Mommies and Money

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Apparently Marketplace Money from American Public Media recently mentioned a book on the air called The Feminine Mistake, by Leslie Bennetts. I’m going to go put a hold on this library book immediately.

I just looked it up on Amazon.com and not surprisingly a lot of women have very strong and opposing opinions about the book.

I don’t think that my work in the office has more meaning than my work as a mother. In fact, I get more emotional meaning from my family and my family is a higher priority to me than my job. However, I also know that my work as a mother is not something I can be compensated for financially. This is a fact. It is also a fact that I get well compensated for my work in the office.

While I sometimes fantasize about not having to balance work and family and being that mother who has a perfect house and home cooked meals and baking cookies, etc…When I’m honest with myself I know that is a fantasy because of

  1. the reality of our financial situation
  2. the importance I attach to earning money for my work (in part from watching my mother not do this. no horror stories… but i saw the impact on her self esteem for not being rewarded financially for her hard work)
    and
  3. there is no perfect mother with the perfect house or perfect children

Life is a series of compromises and learning to share the three ring circus that is family life with a spouse is the only way I know of trying to reach a balance. For me being only at home would offer one less thing to balance but wouldn’t provide any greater overall balance in my life.One of the reviewers on Amazon.com wrote a great review. I hope that someday my daughter is as proud of me as this woman is of her Mom.

What struck me the most about the book is what the women who step out of the workforce for several years found out–kids grow up and leave the nest! It seems as though stepping out of the workforce for 10-15-20 years is not the brightest idea, and Bennetts outlines the blatant sexism and ageism that occurs when these women try to return to the workforce.

Before and after my parent’s divorce in which my Dad walked out on our family, my mom worked full time in a fulfilling career and did great things, helping our community immensely because she worked in social services. She was also an excellent money manager and was able to retire when she was 55. In the meantime, many of her friends have suffered through divorce and the death of a spouse, and have had a very difficult time because they were not prepared financially.

I am SO proud of my mom. Yes, there were times when I wanted her to stay at home (or pick me up from school every day or bake cookies, etc.) but I also learned how to be self-reliant earlier on and take more risks in life. When I was in HS, everyone loved my mom not because she made the cutesy cookies, but because she was so interesting and worldly and fun. My friends were intrigued that she managed a staff of 80, sitting on the national board, traveling and making a difference in the lives of many of the under-served.

However, several of my friends in HS had SAHMs, and they turned out just fine, if the marriages lasted or another disaster did not befall the family. So I can see how SAHM-hood works for some families.

One thing I wish that Bennetts would have focused more attention on is the fact that we need to bring men into this conversation. I expect that any man I marry will be just as apt to help around the house, pick up the kids from daycare, manage the crises Bennetts outlines like sickness, high fever, etc. and generally bear his part of the load for managing the household. The idea that women are the only ones capable of ‘opting-out’ or taking time off is antiquated, even if it’s the norm. Let’s start discussing the idea that men should roll up their sleeves too. For example, Bennetts mentions several times in the book about how so-and-so working mother managed to put a nice dinner on the table every night. Why can’t a man do the same thing?

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