have considered that one day my husband might not be able to support us and I try to keep my skills sharp so that if I needed to go into the workplace I would have that CHOICE as well. I believe that having a primary caretaker available is the best possible option for my children after much research. I CHOOSE to follow my heart.

  11. Thanks so much for writing this! (I just ran across yr blog from a link on Sage Femme's blog!) I read a review of this book the other day and felt frustrated by the author's one sidedness. Thanks for putting another perspective out there!

  12. Wow, what a busy thread!
    My most urgent new comment is: OMG, she advocates returning to work at 6 weeks??????

    Why exactly 6 weeks I wonder. HOw stupid. Even FMLA mandates employers to allow 12 weeks now. The only people not covered by that are those who don't have a job worth keeping by any measure.

    By the way, my personal situation that I'm all worked up about is whether I should go back at 8 months! The job is held for me, I get to keep our health benefits the whole time I'm on maternity leave, even my vacation and sick days keep accruing. An amazingly good deal for the US, but an insult by the standards of my country of origin, where I would get up to 3 years with (reduced) pay. Not a wealthy country.

    Kelley, I do understand your feelings and priorities and I think it does come across as you intend it. Family is by far the most important thing. What irks me is the overall polarization of this issue (not by you), as the book's tone exemplifies. We mothers are wasting our breath debating 'mommy wars' instead of acknowledging that most families are in/near crisis. Especially many single income families are in or on the verge of financial ruin. And the majority of families who are not, aren't because they have a double income.

    Blaming SAHM for this is just astoundingly short sighted.

    I believe that educating and caring for children is work that deserves, in fact *demands* financial compensation, no less so if those children are your own. The civilized thing for a society to do is to give the best chance to all children. (No child left behind, har har har) This must include supporting motherhood with dollars, not just with romantic verbiage. SAHMs do more than their share for the common good to be compensated with an income, retirement security, health coverage, etc.

    Crucially: the basic HUMAN needs for an income, retirement security and health coverage ought not to be any mother's only reason to return to the work force and leave their babies to be cared for by paid strangers.

    I do think it's okay to have career aspirations, especially for those who feel ill equipped to be the sole educators of their children. I should hope they know who they are and leave the job to someone who does it better and with more pleasure.

    Okay gotta go now.

  13. Well I took liberties with the 6 week bit--she advocates returning to work right away and usually you get 6 weeks maternity leave. So I put 2 and 2 together...could be wrong.

  14. Since 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles most workers to up to 12 weeks of job-protected medical leave for birth or adoption.

    3 months is far better than 6 weeks, but still unacceptably short according to my idea of what we as a civilized society should afford our babies.

  15. Wikipedia has a nice article comparing parental leave in different countries around the world. The only other country on this list without paid parental leave is Australia (at least that I saw) - but they allow for an entire year of unpaid maternity, so the US seems to have the worst system of parental leave in the entire world, at least on paper. Even Djibouti has the Americans beat.

  16. Rah rah capitalism. Okay, that was a cheap shot I guess, because many capitalized nations do have good maternity leave policies.

    "This must include supporting motherhood with dollars, not just with romantic verbiage."

    Well said! What if...we redirected government spending away from futile war efforts, and instead put that money towards paying mothers or fathers a liveable salary to raise their children. The amount a family received would depend on the working spouse's salary, the number of children, the cost of living & housing in that particular city, etc.

    What if...employers decided "to heck with 'professionalism'!" and invited parents to bring their children to work, and provided workplaces that could accommodate this. For example:
    - comfy, sound-proof offices with recliners for nursing
    - in-office "day care" so that during certain hours of the day, parents could have some uninterrupted work time, but be just a hallway away if their child needed them (like the service provided in many gyms, basically).

    Imagine that.

    I read a fascinating article in Mothering Magazine about two years ago about this very thing: there was a feature article about how the magazine's employees bring their children to work. I'm glad that Mothering at least practices what it preaches.

    What other ideas can we come up with so that the child/work issue doesn't have to be an either/or dilemma?

  17. I wish I knew why the US has such poor social policy. It runs deeper than just the lack of will to fund family leave with tax money.

    As a former member of a parent-run cooperative child care center, I have the misfortune to know state licensing regulations. They impose a tremendous burden on centers. And they are still ineffective, because despite (or because of?) their existence, there is a lot of crappy child care out there. Our coop (I thought) was awesome, but the state bureaucrats clearly did not.

    Sad, because we were a bunch of like-minded parents who found a common solution. Moms and dads watched one anothers' kids in shifts. Yes, it was hard to fit into work schedules, but we managed. We pooled our resources of time, talents, toys, books, materials, labor, etc. We used a church nursery. It was basically homeschooling out of the home, really community based. But taxes, insurance, regulations, inspections and fines killed it.

    Basically, the same government that fails to offer parents help stopped us from helping ourselves. ARgh. Why.

  18. Before I get to my domestic chores and feed my kids a wholesome breakfast, I want to reply to this. I haven't read anyone else's comments yet, but will do that a bit later, after reading to my babies, and drawing and coloring and singing and dancing, then maybe, just maybe I will get time after we eat another wholesome meal prepared by me and the kids lay down for a rest time. Oh but you know what, I think I have some laundry to do and a kitchen to clean to mention the chickens outside that need tending to, and then the kids will be up and we might go outside and play for awhile before we make our run into town to the grocery store so I can do my menu shopping....

    I don't think enough women stay home and I think it is because of women like this woman and the crap she spouts. Yes, some women are happier at work and I commend them becuse if they aren't happy they wont be the best paretn they can be and they will resent their children. I am educated through traditional means and otherwise. After Grace was born I was FORCED to go back to work by a husband who was an ass (since divorced and re married to my best friend since I was 13) Becuase I was forced I was depressed but found a way to make myself get fired. Not great for the resume, but great for me and my baby.

    I hae been at home with my girls for a little over 4 years now. Most of Grace's life and she will be 5 in a couple of weeks. I do not belong any place else at all...when I became a mother, that and being a wife and home engineer became my job and it is the only work I love. We went without a job for a year, but we are in the fortunate few who had money to live on while neither of us had a job (It was a choice on both of our parts to stay home, too btw....DH got bored and went back to work.)

    I am a feminist, and it is the militant fems and women like this pompous author who give feminists in general a terribly bad name.

    Off to tend to the children.....and I wouldn't have it any other way.

  19. My partner talks about staying home with our kids (when we have them)!

    And about the maternity leave sitch in Australia - we are entitled to 12 months unpaid. A lot of workplaces (including mine) give up to four months paid leave (not enough, but better than nothing), and our government also gives a "baby bonus" of I think $5000 for each baby. So it's better than nothing, but definitely not good enough.

    I'd really like both of us to be able to stay home for the first year, and one of us after that.

  20. Wow, makes me want to move to Australia! I like the idea of a baby bonus too.

    Guess how many days of work my husband took off when I had a baby? One (the day I gave birth). He could have taken more off, but he's a professor and so it's harder for him to just leave mid-semester. He was home a lot helping out, but he continued to teach his classes. He doesn't know if the university he works for provides parental leave.

  21. OK, its fine if a woman wants to quit working and not plan for her retirement. But she'd better not show up on my doorstep when she is old and broke. I won't help her out because, you see, I will only have enough retirement income for myself.

    Ladies, take responsibilities for yourselves.


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