Wednesday, April 4, 2007

When Mommies Attack

My blog friend, whom I have never met, but who I think I would want as my friend from reading her blog (She's a Phd student like me, has an infant like me, reads Glamour like me, and drinks too much coffee like me), wrote a particularly insightful post in response to an excerpt she read from a book called The Feminine Mistake about the choices women must make regarding their careers and their families. The thesis of the post is that we spend too much energy arguing about whether it is better for a woman to work outside of the home or stay home to care for her family when we should be working instead to find better childcare solutions and create more family friendly working environments.

This subject is near to my heart as I hope to finish my degree soon and will making the decision to work or not work or try to piece together something in between. I have read two interesting books on the subject. The first, which I read before having Charlie (and hid from my family so as to avoid curiosity), is called Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety by Judith Warner and The Two-Income Trap by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi. Both books allude to the fact that while working outside the home is considered a "choice" for mothers, it is often not a choice at all. Rising home prices (mostly in desirable school districts) and increasing college costs have made it virtually impossible to maintain a middle class lifestyle on a single salary. Add to that the constant bickering between the WOHMs (Work Outside the Home Moms) and the SAHMs (Stay at Home Moms), wild daycare tuition costs (and a huge range in quality of care) and you have a recipe for a lot of unhappy, overtired women.

The job I would look for if I thought it existed would be 3/4 time, have onsite daycare, a comprehensive healthcare package, and a flexible policy regarding working from home (in case of a sick kiddo, school holidays, etc). Instead my options are tenure track professor (incredibly demanding of my attention and time, likely to consume more than 40 hours per week), scientist in private industry (same, but likely to require even more time), instructor at a university (better hours, but no real career prospects), research assistant at a university (potential for reasonable hours and probably the best available option IF I could find a position in my field), coffee shop employee (no benefits, no career), or stay at home.

In my heart I feel like the traditional arrangement where one partner earns money and the other partner cares for the household and family makes the most sense of all. I imagine this awful scenario where Ryan and I both have great (career great) jobs that require tons of our time and energy, we pick Charlie up at the end of the day, play with him for an hour, put him to bed, eat fast food every night for dinner, then fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day knowing that it would all start again in the morning and worse yet that we had to use the weekend to catch up on the laundry, grocery shopping, and a thousand other little things that are required to run a household. But staying home requires tremendous sacrifice on the part of the partner who stays at home. There are rewards, of course, but caring for your family means giving up your career, your security (if something were to happen to your spouse what would you do?), extra income that your family could really use, and part of your identity.

I have such mixed feelings on this subject and I change my mind every single day. I have half-heartedly sent out resumes to three different organizations. Some days I can't wait to stay at home all day with Charlie and other days I can't wait to get a job. But I don't really know why I want to get a job. Maybe it's the sense I have that it's what is expected of me after all of this school or maybe it's because 'everyone else' is looking for a job and I feel like I should be too. Who knows. I do NOT want to put Charlie in full-time daycare (I don't have a fundamental objection, it's just not what I want for my family, I'd miss him like crazy!), so I guess that is my answer. It seems impossible to have a happy, peaceful, orderly home with two career oriented jobs. Maybe I will be lucky enough to scrape together a few consulting jobs from various professors I've worked with and I can do half-time daycare.

If you have the perfect job for me, leave a comment with your email address... I'll send you a resume!!


Kyla said...

The whole WOHM/SAHM thing gets overplayed by the media. I don't believe there is a one size fits all answer to it, and people try so often to convince people their way is the "right" way. The only right thing to do is determine what works for your family and do it. You'll figure it out. :)

Sarah said...

Blog friends :) Yeah-- I definitely think we could be friends-- sooo many similarities-- and I totally agree with you. Full time care is NOT for us, but I lurve my job. Oh, and this is random, but ever since I had Harry, I could eat an entire bag of those Mission chips (in your other post) AND a contianer of salsa-- in one sitting.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how many kiddos you two are planning on having, but remember that kids only really need 5-6 yrs of full-time care before all day school sets in. I've seen professor-type couples successfully juggle elementary school age kids. They even took their kids on summer research trips to Borneo!

Also, remember that R. could stay home too... or perhaps 2 working parents professionals who both have flex-scheduling/sometimes work-at-home jobs... michael a