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Thursday, February 23, 2006

If a tree falls in the woods and that sound is so insane it barely qualifies as a crash, does it really make a sound?

I have a confession to make: I wasn't going to post today. I was going to do other things. Then I walk by the TV in the breakroom and find out that a woman is trying her darndest to make stay-at-home moms feel guilty for staying at home. ABC News is calling her comments "controversial," which I suppose they are since I'm posting this right now. Let's just go paragraph-by-paragraph thru the accompanying abcnews.com story, shall we? This needs to be nipped in the bud right now, and I'm just the 30-something childless white guy to do it.

Feb. 22, 2006 — An alarming number of college-educated women are leaving the work force to stay at home and raise their children, a trend that is a tragedy not only for the mothers, but ultimately their children and women as a whole.

So said law professor and working mom Linda Hirshman in a 2005 article for American Prospect magazine that has ignited an intense debate among mothers.

First of all, one side saying all manner of crap and the other side reacting to it isn't really a debate. If I insist to you that up is actually down in order to advance a liberal agenda, you might get a little intense, but it wont be a real argument. I suppose Ms. Hirshman may actually believe what she's saying here, since she's old enough to remember the ultimate goal of (long-dead) pre-Madonna feminism, which is Rule by Women. Is that a worthy thing to shoot for? Only if you think women need to fight against a patriarchal and evil system that keeps them from realizing their potential, and you don't care about anything else but that. Moving on...

Census figures show 54 percent of mothers with a graduate or professional degree no longer work full time. In 2003 and 2004 Hirshman interviewed about 30 women whose wedding announcements had appeared in The New York Times in 1996 and who had had children. Five of the women were working full time, and 10 were working part time. The rest were not working at all.

"We care because what they do is bad for them, is certainly bad for society, and is widely imitated, even by people who never get their weddings in the Times," Hirshman wrote. "This last is called the 'regime effect,' and it means that even if women don't quit their jobs for their families, they think they should and feel guilty about not doing it."

INSANE ASSUMPTION ONE: The only reason a professionally educated mother would choose to stay at home is guilt. The underlying thought behind this, of course, is that women have been convinced they should stay home by patriarchal society and conventional thinking, both of which are The Enemy, so they must be wrong. In her exhaustive survey of 30 mothers, it turns out 15 stopped working entirely, and 10 more only work part-time. This is bad for society? Only if you believe in Feminism Uber Alles, which nobody does. This is bad for the women themselves? Only if you believe that they are staying at home solely out of man-driven guilt, which isn't true.

Hirshman also said educated women choosing to stay home was bad for them as individuals.

"A good life for humans includes the classical standard of using one's capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way, the liberal requirement of having enough autonomy to direct one's own life, and the utilitarian test of doing more good than harm in the world," Hirshman wrote. "Measured against these time-tested standards, the expensively educated, upper-class moms will be leading lesser lives."

Redundancy of thought [sic],
INSANE ASSUMPTION TWO: She thinks she's figured out what constitutes a "good life" for humans. Think about that for a second. Consider the high levels of presumptuousness and arrogance you would need to make that claim. Not only that, but she goes with three standards that at best don't even apply to the situation, and at worst seem to contradict what she's saying. "Using one's capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way" depends on what you think is prudent. Same deal with "doing more good than harm in the world." And "autonomy" might be easier, Ms. Hirshman, if presumptuous and arrogant people would stop telling women that they know what's good for them. Just a thought.

Note also she doesn't seem to care about inexpensively educated or non-upper-class moms. They can never lead a good human life, so why bother? If they don't advance the liberal cause, they might as well not exist, and their opinions are not valid.

Faith Fuhrman has a master's degree in nursing, but chooses to stay home with her children.

"The job I was in when I had, first had my child, I couldn't have done it," Fuhrman said. "I was working 14 hours a day. I was on call."

When Debbie Klett became a mother, she quit her job in ad sales and started a magazine called Total 180 so she could work from home and spend more time with her children.

