Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Do you tweet?

The Working Mom, on a whim, just signed up for Twitter to finally see what it's all about.  (All the better to procrastinate with, my dear.)

I promise myself that this won't mean that I'll stop writing long form on the blog. I'm just way too long winded for 140 characters to suffice.

Follow me at @101workingmom to see how it works out.

Or not.

I have no idea what I'm doing. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Mommy Wars Are Over . . . .


Judith Warner has a piece in the August 7, 2013 edition of The New York Times Magazine entitled The Opt Out Generation Wants Back In.  In it, she checks back in with about two dozen ladies who were profiled ten years ago as being high-power, high-stress, high-status, high-earner women who chucked it all in favor of staying home with the kids.  (I have to believe that one of the Opt Outers was behind the invidious acronym SAHM.  It'd just be like a corporate type to come up with an acronym to describe her new status.)

The article was inevitable ten years ago.  I mean, when a bunch of rich and powerful ladies make a bold move to leave the power suits behind, and announce it to the world in The New York Times and on 60 Minutes, you know that someone's going to want to eventually write a "so what happened next" piece.  And, sure, it's because we, the public, want to know what happened to the lady who left her $500,000 a year job in order to stay home with her kids.


Turns out not all of them, ten years down the road, are very happy with their choices.  It seems the grass wasn’t so green on the other side of the fence after all.  But the reason isn’t merely that housework is, in fact, kind of a drag, just like Betty Friedan said it was.

The reality is that these ladies didn’t really leave their high profile selves behind them when they entered their domestic spheres full time.  Instead, they threw elaborate birthday parties, they gave themselves projects like the ultimate photo albums, and they volunteered for organizations that stood in for paid employment.  They’re the ones that make you hate yourself for being an inferior homemaker every time you glance at Pinterest.  In essence, many of the Opt Outers, Martha-Stewart-like, transferred their corporate culture mindsets to the home.

Others of them found that their husband, having gotten used to not sharing the chores of dusting, washing, and cooking, were less willing to pick those chores back up again when the Opt Outers decided to re-enter the work force.  Still others found that their lack of economic independence led to jealousy and a loss of self-esteem, which, rather than improve their marriages, damaged them and made the Opt Outers feel like second-class citizens in their own homes.  And at least one, who went home in order to save her marriage, found out that,, in the end, there was nothing much to save.  Being at home only amplified the problems, and exacerbated hers by taking her out of the workforce and away from financial independence. 

It’s easy to feel a twinge of schadenfreude over these ladies' plights.  Go ahead.  After all, for my generation, as far as I’m concerned, they started it.  For me and mine, they’re the ones who started The Mommy Wars.

Because . . .  they’re the ones who went onto television and to the newspapers, and trumpeted to everyone that would listen that they were leaving corporate culture behind in favor of domesticity.  And because they had always been the best and made the best choices and gotten the best educations and had the best jobs and made the best salaries and had received the best professional accolades and won the best awards, they also believed -- and told everyone else so -- that what they were doing as the “best” choice.  And in so publicly announcing their best choice, they implied, of course, that we ladies who kept on working were making the wrong choice or an inferior choice.

So, yeah, to see that "the best" wasn't the best after all, gives me a tiny, self-satisfied, I-told-you-so sort of lift.  Guilty. 

As one of the Opt Outers – now working again making 1/5 what she used to make and divorced – sadly put it, “I was this woman who made this great ‘choice’ . . . . It wasn’t the perfect fairy-tale ending.”


I can't be too smug . . . because it is sad.  These are real people.  They had the best of intentions, really.

But as I read and reread this article I kept asking myself (and my husband), “How could they not have anticipated this?”

How could they not have foreseen, for instance, that the economy might take a turn for the worse and their husbands would be laid off (as in some of Opt Outers’ cases) leaving them with a no income household?

Or that they would find cleaning the toilets less invigorating than closing a deal?  (I mean, I work, and I find cleaning toilets more chore than joy.  So surely, when they were still workingthey too had an inkling that cleaning toilets could, in fact, be drudgery.)

Or that they would find themselves bored and devoting a substantial amount of their time in a quasi- professional capacity leading an organization whose entire focus is support of stay-at-home moms?  (Think about that one for a minute.)

Or that changing the fundamental dynamic of the household structure might also change the fundamental dynamic of their marriage, and not necessarily for the better?

Or that their chosen professions would move on without them making it, ten years out, more difficult to re-enter and making their re-entry positions far more humble jobs than they’d held a decade earlier?

Or that their retirement accounts would not be as fat at age 45 as they might otherwise have been both by virtue of having been raided to meet bills and/or by virtue of simply not receiving yearly contributions?

