Before Her Prime
Two wrongs do not make a right, but three lefts do.
Power corrupts. Absolute power is...kinda neat.
- Weird Wellington Happenings and Links
Ambition is like a frog sitting on a Venus flytrap.
- Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey
In my opinion, a grave problem facing westernised countries today is that both parents often work and leave the raising of their children to others. The decision to leave the raising of one's children to others may be made on the assumption that there will be slight damaging impact on the child (thanks to occasional "quality time" spent) versus the advantages that accrue to the child from living in a family with two incomes. (The damaging impact on society in general isn't often considered at a personal level.)
I've tried it various ways: I was a working parent to the child I had at 20, a stay-at-home parent to the child I had 14 years later, and a mixture of both to the child I had 6 years after that. What I haven't really tried is being childless. But as my last child grows up and leaves, I'll experience that as well.
Both a child's parents don't always live in the same household (see Family Trends for figures for NZ). It's hard enough to make ends meet when only one household's expenses are taken into account. How about when there are two households and only one income?
Two incomes are often needed to provide any kind of decent living standard in ONE household - to attain the same standard of living that ones' parents had or one's friends and cohorts are enjoying. And that matters (see Why Living in a Rich Society Makes Us Feel Poor).
Moreover, parenting is generally a temporary job. Being a housewife has no inherent income, no status, no employment guarantees and little room for advancement. Once the full-time parenting job is finished, the now-redundant parent finds those years of experience don't qualify for anything in the business world. On the other hand, stay-at-home parenting does have rewards, both long and short term, for both of the parents and also for their child[ren].
I ran across an interesting book in a second-hand bookshop this week. It was called Head and Shoulders: Successful New Zealand Women Talk to Virginia Meyers. The book was published in 1986. One of the women interviewed was named Helen Clark.
Here are a few quotes from Helen Clark's interview:
"...All my interests were concentrated on political activity or study. By then I was a graduate student and all my courses were in politics. I went to a lot of meetings and was out every night, mostly to do with politics. I'd found something I was really interested in and that totally absorbed me. From 1973 on I was also earning a living at it, as a junior lecturer, and enjoying that. It was all very fulfilling.
"I became so involved that politics 'was' me, in a sense. A symbiotic relationship. I found a sense of identity that I carried over into my life as an MP..."
Regarding the Labour nomination for Mt Albert in 1981 she says, "It was a difficult campaign. As a single woman, I was really hammered. I was accused of being a lesbian, of living in a commune, having friends who were Trotskyites and gays, of being unstable and unable to settle anything. If you elect Helen Clark, my political opponents said, she's for abortion on demand and your whole society will change overnight. I was fighting on all fronts. On top of that I could do without the 'living in sin' label. That's the only reason I married the man I had been living with for 5 years. I was really tired of being extended on the personal front as well as on political issues...
"When I married a lot of the personal criticism stopped. But I felt really compromised. I think legal marriage is unnecessary and I would not have formalised the relationship except for going into Parliament. I have always railed against it privately...
"My relationship with Peter is non-traditional in that he runs the house. He's always done that. He does the shopping and I pay half. I haven't been in a supermarket for years...
"My routine is to fly to Wellington early Tuesday morning and come back Friday night, sometimes Saturday. I think that being apart a lot has been quite helpful to our marriage, because we haven't been in each other's pockets all the time. But a commuter marriage is more difficult in that I have to make a real effort to keep up the relationship. It would be very easy to let my life develop on a separate track in Wellington. I get lots of invitations there but I refuse most of them. I deliberately don't foster a separate lifestyle.
"I've never had any intention of having a child. I definitely see children as destroying my lifestyle. It's inconceivable that that I would become pregnant. I've taken the pill for years. I realise my attitude is unusual, but I have other interests which crowd out everything else, and I think I'd go round the bend if my small amount of spare time was taken up by children.
