Life is hard. Life isn't fair. Life doesn't come with a guarantee. We make choices. No one ever promised you a rose garden. Pick your cliché, they're all true.
The first woman they profile, Sheilah O'Donnel got divorced after about a decade at home - in the custom home her husband had built for them. She decided being a stay-at-home mother was disempowering and disenfranchising and skewed the balance in her marriage and caused all kinds of problems in her relationship with her husband:
At her peak, O’Donnel was earning $500,000 a year. But after her first two children were born, O’Donnel’s travel for work became more difficult. She gave up a quarter of her earnings in exchange for working three days a week, but felt marginalized, her best accounts given to others, meetings often scheduled on her days out of the office. “I felt like a second-class citizen,” she said. Even with the reduced schedule, the stresses of life in a two-career household put an overwhelming strain on her marriage. There were ugly fights with her husband about laundry and over who would step in when the nanny was out sick.So O'Donnel - a la Mary Chapin Carpenter - got the heck out of Dodge and now has a small apartment and a midlevel sales job. And no husband. Whee!
The Times profiles two other women, whose stories I was more sympathetic to because they didn't actually break up their families for seemingly frivolous reasons. The tone of the article seems to be, "You'd better work, honey, because men are unreliable. It's just safer to support yourself." Which harkens back to that 2nd Wave feminist idea that women should - must! - all work outside the home because then we are all equal, equal workers, indistinguishable.
I'm not saying that women shouldn't work or that girls shouldn't be trained for a vocation or learn valuable skills. I went back to work last year, and it turned out to be a very good thing because my husband is getting laid off in a few weeks, and we will have at least some income to live on until he finds another job. And, of course, life does sometimes intervene. Accidents happen, work peters out, people die or become incapacitated, spouses sometimes leave. Skills are good to have.
My point is, Sheilah's husband wasn't the one who stopped being cooperative, who stopped supporting his family. But somehow, the Times puts Sheilah in the victim role here. It also really bothers me that feminists frame the working/staying home dilemma entirely in terms of how it affects women. What about the children? Sheilah was home for over a decade; did her children not benefit from the time they spent with their mother? Did Sheilah not benefit from spending time with her kids? That, to me, is far more important than what the pillows in her new apartment are like.
I stayed home with my son because I wanted to be with him. I wanted to know him. I wanted to be the one from whom he learned his numbers, his letters, his morals, his values. Not everyone can or even wants to stay home, but I went through a huge effort to have him in my life, and I wanted to be with him. Now, it's true, he won't remember those years. Already he doesn't remember how things were when he was a baby. But I remember, and it's a blessing to me. Yeah, I had to sacrifice my career as a librarian, such as it was, and, yeah, I had to become financially dependent on my husband and it did change the dynamic between us somewhat and sometimes I felt, I suppose, lesser, being a non-working person in a society that values everything in monetary terms. But I had time with my son. I invested my energy in him. Will it pay off? I hope so. There are no guarantees in life. He's happy, he's secure. I gave him that, and I feel proud of it.
When I read stories like Sheilah's, I can't help thinking of my grandmother, a teacher and farmer's wife, who kept on keeping on when her husband was struck by lightning and rendered bedbound for the better part of a year. She kept making dinner, running the farm, raising her boys. She went back to work to keep money coming in, and you know who never complained that she wasn't fulfilled? My grandmother. She went and read to her mother-in-law who had had a stroke and needed the company. She taught Sunday School. She was grateful to have enough to eat and a warm place to sleep and a family who loved her. Great woman, my grandmother. God rest you, Amy Coleson Pettigrove. He cracked the mold the day you were born.
Everything runs right on time, years of practice and design
Spit and polish till it shines. He thinks he'll keep her
Everything is so benign, safest place you'll ever find
God forbid you change your mind. He thinks he'll keep her
For fifteen years she had a job and not one raise in pay
Now she's in the typing pool at minimum wage
Today is my 15th anniversary. I've kept the house clean, made healthy meals, repaired things that broke, shuffled my kid to school and basketball and scouts. I've taken the dogs to the vet and taught myself to cook and garden and make medicines, prayed for my husband when he was away and traveling unsafe roads, and listened to him when he was tired and discouraged and scared.
And all I have to show for it is: a clean house, a healthy family, rambunctious dogs, a happy and secure kid, a pretty little garden, shelves full of canned goods and herbs, and a loving and appreciative husband. Poor me.