So you’ve seen this, right?
I have a lot of thoughts about this piece, not the least of which is that it’s not a very good example of journalism. It’s one of Those Trend Stories that the New York Times is infamous for. The writer finds some friends of friends on the Upper East Side and a trend is born. All women do this and now all women do that.
So, putting that aside for a moment, how do I feel about the premise? I am a feminist. I pick up my husband’s dry cleaning and don’t work full-time in an office. Why don’t I?
Because I made an individual life/work/sanity/financial/family balance decision that took into account myriad factors. Like, I didn’t love the job I was working when I had my first baby. It paid only a smidge more than I would have paid in day care costs. I couldn’t imagine leaving my three-month-old all day. My husband’s salary just barely allowed us to do so. It’s no Stepford Wives fantasy. I can’t really afford tons of extras but I don’t care. I don’t shop for fun. I don’t need a nice car or nice purse.
I do work, freelance, and part-time. When I was pregnant last spring an opportunity for a full-time flex/work-at-home job came my way and I went after it. It ended up not working out but I wasn’t going to lose the chance to advance my career in a way that made sense for my family. It doesn’t currently make sense for my family for me to commute, be miles away, and break even financially. I feel like I’m doing a decent job of setting myself up for a later point when I will look for something full-time or staff. I’m writing, I’m trying to network and make connections and I’ve been beyond blessed to have been able to find a new career during my time at home.
Without leaving my old career to stay home with my baby, I never would have gotten the guts to take a plunge into something new and better. I don’t know what exactly I will end up doing when my kids are in school. I won’t be home full-time then, but I’d like to imagine I’ll find something more flexible, more manageable, than stepping off a train at 7 p.m. Someone has to get them from school when they’re sick right? Last I checked schools never got the memo that businesses don’t close at 2 p.m.
So here’s the dirty secret no one talks about and the article didn’t even get close to understanding. Many, many, many stay at home moms are middle or even working class. And they stay home because here in New York you’d have to make something like 50k to even begin to see any money home after taxes and decent child care. How many women in their 20s, childbearing, years make that much? Staying home begins to make sense. Someone has to care for children.
Corollary to that is that significant amounts of women work at jobs that wouldn’t pay full-time day care because they receive free child care from grandmothers and family members. Mothers earn less than a family-sustaining wage subsidized by unpaid family help, often their own mothers who don’t work. There’s so much going on here I can’t even begin to unpack it in my little wandering blog post. But this idea that stay at home motherhood is some elite opportunity only open to snooty lady lunchers and the very wealthy is just silly.
Can you afford to work? Can you afford to not work? Are legions of women in very crappy, secreterial type go-nowhere jobs? Are they happy to recreate their lives around their families and a more sane daily routine? Who could blame them?
I certainly can’t, but then again I don’t believe Mommies Are Magical! with super special nurturing behavior men can’t approximate. Each individual has their own individual set of strengths and weaknesses, and so does each family unit. Mom making more? Dad can stay home. Love your career and would be scary mommy at home? Hire a loving nanny and get to work. The beauty of feminism is that we’ve made that an option. Of course it’s not perfect and someone still has to do the dishes. But to claim staying home is the new feminism is a very convenient way to elide over all the problems with the non-family friendly, often inflexible way we (over)work.
Why the hell can’t moms work from home at jobs that allow it? I know I get way more work done in between the 4,560 other things I’m juggling at home than I ever did clocking in my nine to six pm.