Stay at home moms, career women and crazy cat ladies

I mentioned this in another thread but I think it needs its own thread. I have noticed an interesting trend with women I know and that is how many of them have given up the rat race to become stay at home moms. Another trend I am seeing is the opposite and that is how many women I know who are not marrying at all.

Growing up I lived what can be best explained as a Brady Bunch lifestyle. This show which was on during my early life (and in syndication as I got older)is the way I often describe my childhood. My mom gave up a career she loved to stay at home with me and my brother.  The reason was that back when she was becoming a mother the woman’s movement was just starting. Oh there have always been women who worked and had kids but these women were often attacked. My mother being more traditional than many women she worked with felt it was best she raise kids full time. Luckily she had this choice as my dad made good money. As a result I think I had many advantages my friends with working moms didn’t. She was able to teach us how to read and write before kindergarten and both me and my brother always did well in school. Later on she became the perfect mom and she was a Brownie Leader, homeroom mom, school helper, and pretty much anything that could be done in the classroom she did. She became friends with my first grade teacher Mrs Silverstein whom I absolutely adored and was devastated when she moved to California. In between school she would shuttle me to all my activities such as dance (I was chosen to hold the flag in several parades and the teacher wanted me to study at a famous school like Joffrey), CCD (religious education), gymnastics (where the teacher advised me to quit because I was way too tall to ever be a gymnast and at 5’7 I never would have been successful) and all the various acting and music classes I took.

I mention all of this to kind of explain where I am coming from. Most of my friends lived the same life and as children we were taught that as girls we were mothers first and foremost. The friends who had mothers who worked were often ostracized by women like my mother who would often say they weren’t “real” mothers. Later on though my mom did go back to work and eventually became manager of a print shop for a friend of hers. Side note but this friend of hers had two salesman who went on to successful careers in acting and comedy. The one salesman is a famous comedian that my dad grew up with and he knows his family as do I.

I suppose this background could explain many of my female classmates but then the 80’s happened. What I find interesting about the 80’s is that while Reagan was far more conservative than either Ford or Carter this is the era when the superwoman/career woman exploded. Maybe it was because at this point many families needed two salaries to survive or many other things, like the divorce rate increasing but more women went to work. This was shown quite heavily in the sitcoms of the time such as the Cosby Show, Family Ties, Growing Pains and Who’s The Boss. The few shows that portrayed a stay at home mom were often shows set in the past like Happy Days or the Wonder Years. This is also when my mom went back to work. I was in high school during the 80’s (graduated 1989)and we were pushed to go to college and get education. I don’t even know if women were pushed to consider being a housewife anymore in school. Unlike during my mom’s era girls were not required to take home ec anymore and we had many sports to play which I enjoyed being as athletic as I am.

So then me and my female classmates got an education, a career and then something strange happened. Many of my classmates, the ones who wanted careers like lawyers, doctors, and CEOs had their first babies and quit to stay at home with them. These were not unskilled women, in fact one childhood friend was at one point a news anchor at a La Crosse television station and eventually became the pr director for the state of Wisconsin. Another person I knew was a radio personality. In fact many of the women I worked with in radio ended up becoming stay at home moms. Why? I don’t understand it but in a way I do and I wonder if it goes back to the way we were socialized or maybe the way it’s always going to be. Maybe they got tired of competiting with the big boys knowing being female they will never be equal in the corporate world. Maybe the idea to be a mom is a stronger feeling than having a career.

Interestingly there is a certain demographic I have seen the opposite and this is my black classmates. Most of them did attend college like my white coworkers, and many have degrees. However not as many are stay at home moms and many are single moms. Contrary to popular belief while many are raising kids they had or adopted out of wedlock very few are on welfare. Most are career women who didn’t want to marry or never met mr right.

This all ties into me. I never had the desire to be a stay at home mom, though in the last couple of years it’s something I have considered.  While I may have considered being a mom, most of the guys I meet still expect their wife to do most of the childcare and housework, even men who want their wives to work. I find this hypocritical of men but at the same time being that men who have careers tend to go farther than women I understand this. While I know I would prefer to be married and have a career my choices might be limited to never finding work again and never marrying or never working again and being married and perhaps being a mom. I am striking out with jobs but am having a little better luck with men. Then again I may get a dream job and decide not to have kids but to be honest never having or adopting kids kind of saddens me. My biggest fear is being a crazy cat lady who yells at the kids to stay off my lawn while I am eating tuna fish out of the can. Being unemployed and single just seems the saddest thing. I have met women in their 50’s who concentrated on a career only to have it go away and that scares me because at that point being alone might also be without my family or elderly parents. Then again my parents are still healthy and until a few years ago so were my grandparents.

