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Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.

— Winston Churchill

Grass is Greener, Even in Mommy Land

There’s this wonderfully warm community of “mommy bloggers” out there and I’ve spent the last few months getting to know many by reading and clicking, reading and clicking. I’ve been surprised at how many bloggers are stay-at-home-moms and maybe the reason I’m finding so many is because there’s this linked world of blog roles where SAHMs are connecting. As you jump from one blog roll to the next, it makes sense that you’ll find validation through similarity.

I’ve read the statistics, the news reports and the official doctrines about more and more Gen X women opting out of career life to stay home with children. Every single long-time friend of mine who has young children has opted to be a SAHM.

There have been days, well months really, OK whole years, when I’ve wished to be a SAHM. It’s not a reality I can embrace for multiple reasons. Sometimes reality sucks, but hey I’m learning to make peace with several things lately. Instead, I’m a WAHM (Work-At-Home Mom), a choice that’s supposed to provide the best of both worlds.

As I was trying to wrap up a client project the other day, I was having this internal whine-a-log in my head about wishing I was with my son instead of with my computer. I could hear him playing outside, the weather was beautiful, and I was trapped at the keyboard.

The sentiment stayed with me into the dinner hour and I was grumpy. My husband, who has this annoying sixth sense about me, knew I was struggling with the topic again, and even though I didn’t mention that the pre recorded mommy guilt and grass-is-greener monologues had started to take over my brain, he knew. He even said something about it…something about needing to be happy with the amazing life we’ve created and not to get caught up in wishing for something else. I wanted to scream like a teeny bopper, “WHATEVER.” Actually, I may have shouted exactly that.

Later that night while Aaron was sleeping and my husband was entertaining himself with guy stuff, I was back online and I came across a couple of posts and articles that stopped my internal whine-a-log in its tracks.

One post that keeps bubbling in my mind is from The Undomestic Diva who wrote, His, Mine and Ours. The post is laced with a bit of wit and sarcasm (I love that) but it’s not the content of her post, it was the comments from other women that blew me away.

We all joke about the His, Mine and Ours conundrum. It’s been an ongoing dialog for years and I remember women in my mother’s circle of friends joking about this too. The joking aside, though, there’s a reason women have been having this bitch session for generations, and I was once again struck over the head by the financial vulnerability of SAHMs who are dependent on husbands to not only provide for the family, but who sometimes have to justify each and every expenditure.

I’m quite positive that these women would tell you the trade-off is worth it, and I get that, I really, really get that. However, because my marriage is so non-traditional I’ve developed a perspective that is very different.

I am married to a man who is 27 years older than I am. If our lives follow a normal course of events, I’ll be a widow much earlier than I can stand to think about. My husband had an amazing career, but he’s retired from the corporate world and our life does not include a boys club in which my husband expects to hit his prime earning years. Been there, done that.

We’re also not independently wealthy. I have to think of my own golden years in terms of providing for myself, and providing for my son’s education. My husband will not be spending the next 20 years working for two people to retire. I am my own responsibility.

If I ask a woman who’s chosen to be a SAHM if she worries about the vulnerability of being dependent, most say you can’t live on What Ifs. You can’t spend your time worrying what if something happens to your husband…death, disease, disability, or even worse, an affair and he leaves. You can’t spend your time worrying what if you end up as a single parent with little financial resources. After all, marriage is a partnership and you’re supposed to be able to depend on each other, to trust, to plan for an eventual retirement together, and to plan to care of your children together, regardless of who’s the bread winner.

I remember an aunt crying, sobbing because her husband wouldn’t give her money to buy diapers. I remember he wouldn’t give her money to buy tampons. She didn’t work outside the home, and he was all-powerful. He used her vulnerability to control her, to abuse her, and in her desperation she had to turn to my parents, humiliated, to ask for money to buy things that should not have been questioned. Her choice to not join the work force for 18 years was dehabilitating, and even though a divorce eventually took place, she now has a shorter work history and less time to prepare for old age. Divorce eliminated the abuse, but it didn’t eliminate her scars.