How could they, these lady-captains of industry, not have thought it through?

How could such smart and decorated professionals not have foreseen the worst possible outcomes?

Am I the only one who thinks about these things?

And the answer to the question is, obviously, no.  I’m not.  There are lots of stay-at-home-moms who have thought it through and made the choice anyway because, weighing the good and the bad, staying at home was the best choice for them.  And there are lots of ladies like me who have thought it through and decided that, on balance, the best choice is to continue to work.

But, honestly, I think that those decisions were made far earlier in our lives than after we got married and started having kids.  I never imagined myself staying home.  Ever.  And that is (probably) because my mom didn’t do that.  (Well, she did, when I was a toddler, but she was back at work pretty quickly after my younger brother was born.  And I don’t really have a clear memory of a time when my mom did not have a job.)  It was never in my make up or psychology to be a stay-at-home mom.  I always knew I would work.  And I wanted to.

By contrast, I have a dear, dear friend of 20+ years who is a stay-at-home mom with three kids.  And I recall conversations in college with her in which she expressed her desire for a large family and to stay home with her kids, even as she was sitting cross-legged on her dorm bed, studying marketing with voracious intensity.  She’s super-smart.  She’s super-capable.  Before her first child was born, she had an awesome job.

But I know that she had known (on some level or another) for decades before her son was born that she would stay home with him . . . just like I had known for decades that I would continue to work.  I think that if we had done the opposite thing, we would be far less happy people.  Our choices were best for both of us, though very different.

Now, sure, there are stresses with working – traffic, deadlines, the actual work itself.  But they are not insurmountable.  And I’m positive that there are stresses with hanging out with toddlers all day without adult interaction that can be maddening as well.  Neither choice is perfect.  But the choice has to be the right fit for the right person.

Which brings me back to the Opt-Outers profiled in The New York Times Magazine . . . .

After reading the article, I am left with one sense of these women.  None of them had stay-at-home-mom in their DNA like my college friend seemed to have.  All of them were more like me – but me on speed.  

It also seems to me – though it is admittedly difficult to judge other people’s relationships from the outside, even if you know them well – that there was a bit of the bait and switch going on with at least some of the Opt Outers.  Their husband married go-getter, up-and-coming professionals, who helped with the household income.  Husbands are entitled to have expectations and dreams too, and if their expectation is that they’re not going to carry 100% of the family economic burden and then their wives suddenly present them with an alternative plan in which the wife brings home no salary, that’s got to be a bit jarring even to the manliest of men.  I cannot help wondering about the level of communication between the husbands and the Opt Outers both before and after the marriages.

To be sure, these ladies were living large on the professional scale before they opted out, and when they came home they were going to do it big there too, and it didn’t turn out so well.  What they needed was not to leap off the bridge and go from all work to all caretaker, but to choose the middle way.  They needed to take the farm-to-market road rather than the freeway in their professional lives – less prestige, less money, more personal time.  I’m fine having a less-than-high-profile job that gives me personal satisfaction, intellectual stimulation, and a good income.  (I’d prefer 32 hours a week to 40, but, I’m fine.)  I could have stayed in the law firm and tried to make partner, but at the end of the day the satisfaction of making a lot of money is not equal to the satisfaction of being able to put my son to bed every single night of the work week.  I did not have to quit working to have that pleasure, but I did have to slow down.

Finally, here’s the problem unique to these really rich ladies (and we should not lose sight of the fact that the Opt Outers are tremendously economically advantaged) living in the NYC area: They all seem to have, on some level, made the decision that, with their husbands working high-demand six or seven figure jobs, it just didn’t make economic sense for them to take a job making $100K and have their comparatively meager salaries taxed at 40%.

In response, I have a few thoughts to share with the rich lady making this unique economic choice:

First, your work is not about the money.  If you are inclined to work, the work is about your personal well-being and your sanity and, possibly, about your husband’s satisfaction with and interest in you.  You do it for you.

Second, your husband should also slow down.  Your family does not need a million dollars a year.  You don’t even need half that.  Your kids need a mommy and a daddy who are happy in their lives (and, likewise, happy in their jobs) and are present.  They don’t need the latest do-dads.  They need you.  Both of you.  And, economically, that may mean you need to leave Westchester County.  Your husband’s tombstone should not read, “He lived.  He worked.  He died.”  You need to talk to him about that.  My guess is that he’d like to be at the house more too.

And, in fact, the end of the article gets to that very issue:  Men are facing the crunch too. Many men envy their wives' SAHM-ness.  And many of the Opt Outers would have preferred to slow their pace, rather than leave work entirely.

