Couric, Vargas, Us? We're No Different

Newscaster Elizabeth Vargas enjoyed brief poster-girl-for-working-moms status when she became the ABC World News Tonight co-anchor alongside Bob Woodruff (four children) earlier this year. Weeks into the limelight, Bob Woodruff was injured in Iraq; in January, Vargas announced she was pregant with her second child (she has a three-year-old son and two stepchildren). Along the way, the queen of TV working moms, Katie Couric (two children), decided to leave The Today Show (watch pieces of her last appearance this morning.) to anchor the CBS Evening News starting this fall. Note the good news: Most potential replacements for Katie's chair were working mothers -- Soledad O'Brien (four children), Natalie Morales (one child) and Ann Curry (two children).

Meredith Vieira (three children), who was accused of abandoning her career when she left a coveted 60 Minutes job after her first child was born (see Divided Lives by Elsa Walsh for the back story) was ultimately selected to replace Katie for a reported $10 million a year. Not a bad salary for a woman who supposedly "opted out" of television journalism so she could have time for her young children.

Last week, in the latest shuffle, ABC announced -- with overt political correctness -- that Vargas, now six months pregnant, will be replaced by Charles Gibson (one child; one grandchild). "Elizabeth has done a fabulous job and we are in her debt," said her boss, Jon Banner, according to The Washington Post. The quotes from Vargas herself were refreshingly candid: "To be fully honest, I'd have a hard time thrusting my baby at my husband or baby nurse and saying 'I'll see you guys in two weeks, I'm going to a war zone'...I can give [150%] any other year of my life except this one." Hard to argue with Elizabeth. It is tricky to cover a war and nurse a newborn at exactly the same moment, and no one should be expected to do both simultaneously.

What do these high-powered supermoms say about the rest of us working stiffs? My takeaway: The reality is that parents cannot work all-out and raise kids for sustained periods of time (ie, years) in exactly the same way that men with stay-at-home wives have combined work and semi-absentee parenting for the last few centuries. But talented, driven, ambitious moms -- and dads -- are hacking new pathways in the working world and proving that, with a little flexibility and creativity, hands-on parenting and success at work can flourish. Katie, Elizabeth, Natalie, Soledad and Meredith have put in long hours before (and after) having kids, have taken time off when their children needed them, have turned down lucrative opportunities if the timing wasn't right, have made compromises when they could and have handled the inevitable conflicts between work and motherhood with grace and dignity.

We all can do that. In fact many of us are right now, today, without the tv cameras shining on us.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  May 31, 2006; 7:12 AM ET  | Category:  Flexibility
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Comments

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As for your last sentences, you must be kidding. You quit a job for 40 K a year to stay at home with young kids. You'll be eating dandelions for dinner. P.S. I make 40 K a year and love dandelions.

Posted by: Anthony DeFiore | May 31, 2006 7:50 AM

I could do a lot more with a multi-million dollar salary, maids, nannies and chauffers. Let's face it - they have more "help" than the average working or non-working mother ever will. Am I jealous? Not really - I have time with my kids - which can not be replaced.

Posted by: cmac | May 31, 2006 7:52 AM

Thanks, Leslie. Your comments are much more thoughtful and considered than the reaction by NOW and other groups, which seemed to blame both ABC and (to some extent) Vargas herself. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/28/AR2006052801129.html

Now's president asked, "If she can't have it all, who among us could?" But aren't women allowed to make their own choices, for what's best for their family? And why do we feel the need to criticize other mom's choices, even in public? These women's groups are setting the tone for the rest of us to criticize each other.

Posted by: Ms L | May 31, 2006 7:53 AM

Yes, we are different. We "regular working stiffs" don't have a nanny for each child, a maid and gardener, etc. Do you really think that after a hard days' work these women (Katie, Elizabeth et al) run home, make dinner, help with homework, take them to practice, run home, throw a load of laundry in, clean the kitchen and scrub a couple toilets before bed? There's no comparison between we regular working moms and those making $10 million a year.

Posted by: CW | May 31, 2006 7:57 AM

Once again, I am confused. What is the point of Leslie's comments?

Posted by: June | May 31, 2006 8:12 AM

I think Leslie's point is well taken. Yes these women make millions of dollars a year now but they were working women probably taking jobs making a lot less when they were starting out, so they've worked their way up. I liked Elizabeth Vargas' comments -- she doesn't want to travel during the first year of her child's life and be away. So what. I appreciate the comments of NOW's President but people make choices based on how they are feeling about their own situation. I missed my oldest child's first steps because I was working late one night and I was really upset about it, so decided to find a job that fit my lifestyle. I still miss events with my children because I am working but they understand. But I could never have the kind of job that these women do -- its just not for me.