"If you have kids in a job like this there's always a tendency to feel guilty. I think of Fran Wilde [former MP and mayor of Wellington]. I'm sure she does give her kids as much time as a lot of parents, but she always feels guilty that it's not enough, and if anything goes wrong with the kids she feels it personally. She also has to worry about school holidays and babysitters..."
From a column called "Saturday People" by Helen Bain in the 13 March 1999 issue of The Dominion, I read the following about the youngest Alliance MP, Laila Harre, a "force to be reckoned with":
"I just got sick of glasses, so I ditched them and got contacts as soon as I had paid my campaign debts. And I let my hair grow. I had an unhealthy enjoyment of sitting in the hairdresser's getting my hair done all the time, so I decided to break with the hairdresser habit," Ms Harre says. "But I still change my hair colour all the time."...
Ms Harre says juggling politics and the raising of two young sons has been less of a motivation behind the [paid parental leave] bill than her experience as a union lawyer, representing low-paid women workers struggling to cope with the dual burden of jobs and children.
She says combining child-rearing and a career has not been as big a dilemma for her and husband Barry Gribben - a GP and director of Auckland University's primary healthcare research unit - as it is for many parents. The couple share parenting of Sam, 9, and Jack, 4, and both have worked fulltime since the children were a few months old.
"Obviously it's not easy, but lots of people have stressful jobs. Parliament has the added stress of time away. But as any parent of young children will tell you - if they are being totally honest - a bit of time away lets you focus, it's a bit of a luxury in some ways," Ms Harre says.
As I said, I've tried various ways of forming and maintaining families, including de facto relationships and live-in employees. No way is perfect for one person all the time or even perfect for everyone at any given time or else we'd all be doing things the same way (which we clearly aren't).
I read somewhere on the Internet recently that men either marry comfortable wives or else independent wives. This makes sense. Either a husband and wife (or two partners) jointly wish to merge lives so that improvements accrue together, or else they want two separate-but-compatible side-by-side lives where each gets a clear and open means of expression and sinks or swims as players in various teams (which often exclude family).
Helen Clark, at the time of the interview quoted above, had lived with Peter for five years before marriage and five years after marriage. More than 10 years into a relationship, she still paid him for "her half" of the shopping, so I think I can safely assume she falls into the relationships-with-separate-lives category.
I think what you want can change over time. I think the first type of couple are more effective when one is a stay-at-home parent. That would imply more cooperation, less competition between members of the family group.
The second type of couple relies more on genetic or long-term ties to more loosely lace families together. I would predict that this type needs a child (likely only one or two) to provide stability across periods when so few interests are shared that drift becomes a problem.
Being a stay-at-home parent, even if it's considered affordable and desirable for at least a part of one's life, has a built-in subservient status (after all, the housewife is not the one making the money, an absolutely crucial commodity and IS generally the one performing most menial tasks such as laundry, cooking and serving food, cleaning, shopping, etc), there is often no peer-group network to which she can belong (there are few qualifications required to be a housewife, so any random two next-door-neighbour housewives may have little in common), and the fact that the job doesn't generally build into an even better position, no matter how well one's tasks are carried out. (Ads for housewife would be found in the personals column, if at all.) Bettering one's position by finding another job as someone else's stay-at-home-wife (the thing you are good at and trained for) requires subversive behaviour - akin to a top-secret spy approaching another country offering to defect: a risky approach that, if discovered prior to success, could destroy all the housewife has worked for, possibly for years, leaving her emotionally bankrupt. Housewife is a risky job in that one must choose one's position with the greatest of care (or else get lucky).
The pluses include better family relationships, a higher personal comfort level for individual members, security and relief from certain kinds of stress, and the possibility of one's children's care, concern, and/or financial assistance returned during retirement. Will one's offspring turn out to be "successful"? (By whose measure? Society's? Yours? Theirs? Their children's, after they raised them in much the same way you did?)
Is there a perfect solution to this dilemma of modern life?
I tried devising something novel, but couldn't make it hang together well enough. If formal job descriptions existed for "home care-giver", that might help, but even something simple like that has sticky areas (the ones dealing with emotions and intimacies, two characteristics dampened if possible in corporate life).
