Monday, July 31, 2006

We Need Two Incomes to Survive

No you don't. You need two incomes to get all the stuff you want. And that's a fact. My thoughts moved to this topic while reading Betsy Newmark's husband Craig's post about all the junk kids take to college these days. They have lots of stuff. Lots and lots of stuff.

Their parents have stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. Why? Well these kids are the first generation who, as a whole, have both parents working. The younger boomers kids are going to college and taking all the stuff that was supposed to make up for the lack of time. It's no wonder their dorm rooms are full. Their parents know no end of guilt and things.

Another thing: lots of these kids have a couple sets of parents eagerly outdoing each other in the "I'm the greatest parent" department. This competition nets the kids more anxiety, anti-anxiety medication and therapy, and yes, stuff. So they go to college with flatscreens and iPods and the latest cell phone, and still don't know who to call when times get tough emotionally. Money? Money can be had. A listening ear? Well, that is fraught. Dad or Mom might find out that the other gets more phone calls.

This divorce and remarry thing also causes this: since marriages are hardly forever these days, women continue working "just in case". It is wise to do this. A woman's standard of living plunges when she gets divorced while the former husband's goes up. But this, I think causes marriage problems, too. Both parents running around, the extra few minutes spent with the kids and then no time for each other....leads to long lunches with Bob or Barb in Sales. Which causes another divorce.

I am not saying that women working is wrong. I am saying that it is unrealistic to believe that there aren't some relational trade-offs. I am saying that with no one putting the kids first except in superficial activities and things, teaches the kids that things matter more than people. I am saying that there is a connection with working to the bone for the best address, latest style "fill-in-the-blank" and nicest car. This behavior does take its toll.

I read a feminist article (can't find the link) about how the trend of moms working isn't going to change, the economics won't let it. And so, the government must step in to help parents out. Oh yeah, that's what we need. A whole segment of society hardly counts the costs of having a child as things are now. Can you imagine the results if childcare were heavily subsidized? And what in tarnation besides building bridges and roads, is the government all fired excellent at? Keep thinking.

While there are some families plugging away at minimum wages, both working, barely scraping by, etc., these same people have two car notes, a satellite dish and 500 Cable stations. Don't forget the computers. Don't forget the TVs in every room. Don't forget the zillion DVDs. These people aren't sitting around without heat and running water and playing cards with the extended family in candlelight 'cuz they lack the resources. That's poor.

What is needed these days is 1) reworked priorities 2) sucked up pride and 3) perspective. What is more important? Two brand-new cars or a mom or dad at home with the kids? What is more important? Looking as good as everyone else or living your own life? My husband drove the Chevy Cavalier we bought on our honeymoon to work at the Medical Building for three years. That old rattle-trap was/is a good car (we gave it to some people who needed a vehicle and they have it running good as new at 15 years old!). Couldn't see taking on a car payment because it is embarrassing to be a doctor driving a hunk o' junk. But that hunk allowed me to stay home with the kiddos. So you do what you have to. Most of us have it pretty good. Even less well-off folk do okay by the world's standards. In addition, staying at home with the kid isn't forever. Kids do grow up, go to school, move on and it happens faster than anyone believes possible. Sacrificing for a few years can make a huge difference later.

Sacrifice? Ha, ha, ha! What a quaint notion. Living at a level less than my neighbor? Why, that's unthinkable. Going to college without the comforts of home. As if!

Kids are only doing what they see. They have learned their parent's priorities very well and things rule.


Dr. Melissa said...

I think you meant to put your comment here. So I'm moving it here so everyone can read it. You bring up some great points:

Peggy said...

I absolutely agree with you that parents need to do everything they can to avoid the encorachment of western materialism into their lives. And not just because stuff costs money, but also because it is often the wrong stuff and is distracts and rots the soul.