To sum all of this up I really don’t know what is the best thing for women in our culture. I am glad we have choices not available many years ago but is it good to have all these choices? does it affect our futures? will those women who never have kids regret it years later? will those women who gave up careers resent their kids and husband? why don’t men have these same issues is it because men are in control more than women? there’s so many questions to be asked about all of this.

11 thoughts on “Stay at home moms, career women and crazy cat ladies”

  1. If you control for time in the workforce and their occupation, women do about as well as men in many fields. It’s the time out of the workforce that hurts a lot of women. Suppose a woman goes to college, works for about five years, has a few kids, and stays at home with them until the youngest is in grade school. How easy is it for her to pick up where she left off ten years after she left the workforce? If she has been in a job with a definite career path, the odds are that she will have to reenter at an entry level unless she was so good at her job that she was missed.

    Are the choices that you perceive to exist for women ACTUAL choices that are available for all or most women, or are they choices that are available only to women who are born into the upper middle or upper class? Many of the choices that we are told that exist are merely aspirations. Most of us go to jobs of one sort or another that are not particularly glamorous. Perversely, gong to college may have the effect of taking some women out of the marriage pool because they are so deeply in debt from student loans that a guy doesn’t want to take on the problem of paying off her debts.

    There is value to being a stay-at-home mother. Unfortunately, we’ve gotten into a mindset that says that unpaid work has no value. A lot of the time, the second income of a two-income couple with children goes to pay for child care, and when that happens, it makes sense for the lower-earning member of the couple to stay home with the kids.

    In my experience, many, if not most, men are looking for women who will work full time and take full care of the house and children, letting their time away from work be leisure time. I have no patience with that point of view. Maybe things are getting better out of necessity, or because more and more women are self-supporting, and so don’t need to be dependent on a man. I’ve told you about the volunteer at my last job. It was a huge transition for her to go from having her own money because she worked to having to ask her husband for things. Many men aren’t as controlling, but finances are a strain in many relationships even when there is adequate income from the man.

    The question that you need to ask yourself is whether you are looking at the stay-at-home possibility because you are afraid to be broke and alone or because you really want to raise children and in the course of doing so, take on a more dependent role than you might like. Men were taught from an early age that they were going out to work, and there isn’t any other choice for them. The job market of the last few years has led to a shift away from this expectation, and you have the stereotypical male who lives in his parents’s basement and doesn’t work.

    Reconciling what we want and what we can have is one of the challenges of life.

  2. Well I am looking at all my options, whatever they will be. Unfortunately there are still glass ceilings for women in many professions and many end up dropping out. For example there aren’t a lot of CEOs. Granted the higher level someone is the better one will be off. I am from a middle class and I had more choices than someone from a poorer. Whether I choose to be a stay at home mom really depends on what happens. I know in my heart I get offered a $50,000 job I would not be happy being at home. However if it comes down to never working and having kids or never having kids I would chose having kids. What I find interesting is that if you look at the highest level women a huge majority are childless and many are unmarried, whereas the executive men tend to be husbands and fathers. I had read studies why but one of the reasons is men are intimidated by career women in high positions. I believe this because men have told me they are intimidated that I have a masters.

    You mentioned guys who expect their wives to work and still clean and cook and that is partly why I am still single. My attitude is either I stay at home and do the cooking and cleaning or I work and share those duties. I have met men who still expect their partner to do more. I would never marry a man like that.

    The thing you mentioned about being dependent in one thing that does concern me, along with being out of the workforce. I have friends who have been out so long they are unemployable. For me I lie to employers and tell them I do freelance work and give them my website. I actually do freelance work, but not as much as I’d like.

  3. I believe that it’s a mistake to look at the number of female CEOs, if only because very few men become CEOs, and that it is more realistic to look at the average salary that someone in a given field earns at every point of their career. I do believe that there are huge advantages to being a white male in the U.S. workforce, and that having a family has less of an effect of a man’s career than it does on a woman’s career.

