Thursday, April 19, 2012

I Never Worked, Either

I was 30 and pregnant.  I'd been passed over for a promotion and my career was stalled so I paid some attention to the ticking of my biological clock.  The baby grew, the job became more frustrating, and then TBG received his compensation package.

He was moving up the ranks at Goldman, Sachs (back when that was respectable thing to say).  The financial services industry paid their employees on a scale unheard of in the social services sector of the economy then as it does now.  I've written about dollars vs praise as incentives for performance before, and my point still stands.  The words are nice; the dollars pay the bills.

We sat at the dining room table that night, for the first time truly thinking about whether or not I should return to work following the birth of our child.  My job was secure; I could take maternity leave and return without missing a beat.  The search for a full-time nanny would be stressful, but it could be done. This was before I was a parent, when I believed that all prospective nannies would resemble Mary Poppins.  Some day I will post about the 17 sitters we tried before we found The One, but at that point securing the human to care for our little one was not on our list of problems.

The decision was the issue.

This was 1982.  Our generation of women graduated from college convinced beyond question that we could do it all - have children, have husbands, have girlfriends, have careers and have fun.  After school day care was unheard of; it would take a decade or more before infant care was offered in an acceptable communal setting   We didn't want someone to live with us; we were looking for a flexible stable woman to work more than 40 hours each week,  a person who whould be willing to stay some nights and weekends so that we could have some time alone, a substitute mom.

That's what stopped me first.  I'd waited so long to decide to become pregnant.  Why would I pass the chore of raising the child off to a stranger. Granted, she wouldn't be a stranger for long, but she also wouldn't be me.  TBG thought I was the best woman on the planet (awww.....) and couldn't imagine anyone doing a better job than I could.  Neither of our mothers had jobs outside the home when we were young.  Quitting my job and raising the kid was a perfectly acceptable option for me, in his eyes.

I was flattered.  He was willing to earn all the money and let me spend it.  He was willing to get up before dawn and come home after dark without asking me to do the same.  He saw the value in having me home with the baby.  I would be creating our own little human, guiding him to become our kind of person.  We couldn't count on anyone else doing it as well. 

I was also scared.  "What do you do?" wouldn't be answered with a profession and a location.  I would be defined by what I didn't do - work.  I was still paying off student loans; how would I feel about writing a check for something I was no longer using?  And then there was the boredom factor.  I'd never really enjoyed the company of infants and babies and children.  I had always had a place to go every morning, a job to do, responsibilities to meet.  How would I manage when my schedule was free? 

The solution turned out to be fairly simple - my salary would cover the cost of child care, with $2500 left over at the end of the year.  The notion of direct deposit of my paycheck into the sitter's account was bandied about.... playfully but painfully.  It was suddenly very clear to me - I didn't have to work.

I took 6 weeks maternity leave and then I resigned.  The love and joy and pure pleasure I found in watching that little ball of protoplasm loll about on a blanket on the living room floor more than made up for the lack of human contact, the obsession with Pampers vs Luvs, the relocation of my ego to the mommy room from the social worker room.  I hated it when people told me I didn't work.  I was up at 5am and at 2am and at 11pm and there was no saying "NO" to this little boss.  My paycheck was in poopy diapers and the infant suckling at my breast.  I didn't need money or status or recognition; I was happy and that was enough.  Why didn't the world understand it?

I met Audrey at Mommy and Me; we were the oldest women in the group by a fair number of years and we became fast friends very quickly.  She, too, was on maternity leave.  She, too, was contemplating leaving her job and hanging out in the park with her baby.  She thought that her firm was aware of her leanings.... and then, they offered her a partnership.

There were precious few female partners in major law firms in Chicago back then.  The offer was amazing.  It was also slightly hostile.  Should she refuse it, the firm could honestly say that they had tried to find women to promote, but all they seemed to want to do was have babies.  She could make a difference if she stayed.  She'd be a beacon of hope in what we all agreed was a dismal situation.  The pressure was tremendous, the money was tempting, and ultimately she hired a full-time sitter and returned to work.

The sitter was great.  Audrey was torn.  She left a notebook with pages to be filled out each day - what he ate, when he slept, how many diapers he used, where they went, the books they read.  She lived her son's life vicariously.  She came home at the end of the day and became a play group mom, the cook for dinner, the bather and story reader and put-me-to-sleep person.  She worked two jobs.

She found, as I did, that there is no rest for the mommies.  You sleep in your in-box.  There is always something to be done.  There is always an unmet need.  There is no escape.  Yes, Mitt, raising children is the hardest job in the world.... the most important job in the world....the worst paying job in the world.