That said, your post - and many such others like it that I have read by women who "choose"/"sacrifice" in order to stay home with their children often fail to mention the the biggest sacrifice going on - the father who is going to work every day to provide for the family and as a result is missing out on all those precious bonding momments. 20 years later, we wonder why so many men have full blown mid-life crises - because they hate it that they've missed out. I know, I know - men can choose to work less, they can juggle, they can prioritize their family. But if we really belive that, then why don't we want moms to go to work also?

Let's face it - in a volatile economy where layoffs are not uncommon, a man is going to work hard to keep his job so he can keep providing. Self employment for the sake of flexibility is a nice option when it works out, but it's simply not the right work choice for everyone. (And MLM's routinely fail to deliver the glamorous lifestyle the promise!) suggests that couples work together to both have careers that can be somewhat flexible so both parents can enjoy time at home and both can contribute economically so one person isn't under the gun all the time. It's a neat concept - one my husband and I used. He often says he is so grateful for all the time he had at home when the kids were little and how he knows he couldn't have done it if I hadn't worked.

Biblically speaking, the Woman of Valor in Proverbs 31 is my ideal. It's clear that her focus is on her home and family and everythng she does supports those values (a lot of men approach their careers in this manner also). But she is also out of the home using her talents to participate in the local economy. She runs a business, she provides well for her household (and that includes some luxuries, not just the bare minimum). She is skilled. Her work provides employment for others that might not otherwise have jobs (what a wonderful gift to give someone - gainful employment by a just employer!) Her husband has no lack of gain because of her. In the end, her children don't say, "You missed my basketball games!" They rise up and call her blessed. May all mothers be so blessed!! :-)

8:14 PM

MaxedOutMama said...

One of the best and most useful things my parents ever taught us kids was how to live poor.

You're right. Money does not replace a family life. I have only sympathy for those who are working to feed and clothe their children. An awful lot of people aren't doing what they do out of necessity, though.

Seriously - a lot of pounds and dog breeders won't let people adopt or buy a dog unless the dog is guaranteed to have a certain amount of companionship. It's more than we require for our children.

Dr. Melissa said...

To address some of your points.

1. Biology comes into play in who stays home. For example, my husband and I want our children nursed (breast-fed) for as long as they want (up to two years--we all have our limits). We believe the benefits extend beyond the nutritional and into the social. We believe that God created breasts for a reason. Bottles aren't the same. This goal means that I must stay home with the kids when they are little.

2. The third path is a worthy goal, but a lot of people kill their family's economic possibilities because no one is focusing on his or her career. Divided energies and all that.

3. My husband and I have just such a plan for our life. Both Chiropractors, we have worked around our schedules so he can be with the kids and work too. But what about the guys on the line? Two part-time workers mean that it's likely that no one has insurance.

4. But she is also out of the home using her talents to participate in the local economy. She runs a business, she provides well for her household (and that includes some luxuries, not just the bare minimum). She is skilled. Her work provides employment for others that might not otherwise have jobs (what a wonderful gift to give someone - gainful employment by a just employer!)
The implication is that if a woman stays at home she is wasting her talents. It just seems condescending. And I have been on the receiving end of that view. Why wouldn't I be a full-time doctor?

I think I mostly agree with you. There are many choices families can take to make the kids and family the priority rather than things. Working outside the home, having the security of two workers is great. I blog and see clients for sanity as much as anything.

But I think that biology drives parenting roles more than people like to acknowledge.

vmom said...

