the little dinghy

It’s been a while since I’ve ranted, so here goes.
I just started reading Ann Crittenden‘s “The Price of Motherhood” and my blood is boiling. If I were one of those geeked-out runners who wore a heart rate monitor all the time, mine would be around 190 right now – about what an all out 400m feels like for a 45 year-old. Anyway, here’s a Crittenden quote from a Q & A interview I found online:

Q: What is meant by “the price of motherhood?”

A: For the average college-educated woman who leaves the workforce to care for a child, that probably amounts to about a million dollars in lifetime earnings she left behind. Yet American mothers are not only not paid for all the work they do, but are also penalized for it-in terms of lost income if they stay at home, an inflexible job market that makes part-time work scarce or inadequately paid, and in the case of divorce, they’re refused family assets by divorce laws that don’t count their unpaid work. Unpaid female labor-raising the citizens of tomorrow-is the priceless, invisible heart of the economy. Those in this “unpaid labor force” deserve the same rights and respect as other workers.

I have known all this for years, but because I have been so busy caring for my 3 daughters pretty much round-the-clock it wasn’t until I decided (finally) to go back to somewhat “real” work that I realized the colossal injustice of it all. I hope my husbands (that includes my ex, whom I hold dear as family still) don’t get too pissed off when/if they read this … but we moms in the U.S. really do operate under a double-bind situation. Once a woman has a child it is up to her to figure out how, when, and if she will ever be able to leave domestic servitude again. Almost all fathers I know go right back to work after they have their little 3-6 weeks of paid paternity leave while the young mothers – suddenly home all day every day – have to come up with their own solution to how they will return to their careers. It is not society’s problem; it is a painfully private [secret?] dilemma that every single mother faces if she has ambition to do or be anything outside of the home. In many cases, the grandmothers step in (either a woman’s mother or her mother-in-law) to take over the primary caregiving of the infant. But, I imagine, they aren’t paid for their work either. Grandmothers do it out of their “selfless love” for their children; they want their daughters to be happy and fulfilled in their careers without worrying that Baby is stuck in some 10-hour daycare setting, being rotated like a turkey (change, feed, burp, nap, repeat) with a dozen other Butterballs.

When I left this week to travel to a race with my new CAC athletes it was a business trip. My daughters are old enough now to understand that mommy will be back in 2 days. I had no guilt or hesitation leaving, but as I drove away I did ponder why I had to give up 10 years of momentum in my career. When I left the coaching profession 10 years ago, I was on a fast track [no pun intended] mostly because there are so few female coaches in track and field, and now as I try to return to this mostly-male profession as a middle-aged woman, I realize I will probably never “make it.” I will coach individuals to FAST times, no doubt … but I won’t ever command a big salary at a major university because I missed that boat. If you want to be a mother, you have to choose between the BIG boat or the little dinghy.

12 thoughts on “the little dinghy

  1. Sage

    Can’t the dinghy maneuver into smaller and potentially more interesting coves? Isn’t it more nimble?

  2. hcs

    The philosophies of “The Price of Motherhood” also make my blood boil, but for different reasons. It absolutely baffles and angers me that motherhood is now openly being placed in the ‘Burden’ category.

    When did this happen? Why has there been a shift in viewing someone who takes care of home and children from ‘mother’ to ‘unpaid worker’ (slave)? Is there no more honor amongst mothers?

    There are many intelligent, well educated mothers sitting at home ‘wasting’ their talents, ideas and prime years on people so small and immature that they won’t fully appreciate their mothers’ sacrifices for decades. Maybe I am biased because I am sitting at home wasting my talents and over-priced education right now, but I can’t bring myself to view my life in that way. What is lost in Ann Crittenden’s evaluation is the reason I am sitting here: My children. I firmly believe that there is no one more qualified than I to guide my children through their formative years. I don’t have to worry about them running around spewing crazytalk about W, war or environmental issues, or getting away with asking where something “is at.” Is it fair that I’m losing professional ground to my peers who have their children in daycare? It’s a choice I made, not a condition imposed upon me, so I don’t believe it is either fair or unfair.