I imagined families forming corporations [called hereinafter Family Firms] which hired their members. Each member would have an employment contract which set forth his or her duties. Children would "earn" their room and board and spending allowances by fulfilling the terms of their personal contract (see The Social Market). Young children would have few terms; older children may have performance clauses. Penalties would apply in certain situations.
Within the Family Firm there are positions to be filled. Some are more-or-less standard. There may be others within particular Family Firms.
Purchasing Officer - makes purchases, including groceries and household supplies. Stays within agreed budget while purchasing necessary
materials to provide balanced meals and steady supplies of items and services deemed essential.
(Yes! I separated having sex and having children into two separate jobs, which can now be handled by two separate people. For more information on how this could be, see Mother At 53 Sort Of.)
The whole system fell apart when I went to assign value. If the next door neighbour's wife cooks for less, can we bring her in to do the cooking? Well, sure, if everyone agrees. What if she has sex for less? Some values don't directly equate to dollars. (Unless you're in that business.)
In any case, I'll have to say that I respect the Prime Minister for realising she would short-change children and thus not having any. Most men aren't faced with that sort of decision (particularly the ones with stay-at-home wives).
Source: Funny Times 1998
Americans may talk about family values but in practice mothers are second-class citizens.
by Sue Pleming
Winning respect for motherhood is one of the final frontiers in women's fight for equality, argues a new book that depicts mothers as among the most downtrodden members of society.
American Ann Crittenden, author of The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is the Least Valued, says women may have won the wage gap battle but they have a long way to go in raising living standards for mothers.
"People say it's the most important job in the world but utter lip service is given to it," said Crittenden, who gave up her job at the New York Times after she had her son. One of her fantasies is that in decades to come an employer interviewing a mother will give her credit for the time she spent raising children, just as soldiers were rewarded in the workplace after returning from a tour of duty.
"If a woman goes in and says, 'I've just spent three years with my kid and here I am - good management material,' they think she's been in Siberia and her brains have been on ice. I want people to say, 'Wow, what you did was hard and incredible and you have great management training.' "
Although caring for dependents is at least as important as soldiering, a male's traditional service to society, she argues, "We lavish huge benefits on soldiers and impose huge penalties on caregivers. This amounts to gender discrimination, and our country is free-riding on the unpaid or cheap labour of women."
By having a child, a woman pays a "Mommy tax" of more than $US1 million in lost income, and family law deprives her of financial equality in marriage, Crittenden says. In addition, mothers slip through the social security net and do not qualify for any assistance. "I'm saying that their work, which creates enormous material wealth, should receive more material recognition."
Crittenden was an accomplished journalist when she had her son in her 40s. She surprised herself when she decided at the end of her maternity leave not to return to her job and she has done freelance writing since. "There's a huge gap in life between before you have a child and after you have a child. You can't imagine the emotion associated with it. I was so besotted with my son I just couldn't leave him and so I quit," she said.
What surprised her was how people perceived her when she gave up her job. "I ran into someone at a party who said: 'Didn't you used to be Ann Crittenden?' That's when I knew I had to write this book."
She found her job as a mother to be the most challenging, nuanced and skillful work she had ever done. "Being a mother is like being a master therapist, teacher, minister, counsellor. I truly was convinced how important my job was, but I got the impression that no one else agreed. All my former world looked down on me."
Crittenden, who interviewed 100s of mothers and pored over decades of statistics for the book, argues that the policies of American business, government and the law do not respect Americans' stated family values. Inflexible employers guarantee that many women will have to cut back on, if not quit, their jobs if they have children. And marriage is not an equal financial partnership: in 47 of the 50 US states, mothers do not have an unequivocal right to half of the family's assets; they are classified as "dependents."