Divorce statistics are humbling. Women are often left with the short end of the financial stick, and although I don’t anticipate a divorce, I’ve certainly seen my share of friends and family turn their lives into a raging battle field as one spouse leaves the other, and the inevitable money battle ensues.

Hell, I was the affair that ended my husband’s previous marriage. My wife-in-law had just turned 40 and left a well-paid corporate gig to start her own business. They had two young children and all of a sudden she was a single parent. Did she see it coming? I have no idea. Her marriage was in trouble for years, but did she anticipate every 40-year-old woman’s bad dream coming true…that her husband would leave and start a new life with THE YOUNGER WOMAN? I’m pretty sure she wasn’t anticipating that. She was smart though. She nailed her cheating husband with just about every financial ding her attorney could think of. (I complain about the outrageous amounts of money we’ve shelled out over the years, the complete immortality of a justice systems that allows this, but please, if I were the scorned wife, I’d have nailed his ass too). More important, she had not been dependent.

It could have been different. If she had been a SAHM, if she had been dependent, her road from hell would have been fraught with a whole different set of circumstances. Circumstances that are unfortunately too real for a multitude of mothers out there.

My reality and my choices eradicated the ability to shrug off the What Ifs. I must be able to support myself. I chose to marry a man who’s much older than I am. That choice alone has killed any SAHM fantasy. I also chose to marry someone who has children from a previous marriage, and that choice has required a huge part our income go to another household, money that could otherwise have provided for a SAHM fantasy.

Your reality is probably different. If you’re not part of a step family and you’re only responsible for one household, if you’re slugging through life with a partner your own age, whose earning power is increasing over time, than your choices may be different than mine.

This is not about the Mommy Wars, and the cat fight between career women and stay-at-home moms. So don’t start with the hate mail about what’s in the best interest of our children, and how much moms contribute to the household through the endless hours of self sacrifice and the hard, hard work that’s required of mothering…work that’s not salaried or even wholly recognized by our society…essential work that’s undervalued in our patriotic culture. I agree with those sentiments, and quite frankly I’m not interested in staking claim to that battle.

I’m talking about the sense of powerlessness, the complete defenselessness that women create when they choose to opt out of the job market. How much do you worry? Do you encourage your daughters to be independent and self-supportive?

As a SAHM, you’ve made the conscience decision that the more limited resources of a one-income family are worth the financial sacrafices so that you can be home with your children. You’ve decided that the trade offs are well worth it, and I’m not questioning the validity of your decision. I understand why you feel the way you do, and I respect you for it. I’m wondering about the secret voice in your head…the little pull at your heart. Just because you’ve made a certain life style decision doesn’t mean you don’t worry about the ramifications.

How do you deal with the inequities created when only one spouse works? Even if your husband isn’t like the ones commented about on the Undomestic Diva’s blog, or the husband my aunt allowed to violate their marriage vows, do you still feel a sense of vulnerability that’s crushing sometimes? Do you think financial dependency creates a certain amount of risk for your children? Do you worry that you’ve left your retirement in the hands of someone else?

Perhaps because I can only join the SHAM renewal in my fantasies, I’m intensely curious about how you feel and what you think. I don’t have a personality or family history that would allow long-term dependency, but I certainly think about it. I even wish for it sometimes. The grass is always greener, even in Mommy Land.

What do you think?

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9 comments to Grass is Greener, Even in Mommy Land

  • This is an interesting discussion. I don’t really feel utterly powerless and defenseless. If things were not to work out I’d hire a good attorney (as I’ve seen other women do), and find a job. We have lived our lives in such a way (not taking equity out of the house, not buying expensive cars, investing) that I think I’d be okay. Not as good as the two of us together, but okay.

