Am I the only one ready to draw the curtain on the media-hyped catfight between Ann Romney and Hilary Rosen? Yet again, the political establishment has tried to pit working moms against stay-at-home moms in a thinly veiled attempt to drum up more votes for the November election. Only this time, for the most part, we’re not biting. Is this progress, or are we missing the point entirely?
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I ask this as another tax season wraps up and my financial contribution to my household is – once again – close to being a sad and lonely zero. I know, I know. Taking care of my child is a job, taking care of the house is a job, and taxes should be a breakdown of my family’s income, not a measurement of my own self-worth. Plus, I actually do work – a ton – as the head of Families in the Loop, where I’m re-investing the majority of my earnings right back into the business.
Yet in the last few weeks, as I’ve been bombarded by rants on both sides of the Romney/Rosen debate and read reviews of such books as The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women, the issue for me is not only about whether being a stay-at-home mom is a job or if “women who run meth labs receive more public affirmation than at-home mothers do” (an actual comment on the NY Times website). The question that I wrestle with is: Should we women be financially dependent on our spouses in the first place?
If you had asked me this 10 or even five years ago, my answer would have been an unequivocal no. Like so many other women out there, I watched my mom struggle financially after her divorce and I promised myself I’d never be in that situation. I worked my tail off in college, gained experience abroad, and even earned a master’s degree from an Ivy League institution. This, I determined, would ensure that I would never have to rely on anyone else.
Then, for a variety of reasons – a baby, two relocations, and the worst economy since the Great Depression – I found myself without a steady income. What was once my worst nightmare became my reality: my husband is the primary breadwinner (see, it’s even a competition; he’s the “winner.”). To my surprise, however, it’s not the degrading, gold-digging, desperate housewife experience I thought it would be. In fact, it feels nice to be taken care of.
I have to admit, though, that I miss seeing those bi-weekly pay stubs. I miss making decisions about my 401K, and I definitely miss purchasing items bought with my money that I put into my checking account. I then find myself playing a game of “What if’?” What if something happens to my spouse, or what happens if we divorce? Do I want to be 40+ with no financial security? Do I want to be fighting over alimony and saying things such as “the level to which I’m accustomed” to a judge? The answer to these questions is an emphatic “Hell, NO. “
Which brings me back to the Romney/Rosen debate. Anyone who has taken care of kids for a week – heck, even a day – knows that being a primary caregiver is a job. And a tough one, with no paycheck and no healthcare benefits.
The choice of whether or not to stay with the kids, if we’re lucky enough to have the choice, is about more than being with our kids all day or a checking account balance. It’s also about the power dynamics in our marriages, our relationships with money, and our fears about being financially dependent on another person. Wouldn’t it be nice if we transformed a tired debate about working vs. staying at home into a constructive conversation about how women across the mommy spectrum do not have the support they need? Now that would be change I can believe in.