|By Hector Casanova, MCT, from the Strib's Opinion Exchange page|
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Strib posters tell me what I should have been doing instead
The comments responding to my essay "Staying home to raise kids -- priceless (but with a cost)" in today's Star Tribune's Opinion Exchange pages are wonderfully instructive.
I love reading them, love the nice supportive comments but also am also glad to see the negative ones. Those critical commenters raise questions regarding work-family balance (by the way, I prefer that phrase to the more common "work-life balance," which implies that your work isn't part of your life), that don’t get discussed enough. Giving me the perfect opportunity to discuss them!
Many defend the choice to stay home with children. I totally get this. I defend it, too, because it's a great choice to make—every way but financially.
But some commenters don't want to go anywhere near there, refuse to entertain the possibility that SAHMs' financial sacrifices could lead to disaster down the road. So they point to other culprits, cite other mistakes. The problem, they argue, isn’t that I stayed with my kids, it’s that:
-- I shouldn't have become a writer.
Picking journalism as a career was, in some eyes, my big mistake. The poster cadguymark put it forcefully: "yeah, not being a mother and throwing yourself 100% into your career at writing would have worked out so much better for you. Your bad job choice wasn't being a mother, it was writing." (At first I thought cadguymark was critiquing my prose, but I think -- think -- he's referring to the weak job market for writers.)
Let’s set aside, for now, cadguymark’s odd underlying assumption that holding a full-time job means “not being a mother” and requires “throwing yourself 100% into your career.”
Otherwise, cadguymark has a point. Even back in college in the, er, [cough] early ‘80s [cough] they warned that journalism jobs were scarce, the pay mediocre. Things have gotten worse since then. Countless newspapers have folded or gone bankrupt (OK, they’re countable, but I don’t want do the googling right now—let’s just agree that it’s a lot). Oh, there are still lots of opportunities to write as long as you don’t want any money for it. Even at well-paying slick national magazines, for which I’ve written on and off through the years, the standard $2/word rate hasn't budged since I started freelancing. It's barely budged since the 1970s.
So yeah, I might have an easier time getting hired if I’d gone into nursing or plumbing. But what can I say, cadguymark, my skills and interests are suited to writing. Besides, who could have predicted, when I quit my reporting job in 1996, what the world wide web would do to newspapers? I didn’t even get on the web until the following spring.
The point is, life and the economy are unpredictable. Newspapers have been hard hit, but so have other industries: books, music, department stores. Hey cadguymark, you try sitting there with your 6-month-old baby and plan the next 18 years, carefully taking into account the eventual effects of an amazing technology you’ve barely even heard of, a technology that will transform life as we know it but whose possibilities aren’t even a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ eye, a technology that Mark Zuckerberg may be just now hearing about from his middle-school teachers … you figure out how that technology will affect your industry 15 years down the road.
-- I shouldn’t have gotten divorced.
It’s true that had I stayed married there’d be only one house payment, one heat bill, one internet bill. As long as my husband stayed employed, able-bodied and alive, we'd have a steady income and I'd have group health insurance. Of course, I still wouldn’t be entirely financially secure, for reasons including the fact that my ex-husband works in the aforementioned shrinking newspaper industry and the fact that he is mortal.
Beyond that, it’s hard to argue about divorce. In the end, the decision is too personal, too individual. Some people stay together for the sake of the kids and/or Comcast. We chose not to, for reasons of our own.
In future posts, I’ll examine other consequences, choices, mistakes, options. And I’ll talk about what factors I, personally, blame for the financial plight of SAHMs. In the meantime, how do you feel about my career choices and marital choices—or your own?