Thirdly, Crittenden says, government policies do not define care of dependent relatives as work. Babysitters earn Social Security credits but mothers caring for their children do not. "For all these reasons motherhood is the single biggest risk factor for poverty in old age," she said. "American mothers have smaller pensions than either men or childless women, and American women over 65 are more than twice as likely to be poor as men of the same age."
Crittenden sees changing the status of mothers as the great unfinished business of the women's movement, where the fear is "if child rearing is made more tempting, then many women will drift back into domestic subservience. The standard feminist response to the fact that child rearing marginalises women is not to raise its status but to urge men to do more of it."
Conservatives, on the other hand, tout families but do not put their money where their mouth is. "They cling to the conviction that the only 'good' mother is the self-sacrificing, saintly figure who performs the moral, caring work of society at the expense of her own equality and aspirations."
Having more women legislators would help change attitudes, she said, adding it was time for mothers to take to the streets to fight for their rights. "We're just not a female enough state, yet."
Crittenden is ready for an onslaught of criticism over her book, which she says is not aimed at people trying to balance work and family but rather to stress the value of motherhood. "The heart of the matter is that we have to put value on the child's side rather than the career side," she said. She is sympathetic to mothers who work and her research shows they spend many hours devoted to their children even if they have full-time jobs, squashing criticism that mothers who work neglect their offspring.
Working women never get a rest, she says. "The data show that working mothers are wiping themselves out." - Reuters
Source: The Evening Post Tuesday 27 February 2001
The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued
by Ann Crittenden, Metropolitan Books; 323 pages; $25
No American woman in her right mind would want to become a mother. Having achieved a notional equality with men — at least if she is young, educated and working in a professional job — she will lose it again at a stroke. Instead, she faces a range of highly unattractive options. If she decides to “have it all” — career, lifestyle, baby, the lot — she will have to go back to work full-time almost immediately after the birth. She will get no paid maternity leave and she will have to convince her bosses that she is still committed to the job. She will then find herself working twice as hard as before: putting in a full day at work and then a “second shift” (in the memorable phrase of Arlie Hochschild, an American sociologist) with the baby.
If she wants to switch to an easier work schedule, she will probably be put on a “mommy track” — boring tasks, less responsibility, no promotion prospects and much less money. If she wants to take a break while her child is young, she will lose all credibility in the labour market and become a kept woman. And if her marriage goes to pieces (and half of them do), she and her child will end up on the breadline because she can expect little or no support from her husband. It seems an appalling deal, yet astonishingly millions sign up for it. Are they complete fools?
Ann Crittenden exaggerates, which is a pity, because she is making an important point. Being a working mother in America is no cookie bake. In matters of maternity leave, taxation, child care and legal rights, European women do much better. Perhaps even more serious (although Ms Crittenden does not make much of this), Americans of either sex, whether parents or not, generally work far longer hours and get far shorter holidays than Europeans, which makes it that much harder to combine job and children.
Enlightened self-interest alone suggests that some of these obstacles be removed: America would suffer a dire labour shortage if its women did not go out to work, but it is also as worried as the next rich country about its ageing population.
Yet even if working mothers do get more recognition and help, as they do in many European countries, they still find it hard to combine children with a high-powered career. The share of women in the top echelons of business, the professions and academia is tiny on either side of the Atlantic. Childlessness among highly successful women is much more common than among the rest. And many women (as well as quite a few men) feel that the rewards for reaching the top do not justify the effort. There are no easy solutions, in America or anywhere else.
The answer to Ms Crittenden’s more specific question — why is it that motherhood is so systematically undervalued — seems rather less difficult. The author herself blames a series of interlocking conspiracies — by government, by business, but most of all by men everywhere — that make it impossible for mothers to get proper recognition for enhancing the country’s human capital. But is not the more obvious answer that almost anyone can have children, and most people do? Many, perhaps most, make a fair or even wonderful job of it. But others don’t, and short of gross abuse there is no quality control to stop them making a mess of it.