    I really enjoy your blog!

  3. Joan Post author

    Dear hcs,
    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. My question for you is was it really a choice you made? I don’t know about the particulars of your life, but I kind of sailed into motherhood assuming the fathers would be equally sacrificing. That is not the case in 95% of families. I didn’t choose to give up my career. I thought I would easily go right back to it. 1 year turned into 3, then 4, then 10 years of my life … NO, not wasted, never … but invested in my daughters. Each time I contemplated the “choice” to stay home or go back to work, I thought, “but who will take care of my children?” This choice is seldom, if ever, IMPOSED on fathers … is it?

  4. Anonymous Bosh

    You wrote: This choice is seldom, if ever, IMPOSED on fathers … is it?

    Would you have dropped your children at a man-run daycare? Have hired a man to babysit your daughters? I am a man, and I wouldn’t…

    The original choice is to have children or not (some might extend that to whether one should marry), after that, even when they seem less like “choices” and more like “consequences,” the actions follow from that first choice. You are helping raise the next generation; isn’t that worthy of respect, self respect, and congratulations? Don’t let some book burden you with “coulda woulda shoulda” disease.

    Should a man have to work more and more hours once the children come (the average husband increases his workweek by some number of hours every time a child is born)? DAMN STRAIGHT HE SHOULD! Should the husband of a full-time mother focus all his energies on maximizing family income? HELL YES! Should he carry a minimum of 10x yearly salary in life insurance? YOU KNOW IT! And should he sign over all assets to the family should the marriage dissolve? YOU GOT IT!

    A monumental success of modern Feminism, no-fault divorce freed a small percentage of women from difficult situations, while dooming the remainder (i.e., the vast majority) to the risk of future financial difficulties. I am deeply sorry that your marriage ended, and I typically blame the man for bailing–although it was Feminism that gave him the thumbs-up to do so. I would rather repair marriage and family before adding to the angst of “women get screwed with the dirty work.”

    On the positive: you are an awesome role model (and you know it) for not just your daughters and for not just your janes, but for women and men, runners and even a few non-runners, as a person who continues to explore the limits of the opportunities ahead of her.

    Like brain neurons, if you keep exploiting the opportunities, they will multiply. Do not replace your inherently optimistic lenses with those of some other, less optimistic outlook. You did the right thing. Certain aspects did not work out–and likely could have been managed differently in retrospect. But, I say again, you did the right thing.

  5. Joan Post author

    Why not a man-run daycare?! Why not a man to babysit?!
    I’m not talking about “feminism” or trying to place blame; I am simply offering the idea of shared parenthood over sacred motherhood.
    Why should women work for free and why should men be forced to work overtime? Raising children has evolved into an unbalanced system in this country – for mothers AND fathers.

  6. thronedoggie

    I have a friend who says that the blue whale is the largest animal that ever existed, but that it has a throat that is only six inches in diameter.
    He then says “Do you know why?…because THAT’S THE WAY IT IS.”

    I don’t know if this little bit of folksy wisdom is true with respect to blue whales, but the point is made well.

    Mothers are mothers because they are women – women and men are not the same. They AREN’T. All the “ought to”‘s that we can generate won’t make them the same. As long as biology has different roles and functions, they’ll be different.

    As far as how mothers are “unpaid labor” – well, men are unpaid labor. I don’t know how much money the usual guy gets to keep, but mine goes into the family kitty – ALL of it. I don’t have my “own money”, and neither does she. So I don’t earn money – my family does. And I don’t raise kids – my family does.

    All economics boils down to choices.

    BTW – why should I have to compete with men when I race, but you get to compete with women? :)

    …and another interesting financial tidbit is that, according to statistics, I’m going to DIE soon after retirement, and she’s going to live. So she’ll be spending the money that we earned on some young Porsche salesman :)

    jim p.

