Sunday, January 9, 2011

Regrets of a Stay-At-Home Mom Whose Only Real Regret is Reading A Truly Insipid Salon Article About A Woman Who Regrets Opting-Out.

Dear Ms Read,

I just read your Salon article from January 5, 2011, and felt compelled to comment. Rather than take up your churlish offer to "the 5 million [Stay-At-Home Moms] who are alive and well and reading this [and] may already be clicking indignantly to the comments section to defend their choices. Go ahead and vent, stay-at-home mothers" I'm going to point out the errors and fallacies of your article here in the cosy confines of my blog.

I don't agree with your assumption that your dire financial and professional situation is a product of leaving the workforce for 14 years. Nor do I think that had you remained in the newspaper industry you would be earning as much as your ex-husband.

You were never a Stay-At-Home mom, but rather a Work-At-Home mom doing freelance writing. This isn't a minor semantic detail, Ms Read. The crux of your article is that staying out of the workforce was a liability for you (and likewise the young SAHMs whom you now counsel), but then you say "my work history is long enough to be a liability, making me simultaneously overqualified and underqualified." Which is it? You are at a disadvantage because you didn't have a career or you are at a disadvantage for having a career? Seems to me you DID work, just not very successfully.

Secondly, it's possible that you could have continued writing (professionally and successfully) for the past 14 years AND still wound up in financial peril.  For one thing, you got a divorce. Divorces spell financial ruin for women and men regardless of their job history or earning potential.

Point #3: in today's job market seniority and experience doesn't translate into job security.  "With the newspaper industry that once employed me seemingly going the way of blacksmithing" why wouldn't you struggle? Even people with established professional, full-time writing careers have fallen on hard times. The Salon article that follows yours, My Blessed Budget Christmas, is authored by Josh Max. He's a professional journalist who has (I assume) never been a SAHM, but has (according to the article) been unemployed for two years. I wonder if he's second guessing choices he made in the past, and creating overly rosy alternatives to his current predicament?

Ms Read, do you know what's obsolete? Yes, yes, the idea of getting paid to write, but what else? No, not choosing to be at home with your children. The correct answer (and Point, the Fourth) is: the notion of having a single career track for the duration of your working life. Retraining and reinventing yourself are hallmarks of the new economy (such as it is). It isn't naive to decide to step out of the paid work force to raise children. It is naive to think that you can return to the marketplace (one or two or 14 years later) and take up where you left off without taking at least a few night courses.

Finally, are you REALLY trying to convince mothers to remain in the workforce? Or are you trying to convince women not to breed?  I'm wondering because the studies and articles you cite (including a book by Anna Crittenden, a study by the ASA, a Cornell University paper, a document by the The Institute for Women's Policy Research, and a blog post at the Center for American Progress) all focus on how being a mom (regardless of whether you have a paid job or do not) is a financial and professional liability.

Maybe on some level that is the message you are trying to convey. It would explain the inclusion of this passage:
At work, I lost choice assignments as I dashed out before the stroke of 6, when the daycare began charging a dollar a minute. My editors, probably well-meaning, set me on what suspiciously resembled a mommy track. While an intern handled the tragic late-breaking news of an honor student murdered by her mother's crack dealer, I yawned through meetings where citizens complained about potholes.
Unlike you Ms Read, I don't "have mixed feelings about my choices." Because I don't regret being a SAHM, I -- not you -- am the one who is qualified to offer advice if "some young woman with a new baby were to ask me about opting out," to wit:

1. Don't marry an asshole. If you do marry an asshole, and then decide to divorce the asshole, hire an even bigger asshole to be your lawyer.

2. If you are getting a divorce, don't ask for the house. The house is a liability. Sell it and split the proceeds. If you do divorce, negotiate for tuition for job retraining. Use the incentive that after the completion of the course/degree/program, your former spouse's support payments will be decreased because you will have the means to better support yourself.

3. If you go into marriage (or any venture) planning on what to do when it fails -- it will fail. Failure is a self fulfilling prophecy.

4. Be nice to your husband.

5. Ms Read was wrong to think "who had time for long-term financial planning amid the daily demands of two small boys?" SAHMs MUST contribute to their own retirement accounts (in Canada these are called spousal RRSPs) even if it's just a pittance.

6. Start saving for your child's university or college tuition right now. Even if this means their taste for "high-end consumer product" goes unsated.

7. Take night courses.

8. If you are going to play the "What If" game and second guess your decisions, please don't fool yourself into thinking that the path not taken would have led to a land of lollipops, calorie-free chocolate, fulfilling careers and frequent orgasms.

9. Don't hang Anne Geddes prints in your house. This is actually a bit of advice that is applicable to everyone.

10. There are as many good reasons to remain in the workforce, as there are to opt-out. None of these reasons should be given any weight if they come from random strangers on the internet, ie me, or Ms Read.

Yours Truly

Nan | WrathOfMom


  1. Her article actually made the hairs on my arms stand up. Whatever side of the debate you fall on is not even relevant, in my opinion. No matter what position I was in I could not imagine regretting picking up my kids at 6pm from daycare for a better job assignment.

  2. I don't think that article was particularly persuasive. But it was inflammatory. And I would have let it pass had it not been for the "go ahead and vent" comment. That was an invitation to judge her life choices, right? Seems fair -- she was judging mine.

  3. In university, I was in economics and studied - extensively - gender effects on earnings. So I tend to get a little crabby when I read any article with "statistics and/or studies show" because I know from statistics. I know the difference between causality and correlation.

    Anyway, as a stay at home mom who is no longer an economist, I cringed at this whole article. Yeah, it was fun pushing my kids on a swing, but now I'm totally fucked financially. I think we're missing some of the story here.

    Being a mom can be a financial/career liability in a way that being a father is not. That is a fact, yes. But there are so many other factors to consider, and yes, if you marry an asshole you had better get an asshole lawyer.

    Ugh, this article made me all kinds of irritated and so I am just spewing random things on your blog, and possibly I'm not even making sense. I GUESS I'M JUST CLICKING ON YOUR COMMENT SECTION TO VENT.

    And I've always hated those Anne Geddes things.

  4. People need to be schooled in the difference between causality, correlation AND coincidence!

  5. Dear Wrath of Mom,

    Interesting post and comments. I've seen many blog posts about my essay, many of which slightly confused or mischaracterized my point, but for some reason yours slipped my attention until just now, two years later (I found it when googling my Salon piece). Anyway, clearly there are many factors that affected my financial trajectory, just as there are for other mothers who drop out of the workforce. It's complex. In my case, yes, my situation was exacerbated by being middle aged and working in a shrinking industry. (The good news is that today I am once again working, albeit part-time and with no health insurance, as a newspaper staff writer.)

    My essay was intended to not to criticize or offend SAHMs, but to critique an economy, workplace structure, parenting culture and anti-mother bias that force many mothers (and, occasionally, fathers) to make hard choices between what they consider adequate child care and their own future financial security. These structures aren't fair, but much of the writing on this subject, up to and including Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In," overlook or shrug off these very real problems.

    My sincere hope for all SAHMs is that you remain happily married and financially secure, two years since this was written, and ever after.

    Katy Read

    P.S. "Don't marry an asshole" is excellent advice (I didn't, by the way). Any brides out there walking down the aisle thinking that the person standing at the other end is an asshole really should stop and turn around.

    P.S.S. I'm not into Anne Geddes.