Leslie Morgan Steiner and Brian Reid
Thursday, April 6, 2006 1:00 PM
Moms have been struggling for years to find a workable balance between their jobs and raising their children. And now, more and more dads are tuning in, playing more active roles and struggling with the same issues.
Ask author and blogger Leslie Morgan Steiner and blogger Brian Reid their opinions. Steiner is the author of the anthology "The Mommy Wars," and the
The transcript follows.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Hi everyone, I'm eager to discuss your questions about working moms and dads, at-home moms and dads, and issues facing us all.
Brian Reid: Hello everyone. I'm Brian Reid, the guy behind rebeldad.com. I'm interested not only on at-home fatherhood, but in the myriad ways that parents can balance work and family and the ongoing shift in domestic gender roles. I have one young daughter, and since her birth, I've tackled just about every possible work arrangement, from at-home fatherhood to my current full-time (though flexible) job. Like Leslie, I'm eager to hear your questions, quandaries and solutions.
St. Louis: Why all the conflict? A book called "Mommy Wars," even this discussion labeled as a "face-off." Aren't we all in it together, moms and dads, stay-at-home and working outside? What constructive purpose is served by deliberately labeling groups and artificially putting them at odds with each other?
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Ostensibly, everyone in our society is "in this" together -- moms, dads, kids, non-parents too. But what I see is that there is a lot of subtle and obvious blaming, judgment, and finger pointing at parents -- mostly at moms, because we are easier targets than dads. There is no constructive purpose over the long run, but this kind of blaming and venting seems to make people feel better in the short run, even though it's destructive over time.
Brian Reid: I agree 100 percent that we could do with less conflict. Conflict between parents -- between go-to-work moms and at-home moms, between moms and dads, between cry-it-out types and attachment parents, and on and on -- is incredibly attractive to the media, but it's not terribly constructive. I'd love to see some solutions-oriented dialogues about ways to make life better for all parents, regardless of socioeconomic status, sex, race, working status, etc. How about more paid leave or more flexible work options. And I'd be happy to "face off" with anyone whose opposed to those kind of ideas.
(I must confess: Dds are exempt from a lot of the inter-parental judgment/blaming/etc that Leslie mentions. Why that should be the case is an interesting question in itself.)
Washington, D.C.: I'm 38 and a computer programmer. Recently a 24 yr old coworker wrote an entire program over a weekend. I am stuck as a semi-manager with just enough programming responsibilities for this person's success to make me look bad. Short of setting him up with a date to take up his free time, how can working Dads cope with the younger set putting in 70 hours at the office? If I do 60 hours, my wife's yelling at me to get home.
Brian Reid: I don't think this one has an easy answer: having it all remains a near-impossible choice. And there are some jobs -- and some businesses -- that make requests of their employees that render work-family balance a cruel illusion. These leave uncomfortable choices.
Some time ago, I was offered a fantastic job with comfortable salary and all kinds of opportunities for advancement. My boss was a great guy, and the work was stimulating. The catch was that I'd be putting in 12, 14 hour days. I turned it down. And every time money gets tight, I wonder if I made the right decision. On the flip side, I don't have to fear a Blackberry buzzing every time we break out Candyland or sit down to dinner.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Really hard one -- you've got to hope that your experience, wisdom and judgment helps you out here! What I've done when faced with critical and urgent work is to call in the troops -- my husband, in-laws, friends and babysitters -- so that I can focus exclusively on work for a very short, intense period of time. And I've worked hard to find jobs where my expertise matters more than my ability to work 70 hours straight.
Single parenthood, U.S.A: How about acknowledging the struggles of working single mothers and fathers once in a while? You married folks think you have a tough "balancing" act? Imagine your life without your spouse...
Leslie Morgan Steiner: I hope there is a blog devoted solely to issues facing single parents. If not, you should start one.
Brian Reid: There are some really heartfelt single-dad blogs that I've linked to in the past, and I can only imagine the stresses of single parenthood. But I think there are things that employers and the government can do to ease the burden on everyone. Balance is not just a perk for the married.
Elkton, Md.: Statistically and emotionally how much do you believe the decision to stay at home is determined by the number of children a family has? For instance a family might be able to afford child care for 2 but not 4.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Great issue. The expenses, logistics, and chaos facing a family increase with the number of children. But obviously many people want more than two kids. Some argue that the answers lie in limiting the number of children we have -- but I think better answers can be found in increasing support and flexibility for families, at work and at home.
