Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Moms, Dads, Kids and Work

Penelope the Brazen Careerist should be queen of the work blogs. Maybe she is already. Anyway, I so often read her posts and nod along, thinking "wow, she really nailed it here." Then I save the post in Bloglines or Blogger and a month later it's still sitting there. In these two, she digs into the tensions, challenges and opportunities of how to divide up work and childcare in a family with two parents. It all rings so true to me, having spent the last five years attempting to find the magic formula that combines family and work bliss.

The new stay-at-home dad paves new paths for moms:
"In fact, most men do not set out to be stay-at-home dads. They just want to make sure they get to spend time with their kids. A survey by American Demographics revealed that eighty percent of men ages 18 to 39 said that a flexible job to accommodate kids takes a higher priority than doing challenging work or earning a high salary. The new stay-at-home version of dad is how they reach this goal."
The advice that jumps out at me in that post is to make sure the primary caregiver also has some work (or non-kid projects, at least) on the go. If I put all of my friends with young kids on a spectrum from happiest to most frustrated, the ones in the happy zone have kept working at least a few hours a week...not so much for the money, but for the sanity. At the other end are the ones who work full time or not at all.

Your family would be better off with a housewife. (So would mine.)
"The point is that marriage and family work best when one person is taking care of them full time. Duh. Everything in the world is best off when it is cared for very carefully. I wish everyone would stop trying to deny this."
I don't think many men would attempt to publish an article like this...but it's a shame, because the tone is spot on and honest to the core. The conversation should be happening, with a healthy questioning of values and what we're really trying to accomplish in our families, marriages and jobs. Lots of good thoughts in the comments to that one, too.

One of these articles pointed to stay-at-home-dad site Slowlane, and I followed a link to a very personal and enlightening article from a mom working full-time: Anatomy of a Working Mom's Brain. A quote, to give you the flavour:
"I was very overwhelmed, one of my experiences and I still experience this: I’m extremely overwhelmed being married to a work-at-home-dad. Are any of you work-at-home-dads and not stay-at-home-dads? It really makes a big difference. I don’t have a Mr. Mom at home. When I come home the laundry’s waiting for me, the dirty dishes are waiting for me, all of the housework is waiting for me. And that makes a big difference because not only do I work full time but that house is entirely my responsibility."


Anonymous said...

It's relatively recent- since the 80's- that middle class families needed two incomes to survive comfortably.(Speaking as someone coming from a family that is surviving on 1.5 salaries; we sure ain't saving.)

The questions of balance and lifestyle choice are critically important here. But so is some political perspective. Since Reagonomics, neoconservative economic thinking and policy decisions have dominated western economies for the last 25 years or so. Average folk are so much richer now eh?

So few people really have any meaningful lifestyle choice in all of this- in Canada, the western world, nevermind globally. Necessity dictates how much most of us work.

I find Barbara Erenreich's blog good antidote reading http://ehrenreich.blogs.com/barbaras_blog/

Thanks Jeremy.

Anonymous said...

I think you have to look at this problem on two levels -- elected officials and your personal life. And address both, but separately. It's so easy to get angry about politics and not take care of your personal life. We have a lot of ability to change the world by changing our own lives. It's not as glamourous to change our own lives -- there are not posters, no shouting, sho shifting repsonsiblity. But you can change your own life quickly, and effectively and you don't need to wait for the next election.

PS Jeremy - thanks for the compliment. So nice.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for this, Keira. I so agree with everything you've written here. The thing I've been thinking about most lately is this idea of how much meaningful choice we really do have. "Necessity" does dictate, as you've pointed out, but that's really a pretty elastic concept when you're talking about middle-class folks with the freedom to move anywhere. I'm coming to see that location is key to this discussion.

Lifestyle necessity in Vancouver (or Toronto, New York, San Francisco, etc) is really, really different than necessity in smaller, out-of-the-way places. You guys could sell now and move to Saskatoon and feel rich there on one income. Unfortunately, you'd be stuck in Saskatoon, but you know what I mean.

I'm sure Penelope could weigh in on this one too. There are only so many choices and changes you can make to the work/childcare/leisure balancing acts when you're paying 50% of your income for housing...

Jeremy said...

Penelope, that's so true. And although I occasionally whine about legislative issues, I sometimes forget that we are lucky in Canada with our labour laws (at least compared to the U.S.) -- paid parental leaves, higher minimum wages, better unemployment insurance, and more vacation time (on average). I tend to compare "up" to European standards on these things, and they're way ahead of us on all those measures.

I pondered that distinction between personal lifestyle change and social activism when I started this project. I don't think I've answered many of the questions I raised then, I still do believe that enough people changing their lifestyles can effect how societies organize and function.

Jeremy said...

Keira, thanks also for the link to Barbara Erenreich's blog -- I subscribed and added it to the sidebar. It's excellent stuff. I had read Nickle and Dimed a couple of years back, but hadn't heard much about her since.