"For me, I feel it is vital to be there for my children every day, to consistently tend to their needs, to grow their self-esteem, and to praise them when they're right, guide them when they're not, and to be a loving, caring mom every minute of the day," Klett said.

The obligatory "balance section." This is boring. However, I would point out that not only did Ms. Klett quit her job, she started her own magazine from home. She went from saleswoman to entrpeneur, and I'm sure that Ms. Hirshman would probably be on board with that, since she's "doing more good than harm." Do we really need more ad salespeople?

Klett acknowledged there were consequences to her choice to stay at home. To save money, her family has given up cable, does not go out to dinner, and does not go on vacations.

"We made tremendous financial sacrifices for me to be able to stay home with my children, and I wouldn't trade that for the world," Klett said.

Sacrifice? Crazy. What a waste, right? What of those poor children, growing up in a house with no cable? Oh, wait...I grew up in a house with no cable! And this after I complained loudly that Dan across the street had it and it was sooooo cool! Not having cable made me unhappy! My parents must have been monsters!

What About the Children?

Hirshman argues that Klett's children would be fine if she worked outside the home. Statistically there is no difference in the happiness levels of the children whose mothers work and the children whose mothers stay at home, she said.


INSANE ASSUMPTION THREE: Statistics can measure the relative value of a childhood. We all know that "happiness level" is the sole criteria for child rearing, right? You know, if you buy children what they want, they're probably pretty happy, or at least they think they are. This paragraph is actually so infuriatingly inaccurate and deceptive it's hard to know what to say. I guess if you want to believe something, you can find statistics to back it up. You just have to ignore common sense and the mountains of anecdotal and scientific evidence that champion the stay-at-home mom.

Deborah Skolnick agrees. She is a magazine editor who will not give up her job and feels working is a good example for her children, and helps them in other ways.

"I think my kids are as well-behaved and as well-socialized, if not better, than a lot of a fair number of at-home moms," Skolnick said. "I see at-home moms whose children won't separate from them, won't go to school, cry at the door. My children have learned, from an early age, that Mommy will be back. So they kiss me and they say goodbye."

This makes what little hair I have stand completely on end. I don't know Ms. Skolnick, but I'm going to work under the assumption that she honestly loves her kids and wants what's best for them. I also have no idea if she's right in her thinking that her kids are no more or less bratty than the kids who have moms at home. Here's the thing, though:

INSANE ASSUMPTION FOUR (and one that explains a lot, including potentially misleading statistics about the value of staying at home with one's children vs. the value of showing them that women can have careers): All stay-at-home moms are alike. They aren't. There are good stay-at-home moms and bad stay-at home moms. There are moms who read to their children every day and try their best to make sure their kids are getting an education, and there are those who just want to stay at home so they don't have to work anymore, and just view school as a convenient babysitter. There are moms who love their children so much they want to control their every move, and moms who beat their children when they get out of line. There are also good working moms and bad working moms, too. This is all common sense.

So am I saying that it doesn't matter for the child whether or not mom stays at home? No, you fool. The perfect situation is one where mom stays at home and dad works one job and comes home every night, and both of them love the child and put his/her needs before their own. Any deviation from this perfection is bad, no matter how happy the child might seem. This perfection is my assumption (again, as a male with no kids), and I think it's an obvious one. I also have seen this play out in countless households with countless kids. I've seen this play out with me.

The snarky side of me wants to point out the obvious disconnection Ms. Skolnick's kids feel towards her, but I'm just not that presumptuous. Ok, so I am. Check this out:

Fuhrman asked her 13-year-old son what he thought was the benefit of having a stay-at-home mom.

"He said, 'Well, I really like to come home every day and finding you here,'" Fuhrman said.

"But on the other hand, my daughter says to me, 'Mommy, when I grow up, I'm gonna get a job at your magazine, and I'm gonna sit at the same desk as you and we're gonna be on the same magazine together until we die,'" Skolnick said. "And that makes me kind of happy."

Which sentiment would you rather get from your child? Interesting that the two statements really say the same thing, no? Both kids want more mommy in their lives. These two quotes sum up the issue quite nicely, and probably not in the way the article's author intended. I love that.

