"I shut my eyes in order to see." - Paul Gauguin

March 20, 2009

Originally uploaded by Robert S. Donovan (booleansplit)

Just a couple of links (and a great and interesting image via Robert S. Donovan on Flickr) for you on this beautiful Friday. I was admiring the cavalcade of tulips in the supermarket yesterday, but as always its hard to take my own photos when your two-year-old wants to hold hands while running.

In theory, today is the first day of spring. Its cold here today, but the snow is slowly melting and I have some hope that by next week or so we'll be able to start going to the playground again.

I don't know if there is a connection between these two links or not. You tell me.

Presidential parenting: Good mothers lead by example

Is the opt-out revolution coming to an end?
-- Let me just say here that I was so very pleased that the second comment caught my thoughts exactly: "Opt out would imply options, would it not?" Of all the dozens families with children I know, exactly four have been able to make the choice to have one parent opt-out of working. In two families, its the traditional "professional dad and stay-at-home mom" profile. In one, the mom had the high paying job and the dad was home when the kids were small. And in one, the family can afford to have one parent stay home because both partners had worked at high paying jobs and the were able to bank and invest enough to plan for the future.

I suppose someone could say that Michelle Obama is part of the "opt-out" revolution: she was, after all, a highly-paid executive who left her job to (as some blogs would tell you) "trail along" after her husband and take care of their home and family. (Of course, another view of being First Lady would be that its the highest-profile and most responsible volunteer position in the US. But I digress.)

But for most families, its not a question of opting out any more. Its a question of balance - two parents working at (at least) two jobs, or one parent (either parent) staying at home and one in the workforce. The balance of "we want another child" against "can we afford to have another child" or the balance of "I want a stay-at-home parent with my child" vs "how to we afford to have one parent at home" vs "which parent has the skills and education to get the best-paying job."

I guess I've never seen this opt-out revolution she speaks of. I've only seen families that try to make the best choices for themselves.

Today's post at Antique Mommy talks about a photo of her mother-in-law, and how "[w]hen her husband encouraged her to sell Tupperware to make a little mad money, she discovered that she liked it. And she was good at it — so good that she won a car and quickly rose through the ranks to become a sales director." Then tragedy struck her family, and her husband was killed, and what had formerly been "mad money" was now the family's sole means of support. (I can't imagine how good you'd have to be at selling Tupperware to support a family of four. I couldn't do it.) Some might say that it was a stroke of good fortune that she had kept her toe in the water, so to speak. But this woman's story also speaks to so many other things: how work brings fulfillment, recognition, and rewards. How its good to have some backup skills in case of disaster (death being the worst, of course, but for many families the impact of a job-loss can be as or more economically devastating than a death). But, of course, no one was writing about mothers like AM's MIL in the papers back then. It wasn't a "trend". It was just families doing what they wanted or needed to do.

I get so tired of the fallacy that "working mothers" are a new phenomenon, or that there has been some "opting revolution" in the past decade or two. In some families, both parents have always worked. On the farm, maybe, or in the store, or with mom doing in-home parties or taking on piece work, but both parents were contributing to the finances of the family. In other families, only one parent was the wage-earner. In yet other families, the roles shifted depending on circumstance. What has changed -- what the fundamental change is that no one really talks about much -- is the way the culture has changed to make things less easy and hospitable for two-earner families. The media wants to make hay out of the "mommy wars" - working parents vs. stay at homes. We're encouraged to envy or criticize those on the other side of the fence, rather than support them. Our sense of community as parents has vanished and now its all about making the "right" choices, as though only one set of choices were the correct one.