Posted by: typical working mother | May 31, 2006 8:34 AM

I think the moral of the story is, if you work hard and are successful at what you do, you can maybe not write your own ticket, but have a lot of leeway to change the rules.

I left my highly paid and very satisfying career almost 4 years ago when my son was born. I have happily been a stay at home mom during those years to my son and my daughter, but am going to be returning to work this summer. I've found a great opportunity -- part-time even -- with decent pay and at a good company, and while I'm not at the top of the ladder right now (you can't be after you've taken off for 4 years), I will be again. It's also been nice that over the years, my former company has asked me to come back repeatedly -- pretty much every time I drop in for lunch.

I think we have to get over our fear of screwing up our careers if we put our family first for a while. My own view at the time I left was that I could always get a job, but I would never be able to redo the years with my kids when they were babies. Not everyone feels this way, and that's fine. It was important to me. I had a few nervous moments when I started submitting resumes, but it's worked out very well. In a few years, when both kids are in school full time, I'll phase back into full time hours.

As I say again and again to my friends, it is possible to have it all, just not all at once. I wish NOW would get that through their heads. I haven't seen a single example of a woman yet who has it all. The ones who seem to are usually neurotic basket cases behind the scenes or their marriage is falling apart or their kids are in crisis. No one -- man or woman -- can have it all. Even if you have all the money in the world, like we think Katie Couric and Elizabeth Vargas do, it becomes a question of needing more time to do what you want. And that's something money can't buy.

I'll get off my soapbox now.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | May 31, 2006 8:35 AM

One of Leslie's comments was that these high-profile moms have turned down lucrative offers to make their families a priority. However, many lower- and middle-class mothers cannot afford to turn down offers for advancement. And, it is true that below a certain income level, families cannot afford to pay others to clean their homes, cook for them, and pick-up and drop-off their children from activities. This has a significant impact on what choices a mother and a father can make.

My husband and I both have good salaries. Combined we live quite well for the area where we reside. If one of us made the combined salary and the other stayed at home, we'd have it made. But with both of us working, we have to juggle everything. And, we haven't reached the income level required for us to pay others to do our "chores." When my husband, an executive at a non-profit (meaning, not a boat-load of $$$) has an evening meeting, I cannot attend because I have to be at home with our children. When I have to travel for work, my husband has to make sure he is in town for work to care for our children. If one of us has to travel and the other has an evening meeting, we are scrambling to find a babysitter. I'm sure when one of the high-profile moms travels, her nanny is with the children.

Posted by: Momof2 | May 31, 2006 8:51 AM

Women lead lives of circularity with varying cycles of energy and private life demands. Flexibililty on the part of society and cultural expectations to be more malleable with this whole concept is long overdue. Just like harvest seasons and planting seasons, not like driving the car from point a to point b.
MotherPie cheers.

Posted by: H.A.Page | May 31, 2006 8:54 AM

Okay. I agree, parenting/families/society has changed and many families are finding new ways to raise kids. But the other reality? Because society has changed, many families have to have two incomes just to keep their heads above water and *don't* have the flexibility that these highly-paid women have. Many working mothers are not worried about "screwing up their careers" by staying home, they're worried about being able to pay for a home to give their children. Yes, you can always find a job, but when you're living paycheck to paycheck, I doubt you'd be willing to take a lower-paid position. (and I'm not just talking about being able to afford 2 SUVs, private school and a family vacation, I'm talking rent, groceries, bus fare)
I don't know if it was a posting in this blog or an article I read, but many women are "one sick kid" away from losing their jobs. News anchors, celebrities, highly-paid women have the financial ability to be flexible with work-life balance. The rest of us just wish we did.

Posted by: aworkingstiff | May 31, 2006 8:59 AM

I appreciate that Leslie gave a nod to us Dads who are also making more family oriented choices. Before my son was born about a year ago, I had the choice between a job that would have me travelling but would give me more seniority and growth potential, versus a job that kept me local and would have less growth potential. Year 1 compensation was about equal. My wife and I discussed it (she's also a professional) and agreed that the best thing was for me not to travel. I don't know that I will ever be able to regain whatever growth potential (and additional compensation) that I won't see over the next 5-7 years, but it's best for the family and we're okay with that. I'm not sure that anyone can "have it all." I think that life is about choices. Those who choose family may sacrifice other things. Famous people have no privacy.

