Saturday, February 09, 2008

Mommy Blogging, Part 2

The blogosphere lit up after Salon published a "Dear Cary" (advice column) letter, I get grossed out when I hear, "I'm a mom!" A thirty year old married woman is planning to have children soon, and quit her job to stay at home with them, but she doesn't want to end up self-identifying as just a mom.
I realize that being a mother is fun and rewarding, and all-consuming at times, but why does it have to be the primary identifying factor in some women's lives? I would think being a mother is sort of a family affair, and making it your calling card, so to speak, is no more appropriate than saying, "I'm a wife."
I don't plan on working in an office when I have small children -- I want to be at home and my husband agrees -- but I'll be damned if rearing children is all I'll do for five to 10 years.
She didn't mention the part about motherhood being physically and emotionally arduous and dangerous. She will learn that soon enough.

[I wonder if women who self-identify as mothers only are merely echoing back the message society sends them.]

Moreover, she is planning on being financially dependent upon her husband while the children are young and then returning to the workplace when they are older. Good luck with trying to find a job after the mommy resume gap. From Off to Work She Should Go:
The Center for Work-Life Policy, a research organization founded by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of Columbia, found that women lose an average of 18 percent of their earning power when they temporarily leave the work force. Women in business sectors lose 28 percent.

And despite the happy talk of “on ramps” back in, only 40 percent of even high-powered professionals get back to full-time work at all.
From the likes of the letter, it sounds like she works in an office at something that is less than a calling. Perhaps she is in the set of mothers that will lose 28 percent of their earning power.

Grasshopper has much to learn.

I covered much of this territory last April in Mommy Blogging.

It is worth noting that women don't generally refer to themselves as wives anymore. Women don't usually leave the paid workforce any more when they get married. For the most part, the workload and subtle discrimination doesn't hit the tipping point until women become mothers. In The Second Shift, Arlie Hochschild found the tipping point generally occurs after the birth of the second child.

A friend says that no one in the media has picked up that staying home makes more sense AFTER the children are in elementary school. I agree with her.

Daycare centers are much more working mommy-friendly than schools. They are open much longer hours, they don't expect volunteers at the center and they provide all the class materials. Wait till you see the treasure hunt shopping lists that the schools send home with your kids! Additionally, all the school teacher training and prep days catch working parents by surprise. Add the way the schools always call the mothers, not the fathers, about every sniffle and forgotten lunch...

Enrichment activity providers come to daycare centers instead of expecting the children to come to them. They understand that the children attend daycare centers because both their parents work. Once the children enter the school system, all that stops. There is so much more kid schlepping as they get older. I don't know why people tell me that "it just gets easier and easier" as the children get older.

FYI I describe myself at parties and such as a scientist with both a special needs child and a special needs husband. I deserve credit for all the difficult roles I play.

Has anyone read the Word Court in the back of the March issue of the Atlantic Monthly? WC deals with how to describe when you are trying to conceive a child, but not yet pregnant--the position of the Dear Cary letter writer. The March issue is not yet online so check back in month if you don't subscribe to the hard copy. (You really should subscribe and help pay their excellent writers. )

Also, don't miss Lori Gottlieb's article, Marry Him! The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough.

Cloud's comment brought Universal Sorrow to mind. Motherhood changed my persona forever.

I have two friends that left the workplace AFTER their first child hit elementary school age. That's when kids most need their parents' guidance. I understand that is the less financially feasible option. Isn't it crazy that financial considerations trump developmental concerns?

The whole act of bearing and raising children in the post-industrial era runs counter to parents' economic self-interest. Yet, we let economics rule how families divide up their work and time.


  1. I agree, that woman is probably in for a bit of a shock when she has a baby. But then, I guess most of us were. I certainly didn't know what to expect. I don't identify only as a mother, but I definitely identify as a mother. I found the first few months of motherhood so life-changing and challenging that I feel a sort of bond with all mothers. But I never considered not going back to work, and still identify myself strongly by my profession.

    Your points about the difference between day care and school are good. I wonder if anyone has seen the market potential for a chain of private schools that actually run more like day care centers? Or maybe such a thing already exists?

  2. Cloud's comment brought Universal Sorrow to mind. I added the link to the bottom of the post.

  3. Anonymous14:12

    Motherhood changes everything. Too bad most men don't experience it.

    Lori Gottlieb's article is very interesting. But then the Atlantic is always filled with well-written and thought-provoking articles.

  4. I didn't know that about daycare vs. school!

    I find the decision of when to have children really hard. I feel there's so much more I want to do before having them, but at the same time, waiting is bad health-wise for both child and mother. Biology hasn't caught up to society I guess!

  5. No, society is ignoring biology. The inhumane way we treat mothers is another way in which we ignore our social and planetary bank account.

  6. You write with amazing clarity about this stuff, Grace -- sometimes it's like you reach into my brain and magically disentangle clear strands from the mess. I wish I understood quite when and how motherhood became such a low-status occupation; where does the contempt directed at mothers come from? And what, I wonder, does all this say about how contemporary humanity views its children?

  7. Anonymous13:09

    Hasn't motherhood always been low-status? It's never been paid, and it's always been considered to be something you can do at the same time as any other job (including farmwifing, which is an entire fulltime job on its own).

    I'm not a professional, I do customer service work, and what I see around me is that the decision of when to stay home is not about when it's easier, it's about finances. We have one child and if we had two day care would literally be more than my take-home pay. One woman in my office had triplets and discovered that daycare costs for 12 week old triplets would cost more than the gross pay of a person making $40,000 a year (needless to say, she's staying home). Many moms literally cannot afford to work when they have small children - unless they make more than their male partners, in which case the family can't afford two careers.

    I came back after 2 years because I knew that was pushing the envelope for finding a decent job after being unemployed. In another few years I may stop working again and go to school while my son is in school, when we can afford it.

  8. Cloud wrote, "I wonder if anyone has seen the market potential for a chain of private schools that actually run more like day care centers? Or maybe such a thing already exists?"

    Yep. Decent private schools at the elementary level have all day programs. The local going rate a few years ago for my first grader was $12k per school year. Not in my budget. Summer was extra.

  9. I read the article "Marry Him!", linked from Grace's post, and it's worth a read (even if you're male) despite the unfortunately large number of extended sitcom references which are liberally larded into the article as if their life lessons descended from a mountain instead of from the 8PM to 9PM time slot.

    The perspective I missed in the article was that of the single parent who had previously been married. Would their opinion agree?

    I'd be willing to bet that "settling" is largely a phenomenon confined to single parents who did not have a previous marriage.

    As they say, the grass is always greener.


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