Thursday, September 22, 2005

Opt Out, Opt In - How about an opt for the rest of us?!

So we've all heard the books, the editorials, the news reports, and the academic studies: Women are opting out of careers and opting into motherhood. It's like a mantra anymore: See sweetie, it's not that women aren't qualified to be doctors and lawyers, it's just that they'd rather be washing my underwear. Well, that's all very nice and dandy, but here's the problem: These women talked about in these reports comprise less than 5% of the population of women in the US. They are nearly exclusively white and upper-middle to upper class. And, they all are attending elite universities.

Well, I bet if I had all the options in the world, there is a good chance that I might choose to take some time off to spend with a child full-time. Who wouldn't if it wasn't going to be a strain on the budget? Of course, the rub of these articles is that most of these women are still planning on having a career, they just plan on taking time off when they have kids. Either by staying home for a few years, or just working part-time. They aren't planning on becoming full-time homemakers, although these articles would lead the reader to believe that they plan on doing just that.

But that's kind of the point, I don't have all the options. Most of us (95%) don't really have these options. Single mothers have to work. Mothers on welfare, single or not, have to work thanks to the welfare deform act on the 1990's. Mothers whose husbands work but don't have health insurance, mothers who cannot get the father to help (husband or not) with childcare, mothers who don't have access to quality daycare, mothers of special needs children, the list is long and scary.

I had just had my 20th birthday when I discovered I was pregnant. I was living with my boyfriend's parents, because my parents and I had a falling out a few months previous. I had dropped out of college after a serious bout of depression, and was working part-time in retail for $7 an hour. I had no health insurance, no savings, and no backup plan. My boyfriend wasn't in much better shape - he was a part-time community college student also working part-time in retail.

I immediately planned on having an abortion. I just thought to myself, having a child in these conditions is just not responsible. I was terrified that I was going to be all on my own. But when I told my boyfriend, who is now Magikdad, that I was pregnant, he got this big goofy grin and picked me up and spun me around the room and giggled. And he said, "I'm gonna be someone's daddy!" But then he got all serious, and sat back down and held my hand. He looked straight into my eyes and said, "But this is up to you. And whatever you want, we are in this together."

After much heartwrenching discussion, I decided that I was going to continue the pregnancy. Magikdad and I set out to get full-time jobs - whoever got one first would work, and the other would stay home. Magikdad managed to get promoted into management at his retail job, so I stayed home. That was the end of it.

I wanted to work, but I could not find employment where I made more than a few dollars a week more than childcare. Quite honestly, I am not the sort of person cut out for stay-at-home parenthood. I have little patience, hate cleaning, find children's television beyond irritating and have absolutely no tolerance for noise. I love my son, but there are many, many days when I wish that he could morph from a toddler into a child.

On the other hand, Magikdad desperately wanted to stay home. All of his life, all he's ever wanted to be was a dad. Career wise, he could care less. He loves reading books 17 times in a row, and spending 4 hours at the park in the 90 degree Chicago summers. He'd rather be watching "In Between the Lions" than the BBC news. He has the patience of an ubersaint and likes to keep a tidy house.

So you can imagine how he felt being stuck an hour away from home 60 hours a week working as a retail manager. And I felt just about the same being at home.

I eventually did find a decent job, although I'm not alot happier as a secretary - since it's basically being someone's wife for pay without the sex. And now my husband and I are both working - which is a situation neither of us is happy with. We both work part-time, although my part-time is 38-39.9 hours per week (anything to keep from real full time) and his is about 26.

I guess the thing that is hard for me is that neither of us has ever had a real choice. The choice is always "do this or be evicted." That's not a choice, that's a very sly form of mental torture. And the worst part is that the person suffering the most from this is magikboy. First he had a mother who went completely mental as a SAHM, and then he had a Dad who was home, but was going to school and had to partially ignore him. Now, he gets about 2 hours at night with us, Fridays with Magikdad, Saturdays with me and Sundays with both of us.

So all of these articles about these super priveleged women getting to choose what they want are pissing me off. IT DOESN'T MATTER IF ALL WOMEN WOULD CHOOSE TO STAY HOME. Because maybe 5% even have the option. And I bet that if it were culturally acceptable, and economically viable, most men would probably work part time and get to be with their kids more too.

Great rant, Magikmama - and welcome to the blogosphere. :)
Merry Meet!

You are spot-on in many regards. I hear ya on the SAH thing. Right now, I do it and it's ok. But it's not a be-all-end-all for me personally and eventually I'll RTW. With four young kids though, it's just not financially feasible to afford for me to work because of the daycare costs unless I'm making six figures (not kidding--and not happening).

Anyway, just wanted to say: welcome!
Nice to see another pagan around too. :)
Yeah - I know what you mean about financially feasible. Sometimes I wonder if we really need the $50 a week my husband makes after daycare. :)
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