Phew! I just finished reading the last page of Leslie Bennetts' new book 'The Feminine Mistake', the latest manifesto on how mothers should be handling their lives. The book is clogging up the blogosphere, the radiowaves and the newspapers with debates and passion. So, while the actual book (rather than what everyone is saying about it) is fresh in my mind, I'd better get down how I feel:
First of all, this book is powerful and the discussion contained within is important for every woman who is a mother or who expects to be a mother. It is alarmist, and many women are reacting to that simple fact rather than the actual information in the book. Heck, the book practically gave me nightmares - what if Marc dies tomorrow, what if he 'suddenly' stops loving me and wants a divorce, what if he is incapacitated by a car accident? Shiver and panic. But, these worries are beside the actual point of the book which is to help women make educated choices about their own lives - because bad things happen (or don't).
Secondly, any book about how mothers are living their lives is bound to incite fury in those who are the targeted group - here, the stay-at-home moms. Once we've made a decision about how to live and raise our children, it is very hard to hear others denigrate that decision. We get defensive and lash out. We completely miss the point that perhaps there is something in the object of our anger that is actually helpful and important to hear. So, I hope that every type of mother (and father) can find a way to step around their need to defend a position and find something useful in this book.
Now, for Leslie B.'s take on equal sharing. She's a big fan, and a semi-practitioner of equal childraising, housework, breadwinning (obviously) and recreation. Her own marriage is close to gender-equal, but she admits that she does do more of the housework and the 'remembering' at home. She claims that things are 'almost' equal in her house because her husband was given no choice otherwise. She insisted on equality. Marc and I would agree with much of this, except we think there are a few steps Leslie has not taken. True equality is true partnership, not one person forcing the other to do anything. Leslie is fond of giving her husband lists of chores to do; we are opposed to this practice. If one spouse is directing the other, equality has not been reached. We'd rather read that she and her husband communicate and negotiate how to handle the housework rather than have her direct him. That said, she does have examples of true teamwork in the book, and so we'll let her off the hook.
When it comes to breadwinning, Leslie says that women should work full-time throughout their earning years. During the crucial 15 years of early childraising, she recommends continuing with full-time work rather than reducing hours or (worst of all) opting out. She waffles back and forth on whether part-time work is a viable option - sometimes saying part-time workers are next to worthless in the workplace and don't bring in enough money to assure their financial independence, and sometimes saying that reduced hours are an option for a short time while children are very young. She never mentions the option of both parents reducing their hours equally, and does not distinguish between a part-time job at 15-20 hours per week and one at 30-35 hours per week. We think there is a huge difference in most careers between a 20-hour/week worker and a 35-hour/week worker; and if both parents can reduce their hours even slightly, their collective ability to be home with their children is greatly improved. What about the kids? Leslie says that they will do just fine with two full-time working parents, and that great outside childcare is not unsurmountably hard to find. The kids probably will do fine if the childcare is decent, but we idealize a family where outside childcare is not needed 50+ hours per week. Leslie missed the boat on this one.
Finally, Leslie says that women should just persevere through those tough-to-balance 15 years of intense mothering. So what if they feel stressed to the breaking point, have no time for themselves, and never see their spouses? They can fix all of this a decade or so later when the kids don't need them as much. Hmmm. We disagree. Well, we agree that life can be hard, and that when the going gets tough the tough get going. We agree that it is okay to be frazzled and colorfully unbalanced at times. Life is far from perfect. But we don't agree that the only option for women with young children who want to be financially savvy is to be unbalanced and harried for 15 years. That's a long time! How about both parents living below their means so that the family doesn't need quite as much money and can reduce their income during these years? Maybe by just a little, so that both parents can cut back at work - stay in the game but not gun for superpower jobs for those 15 years? That's the prescription we recommend instead. We agree that having enough money is important, but how much is enough? Once we can reasonably assure a middle class life (and take steps to assure this in the future), balance is the more valuable currency to us.
Okay, I said that was my last point. I'm sure I'll have 1000 other thoughts after I post this, but enough is enough (for now). What do you think? If you haven't read the book yet, I urge you to do so before you answer.