Anytown, U.S.: Have either of you considered that this "issue" is really an upper-middle-class dilemma, i.e. that lower-income folks do not have the luxury of choosing between working and staying at home because, without two incomes, they'd be living in a shelter?
Brian Reid: You're absolutely right -- a huge chunk of the work/home discussion focuses on a tiny sliver of the population (I'm frequently guilty of this). But I think that the same kinds of actions that can help folks at the top of the income scale can help those at the bottom. We all need more leave. We all need more flexibility. We need better, cheaper childcare available to everyone.
My real fear is that the coming revolution in work-life balance will be driven by technology. In a cell phone and broadband world, there will be masses of people who can work effectively from anywhere at anytime, and these (generally white-collar) workers will get flexibility that blue-collar works cannot. How to solve that question will be the real hard nut to crack.
Aberdeen, Md.: How do you see this debate as helpful in light of the fact most families capable of affording a stay at home entity are upper middle class?
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Actually, the majority of stay-at-home moms are young, low-income women who haven't gone to college. Their salaries add up to less than daycare expenses, so economic realities push them to stay home, whether they want to or not. These women don't have a real "choice" any more than moms who must work for financial reasons.
I believe that honest, constructive debate about how demanding motherhood is -- working or stay-at-home -- helps everyone in our society.
Detroit, Mich.: Question:I am a professional person with advanced degrees in engineering and economics and have had a successful career for over 18 years in both the national and international analysis and consulting positions for industry and governments. In the past three years I have taken off time from a "paying" job, except for minor consulting work, to be rear our child that is now 4 years old, and my wife has gone back to work during that period. Child rearing is a very challenging and rewarding experience and our son has developed into a well-balanced, very confident, and very curious 4-year old, with what I consider advanced capabilities observation, reasoning and deduction, and ready to start kindergarten next year.
I am finding a serious cost to taking time off for child rearing that I did not anticipate. In planning to re-enter the job market and I am finding that as an older person with no "significant" job experience for the last three-plus years, I am not marketable and have had a difficult time finding a job commensurate with my training and experience. Have you come across anybody in this situation and has anybody identified an effective and easy way to overcome this problem?
Leslie Morgan Steiner: I've seen this problem become especially acute among women who've taken long periods of time "off" from paid work (ten years or more). The problem is threefold -- lack of current skills, lack of self-confidence, and prejudice by companies doing the hiring. It helps to approach the problem as objectively as possible, as you'd solve any business problem. Update your skills through education and volunteer work and networking. Self-confidence can be boosted through friends, therapy, and reaching out to others for help (and having a good sit-down with yourself). Prejudice against men and women who've stepped out is another, bigger problem, because it's a societal issue. The longer you are out, the more you face age-ism as well. But cast a wide net -- interview with a lot of companies and be open to a range of interesting opportunities. Look for companies and individuals who are not judgmental and are appreciative of what you have to offer.
Brian Reid: The most thoughtful analysis of this exact problem is a book by Ann Crittenden called "If You've Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything." It tackles many of the issues you raise in much more detail that I can hope to get into.
Alexandria, Va.: Brian, it seems like there's a real glass half-full/half-empty story about father involvement. Dads are doing a lot more than in the past, but dads who do as much as moms are still pretty rare. Do you think there's ever going to be an even split?
Brian Reid: I'm all about relative gains: Dads today are doing a lot more than their fathers, even if they still lag moms. I see this as half-full and getting fuller.
But getting to an even split seems like it's a long way away. Society never moves as fast as I think it should ...
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Also, I think shooting for 50/50 split across the board misses the point. All families are unique. No solution works for everyone. Plenty of men and women would be legitimately unhappy with an unyielding, if "fair," division of labor. The key is to stop judging people making different decisions, and to push for what works for you.
Washington, D.C.: Is there any down-side that either of you see to parental leave policies that are gender-neutral?
p.s. Brian, I agree with your take that Leslie's comments are often passe.
P.p.s. Leslie, seems like you are keeping an open mind-- love it!
Brian Reid: There is always the downside that gender-neutral policies -- in a society where gender expectation remain -- aren't really gender neutral. Family and Medical Leave Act is technically gender-neutral, but the vast, vast majority of leave taken for children is by women. (Scandinavia has seen similar problems: Great policies for all, but the men take a pass.)