    You’ve made a choice/sacrifice to be married to the person you’re married to. We all do that. And I’ve seen the controlling thing in all kinds of marriages, not just those with SAHM’s.

    I think most women today are smart enough to not say it could NEVER happen; anything could happen to anyone at anytime. But to have not had the life we’ve had because I was too scared to be a SAHM is hard for me to imagine.

    Final word. Insurance is very important–and not just a policy that’s tied to your job. My bff had no idea that she would be a widow at 48, but there it is. Thank goodness they had insurance.

  • Interesting post. Frankly, I’m just glad that most of us have a choice. My husband is 17 years older so I get the whole living longer possible scenario.

  • I have always worked, and I have always outearned my husband by roughly double. It creates a different kind of paradox, where now, I find myself in the situation of being the breadwinner, and the increased level of pressure to perform in my job because my job is the one we can’t afford to lose. So I think all women feel their own pressures in their own situation…

  • Super smart post — I’m going to read the original you linked. I got pregnant with my third before finishing my dissertation but DID go back and finish because, like you, I need that earning power. I work mostly from home and we’ve never had to have more than 10 hours of daycare a week for our three children — none, now that they’re older. But I have always had my own separate credit cards and checking account and can be autonomous in a heartbeat. I think that it’s important — at least, for me.

  • I don’t feel vulnerable so much as guilty about what I spend. I am, to a certain extent, losing the skills I used to support myself with. And I’m tired of feeling badly about taking some time for myself to rebuild.

    I like this post. I’m going to bookmark it and re-read every time I feel like I’m taking too much time for myself.

  • Before I got out of my first marriage, my then husband would hold money over my head. He wouldn’t pay for my asthma medications if I wasn’t a “good wife”. I was not making a lot of money then because I was in college and working. I will never, ever again go without working. And I will never let anyone hold money over my head again.

  • This is a thought-provoking post. While I’m no mommy, I am contemplating entering the SAHW world. Granted, I’d be doing it to explore other career options, but I’d be giving up “the money” and that’s a hard pill to swallow. But I’m not intending to choke on it.

  • Shiela

    Very intersting reading all the responses. I stay home but still work doing freelance. I do it to keep my hand in a profession that is always changing. I want to know if I ever had to go back to the full-time work force I could get up to speed without a lot of difficulty. I have seen too many women over the years come back the office environment after many years away raising children and have trouble getting back in just because of that simple fact – that they have been busy doing THE hardest thing a person can ever do – raise children. It is FAR easier to go to an office everyday. Staying home requires such a myriad of skill sets as to boggle the mind. And I firmly believe that if you have not done it yourself, you cannot full appreciate said skills needed. That being said, it would be fantastic if employers truly took that into consideration when hiring. If they did that consistently, I believe many more women would find jobs much easier to come by.

    From a money perspective I enjoy the feeling of contribution. I had been raised with the idea that no one else is going to take care of you – you better look out for yourself. Words to live by, there is no free lunch. My husband and I work together with finances and he has never withheld money from me, but it is still nice to know that I have some experience in making money myself.

  • So, I cannot stop mulling this over in my mind. I have about 172 million thoughts which currently have no cohesive order nor would they make sense to anyone sane but I feel a bloggy post of my own coming on addressing these very things. As a mostly grateful, sometimes reluctant, and sad to admit occoasionally resentful SAHM, I have certainly experienced the grass is greener syndrome. It may be the chip on my own shoulder about losing my identity, but I’ve often felt invisible, ignored or disregarded amongst my working mommy counterparts. As if a woman who stays at home cannot possibly have anything of value to say, any opinion about a topic other than wiping butts and keeping house. As for the financial dependence, that is a big old can of worms I think about all too often. And will definitely address if I get around to writing about this on my blog. Anyway, thanks for the thoughts – and for promptinng me to reflect. I swear I’m not stalking you – just really enjoying your blog.

    danielles last blog post..Wanna Be

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