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Wednesday, May 02, 2007


A Post of One's Own: Thoughts About Living With One's Head Out of One's Sandpit While Still Enjoying the Sandpit

[Updated: Via Mamazine, I just came across Rebecca Mead's review of Bennett's book. Titled The Wives of Others, it's well-written and worth a read.]

Nordette Adams of Confessions of a Jersey Goddess and BlogHer wrote a great post on BlogHer about her thoughts to the premise of Leslie Bennett's book The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much.

I started to leave a reply for Nordette but instead I decided to take her post and a comment left for me by an anonymous commenter and springboard them into a post of my own.

A post of one's own. How Virginia Woolf-ish of me.

First, I do like the commenter's analysis of the book:

"Some key points to the book:

1) Have a plan and a strategy
2) Take responsibility for your financial future - at the very least know how much you and your partner are worth
3) Think about what you would do if your partner died, was layed off etc.
4) Work can be more than just a paycheck. It is social, fun and a way to contribute to the outside world."

I wish so much that Bennett had written a book titled, "Dollars and Sense for the Stay-at-Home-Parent: Things Every Mom (and Dad) Should Know Before They Ditch Their Paycheck for the Pampers and Strategies for Doing So Anyway." And then had written a book giving solid advice about how a family unit can be strengthened by all parties understanding what financial security and economic dependence/independence really means in practical terms.

And is the idea of a mom staying at home with the kids all about dependence--a woman being dependent on a man for his income--or is it about interdependence--a family unit that recognizes all partners are contributing equally and to a common goal?

Argh. But, of course, in order to sell books--or maybe because she cares more about sensationalism or validating her own choices--she wrote a book that may have a valid thesis but that uses sensationalism to make women feel bad about the choices they've made to stay home with their children.

Second, there are many things that families can do to ensure that the partner who stays home with the kids feels that she or he is secure over both the financial short-term and the financial long-term, whether that long-term includes divorce, death, re-entry into the workforce, or the decision never to do so. Here are several:

  • Regular family meetings about finances including budgeting, investments, short-term and long-term financial goals, values regarding money.

  • Individual bank accounts for each partner in addition to joint accounts.

  • A weekly or monthly allowance paid to each partner from the joint account. The amount of this allowance is determined by both parties and is dependent on the family's monthly or annual budget. Nobody should have to feel that his Starbuck's latte bill is going to be questioned come budgeting time.

  • An understanding that *all* income is joint income. It's not fair if a man's salary goes into the family pot but a woman's income from side jobs or freelancing goes into her own account. All income earned in a family is joint income. Allowances to each person then come out of the joint account.

  • As a gesture of good will, an individual retirement account (IRA) set up for the stay at home parent. Doing this says that the family unit recognizes that the stay at home parent is also a working parent and thus deserves retirement benefits accordingly.

Third, regarding the other benefits of work, including the social aspect and the benefits long-term to one's career trajectory, any person--whether working or not--should always be aware of networking opportunities. Online sites such as LinkedIn are great for keeping in touch with old co-workers and new friends. Think that family holiday card is all about showing off your picture-perfect family? It is, but it's also about keeping in touch with old bosses, mentors, co-workers, and new friends. Networking is not a dirty word. When the time comes (whether it comes because of a desire to work, death of a spouse, or a divorce), a stay-at-home parent with a network of contacts, friends, and former co-workers my find himself or herself in a better position to re-enter the workforce.

She'll also find herself a happier person in the short-term. Friends are good. But they're also everywhere, not just huddled around a water cooler bitching about the boss. Moms clubs, online groups, AA meetings, Toastmasters, retired neighbors, the barrista at Starbucks. There are opportunities everywhere to have a quick conversation with a willing participant. Sometimes it can turn into more, too.

I don't think stay-at-home moms are more at risk than other women or other people for making poor decisions regarding financial health. Most people live in the moment and are rarely looking down the road to what may be ahead for them in other-case scenarios. I know many people who don't contribute to IRAs or other retirement accounts because they'd rather spend that money now and "worry about the future" later.

Leslie Bennetts hopes stay-at-home moms will read her book, "reconsider their choices and start making more sensible plans for the future than relying on the blithe assumption that there will always be an obliging husband around to support them." But if that's true, then it's a shame that with her talent and expertise as a working mother and journalist, she couldn't have come up with a more thoughtful book, a book that works to help people get the most out of their decisions instead of attempting to scare them into making decisions that--coincidentally--just so happen to mimic the ones Bennett's made.