It's a reminder that we can't just institute policies and assume all will be hunky-dory.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Parental leave policies that respect both parents' needs to be involved in their childrens' lives seem to be an unmitigated societal "good." At times, there has be some additional respect for the physical aspects of pregnancy, recovery, and breastfeeding, though, and that shouldn't be ignored, overlooked or denied.
Alexandria, Va.: Leslie, your book is full of some really great essays by moms writing thoughtfully about their own experiences. But in your blog here, it seems like you just tell horror stories and invite readers to take potshots at them. Could you think of a way to change the format to get away from the "mommy wars" and create a space for people to really share their own stories?
Leslie Morgan Steiner: The book took three years to write and edit and re-edit, so naturally it is far more "thoughtful." The beauty of the blog, and the horror of it, is its spontaneity. (And don't think I have much control -- I just write my 300 words or so, to the best of my ability, and then it's a free-for-all.) Everyone has a right to their opinion, and although I don't enjoy some of the cattiness men and women display on the blog, I do appreciate that everyone is sharing openly, without reservation. I find the conversations fascinating.
Brian Reid: I've charged in the past that some of Leslie's postings have been a bit much -- stirring the pot instead of stimulating a more productive dialogue. Hey: I'm all for parents going to war. I just don't think we should be fighting each other, no matter how opposite our choices. And a blog is a great way to track that very meaningful set of battles.
Franconia, VA: there's no way a single mom/dad could start a blog for others in their predicament- they don't have the time or energy at the end of the day. not that any parent does, but lets get real here- having a domestic partner (spouse, etc) makes a WORLD of a difference. i'm not in that boat (or else i wouldn't be writing this) but i observe my sister who is a single working mom of twin girls... YIKES! somebody call the sanitarium, tell 'em to get a room ready!
Brian Reid: No argument here.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Yes, but if no one tells the story of single parenthood nothing will change. Maybe someone whose kids are old enough to be somewhat self-sufficient could take this on.
Vineyard Haven, Mass.: Leslie, I'm more than a little confused reading this. Your blog entries are much less moderate than you're appearing here. Which is the real you?
I also wonder why you both seem to ignore the GTWD. Unless a family is living on a trust fund, SOMEONE'S got to work, don't they? Why focus all your attention on the person who's not working?
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Don't confuse me with the blog conversations. My entries are very brief. I think people see their own biases and prejudices reflected in my words
Silver Spring, Md.: Many of us commenting on Leslie's blog have pointed out that while some dads may be slackers dumping on their wives, there are some moms who feel that if things are not done their way, they are not being done properly, and so they are reluctant to delegate any responsibility. I know that I've stopped taking the initiative on some tasks unless I'm asked to do something specific, because my wife becomes critical if I do things differently than the way she would do them.
I'd like to hear both of your opinions on this.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: So glad you asked! I see this issue as a potential bottleneck between moms and dads. Moms need to give a bit and let dads do it their way. And dads need to keep trying to pitch in. Calm and nonjudgmental communication is elusive but critical! What helped me, a lot, was a recent study conducted at the University of Richmond that seems to suggest that mothers do benefit from a biological hormonal boost that helps them multitask and provide for offspring in ways that males don't. This biological explanation seemed to calm my fury that my husband couldn't do things my way -- he literally can't. It would be great if you kept bringing this issue up among your family and friends. It needs to be discussed way more.
Brian Reid: Leslie is right. This is another area where marital communication and compromise are critical. My wife and I have different standards of cleanliness. We won't agree, but we have a pretty good idea of what it means to be unreasonable ...
Va.: A guy visiting from Europe mentioned that in Europe, stay-at-home are unheard of and mothers staying at home have full government support (like here we pay for 3 months maternity leave) and over there can be for 3-5 years.
Brian Reid: Depends on the country. I don't think any country over there is closing in on gender equity, but I'm willing to bet that there are very few French workers who complain that they can't see their family because they're working 70 hour weeks or Swedish dads who can't take family leave for financial reasons.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: I think there is a lot we can learn from other countries (and vice versa) but we've got to find our own, uniquely American solution. And on my good days, I see evidence we are (slowly) finding solutions.
Mark (Scottsdale, Ariz.): Ms. Steiner consistently argues in her blog and in interviews that fathers are not stepping up to the plate enough in either childcare or household duties. However, many fathering literature and anecdotal evidence seems to argue that many mothers act as gatekeepers to children and household duties -- insisting things be done mom's way or risk being berated, which acts to discourage dads from being as active as maybe they would like. Do you have any ideas for how parents can do a better job of working together to keep this from becoming such an adversarial battle for families?