  7. Joan Post author

    a final Crittenden quote:

    “I love my work, and I’ve always derived a large part of my identity through my work,” she told me. “I’m truly tortured. Men get a standing ovation if they miss a meeting, because of parenting; women miss whole careers.”

  8. hcs

    Yes, motherhood is truly a choice I made. I was raised by a stay-at-home mother and I think I always knew that I would stay home with my children. When I graduated from college I played around for a few years and travelled. I had a job a local coffee shop and spent my afternoons sailing, playing tennis, (my college sport), or riding horses. When I finally decided it was time to face my adulthood I got a ‘real’ job and began working my way up.
    I don’t remember the exact day, but I know that at one point my desire to have children ‘one day’ turned into ‘right now’. I had had my fun, had a career and felt that I was ready to not do things for me anymore. It happened that I learned about a job that would allow me to work from home with fewer hours. I jumped at the chance to take this position because it would allow me to stay home, even though I was not yet pregnant. I kept the job for about 2 1/2 years until I decided that I just didn’t care about it any more and wanted to be doing other things with my family.

    So here I am. I am a few years into the no man’s land of not-quite-middle-aged mothers’ unemployment. I think I may try to go back to work one day. I realize that I never will be the feared litigator I once thought I may become. That is something I missed because I chose to stay home with my children. I think about it occasionally, and like the cliched fuzzy daydream scene in a Lifetime movie, I think about what my life would be like had I not had children or had I dumped mine in daycare. I absolutely cannot imagine having anywhere near the same fulfillment or satisfaction from a career that I get from my guys. Every day I am sure that I have made the right choice. There always will be ways for me to contribute to those outside of my family, but this is the only chance I have here.

  9. MH

    I’m a 49 year old man. I hope I’m not in crisis. I don’t think I am. But I find myself wondering if I’ve done enough in this life. As an engineer, my profession is held fairly high on the esteem scale – improve the quality of life, etc. When I’ve done engineering work for hospitals, I’ve always imagined the health care workers must be gratified by their work. My wife is going back to a teaching job after 20 years at home with our kids. I hope she realizes the impact she will have on her students. But I hope she doesn’t feel cheated out of the lost income of the past 20 years.
    If you measure the size of the boat by how much money it holds, I feel sorry for you.

  10. Dave C.

    Jim P asked: “BTW – why should I have to compete with men when I race, but you get to compete with women?”

    Jim, I know you don’t race often, but when you do haven’t you noticed that there are women in the races too? You are allowed to compete against them. They’re competing against you, whether you like it or not. :-)

    Joan and I compete against one another frequently, with depressingly similar outcomes. :-) The same one of us always starts out ahead and then gets passed by the other. That’s likely to change next time. Joan, are you running Four on the Fourth? Joan has a few huge factors working in her favor — she’s 7 1/2 years younger, has much more natural running ability, and hasn’t destroyed her legs pounding out long races and high mileage weeks on hard surfaces. All I have in my favor is a little Y chromosome.

    Evidence of my lack of running talent … in the high school track season that has just ended, my 15-year-old daughter tried track for the first time — not because of any interest in track, just trying to get faster and stronger for basketball. Despite being so new at the sport, she can now run 400m as fast as my best ever and can run 200m a few seconds faster than my all-time best. (And in phys ed today she ran a mile faster than I have done in several months.)

  11. Hieronymous

    To MH: Wow, you mean it gets worse? What I mean is, I just now posted elsewhere something along the lines of work and accomplishment. Have I done enough in life? (My wife asks, “isn’t your family enough,” to which I reply “of course, of course,” but…is it?

    The gist of my other post is that men are driven to “do better than Dad did”; do women feel that same competitive (and lifelong) drive? Do girls need to “outpace Mom (or Dad)?” And, as a poster stated above–men are that way because that’s the way they are: Must. Do. Better. Than. Dad (and, folks, Dad don’t jest *let* da boy win…).

    My children run. I *want* them all to beat me…someday.

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