The key is to enjoy whatever you have chosen to emphasize. If you choose to prioritize the family first, enjoy the family and don't look back.

Posted by: Proud Papa | May 31, 2006 9:25 AM

I think WorkingMomX hit it.

These women have passed on career opportunities to be mothers, and they haven't just fallen off the edge of the earth.

The irony is that the military appears to have plenty of new Moms who've passed baby to Dad or Grandmothers when they've been called up to serve. The sacrifices that mothers make are not always from those with million dollar salaries.

Posted by: RoseG | May 31, 2006 9:48 AM

Yay, WorkingMomX! I so agree with your comment that no one call "have it all" at the same time. If you do, it comes at a great price to your sanity and health or that of your kids, or your marriage. Recently I saw a woman on a morning news show who said that women must learn to work and get a career going before they had kids so that they can get back on the career track after they've taken time to raise their children. This doesn't mean you have to delay having children until you're 40, it just means that young women need to focus on building a career right out of college so they have something solid if they decide to scale back after having children.

My mom did this in 1952. She began work at 16 and when she left her job (at a bank) in 1961 to marry, move to another town, and start a family, they nearly begged her to stay. Every time she visited that bank over the years, the bank president asked if she wanted to return. My mom preferred to stay home with us and do volunteer work (and luckily my dad made plenty of money and gave her total support in her choices), but she could have gone right back to work at any time she needed to, and the 10 years of paid work experience gave her a great foundation for all her volunteer efforts throughout her life. I think my mom did "have it all", but she chose to do it in a way that allowed her to have wonderful parts of the "all" at different times over the course of her lifetime.

Posted by: Anne | May 31, 2006 9:53 AM


"having it all" is the very definition of selfishness, not success...the issue is not what's best for a selfish individual - male or female - but what is best for their family, if making commitments to others is part of the choice they wish to make...

...the NOW comment reveals less about the feminist movement than materialistic arrogance - i.e, if SHE can't 'have it all...' etc....

leslie's 'analysis' simply reinforces the obvious point that there are always Always ALWAYS trade-offs...and we can be honest about them, pretend they don't really exist or simply whine about the unfairness of if all...

Posted by: mds | May 31, 2006 9:54 AM

the women Leslie mentions are all big names, appearing on camera, making lots and lots of $. No mention of the women behind the cameras working with, or for, them, the women who also work in TV and put in more hours, more work for lots less $ and who do not have the nannies, housecleaners, chauffers, assistants and all the rest who help in the impossible task of balancing home and work. Money makes a difference. It cant buy time but it can help you manage it better.

Posted by: Rita | May 31, 2006 10:07 AM

Thanks for an excellent topic this morning. I'm a stay-at-home working Mom with a one-year-old and a Ph.D. I consider myself extremely blessed that my education and occupation allow me to do what I do from home part-time. I don't earn much, but what I do earn helps (we live off my husband's salary, which is moderate for this area).

I never realized until my child was born how many tradeoffs are a part of parenting. That was hard to accept at first, but now I really embrace the compromises, because I see that my situation is pretty close to ideal. Ideal in this case, for me, means not earning as much as I could, not contributing as much as I would want to, not having peers like I used to, working a lot of nights until midnight, not having much free time on evenings and weekends for friends or my husband, but also not having to miss a big part of my daughter's life while keeping my brain actively engaged in topics that fascinate me.

I think NOW should be proud of women like me. I am. And I'm not worried that these years are going to hurt me later on career-wise. I think it's good for women (and men) to be honest about these compromises.

Several posters have talked about having a career base first, and I agree that is so important. I didn't intentionally choose this career path so I could be a working stay-at-home Mom, but I'm so glad it worked out this way. I know not every Mom has this opportunity.

Thanks for a forum to share!

Posted by: VirginiaMom | May 31, 2006 10:18 AM

So women shouldn't be afraid to slow down or stall their careers to raise children? Well, that simply doesn't work for everywoman. My friend left a rotten job (company owner doing illegal things, etc.) when she had her baby. She is in the TV and film industry and now can't get back on the ladder. She is raising a handicapped child, they are barely making it on her husband's salary, her 401(k) and savings are long gone. She's torn because she SHOULD stay home with her daughter to give her the best care possible, but she NEEDS to work.

My friend is "talented, driven, and ambitious". She worked hard for 15+ years to get to a position in her career, and now she is having a terrible time trying to get back in the door.