Dr. Clouthier, you are absolutely right!!! My husband and I are now debating whether or not I will continue working or not in order that I can spend more time with our daughter. I have become so dissatisfied with making a 6 figure salary and only able to spend a few minutes with our daughter that it now makes me sick to my stomach. I told myself today that our daughter is the most important aspect of our lives right now and I need to show her this by spending the quality time with her that she so greatly deserves. Over the last 5 years I have watched her and my husband go to the park, watch a movie, go to the mall, while I was glued to my laptop trying to get out those "last 3 reports." I honestly believe that by becoming a stay at home mom, I will not only help our daughter to feel good about who she is by giving her the quality time she deserves, but also it will help me to be a better mother by not being so stressed out because I have so much work to do and so little time to do it. I believe that as a stay at home mom, this will allow me the chance to breathe, think and do work related things that I enjoy so much that it doesn't even seem like work. Working, working, working causes you to have less time to think and be creative, and possibly do something that you really enjoy, which will more than likely help others as well. I truly agree that as working parents, we work for things and status and not to keep our kids heads together and help them to feel good about who they are. As parents we must realize that this is the reason God gave kids parents, to help them realize who they are in life..........someone very special! Something no material possession can ever do...only quality time and attention.

Peggy said...

Melissa -

Sorry I got the first post in the wrong place - I am somewhat of a "late adopter" when it comes to technology...

Re: your comments

1 - Biology - agreed. A woman's career pattern will be different than a man's if she hopes to have children. I would like to see this acknowledged much earlier on in the education process for women so that work/stay home doesn't have to be presented as a black white issue. The classic option, of course, is sequencing (which is still a little linear for my sensibilities). Other options include keeping some sort of work experience going on a limited basis (like taking classes or freelancing) while on an extended "maternity leave" of 2 or 4 or 10 years. The challenge is that too many woman don't even consider the variety of paths available because most major social institutions have basically two views of dealing with work and career (you work outside the home or you don't).

2 - Thirdpath = no health insurance for the family - agreed in most cases. There are some corporate jobs where you can get benefits if you work part time. We were fortunate to be in that situation when we were both working part time. Third path is also not feasible for couples whose primary jobs are in lower income occupations (i.e., working poor, many immigrant families, etc.).

3 - Sounds like you have figured out a good plan that works for you - well done!

4 - My sincere apologies if what I said sounded condescending - not intended at all! It seems that the sense of being condescended to goes both ways. Moms who are home can feel that working moms look down on them, and I know many moms who work (for whatever reason) who feel judged by their stay-home mom neighbors. I would never make a generic statement that because a mom stays home she is wasting her talents any more than I would make a generic statement that becuase a mom works she doen't prioritize her children in her life. We can never presume to know what is going on in the minds of others. I think that whether or not a woman uses her talents to their full potential is much more about attitude and intention than it is about specific circumstance.

To expound further...Some stay-home moms are terrific at it. They intentionally use and develop their talents and potential within the role of stay home mom. They are committed and focused and are a blessing to their families and communities. And some stay-home moms are just as materialistic and wasteful and disengaged with their children as the working moms referenced in your original post about two-income families.

Likewise, some working moms actively develop their talents and are engaged in productive careers that benefit their families and communities. Other working moms haven't given a thought to what their talents are and are working just for the money, or are flapping about and generating chaos in the workplace for others. I work in HR and believe me I know many working moms (and working dads for that matter) who are wasting their time and talents on the job site every day.

5 - A final point to add...we must remember that this discussion is primarily focused on middle class moms who have the unbelievable luxury of choice. The entire conversation of choice about work/don't work doesn't even exist for moms in many countries around the world. Most of the popular media about choose to work/choose to stay home in general is not useful to women in other economic circumstances. For women in the "working poor" class, giving up lattes, pedicures and driving an older vehicle still isn't going to make staying home with the kids an option in most cases. And research in the family field repeatedly confirms that children who live in a home that the family owns (or at least has a mortgage on!) perform better on every measure of child well being (academics, health, social, etc.) than children in transitional housing (i.e., renting an apartment) even if the mom is home full time. So for lower income families where the mother is working in order for the family to own a home rather than rent (i.e, a materialistic goal), the mother is actually doing what is best for her children.

I guess my main point it this - a woman can put her children first, and still have a career. And when people see her engaged in her career and doing well at it, they shouldn't automatically assume she has sacrificed her children in order to have those successes.

At the end of the day, we all receive the fruit of our own hands. May all moms be blessed on the journey!