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Since Casper, who is now nearly seven and a half, was born, we've had: Attachment Parenting, Helicopter Parents, Slacker Moms, Free-Range Kids, Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety (i.e. ADD Kids), Indigo Children ... and I'm sure I've forgotten some.

So I can barely raise an eyebrow at the Tiger Mom.

But I did get Casper to rewrite her homework more neatly, with spelling corrections, tonight.  (Report card came home yesterday, and she's doing better in her problem areas but neatness and spelling remain the big issues.  Still an A+ art student.)
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Or, why I am skeptical about "choice feminism."

I am all in favor of women having choices, and making the best choices for themselves and their families.

But, I have problems with choice feminism in a couple of areas. The fact of the matter is that modern American society is not set up on a basis that allows for equal choice. There are social, political, and economic pressures that conspire to make full-time employment outside the home of both parents undesireable for many families with minor children. When a family chooses to have one parent stay home, those same pressures mean that the parent chosen is overwhelmingly the woman (in opposite-gender couples, natch, as throughout here. The pressures on same-sex couples are sometimes the same and sometimes different.) The simple fact that men tend to make more money than women (leaving aside pay discrepancies in the same fields, male-dominated fields are generally better rewarded than female-dominated fields) is the deciding factor for many, if not most, families who opt to have a stay-at-home parent and even consider the father staying home. I strongly recommend the book "Opting Out" by Pamela Stone, which illustrates well how some women are forced by circumstances into the "choice" to stay home, when workplace flexibility and fewer societal pressures about extra-curriculars and additional partner support (many of these high-powered women had even more high-powered spouses) would make things different. (http://www.amazon.com/Opting-Out-Women-Really-Careers/dp/0520244354)

I feel pressure to stay home with my kids all the time: when my low-paying job is boring, when I'm worried about changes in Dillo's daycare, when my mother calls and tells me it's time to think about music lessons for Casper (when? she's in after school until 5:30), when the house is dirty and the lawn isn't mowed, when I can't make the PTA meetings because I choose to spend all my time when I'm not working with my family. My husband, I assure you, does not feel pressured to make that choice, though he would make an excellent stay at home father.


May. 6th, 2009 04:09 pm
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Yesterday was a hard day; I had stress about my schooling (now resolved) and a friend had worse (not yet resolved) and another friend was laid off. And Ask Moxie posted an open thread asking "what do you need?" and it's probably the longest thread I've seen there (in the 260s for comments now). Such needs.

Charisse made a wordle of it:
Wordle: Moxie_Need

I am having a better day today. I hope you are getting what you need.

I need a good friend in town. The problem is I am an introvert and a busy person. Thank god I have good friends not in town.
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Pamela Stone, Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home, University of California Press, 2007.

THIS is the book on the 'mommy wars' I have been waiting for these 5 years - intelligent, well-written, an easy read, even, but a scrupulous academic study (if you are worried about this part read the appendix on qualitative studies first). She shows how women who left the workplace to stay home with children describe this as a choice, despite the existence of serious structural issues with society and workplaces that made the choice of leaving work extremely attractive to these (affluent, married) women. And she has some solid ideas about workplace policies that can make the work-life balance more possible (for women and men, and for people who at all levels in a company) - and examples of companies that are implementing them, and how they are succeeding in retaining employees.
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In our occasional series on the NYTimes' coverage of motherhood:

Ten days ago the Times marvelled that mothers who travel for business can ENJOY themselves, citing such examples as a full night's sleep on clean sheets, a pedicure in the hotel spa, and catching up with an old friend in another city over dinner. Shouldn't they be spending every moment missing their kids? Will no-one think of the children?? Oh, wait, they do have to leave incredibly detailed notes so their husbands and babysitters don't feed the kids kibble washed down with drano and cross-dress them. (http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10817FC385B0C728CDDA80994DE404482, now gone behind the Select wall but if you're dying to read it I can get you a copy).

Yesterday the Times noted that mothers sometimes get together with other mothers, with their children present, and DRINK A GLASS OF WINE. The dangers of this activity are speculated upon (drunk driving, who's watching the children, closet alcoholism). For fuck's sake, people. Now, if they were drinking beer and watching football, that would be okay, right? (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/09/fashion/09drink.html?_r=1&ref=fashion&oref=slogin)

Yes, my job as mother is to avoid all potential pleasure, because it might possibly hurt my children.
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Ms. Flanagan's book is mistitled; it should be called "To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing MY Inner Housewife." Because what it is is a personal memoir about one slightly nutso woman's relationship with modern American upper-middle-class motherhood, not a broader sociological analysis much less a policy statement.