    Retention in the field should also be considered when evaluating one’s prospects. In your initial field, one either does very well or fairly poorly, and most of the money is paid to the 5% or so who do well. Many people drop out of the field within five years. In engineering, one reaches their top salary very quickly, and it isn’t a lot higher than what they made out of college. One might see a non-inflation-adjusted increase of 100% over 20 years, which works out to a 3.6% annual increase. This includes salary hikes from getting promoted along the way. Be wary of “survivorship bias”, which will lead you to believe that what people who persist in a field for ten years or more is the normal amount that you can expect to make.

    It will probably offend you for me to note that $50K is not a large salary, not when you consider that you need to make up for 20 years of not contributing to retirement accounts. Power shifts in relationships with who earns the money. If you’re bringing debt to a relationship, and the guy is debt-free except for house and car payments, the guy had better REALLY like you, because if the marriage breaks up, you’re taking that debt with you into divorce. Just as assets held in a person’s name prior to marriage are generally not subject to division in a divorce if the person kept the assets in their name and did not deposit the assets or the proceeds from its sale into a joint account, debts taken out prior to marriage will be retained by the person who took them out years earlier, and if they were paid off during the marriage, your share of the marital estate might be reduced to reflect this. Most states use “equitable distribution”, which reflects the relative financial contributions that each person brought to the marriage, rather than dividing things down the middle.

    Be wary of regret, both yours and those of others. As I tell my male friends, no woman will sacrifice for them like their mother, and I’m not their mother. Yes, it is very nice for women to stay at home and raise the children, but it’s a whole lot nicer for the family if Mom can bring in some money to supplement household income so that they can have more stuff and/or save for college and retirement. Children are a lot more expensive than we expect. As you are at the end of your fertile years, you’d also have to factor in the costs of fertility treatment and/or adoption, and the stresses that they would put on your relationship. That’s a lot for one paycheck to support, plus pay down one or two sets of student loans and save for the down payment on a house. You might be fine to date, but when people start to look at the consequences of a long-term relationship with you, you have some big negatives that make you one of the more costly options on the marriage market. It’s one thing to be young and broke, but a lot worse to be approaching middle age and broke, and many men would be wary of taking on your problems, particularly if they are stable financially.

  4. Well, my loans are almost paid off and if I find a job soon hopefully will be paid off within a year or two. At this point $50,000 is a lot of money because finding jobs at that range are hard to come by. As for being fertile there is never a guarantee of that at any age and if I am not fertile then I would adopt. My doctor has said I have high fertility for my age and late motherhood runs in my family. Not all women my age use fertility drugs and not all young women don’t, that is a myth. Personally at this point I’d rather have a child than a job.Maybe it’s because I don’t have a job I figure I can use my good looks to snag a man with money. Maybe that is an outdated view but I may never work again and I don’t need to bypass having kids too.In fact I regret as such and will tell any daughters I may have not to make this same mistake and that they will never make as much as their brothers. Society is still anti woman and it will not change in my lifetime.

    Btw I do have a retirement plan and my former employer contributed to it. I received part of it and will receive the rest at 67 I believe (or younger). I used part of it that I received on paying down my bills when I lost my job. Outside of my loans I don’t have a lot more debt. Plus when my grandfather dies (hopefully not soon)my mother will inherit close to 1 million dollars and she has told me she will pay off my loans if any still exist and I know she will.

    I really regret bypassing having a husband and a family for a job. I just hope and pray I get a job, husband and a child because being single in my old age is worse than being dead.

    However whether I am in debt, or will use fertility drugs isn’t the point, but rather that women I know realize a family is more important than a career. I would hope to have both but may have to make that choice and a career at this point would not win, unless I happen to get a job I love.

    Also, many of the guys I have been meeting really want a housewife so this is an option for me if a job doesn’t come through. I just wish I had considered this years ago.

  5. The more accurate statement might be that having a family is more important than a job FOR YOU, and that’s a choice that you have every right to make. By your standards, I am one of those crazy cat ladies, as I am ten years or so your senior, and have never married. I do keep a cat. In any case, we act on what we believe, not necessarily what is true.