Source: The Economist 26 April 2001 © The Economist Newspaper Limited all rights reserved
Contrasting View 1
Donatella Versace rushed to Miami after learning of the death of her brother when he was shot and killed in 1997. Since then, she has taken on the mantle of chief designer, producing dresses that were the most photographed on show catwalks last year. She says she could never design clothes for a woman who does not work, "because a woman must have a relationship with the world. And the only way to stay in tune is to work."
Source: excerpt extracted from "From out of the Versace Shadow" The Dominion Friday 2 March 2001
I can't help but wonder: did Donatella Versace work prior to her brother's death? If so, at what? Something unrelated to design? Or perhaps she was "out of tune"?
The Price of Fatherhood - A Father's Reply to Ann Crittenden's "Mothers Manifesto"
by Glenn J Sacks
Ann Crittenden's popular book, released in paperback this week, has become the first feminist classic of the new millennium. Crittenden's "mothers' manifesto" is an expose of the so-called "mommy tax," which can include reduced job opportunities and salary for mothers, as well as a lack of appreciation, often from working women themselves. However, if there is a woman paying the "mommy tax" by sacrificing her earning power to be at home full-time or part-time, there has to be a man in the household supporting the family and, by so doing, paying the "daddy tax." Crittenden, by defining "privilege" and "sacrifice" only in terms of pay and career status, sees disadvantages only for mothers and not for fathers. But what about the price of fatherhood?
The average American father works 51 hours a week. While nearly half of American mothers with children under the age of six do not work full time, even those who do average only a 41 hour work week. American men work the longest hours of any workers (male or female) in the industrialised world. Men work 90% of the overtime hours in the US, and are more likely to work nights and weekends, to travel for work, and to have long commutes. All of these deprive fathers of valuable time with their children.
In addition, men do our society's most hazardous and demanding jobs, in large part because the higher pay allows them to better provide for their families. Nearly 100,000 American workers died from job-related injuries over the past decade and a half, 95% of them men. There were over 100 million workplace injuries in the US between 1976 and 1999, again the overwhelming majority of them suffered by men.
Men dominate in all stress-related diseases, including a two to one lead in heart disease. In fact, Gloria Steinem once cited this in advising men to support women's careers, saying, "Men - support feminism! You have nothing to lose but your coronaries!"
Less time with their children, long work days and work weeks, job hazards and job stress - all of these are the daddy tax. I know, because I've paid it. As the main provider for my family, I worked 60 hour, six day weeks far from home, sometimes at hazardous construction jobs. I missed my young son so badly that many times, arriving home from work late at night, I would carry him around the house on my shoulder, even though he was asleep. My fatherhood was the hollow, joyless fatherhood many men endure - all the burdens of supporting children drained of the pleasure of actually being with them. At times it seemed the only interaction I had with my son was disciplining him, the one parenting job which has not so generously always been reserved for fathers.
One day I was so disheartened over the situation that I walked off my job, pulled my son out of his kindergarten class, took him to the toy store, bought him a race car set, and spent the rest of the day playing with him. Fortunately, it didn't cost me my job.
Even more fortunate is that, unlike many men and fathers, I haven't been financially trapped in a hazardous job - what men's advocate Warren Farrell calls the "glass cellar of male disposability." A construction job I worked at when I was young illustrates well the untold cost of fatherhood which many men pay. I worked at a nuclear power plant in the South. Every morning we strapped on our tool belts and hard hats, and made the long climb up the rebar skeletal frame of the building. Once we were 50 feet up, we hooked our hook belts around the rebar and then leaned back to work, with most of our weight on that hook belt. Leaving aside the blistering heat, the difficult reaches, and the danger of someone else's tools falling on you, the reality was that your life - minute by minute, hour after hour, day after day - was dependent upon that hook belt.
One day a journeyman electrician called to me to climb down and help him. He had a rope in one hand and his tool box in the other. We walked over to a large room filled with immense electrical panels. He told me to stand 10 feet behind him and hold the rope. I had no idea why, but I did as I was told. He then made the other part of the rope into a harness, put it on, and said "I'm gonna work on these wires, and some of them are live. If I hit the wrong one and start to fry, you pull me out."