Brian Reid: I hate to sound like an afternoon TV-therapist, but this comes down to communication. My wife was great about letting me know when she felt like I was gate keeping, and that nipped problems in the bud.
Study after study shows that the happiest families are not those of a specific type (working dad, at-home mom, dual-earners, etc), but those in which everyone is clear on expectations.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Evidence shows that on average American dads have not increased their level of household chores since 1985, and that women have decreased their level of household chores. Now maybe this means we are all living in messier houses but perhaps we are a bit happier.
Pittsburgh: I have a home office and regular contact with both stay-at-home parents and working parents. Interestingly, both sets of parents vent and/or confide in me about their arrangements and their view on the at-home work issues. The majority of unfair or negative comments though, seem to come from stay-at-home Moms toward working Moms. I see both sides of the issue and can defend either depending on the circumstances, but I do believe there are many at-home Moms who are either insecure about their status, but unwilling to admit that to themselves, or downright jealous of working Moms. I don't hear any of the negativity from working Moms or any types of Dads toward the other groups. What do you make of this? Does this track with what you hear in your book research and travels?
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Working moms (and maybe dads) are sometimes too busy to vent, or even to notice some of the more subtle jabs coming their way. I don't blame SAHMs for being insecure -- literally no one in this country seems to do anything to make their jobs easier, or to make them feel good about themselves, or to give them a voice in the debate, despite how much we deify motherhood in this culture. You need an incredibly strong, self-sustaining ego to be a happy stay-at-home mom in America, and I think it's worth cutting those moms whose seams are showing a break.
Brian Reid: I'm a lucky guy. Because child rearing standards for men have been so low for so long, it doesn't take much to impress folks. We're generally not trying to live up to outsized, Donna-Reed-style expectations.
If moms were given a bit more of the latitude that dads get (and they deserve it), I imagine everyone would be happier.
Buffalo, N.Y.: Leslie,
Considering the fact that you can have a nanny, do you think you are in touch with the lives of the majority of American parents?
Leslie Morgan Steiner: I'm just in touch with myself, and trust me, that was a hard enough job in itself! There are millions of moms in America. We all approach work and motherhood differently. I have no desire to speak for everyone. My point is that everyone has got to speak for themselves. And that we need to listen.
Brian Reid: I've spoken with enough parents to know that we all share the same anxieties, even if we have massively different tools to deal with them. Some people can afford nannies, some have families close for bail-out care. I live on a block where 7 (count 'em!) kids were born within 12 months of my daughter. I can always find a sitter when I'm desperate.
But the more stories out there, the better. Please share yours.
Washington, D.C.: Mr. Reid,
I dabble in demography as a hobby, and economists and demographers worry about the loss of Americans in the labor workforce, as the Baby Boomers retire. This is likely to negatively affect our GDP, and send more jobs overseas. Do you think that stay-at-home dads are the answer, or, for that matter, stay-at-home moms, when we need a greater number of Americans joining the workforce? Shouldn't we be trying to focus our energies on improving daycare options for all families of different economic means?
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Yes, more GOOD daycare is good for families and kids, no matter the income level. Why do you think we are not focused on daycare as a country? My sense is that we are still very conflicted about women's pragmatic need to work, and our society's deification of motherhood.
Brian Reid: Families make choices based on micro-level needs, but it's a heck of a general proposition.
There are plenty of at-home parents who would be happy to do 10 or 20 or 30 hours a week, if only the jobs existed. (Not everyone is lucky enough to be a writer, like me and most of Leslie's essayist). If government and corporate American is serious about keeping GDP up, it should get serious about making sure that joining the American workforce isn't a 40-hour-a-week or nothing proposition.
Anonymous: The real question - Is there ever really balance, or does one parent have to do more parenting so the other can do more WOH?
When I was more active in my career, my husband was a great and involved dad. (He still is BTW, as much as he can.) But, I finished my degrees early and was funding his. Now, he's finished and is the boss of a company. He simply no longer has the flexibilities I have. I -can- take off when the kids are sick. I -can- do the homework at night when he's still on the phone with associates or working on reports. I -can- take off vacations days when the kids have off school. But, I'm sure this is making me look less "devoted" at work, after years of being the "career woman." But, I feel that I'm so lucky to have such a wonderful husband and his time has finally come that I can't ask him to go back to his old ways.