I was luckier than most.  My husband could support us and pay for a sitter when I needed some time to myself.  I ran the household and supervised the staff.... just as I'm sure Ann Romney did.  Her son may say that they never had a nanny, but I don't think he meant that they never had a babysitter.   Ann Romney and I are in the very small subset of women who "don't have to work."  It's a very different world from those who must juggle child care (I am off to get Mr. 6 & 8 today; I'm the only adult who's available) and homework and paid employment.  Having room in your budget and being able to stay home and raise the kids yourself --- that's not "working".... that's a privilege, a bonus, a benefit that most women would grab without much thought. 

There are downsides to being gainfully unemployed in this way.  I could never support our family in the style to which we became accustomed; my contribution was less concrete.  I was lucky (as is Ann Romney) to have a husband who appreciated my efforts.  That said, it was hard for me to spend money when I wasn't earning any myself.  It was difficult to chat at parties when I was asked about my life; no one wants to hear diaper stories on Saturday night with a cocktail in hand.  I often felt that I had lost my identity. 

I did all that.  I felt all that.  I just don't think I'd be accurate to call it work.  It was a labor of love, without a paycheck or an annual review.  The proof would be in the pudding, and the pudding wouldn't be ready for decades.  Til then, I could only watch and wait and feel the love.  It was many things, but it's not a "real job." 

We all know what "a real job" means.  This brouhaha over who works is classist and stupid.  Our society is not set up to support working moms.  Ann Romney and I were lucky that we never had to enter into the fray. 

I'm just sayin'........

6 comments:

  1. I've been fortunate in that my third child comes to work with me and is in the day care right upstairs. I had 16 weeks off before I had to come back to work. Even then, I still nursed him because the day care would call me and say, "he's hungry". I never had to use bottles. It was amazing. I had the best of both worlds. I got to work and bring in a great salary, but also see him throughout the day. I still do.

    Before I worked where I'm at though, I will tell you how much I wished I had been able to stay home. We did the math too and I was still bringing in a great salary and if we wanted to live the life we were accustomed to, it made sense for me to work. Besides, I love the type of work I do. It's creative and I have flexible hours and managers. Most of the people in my department have multiple children; so they understand the need to be flexible and balancing work with home life.

    I'm not understanding this tit for tat situation with Ann Romney as a SAHM and working women. Everyone needs to do what's best for their family. Yes, there are times when I just want to chuck it all and stay home, but I don't truly think I would be happy.

    It makes me angry that women have to choose and yet men don't have to. It's completely unfair. I will say that my friends that are SAHMs seem to have less power in their family situation. I remember one friend's husband going through the roof because she was constantly shopping online. I think when a woman stays at home and is not contributing to the bottom line, they are looked at as not contributing or having any say in how money is spent. I'm not saying all relationships are like this, but when one spouse brings home the bacon and the other doesn't, it seems that one has more control. :( (at least that's my perspective from seeing the relationships with my SAHM friends and their husbands).

    I do agree this whole blow-up is stupid, but there is an underlining issue here in that women have to make choices men don't have to. We do get judged by our SAHM friends as being selfish and putting ourselves before our children and then there's the mentality that SAHM's are sitting at home eating bonbons and living the high life. It's all work and I just wish everyone would acknowledge it.

    Thanks for the post today.


    Megan xxx

    ReplyDelete
  2. You do have the best of both worlds, Megan, and your little one is benefitting every day. Had I been able to take my kids with me I might have made a different decision.

    The balance of power and the earning of money is in the queue for another post. The issue is A Big One.
    a/b

    ReplyDelete
  3. Amen. I could have written this post. I did work for nearly a decade before my first baby came and I'm thankful for that experience but I was happy to step away to raise my children. Aside from the fact that we feel as though our lives lack balance this way (but that's a whole 'nother discussion) I do feel I'm one of the lucky ones. Privileged to be able to choose not to have a "real job".

    ReplyDelete
  4. And, Leah, did you feel insulted when Ms. Rosen said that Ms. Romney "never worked a day in her life" or did you totally understand what the point was? Yes, we were the lucky ones... and while it was hard it wasn't "work".... I could always put "the boss" in a stroller and take him where I wanted to go.
    a/b

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hilary Rosen put it very badly, and the meanness of her comments overshadowed the very important FACT that too many men AND women in society refuse to acknowledge: most women who have children do not have the luxury of choosing to stay home. THAT is why Ann Romney has NO business being her husband's spokesperson or advisor or anything else about women. Ann Romney has no clue about what the lives of regular American women are like. She has never had to live like one.

    ReplyDelete
  6. So true, Laura. Having the means to ease the strains makes ALL the difference. It's the angst that my mother felt when my dad lost his business and she returned to work to put tuna salad on the table for dinner.

    The willful ignorance is appalling.
    a/b

    ReplyDelete

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