I thought he was joking. He wasn't.
He began to work and every once in a while he would take a tool he was done with and throw it at my feet, saying "hey - you awake? I got three kids to feed and they ain't gonna go barefoot ‘cause you aren't payin' attention."
"No, no, I'm here," I protested. "Why don't they turn off the power so you can do this without being in danger?"
"Company won't do it. Too expensive."
"More expensive than your life?"
"How come you don't just tell them ‘no?' "
"Can't. Got kids to feed."
"You could do something else. Go to college."
"No money for it - got kids, a wife, a mortgage. Wait ‘till you get married and have kids - you'll see."
Lunch time was often the time for "scare the new guy" on workplace injuries and safety. Every man had a horror story to tell, either about what happened to him or what happened to his buddy. The guy who shot his nailgun into a knot in wood and the nail glanced off and nailed his hand to the wall - just before his ladder came out from under him. The guy who sliced his fingers off with a saw and stepped on one as he tried to pick them up one by one. The guy who repaired power lines and hit a live wire while working 20 feet up and is only alive today because his buddy kicked him off the pole.
Fortunately for me, with the exception of bangs and bruises and falling off of a ladder a couple times, the closest I've come to a serious injury was when I shot myself in the hand with a nailgun - fortunately for me, a thin finishing nail. Later I did carpentry jobs as a side business, but luckily I no longer have to hang off the side of buildings or do other hazardous jobs. Most of my carpentry skills now are applied toward building my kids a bunk bed or a lemonade stand. But whenever I hear middle-class feminists like Crittenden tell us of her woes as a woman (and Crittenden, who uses herself as an example of motherly victimhood, tells us plenty of her personal woes), I think of those men and of the sacrifices they make to provide for their families and to give them safety and security - safety and security that they themselves will probably never have.
My life changed dramatically when my second child was born - I switched from the traditional father role to the traditional mother role. Now my wife enthusiastically pursues her new career and I've cut my work schedule back to care for our daughter during the day. I do all the cooking (and we never eat out or take in), the dishes, the shopping, the chauffeuring, the laundry, and the errands. Exactly as Crittenden did, I pursue my freelance writing career at home, in between my household duties. Crittenden is deeply bitter about this "sacrifice," but I consider myself to be quite lucky.
Which is better, paying the mommy tax or paying the daddy tax? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. It depends upon the jobs and personalities of those involved. For me, being at home with my young daughter has been the greatest, most fulfilling experience of my life, and I'll always be grateful to my wife for allowing me the opportunity. All of the "firsts" that I missed with my son - the first words, the first steps - I've been able to enjoy with my daughter, as well as countless other magical, irreplaceable moments. And there's nothing better in the world than when my little daughter walks up to me, puts her hand on my shoulder and says "every night I go sleepies right here." I have no desire to return to a demanding work schedule and be away from my kids. Given a choice, I'd rather pay the mommy tax.
Crittenden has several worthwhile suggestions on how to reduce the mommy tax, including universal preschool, a year's paid leave after the birth of each child, and full benefits for part-time work. I'm not sure how practical these ideas are, but I'm certainly interested, since they could help mothers as well as fathers and children. But how dare she, and other feminists, claim that the burden of children falls only on mothers? Yes, Ms Crittenden, there is a mommy tax, but the daddy tax is just as large.
Source: glennjsacks.com Friday 10 January 2002 © Glenn J Sacks all rights reserved
Beginning 1 July 2002, New Zealand offers 3 months' government-paid leave for the birth of a child. The 12 weeks' leave can be claimed only by the baby's mother. However, she can transfer some or all of it to the father - or to her female partner if she's in a lesbian relationship.
For satellite photos and pictures of Wellington from several different angles and for articles about earthquakes, history, business, the Ohariu Valley, statistics, fireworks, the
national anthem, the kiwi icon and more click the "Up" button below to take you to the Index for this Wellington section.