Opting In, reflections

According to many studies, sons of working moms expect to raise their children, too, and sons of stay-at-home mothers expect a wife will take care of all those child-rearing responsibilities. Opting In by Amy Richards (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2008 page 23)

I’m doing some preliminary research for a book I may or may not ever write about life after kids arrive. Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself by Amy Richards was the first book to arrive from my library request list. The author is a feminist and definitely positions herself in the flow of feminist dialogue. Of the books on my request list, I think it will win the longest bibliography contest at 11 pages. She covers a range of topics, the most interesting to me being division of labor in households with 2 working parents.

Regarding the quote above, I would imagine daughters of working mothers and daughters of stay-at-home mothers have expectations similar to sons. We often fail to articulate our expectations or even be aware of them. In our culture, the default gender to take on household chores and kid-care is the female gender. Regardless of how well we articulated the plan before kids arrived, when the rubber hits the road every day, our contentment or resentment is keeping tabs somewhere in the background, keeping score more-or-less if things seem fair.

It seems to me that more and more families need 2 incomes, especially in over-priced regions of the country like Southern CA. Fewer families have the choice to have one parent stay home, regardless of how they then work out the non-paid duties of keeping house and raising kids. So, how do we work it out? I’m sure there are a million answers to that question.

Sometimes one parent takes on parenting as their “job.” This may or may not ever be stated explicitly. And it may backfire.

Where incomes are equalized – either through earned incomes or through inheritances and other sources – individuals have more leverage. In fact, imbalances often emerge because “she” is taking on parenting as her job – she doesn’t help with his job; why should he help with hers? page 197

Often the balance of paid work and unpaid work (kid-care & housekeeping, etc.) shifts over time. Keeping the conversation current with shifting balances requires diligence and attention. Here’s another gem from the book:

If you spend a disproportionate amount of time being bitter with your spouse, it’s unlikely that you feel giving towards him or her. “Dads who do more child-care and household chores have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce,” Julie Shields documented in How to Avoid the Mommy Trap. page 199

If both parents are working, it begs the question “who does all the non-paid work?” Of course, we can outsource by hiring help for various parts of the equation like childcare and cleaning. We can eat more processed meals, lease cars that don’t require much maintenance and hire tutors to help with homework. All the families I know include some combination of the above strategies. We can also choose to cut expenses, live communally, and spend below our means (thereby requiring less income). Many families I know incorporate these ideas as well. If we can manage to keep from losing touch with our kids and our sanity by using some of these creative solutions, we can pat ourselves on the back for sure.

I enjoyed reading the book and found it spurred a lot of thought. Here’s to both opting in! Share your brilliant solutions about the daily juggle in the comments below.

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