Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rethinking lucky

In a recent conversation I mentioned that a close friend of mine was a stay at home mom. "Hmm. She's lucky," was the response. The comment immediately irritated me, though perhaps I misinterpreted it. After all, I've worked with so many of those fascinating creatures called single-working moms, the women who personify the concept of hard work as they struggle to be both full time breadwinner and full time parent . . . with no sleep. So yes. The more time you can spend with your children, the luckier you really are. Lucky or blessed. Whatever way you slice your pie.

But there's another interpretation to that comment that is sadly quite applicable: the presumption that to stay with your kids full time you must be well off financially, or that to pull off that feat requires the same kind of luck as finding a good parking spot at Target on a Saturday in December. It's perceived as some kind of luxury good. And that is quite untrue.

A recent thread on a pregnancy web forum mourned the cost of daycare. Moms were quoting childcare costs that easily rivaled a rent or mortgage payment:

Tennessee mom: $600-$1000/month.

Mom in Houston suburb: $1200-1400/mo.

Moms in Washington, D.C. suburbs and Philadelphia: $375/week.

Pensacola, FL mom: $105/week for part time (< 4 hours/day) care.

Chicago mom: "the daycare I was looking at is $1300 a month for care 3 days a week. & $1800 a month for 5 days of care."

Mom from unspecified "rural area": $550/month.

Unsurprisingly, I read quite a few comments echoing these sentiments:

"It almost seems like it's discouraging women [from] work. I'm a licensed elementary teacher, although I'm not teaching in a traditional classroom this year, but having 2 kids under 5 in day care and my entire paycheck would go to day care!!! That seems absolutely crazy!"

Also: "And this is why I'll be staying home!! I have a min wage job, there's no way I could afford that. Nothing gives you more comfort then [sic] raising your own kids."

And: "Daycare costs is the primary reason I quit my job working in a special needs classroom last year. After daycare for 2 kids my take home pay was basically paying for my gas to and from work."

It also reminded me of my own coworker who's the breadwinner for her family. Her husband stays home to be full-time dad because their combined employments weren't enough to make hired child care worthwhile. Might as well one of them stay home instead of paying a stranger to raise the kids, they figured.

Anyway, so back to my friend. In a lot of ways she's not "lucky" to stay home. I guess in many respects she is lucky to have a loving husband and two beautiful babies, a roof over their head, and food in the pantry. But to pull it off, that family lives very frugally, budgets carefully, and she hasn't had herself a personal shopping trip since who-knows-when. I don't believe luck had as much to do with it as did their conscientious effort to strictly prioritize time and money.

If a woman is an au pair or nanny or full time tutor to just one or several kids, nobody says anything. But if a woman is full time mom to her own children, why does she get the raised eyebrow like it's some kind of entitlement?

Vent over. (Just FYI, this post isn't about me. Yes, I'll be working after the baby. I'm blessed with a career with pays well enough [considering it only requires a minimum of two years college education] that even part time shifts can pack a pretty paycheck. My skills do need to be kept up. And perhaps I've watched too many Jane Austen movies wherein well-to-do but skill-less women are turned out for paupers when their men die.)


  1. Yeah.

    But it's also frustrating when you are poor and choose to stay at home and ppl think you only are staying at home bc you can't afford child care.

    Just saying.

    1. "Poor you, you can't afford to work . . . ." That's warped thinking right there.

  2. And sometimes, for some women, (like me), reality hits when the child is only 8 weeks old and it's time to go back to work - and it's harder than you thought it was going to be.