    A “good” marriage has traditionally offered women a certain degree of financial security, but the desire for more stuff and wages that have been flat or declining for the last 30 years have drawn more and more women into the workforce, married or not. A two-income family that depends on both incomes is less financially secure than a one-income family if only because the wife isn’t available to be sent out to work when the husband loses his job. You’re looking at taking on a second job for one person or the other, not generating a second income in that case. We also tend not to count the costs of earning a second income, and in a lot of cases, it is cheaper for the lower-earning member of the couple to stay home with the children when you discount their salary by the amount spent on child care, a second car, lunches out, taxes paid on one’s income and other work-related expenses. Read “The Two-Income Trap” by Elizabeth Warren. A question that you need to answer is whether you can tolerate being financially dependent in a relationship where you think you should be viewed as an equal.

    Many, if not most, people find that their careers are not what they expected them to be, It’s a challenge to learn to live with that. Most people have jobs, not careers or higher callings.

    Be a little careful about how your mother pays off your student loans, when and if that happens. Tax law allows us to give gifts of about $12K per year to anyone annually without incurring gift tax to the giver or income tax to the recipient, so your parents could give you a combined $24K per year without tax consequences. It is also quite possible that unless your grandfather has really good health insurance, he could spend that money on medical bills. It is very common for estates to be depleted by medical bills. It might be worthwhile to approach him about gifting the money to you to pay off your student loans now, particularly if you are a favored grandchild.

    Another unhappy fact of tax law is that you can take another person as your dependent regardless of age as long as you provide at least half of their finanical support and can meet a relationship test with the dependent. As a daughter, you would need the relationship test to yout parents. This might be worth a thousand dollars to your parents for every year that you have been living with them and not been working to go backand amend their returns to take you as a dependent. This presumes that they are paying income tax at a 25% marginal rate. One can amend their prior year returns for up to three years prior to the current year return, so they could amend 2009, 2010, and 2011.

    One of the big, unpleasant surprises of retirement is how small a stream of income a seemingly large chunk of money turns into. If you presume a withdrawal rate of 4% and you have $100K in your retirement plan, you get an extra $330 per month, and if your money is in a 401(k) plan, that money is subject to local, state, and federal income tax. The first $9600 or so of income subject to federal tax won’t be taxed because this is the sum of the value of the personal and standard exemptions for a single person. Another unpleasant surprise is how high the taxes seem when you pay them in a lump sum quarterly.

    Another thing that most people don’t realize is that working women get screwed by Social Security, because it was designed for a single-earner household. Suppose that you married after high school, never went to college, never worked while married, and stayed married until you could draw Social Security. You would get half of your husband’s benefit, without paying a cent into Social Security beyond whatever you paid if you worked a part-time job during high school.

    Even if you got divorced, you have the chance to collect Social Security based on your now ex-husband’s earnings when you got old enough if the marriage had lasted ten years or longer. If you have a two-income family with a high-school education only, the estimate is that Social Security taxes increase 74% but yield only a 17% increase in benefits for the couple. When you start collecting Social Security, you have the option of basing your benefit on your earnings history or that of your husband, whichever is higher, and if your husband’s was higher, and if you pick your husband’s earning history, you get half of his benefit. This also applies if you are widowed. If there are children, they get Social Security survivors benefits until they turn 18. You would become eligible for survivors benefits at age 60, which means that you would have the option of taking the survivors benefit until you reach full retirement age, but be warned that the benefit will be taxed away once you earn more than $14K per year.

  6. Like I said I don’t know what the answer is but no I don’t think being dependent on others is a good thing. However in the cases where one person is making less than childcare then it makes sense for them to stay at home (and it’s not always the mom who makes less, I’ve made more than several boyfriends).

    I’ve been working since I was 16 and except for this break now (where I’ve done a few temp jobs)I’ve mostly worked fulltime. I don’t suspect social security to be around once I retire which is why at several jobs I had a 401k account. Once I work fulltime again I will create another savings (possibly another CD or IRA)to save and get interest.

    Btw, I am actually interviewing for a job that has great growth potential and will pay quite well so I suspect if I get it, I might be happy working instead of raising a family but who knows.

  7. One reason that married women may drop out of the workforce is the sheer complexity of managing the lives of 1 to however many other people. I am beginning to complain about the difficulty of managing my own life. It is not a true complaint, just the recognition that there are things to be done at home that I haven’t had to do for seven years because I’ve been renting. I have a year of work ahead of me.