I know there has been criticism on Leslie's blog about the problems being posted not being applicable to most parents. Both of us came from humble (one middle-, one lower-class) beginnings. We paid our own ways through college and were married and worked a decade before having children. There's a reason we have more invested in our careers at this stage. We simply waited to start a family because we wanted to be more financially stable than our parents were.
However, the problems really are the same. I really think there are very few situations in which both parents can achieve true balance. If one has a flourishing career, the other is most probably picking up the slack at home.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: What I've heard from parents whose kids are teenagers and older is that the "balance" can shift. In some families, moms give more time and energy when the kids are young and then dads step in when the kids are older (or vice versa, this is just an example). There is no hard-and-fast, whew-I-figured-this-parenthood-stuff-out answer. I think it helps to be open-minded and accepting of the chaos that is inevitable in parenthood. As writer Jane Juska says, "Kids are not meant to balance you. They are meant to un-balance you."
Brian Reid: There is a theory called the four-thirds theory that suggests that if only both parents could work a two-thirds schedule, there would be enough money to get by and plenty of time for family. But Anon raises a good point: there aren't many two-thirds jobs, and finding balance isn't easy. Kudos to Anon for being flexible through the career arcs of the family, and I'm sure there's likely to be the need for flexibility in the future.
Columbia, Md.: Leslie writes:
And I've worked hard to find jobs where my expertise matters more than my ability to work 70 hours straight.
oh my haven't we all worked so hard to find such jobs, which of course include respectable salaries too! but they're not exactly plentiful are they? If mere 'expertise' was highly prized, then working moms and dads would easily have the greatest working lives ever...but companies value face time, long hours and the only flexibility is theirs. I'm just sayin.
Brian Reid: I've always thought that there's a great business in hiring whip-smart parents who have encountered these very problems elsewhere. Give me a staff full of intelligent, job-sharing parents who want to be home for dinner, and I'll show you a business capable of anything.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Yes, dearth of good, well-paid, short-commute flexible and part-time jobs is a very real and sometimes ugly problem. We live in a capitalistic country that values employees who adapt to companies' needs more than the reverse. But we all have to keep plugging away -- by finding and keeping those jobs, creating them when we are in hiring and management positions, and talking up the companies that are respectful of parents' desires to be both good parents and good employees.
Staunton, Va.: Leslie, in your blog today you write about the Supermom concept, disparaging criticism of working moms while using the example of a self-employed working-at-home parent to illustrate that parenting can be done and done well.
It seems to me that the original criticism was about moms who work entirely out of the home, and often as early as three months after a child is born.
Decisions are personal, and lots of things work or don't work, but let's face it, what about the impact on kids? Is there ever a time in your view where a kid going full time to day care starting at 12 weeks does lead to a deprivation of sorts, and one that impacts their development, whether emotional or intellectual? Is there ever a time, in your view, (barring the obvious example of outright abuse,) where maybe its legit to ask, "Why did you choose parenting?" if a child is leading an essentially independent life right from the get-go, or otherwise sees the parent infrequently? Should people examine more closely whether parenting really fits into their lives?
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Yes, of course, and many people do. We would probably all benefit from lesser idolization of the joys of parenthood. But the tricky bit about parenthood is that there is so much you don't know (about yourself and your kids) until you become a parent! And of course there is still such a thing as accidental pregnancy. So I don't think there are many good answers in suggesting that we can avoid today's struggles and debates by more conscious "choice" of whether to become a parent or not.
Brian Reid: I've met working parents who log incredible hours, yet are there--110 percent--for their kids the moment they walk through the door, whereas I've met parents who can go entire days without really connecting with their kids. Judging the quality of parenthood by the type of care provided is a dangerous game.
Falls Church, Va.: Dear Brian --
I greatly admire stay-at-home dads for their ability to overcome the anxiety (for some) of not being the principal breadwinners of the house.
I had a couple questions: What are the reactions you receive from women you know? And men? Do stay-at-home moms react to you differently?
And also, do you miss the office life and the interaction with colleagues (i.e. chatting at the water cooler, lunches, office pools, etc.)?
Brian Reid: Full disclosure: I'm working outside the home right now, with a fair degree of flexibility. I thank much lucky stars every day for the arrangement.
