Tuesday, January 30, 2007

why do I keep reading these articles?

Via Elizabeth at Half-Changed World, I found this article on "breadwinner moms" in the New York Times. Unlike the author, Elizabeth's not seething at being the "breadwinner," and neither am I.

Over the 17 years we've been parents, Mark and I have split the "breadwinning" duties every which way. At first we both worked half-time, as graduate students. Then I worked full-time and he worked half-time. There have been years when I was the only income-generator, years when we split it, years when he was "at work" and I was "at home" (though I was on sabbatical, and still earning something, at the time). Over all the years, I've been frustrated on occasion, satisfied, scared, happy--but not because I was the sole earner so much as because I found the organization of work life non-conducive to family life. And I have one of the world's most flexible jobs, so whenever I complained (even to myself), I almost always countered that with the recognition that I have it, relatively speaking, easy.

As does everyone, frankly, who can afford to organize their family life around one income.

That said, what frustrated me about the Times article is, as usual, the lack of any analysis that goes beyond the personal. Yes, yes, we all have to renegotiate our roles. Mark has learned to cook. I still do laundry. He knows the teachers better than I do (though there have been years when I did). He has had to learn to live without the public identity that work confers, while I have brought our kids to class and skipped meetings so that I could get them to after-school programs. But the Times article seems to suggest--without coming out and saying it--that this whole renegotiation thing is doomed to fail because (you guessed it) women just want to be moms, and don't like giving that up. Well, pardon me for disagreeing, but that's just ridiculous. Women and men both want the public affirmation of identity that work can confer, and the private joys (and terrors) of parenting, and they want to be able to move between them more freely than they can now. (And not all women and men want the same thing at the same time.) Workplaces that don't provide childcare, insurance policies that are too expensive, pediatricians' offices that aren't open after school or on weekends, inflexible work hours--all these things are, for me anyway, far more of a problem than any "renegotiation" we've had to do.

Again, we're lucky. But if the lucky people don't agitate for change--after all, we have the resources--then it won't happen. When feminists said "the personal is the political" they didn't only mean that people would be individually renegotiating their marriage contracts. They meant--I mean--that our private choices have public implications (and vice versa) and that to ignore either domain as we work on the other will doom us to failure.


Claudia said...

What is so ridiculous is the semantics of the argument. We already ARE moms because we have children - that is the definition of the term. We just happen to be moms with jobs that pay money and those jobs are outside the god-almighty home. This doesn't lessen our mom-ness. I don't have time to apologize for needing and wanting to earn a living - it's a fact and I'm not sorry for it. I go to work, they go to school. We all have jobs. My children are just as much my children and I'm just as much their mother regardless of whether I'm home all day or not. If there was universally good, affordable childcare, and non-crazy work schedules, all of this kind of blather would disappear.

Roxanne said...

Libby: That was a rockin post -- you are entirely correct. Thank you for expressing so beautifully what I feel when reading such articles.

Claudia said...

Libby - also: I can't find an email address for you (clearly I'm not looking hard enough) but...an online friend has started a blog: http://ajsclubhouse.blogspot.com for parents of gifted and talented kids. We both have G&T kindergarteners. I've recently posted a book review there. I'm compiling a list of "must-read" or "Must-be-read-to" books and wondered if I could pass it by you at some point to see if there are others I'm missing.

Heather said...


Becca said...

What a great post, Libby!