5 Comments:

  • At 10:16 AM, Blogger the professional said…

    michael, if you're going to argue that working moms further the liberal agenda, i'm inclined to play devil's advocate and argue that your perception of stay-at-home moms furthers the conservative agenda. this idea of a perfect, black-and-white, leave-it-to-beaver world in which a man can make enough money to support his wife and kids just, well, isn't a realistic idea. sure, families can make financial sacrifices so that the mother can stay at home. but with our society's increasing need-and-greed for bigger homes and more TV channels and longer vacations, it just doesn't seem possible. this conversation, of course, relates only to the middle class, as the upper class can afford this and the lower class doesn't even conceive of it.

    i would also like to contend your idea that the "perfect situation" is where the man can work and the woman can stay at home. i have to completely disagree. i would argue that the Perfect situation would be one in which the mother can stay home for the developmental years of her children's lives and go back to work when they begin attending all-day school. at that point, it would be Perfect if the mother could work -- thus contributing to the family's financial well-being and contributing to her own intellectual well-being -- part to full time and still be able to keep her kids out of daycare.

    but then, what's so wrong with before- and after-school programs? i have personally worked at a handful of these, and, as long as the kids don't feel neglected at home, the kids absolutely love more time to hang out with their friends in an unstructured, non-school environment. plus, i'd argue that the increased social interaction among their peers is much better for them than more Mommy Time.

    then again, for young children, especially the kindergarteners in maggie's school, 11 1/2 hours (6:30am for before-school until 6pm for after-school) is too long a day for them to be expected to be "good." The Perfect Situation? one where the mother or father can drop her kids off at school at 7:30am and pick them up around 4 or 4:30.

    and we're not even discussing the fact that the entire discussion is entirely too mom-centric. children don't necessarily need Mommies in their developmental years. Daddy could do just as good of a job while his wife works full time and brings home the turkey bacon.

    believe me, michael, this woman's argument infuriates me as much as it does you. but i think your argument breaks down when you simply want to claim that stay-at-home moms are the Best Way instead of simply disagreeing with her. especially when one of your arguments is that your mom stayed at home and you turned out just fine. this is sort of off the topic, but you hear that argument all the time as justifcation for the way that schools currently teach grammar and language. in my graduate study we talk a lot about the skill-and-drill grammar books and how children simply aren't learning to write. the next wave of grammar and writing instruction is a Constructivist approach that encourages more and more writing instead of worksheets and diagramming sentences. but your generation says "well, i diagrammed sentences and learned by doing adjective and semicolon worksheets, so it must work." but that's just ignorant (use michael jackson voice). the minority of your generation that can actually write with skills above moderate proficiency turned out ok DESPITE the skill-and-drill system, not BECAUSE of it. sorry that analogy was so long-winded.

    and one last point based on exhuastive research: maggie's sister molly is an educated stay-at-home mom. she's at home becuase her family can afford to have her at home. she used to be a marketing consultant for something or other, but gave up her intellectual aspirations in order to be with her children and keep them out of the daycare system. intellectually, she is so miserable and craves adult, human interaction so badly that she has begun working at Banana Republic a few nights a week. you better believe that as soon as both of her children are in all-day school, she will be back working.

    and really, what's the point in a parent being home all day while the children are at school? what purpose do they serve? why shouldn't they work if they want to and if they have the intellectual desire to?

    i'm not sure if i said anything though-provoking or not. but i felt compelled to respond in some way.

     
  • At 12:21 PM, Blogger Mike Pape said…

    Pro, I'm going to go ahead and disappoint you by not disagreeing with you. I did open up 1000 cans of worms by veering from strictly mocking her and bringing up the perfect situation thing. Here's a little more explanation:

    I will say very quickly that I think the time for mommy to go back to work probably corresponds with schooling, and that after- and before-school programs are not a big deal, and that many parents don't consider that their kids don't care about steak or new cars or bling or blang or cable TV, and all they care about is the time spent with them. I'm talking about really young children here. As they grow up, the amount of time spent with them shrinks, and appropriately so.

