Showing posts with label Skill Building. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Skill Building. Show all posts

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Opting in, opting out

The New York Times Magazine has a story this week entitled, "The Opt Out Generation Wants Back In."  It's about the high profile, highly educated women of Generation X who, after working in high powered jobs, made the specific choice to stay home with their children - and are now regretting it.  Or not.  Or something.  I'm not sure what the point of it is other than to express, again, that women aren't happy, even when they have choices or have had full agency to make choices because they can't have it all. 

Well, duh.

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.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Piece of Advice #49: Get some experience with children

When I was a teenager I spent hundreds of hours taking care of other people's kids.  I volunteered at church in the nursery and babysat practically every weekend (at $1.25/hr, can you believe it?).  The summer I was sixteen I worked full time as a babysitter, whiling away the long summer hours entertaining an eight year old.  By the time I was twenty, I was seriously down with kids - babies, toddlers, elementary school kids, tweens - I'd logged the time and I was reasonably adept at caretaking, entertaining, diverting, and maintaining order.  If you'd sat me down at a table with a shy or sulky three year old, I'd have picked a spoon and asked her to tell me if her reflection was right side up or upside down and then flipped it and asked again.  Flip, flip. Concave, convex.  Magic.

Because I had this experience when I went to work as an English teacher in Russia, I did not panic when they gave me a schedule full of different age children: 1st grade, 3rd grade, 6th grade, 9th grade, 11th grade.  It was a challenge coming up with suitable lesson plans for all those different ages, but I wasn't totally unfamiliar with what was developmentally appropriate or what worked with what age.  Later I found a job as a children's librarian and had no problem switching gears from preschool to teen interaction at a moment's notice.

Now, not everyone wants to work with kids, and that's fine.  But this background meant that when I finally became a mother, it wasn't nearly so overwhelming as it is for many new mothers.  Sure, I consulted reference books about developmental milestones, and I called my mom if my son got a strange rash or ran a high fever, but I had no problem becoming comfortable with my kid because I was comfortable in general with kids.  I knew how to play tickle and peek-a-boo and I had a whole repertoire of silly songs including some I made up myself.

It seems strange to me that we as a society are proud of producing women who don't know how to change diapers or talk to babies or distract a toddler from the tantrum he's about to throw.  Or, even worse, producing women who don't want to have children at all.  I don't think it's odd for women not to relish the idea of diapers or midnight feedings, but what kind of self-loathers do we have to be as a culture to be programming our daughters to believe that motherhood is drudgery or "detrimental."  Motherhood is the de facto state of women and has been for thousands of years.  It's why we're here: to produce and raise the next generation successfully so that they can produce and raise the next generation successfully.  Sure, it's hard work and can be relentless and thankless, but what job isn't?  And I've never had a cheetos fight, made up dragon stories, or exchanged PB&J smeared kisses with any of my other bosses or coworkers.

Getting that experience may be more challenging for you than it was for me.  I realize that girls do not babysit now the way they babysat when I was a teen, and families are smaller than ever, so you probably won't get it at home.  But volunteering is still an option, as is babysitting for friends.  Not all kids are pleasant to be around, but if you spend enough time with children, you may find that your perspective on the world changes.  It's harder to be a brutal cynic when you're with someone who finds blowing bubbles rapturous and fart jokes endlessly funny.  You may even start to want some of your own.  My advice is to start earlier rather than later on that.  Don't feel like you are wasting all your opportunities if you decide to be a mother early.  Motherhood is an opportunity and a learning experience, and there will still be time for outside aspirations when your kids get to be a little older.