So while I read it (an ARC given me by RFMom who got it as a literature librarian; I didn't actually enrich Flanagan or her publishers) in an hour and 40 minutes this morning before my family woke up (it's a speedy read, and short too) I found myself enjoying it. Flanagan is a good writer, in the technical sense: she's funny, she's articulate, she writes enjoyable light magaziney prose. Anytime she started to talk about "women" or "us" I just automagically substituted "me" (me-Flanagan, not me-me, needless to say) and kept my head. Most of her general statements are offensive, risible, or both, but as me-statements thay're sometimes funny and often rather sad, sometimes simultaneously. I think much of the sadness stems from her lack of self-awareness - it's an accidentally confessional memoir, rather than anything honestly introspective. But providing me much insight nonetheless.

Maybe I'm just feeling forgiving today. I still would much rather see a woman who can seriously discuss and culturally critique American attitudes towards family, economics, and motherhood as a staff writer at the New Yorker.

I also really like the commentary on Flanagan at Friday Playdate (my current favorite blog about motherhood by someone I don't actually know): http://fridayplaydate.blogspot.com/
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Well, the New York Times has been pretty quiet on the issue lately, but then Betty Friedan died. Plus Jesse's post from yesterday about needing to be reminded how recently racial segregation was enforced by public school got me thinking about these issues, again. I'm too stupid lately to claim any coherence to the comments below; I just want to get them out at the moment.

1. Aren't you glad you can't be fired for getting pregnant in most jobs now? Do you realize how recently that was made law? I'm remembering vaguely from a talk I attended over a year ago, but I think it was 1979. It's only since 1993 that you've been allowed to take 12 weeks unpaid leave to have a baby (or a do a variety of other family/medical stuff) and still have a job when you get back, and that's only if you work in a large firm. If your employer employs fewer than 50 people, you have absolutely no legal right to take any leave at all if you have a baby. Betty Friedan was fired when she asked for a leave of absence to have her second child, 5 years after having the first. Job advertisements used to specify that they would only hire a man. And people say feminism never did anything for them.

2. I think too much has been made in the media about the extent to which the choice of stay-at-home parenthood is only available for the wealthy. Yes, if you are a single mother, you cannot stay home with your child unless you have a trust fund. Yes, low-income couples often both have to work to be able to live. Yes, a large percentage of American mothers are either single or low-income or both. But you don't have to be an investment banker making million-dollar annual bonuses to support a stay-at-home spouse, either. Especially if you don't live in a major coastal metropolitan area. You *do* have to make some financial sacrifies as a family, sacrifies I think many middle-class people in the New York Times demographic are loath to make.

3. However, I personally have a strong opinion, based on my life experience, that no able adult should sacrifice her financial independence for the sake of family. Divorce is common. Death, happily less so, but it does occur. In divorce, a woman's standard of living generally (still, even a working woman) declines until/unless she remarries. A man's standard of living stays the same or rises, even if he pays child support, even if he remarries. (Yes, you can probably think of exceptions. I can too. They're exceptions.) I don't want to ever be in the position of being unable to support myself and my children at a basic civilized level all by myself if I have to.

4. Would I stay at home with my child(ren) if I could? Maybe. Part time. Some of this is temperament. I like small children, but I don't find herding them all day to be the most fulfilling thing I have ever done. It's harder work than most jobs I have held, and the fact that nobody hands me a check at the end of the day is grating. (I know, in an agreed-upon partnership, all money being earned belongs to the family as a whole. Emotionally, for me, if I'm working that hard I want cash in my hand.) On the other hand I do wish I had more time with my daughter, and I feel it would be better for her not to be in full-time group day care.

5. Would my husband stay home with his child(ren) if he could? Yes, if. He likes the work of taking care of children much more than I do (even though, to my critical eye, he is less conscientious. Okay, he does make sure Casper's teeth get brushed; I can't even brush my own regularly enough. We are differently conscientious. I certainly clean the house more than he does, though. I digress.) He'd have some obstacles, I think, in the social adjustment to being a full-time stay at home father. He's come a long way since we discovered I was pregnant with Casper and his first reaction was, "Well, I'l leave school and get a job and support you," but what would his father say? Would he really be willing to leave his career and face the incredible hurdles of getting back into it in 5 years if he wanted to go back?

Clearly, I should have been the engineer, and mr. flea should have dabbled in the humanities PhD ocean and then changed to the oh-so-lucrative field of library work. Whoops.


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