Men and women, moms and dads, need to work together to change the corporate culture so that parents who work get the sort of flexible jobs we need to be present in the office and at home. Work-life balance, as Judith Warner writes, is a gender neutral issue. We need to make the American workplace safe to be a good mommy and a good daddy and a good worker bee. And that takes the presence of moms and dads in the workplace willing to fight for their rights as working moms and dads.

Warner observes that the uniform lament of the Opt Outers was not that they left their high-powered jobs behind.  They lamented the nonexistent "ideal world" in which these moms could have "more time with their children combined with some sort of intellectually stimulating, respectably paying, advancement permitting part-time work."

It is a description of an ideal work/life balance, for both moms and dads, but it won't be handed to anybody by an employer unless we start asking for it. If that is they type of workplace the Opt Outers wanted, the answer is not to opt out. The answer is to stay and fight for changes in the workplace, for you and for your coworkers . . . else you come back ten years later to find your ideal working conditions still aren't there. But why would they be?  No one stayed to demand the changes. 

For my part, I am thankful that The Working Dad and I have jobs on the farm-to-market road that allow us both the flexibility to occasionally work from home and the predictability to be able to sit down at the dinner table with our son every evening and talk about the day.  We had to change jobs to get this life.  We had to pursue it.  It is not perfect.  Still, all things considered, it really is the best life . . . for us.

So, Mommy, it’s not that your choice is better than mine.  It’s that your choice is better for you and my choice is better for me, just like I said in my second post published on this blog.  You just – we just – need to be thoughtful and purposeful in our choices.  Just think it through, Mom, and be honest with yourself and your family.  And if you want to work, but at a slower pace, don't just quit.  Figure it out. You're smart! You might not find your ideal, but I'm betting that you can get pretty close.  (Because I have gotten pretty close . . . .)  If you do that, I’m betting that we can all get to what is best . . . for all of us. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Ten Gross Things A Toddler Does That You Don't Admit You Do Too

We like to think that, as adults, we have reached a certain emotional and intellectual maturity that brings us above, nay, past the behaviors of a toddler child.

But I am here to tell you, no, my friend, your inner toddler thrives. Indeed, the only thing separating you and your two-and-a-half year-old self are (1) better hand eye-coordination, (2) superior language skills, and (3) an exquisite gift for self-deception.

To prove it, I give you now, ten gross things that toddlers do that you do too, only you don't own it like the toddler does.

1.  Pick your nose. 

2. Pee in the shower/bath. 

3.  Closely examine the thing you just pulled out of your nose.

4.  Pick up a piece of food that you just dropped on the floor and go ahead and eat it, even though more than five seconds has passed. (This is particularly true if the floor is the floor of your own home.)

5.  Sometimes you fling that thing you just pulled out of your nose rather than wipe it onto a tissue. 

6.  Fart in a semi-public or public forum. (The difference:  you pretend it wasn't you, but the toddler announces, "I'm tooted!")

7.  Pick your toenails. 

8.  Chew on not-gum or not-food.

9.  Oh, come on, once or twice in your adult life you've found yourself without a tissue, and the thing you just pulled out of your nose is too sticky to fling, so you wiped it on something else not made to receive things recently pulled out of noses. (Though as an adult, I'll bet that the "something else" you used was not your mother or father, as with a typical toddler.)

10.  Stand up, turn around and gaze into the toilet to see what you have achieved.

Well.  Now that it's all out in the open, don't you feel better? 


Every time I get to the end of Sunday and all the laundry is done, folded and put away I feel like I have won the weekend. 

The weekend, for the working parent, is, you see, a delicate alchemy of chores and child entertainment. Oh sure, I hear you Baby Boomers murmuring that you just threw us into our rooms or out onto the street and let us fend for ourselves. Whatever.  We were whiny, loud and troublesome in the 70s too. And you, too, my sweet oldster, were devising interesting, clever ways to get our energy out. Don't think I don't remember. I was there too.  Maybe we had longer leashes, but you were busy devising the leashes, my friends. 

So between trips to toddler music camp, the playground, church (if you're going) and play dates, we working moms and dads are also shopping for groceries and doing a complex and delicate dance with the washing machine. Between each event, toss another load into the washer, another into the dryer, and another onto the couch. Nap time:  fold. Bonus points if you get it folded and put away before the kid wakes up.  It's harder than it looks. 

So as the sun sets on my Sunday, and I lounge here on the sofa, I look to my right and see the last thing between me and gold medal weekend satisfaction:  the final load of whites. Better get crackin'. Starting Monday with a bronze medal is no way to face the work week.