The folks in my neighborhood have been great. I've never felt uncomfortable as the only guy in the playground, and I don't feel weird when I'm at the bar with their husbands. I know plenty of at-home dads who have had different experiences, but I'm increasingly convinced that dads who think they're getting funny looks are mostly projecting their own lack of comfort with the arrangement.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: My experience is that women adore men who are actively, obviously engaged with their children. Just watch my husband walk through an airport with our three kids -- women of all ages come out of the woodwork to praise him, offer to change the kids' diapers, feed them...and when it's me in the airport with three kids, I get looks like "boy, she's in over her head, I better get out of the way." Although I imagine Rebel Dads get weird reactions sometimes, from men and women alike, I see them getting a lot of accolades too. Not sure outside praise is the deciding factor, though. Your decisions have got to make you happy, and to work for your family overall.
Cottonwood,Calif.: Given the overwhelming amount of data accumulated over the past two decades regarding the extremely bad outcomes for children raised in single parent and dysfunctional two parent homes isn't it about time in this country that we BY LAW REQUIRE both parents to play an equal role in their childrens' lives regardless of marital status. Maybe we could start correcting the mess we have made of our children.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: I don't believe you can force people to be good parents through legal means. But I'd be really interested to see your suggestions about how to do so.
Brian Reid: For starters, it's not fair to label single parenthood as leading to "bad outcomes."
Right now, we have a system to protect children in dangerous situations. It's not a perfect system, but I'd hate to live in a country where the government formulated parenting standards and then applied them to everyone. Forget Big Brother. I'd be scared of Big Nanny.
Grand Rapids, Mich.: You say that SAHMs need a break -- but didn't they choose to be that? And isn't there a built-in "prestige" with SAHM (I can afford to do this)? It's mind-boggling to the extent that people whine about the results of their own life choices.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Not all stay-at-home moms "chose" to be at-home the way you might choose a tie. Many moms I know felt pressured to leave work by an unreasonable employer, an unreasonable husband, or both. And some moms stay home because of their kids' unique physical or mental issues. I think if you find it mind-boggling to hear them whine, you either don't have enough women in your life, or you are not really listening to them. And why is it so hard to be understanding of another person who is struggling?
Brian Reid: I'm hard pressed to think of any parent I know -- a go-to-work parent OR an at-home parent -- who doesn't need a break. Families are incredibly rewarding, but incredibly hard work.
Now you've got me thinking about taking a break ... I wonder what that would feel like. I remember taking a break, once upon a time. I think.
Annandale, Va.: I see some big concerns here in this chat are The Baby Boomer generation retiring, thus leaving jobs unfilled, and lack a good daycare. Why not solve both problems by advocating for semi-retirees to fill the daycare job slots, enabling moms who need to work the opportunity to go back to work (and fill the jobs left by retirees). This might also drive the cost of day care down as retirees might not rely on this as their only income. Just a thought.
Brian Reid: There's probably a parallel argument to suggest that we'll see an explosion in care by grandparents, which would lead to the same outcome via a slightly more informal path. That may be happening already, but I don't have the numbers at my fingertips. Sadly, us transient folks in the D.C. area are probably less likely than average to have our folks nearby.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: I like this idea. Especially because there are many stay-at-home moms in their 50's and 60's whose kids are grown and they are confronting age-ism and sexism in their efforts to go back to work. This wouldn't solve every problem, but it's a well-intentioned, smart step in a good direction.
Falls Church, Va.: There is so much talk about what the government should do for us. "We need cheaper daycare. We need more days off. We need longer school hours...." What about turning the question back to yourself. Maybe we don't NEED a new BMW, maybe we don't need a huge house, maybe we can vacation in the Outer Banks rather than Hawaii. My husband and I both work full time, but only live off one income so we can have the ability to have one parent stay home full time. Why isn't this point ever made?
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Your point is a good one, and I hear moms (especially stay-at-home moms) making it a lot -- that making material sacrifices is something their family happily does. However, I also see this argument used to dismiss very real problems about how difficult it is to work and raise kids. It's always dangerous when you judge someone by how their life looks on the outside, or by what kind of car they drive. I suspect if we all knew their full story, we might have more sympathy for the choices facing them.
Brian Reid: I'm all about giving people more choices. I don't think most of the people advocating for more days off or better childcare are doing it to buy BMWs. Everyone's trying to do their best to get what they value out of life, and those that make sacrifices to stay home generally don't regret it.