    I bought my house from an estate, and the risk was that there would be a lot of things small and not so small that need to be repaired. I just painted part of my fence, installed an additional downspout, had to replace the water supply valves for my washing machine, and hired a plumber to install a standpipe and vent for the washer, replace my water heater, and replace the bathroom floor and get it re-tiled. Replacing the valves just cost me $15 or so for two replacement valves, and I did the work myself. As I go through the house, I find that there are things that I want to fix or merely change. Martha Stewart will never tell you about how nice it is to have a vapor barrier in the crawlspace of your house, and for it to be properly insulated. but I will. The problem is that the house was owned by the same family for 65 years, and one of the owners lived in it for 63 years, more or less. The other owner died in 2002 at the age of 90. He was a member of the Teamsters union.

    The fact that she had children is what made it possible for her to stay kin her home. When the daughters were moving stuff out of the house, I saw several commodes and a lot of adaptive equipment that the elderly would use. I found that the dishwasher that was conveyed with the house couldn’t have possibly worked because the pipe was too short, and would dump water on the floor anytime that water was poured into the right-hand sink of the double sink in the kitchen, or pumped through the garbage disposal, which is how the drain for most dishwashers is installed.

    Life becomes much more complicated when dealing with other people. Marriage doesn’t necessarily solve your problems without creating a whole lot of other problems. My rule is that complexity goes as X raised to the Nth power, where N is the number of people involved and X is the average level of complexity one experiences in life.

    I wish you well with your interview. Consider the possibility that getting the job will push your dating/marriage/pregnancy plans off by at least six months due to the need to get settled into the new job, particularly if the job involves relocation.

  8. Thanks, I pray I get it too. I think if I get the job I may change my mind about things. Who knows, maybe I will find out that I am feeling the desparation of marriage and children because of the job situation. I do know though that most working women still do the majority of the chores in the house and that disturbs me. I even know women who are the breadwinners, work longer hours (or in some cases are the only workers)and still do the chores. That I wouldn’t accept no matter how desperate I am to marry.

  9. I am a failed doctoral student. When the time came for me to leave the program, I had a guy who wanted to marry me but wouldn’t introduce me to his family, an offer of a teaching assistantship for a terminal masters program, an offer for a job that would pay me about as much as I had been making before leaving for graduate school and enough money to move to the new job or to the other college. I could have stayed and married the guy, but I took the job. He wanted to start a business where he expected me to work, and I wanted it spelled out what my interest would be in the business before I got involved in it, much less marry him. That seemed like too much undiversified risk for my taste because I could make a reasonable living without working with him. I had the job offer in hand. I had declined an even better job because I was asked my plans for having children. I had no plans for having children, but the woman who I would replace decided not to return from pregnancy leave.

    If you’re out dating, it is easy to get sucked into situations. When you are worried and uncertain, it is easy to make bad choices, We all try to put our best foot forward when we are trying to win someone over or win their heart. Suppose that the guy promised to share the housework and then stuck you with all of it What are you going to do, get divorced, quietly seethe, or what? I’d bet on quietly (or not so quietly) seething, particularly if you were still broke or if there were children involved.

  10. I’m curious why you didn’t take that one job, because they asked you that? I’ve been at interviews where they asked me that question and while it is offensive I get it because there are many women who never returned. I am mixed on that because yes those women do make it harder for all women to find jobs, but on the other hand there’s many reasons why this happens.

    What would I do about the housework? I don’t know. I know if I wasn’t working I would do all or most of the duties because it would be right. If we were both working and he didn’t do anything? I’d probably either stop cleaning or divorce. I know I wouldn’t work full time then come home to cook and clean while he does nothing.

  11. Things were going reasonably well with the interview, which was over the phone, but I had one job offer in hand already. The money was the same, so when the choice is between southwestern Virginia and not having to train into another engineering field and northern New Jersey and having to earn a master’s degree as a condition of employment, I’ll choose to live in southwestern Virginia. It just seemed like an off note to drop in the question about pregnancy plans and to tell me that the person who I was replacing was a woman who didn’t want to return from pregnancy leave. That could have been left unsaid. There is always a risk that people will leave their job for some reason.

    I may have made a really bad decision, but I’ll never know. As it turns out, the place where I turned down the job is being closed, and I’d have to relocate to Maryland.

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