    And I don't want to touch on that "Mr. Mom" thing, because it's an electric fence.

    (I wrote a huge response that was inexplicably destroyed in a deletion error, thank you blogger. All it saved was that first sentence and the last three paragraphs, which make no sense without the middle part. I can't tell you how crazy this makes me. Here's the ending...)

    I'm being overly general about this, I realize. I've probably opened up 1000 more issues I don't want to deal with. The most important thing, I think, is that people consider their children more important than themselves. Then everything falls into place, unless you're an insane person.

    As for me (since I did bring myself into the conversation), my sainted mom went back to work when I was 8. I don't hold it against her -- she had to raise all my siblings, and I came along a little late (not to mention the fact that during the ages of 0-5, I was quite the handful, or so I hear.) She was 50 when she went back to work. Poor mom.

    And while I'm in disclosure mode, don't think for a second my current career maliase and related jealousy doesn't inform this issue for me a little bit. Actually, it's a very little bit, now that I think of it. More related are my hatred of marketing and business-speak and hair gel on guys and parents who try to be cool and divorce rates and, once again, 1000 other things I don't want to get into.

    Speaking of which, I don't know enough to disagree with the whole Constructivist approach, but at first glance it appears to be a matter of replacing actual learning with just doing whatever the heck they want. I'm not saying the way I learned grammar was any good, I just am a little skeptical of encouraging more writing when you haven't taught kids how to write. This is something I'm almost sure I'm wrong about, since like I said I thought my "skill and drill" upbringing was a failure, and I learned more grammar taking German, Latin, and Greek than I did in 200 years of English classes.

    To sum up: Perfection should be striven for, and the perfect situation is mom at home until schooling, then work but not excessive amounts of non-parental care, and the most important thing is that the kid be considered first in any life decisions. Sheesh.

     
  • At 1:37 PM, Blogger the professional said…

    i am not disappointed. i was really just trying to give you a debate, since you seemed so disappointed that one wasn't happening already.

    i think your last paragraph sums it up perfectly.

    and i don't want to debate grammar. with anyone. not until i have a PHD at least; at which time i will want to argue about anything and everything. god help us.

     
  • At 6:52 PM, Blogger Michael said…

    I don't need a PHD to argue about anything and everything but grammar. Grammar is way to complex in the english language for my tiny little brain to comprehend.
    (Sarcasm alert:Red (or whatever color is supposed to mean "the shit has hit the fan"?))
    And god help us when pro does get his phd. Because I will then have less respect for anyone that wants to be called doctor.
    (Sarcasm alert back to Yellow)
    Anyway back to the topic of the blog. I do agree with Mike, but I also agree with the woman. I think that some woman can work and have kids while some woman can stay at home and have kids. I've seen both work. But the one thing that I have a problem with is when anyone says that it should only be one way. Statistically it might be one way, but it's not absolute. Some people can do things that others can't and if there is a chance that someone can then I shouldn't argue about whether or not it is right. Mainly, because I'm not a woman. Secondly, I don't have kids, not saying that it makes your point mute Mike, but to me it makes whatever point I have mute. And thirdly, I don't really see that much of a difference. All kids are stupid, whether their parents are home. All kids will do stupid things, whether their parents are home. And all kids will say at one point in their life, "I want my mommy." and two minutes later purposefully step on a crack to break her back.

     
  • At 6:27 AM, Blogger Mike Pape said…

    Mike,

    All kids are stupid, so they need somebody at home to keep them from eating lit firecrackers and trying to tattoo their face with the electric stove. I see your point about not being a woman, though if nobody but women could tell women what to do (and the same being true for men), we'd all be in big trouble. They'd be in the bathroom all day putting on makeup and listening to Oprah audiobooks, and nobody would be stopping our kids from their own stupidity.

    Seriously, though. I think it does make a difference, like I said, especially for young children. However, some people have to work a lot or their children won't eat. For them, God gives them grace.

    Love your kids.

     

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