Downtown D.C. : I rarely if ever see this issue addressed: the harm to young girls (and boys) that can result from having large numbers of mothers 'stay home,' especially after giving up substantial careers. The girls will grow up seeing this powerful image: That women are made for one chief thing, and that is bearing and raising children. Jobs are just something to keep them occupied until their 'real' career, child raising, comes up. And it's for men to be the practicing lawyers, doctors, architects, painters, plumbers, whatever, and make all the big decisions in how society is run. How can this be good?
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Very good points. Also, knowing that your mom "gave up" her high-powered job for you puts a huge amount of pressure on kids (girls and boys), especially if she doesn't seem happy or fulfilled having done so. I see evidence that women in their 20's are benefiting from watching their moms and other women struggle with these issues of work and family. They will come up with their own answers, and I doubt every single women will decided that her only "real" career is child raising (some may, and some will combine work and family, and some will just have work). But I see that younger women don't have as much to prove about "having it all" as my generation does. And that's a good thing!
Brian Reid: I'll take this as another vote for at-home fatherhood <grin>.
Seattle: Dear Brian,
Comment and question: Just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed your web site -- I like that you post stats as well as your analyses of them. Data on their own don't work unless you understand what they mean.
Question: Surely the numbers of SAHD are going to rise, but do you foresee a ceiling?
Brian Reid: There's no ceiling in sight. It exists, I'm sure, but we're nowhere close.
Washington,D.C: I feel very lucky. Both my husband and I work full time and share responsibilities for our two kids. In fact, my husband is cleaner, more organized and probably does a bit more than me. For some reason, he always feels less overwhelmed than me. Are there ways that women who have all the support they need from their spouse can somehow find a balance and have less guilt?
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Guilt always stumps me. It is such a tricky and overwhelming emotion, particularly for women. A recent study showed that one thing working and at-home moms agree on is that they aren't doing enough for their children. That seems to be proof that the guilt-monster grabs us all, and perhaps we should ignore it a bit more resolutely.
Brian Reid: Sounds like a good excuse to count your blessings. I'm in the same position -- my wife is much more organized than I. It's a good reminder that she should get a back rub soon ...
Woodbridge, Va.: As a non-parent and full time employee, I do not want to hear any more "woe is me" stories about having to balance work and kids. Why? Because I'm the one who gets to pick up all the slack when the young working mother in our group has to stay home for the umpteenth time because one of her kids is sick. I have my own billable hours to keep up and I can't do that if I'm doing someone else's work too. I try not to complain too much because she does need to work, but let's not forget that the rest of us are not your backups, especially people who can afford nannies and extra help. They're your kids, it's your job, you make it work and don't just assume the rest of us will be there for you. Seems to me you working parents get an awful lot of favors done for you.
Brian Reid: I ask for a great deal of flexibility in my job, and in return, I expect to work just as hard anyone in my company. I think parents can be some of the most productive workers in the economy -- having someone to come home to (at a specific time) can do a great job of focusing the mind.
I think the single-vs-parent argument is another battle we don't need to fight. I think that non-parents should have the same sort of flexibility that parents get. It would probably boost productivity for us all.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Hey, if I have to listen to you vent, you've got to list to me vent. We are all in this together -- and you were a kid once, too. Hopefully someone covered for your mom or dad when you were sick, or had a baseball game, or a doctor's appointment. And I would suggest trying to talk to your employer and co-worker openly, because your resentment can't be good for you -- or anyone else.
Alexandria, Va.: Leslie, I think it's a cop-out to say that you don't set the tone for the blog. There are lots of places on the Internet where people are having thoughtful sharing conversations, and lots of places where there are flame wars going on. And the tones the original writers use, and the way they frame the questions, makes a huge difference in which is which.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Hey, I'm new to this and just doing the best I can! I don't try to inflame people intentionally. I do share my own hot buttons. Perhaps that sets people off. So please, I'd love it if you would send constructive ideas my way when you think I've thrown a flame or two.
Leslie Morgan Steiner: Thanks to Brian and everyone for your time and your thoughts. Keep talking and thinking about these complicated issues. No one can come up with any good answers unless we're all discussing the problems freely.
Brian Reid: Thanks to all for the thoughtful issues raised. It'll give me plenty of food for thought as I continue on my merry, blogging way.
One final thought: Kids benefit from seeing happy parents who work together to make sound choices. There is no right way to get there, and I appreciate everyone who detailed their path.
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