It's not so easy for everyone. We can't all jump on and off the career track at will. And if you jump off or even ease off, remember that you'll probably have to work twice as hard to catch back up.

Posted by: GWMom | May 31, 2006 10:46 AM

NOW says "If she can't have it all, who among us could?" I am generally a big supporter of NOW, and I understand the desire for high-profile women to set an "example," but this quote bothers me. I hear a lot of talk about can we have it all, "you can have it all but not at the same time," etc. But how do we define "all"? Why are we setting up a model of success that requires giving 150% at the job, another 150% to your kids, maintaining a perfect house, and, oh yeah, being a loving wife, too? Holding this up as the example of what women should aspire to is no more useful than the example my mom grew up with (i.e., "success" means that the wife stays home and takes care of house and kids while dad climbs the corporate ladder). In both cases, the definition of success is based on some ideal that will not meet the needs of a lot of people.

I do have it all -- but only because I get to define what "all" means to me. For me, that does include an intellectually challenging career, but at 80% -- not the 150% that it would take to be a full-time news anchor. Personally, the job Elizabeth Vargas gave up/was let go from/whatever would be a version of hell for me. Some people would say I sacrificed 20% of my earnings potential; but I think wow, I'm so lucky to be able to have a satisfying job that still gives me time for myself and my family.

On the other hand, my "all" does not include housework -- don't like it, don't care about it, don't do much. If I had grown up in the '50s, I'd be considered a tremendous failure, because I'll never be Martha Stewart, because everything's not in its place, because I never manage to get the Christmas decorations up before December 24th (or down before Valentine's Day!). But I look at it as wow, I really have it all, because I have the freedom to decide NOT to do that sort of thing -- I can hire a cleaning service every couple of weeks to take care of the basic necessities, and just not worry about the rest.

I recognize how lucky I am to be in this position -- my mom was a single mom on food stamps and then low-paying jobs. But this isn't about what we have, but instead what we aspire to, what we as a society define as success vs. failure. Do we really all want to make $10 million a year when that means working 100+ hr weeks? Some people clearly want that, and I think it's great that women now have the ability to pursue that kind of dream (they certainly didn't when my mom was growing up). But I think a lot of us don't really want that, period -- yeah, I might fantasize about $10 million a year, but I know deep down that I just don't want to work the number of hours necessary to earn that kind of salary.

So if a lot of people wouldn't want Katie Couric's life, why is she viewed as "having it all," as the dream to which we should all aspire (and the yardstick by which we should all be measured)? Why is any other choice seen as lesser or a "tradeoff" or a "sacrifice" or "having it all, but not at once"? It seems like that defines our lives by by what you DON'T have instead of what we do, by what we gave up instead of what we gained.

I think "having it all" means having the freedom and ability to balance all of the different things that are important to you. A lot of people do not have that -- they have to work to pay the bills and don't have the luxury of pursuing an intellectually demanding career, hiring a nanny, etc. But I would argue that every person out there who has been able to find some combination of family, home, work (paying or nonpaying), money, and time that works for them does have it all.

Oh, and Ms. L: thanks for the kind comments yesterday -- that made my day. :-)

Posted by: Laura | May 31, 2006 10:53 AM

Laura, I couldn't agree with you more. I don't even need to write my own post, since you've said it all.

Posted by: vj | May 31, 2006 11:00 AM

Laura's right: "all" is a personal definition for each of us. The NOW comments are disappointing.

I turned down a lucrative job offer that would have required at least 25% travel. The increase in salary (nearly double what I was making) would have allowed me to hire domestic help, but I don't see the point in having a child if I am never there with her. Instead, I took a job in another state where I have a higher standard of living than I did in NoVa.

Single parents have their options limited in ways that two-parent families do not, but I have found a balance that works for me and my child. I know other single parents who also work within the parameters of single parenthood to build a stable home for their children. I don't know that we "have it all," but we do have a good quality of life.

Posted by: single western mom | May 31, 2006 11:26 AM

WorkingMomxX --love your post. Agree so much.

I wasn't trying to deny that moms making $10 million have advantages the rest of us don't...but just to make the point that even at the highest echelons of the media business, working moms are making it work in a new, more mom-friendly way. This includes Elizabeth Vargas, who is keeping her hand in the TV business in a very visible way with her jobs at 20/20 and ABC News Specials. These high profile moms show that "successful working mom" is not an oxymoron.

Also agree that NOW -- for all the organization's incredible, life-saving accomplishments over the past three decades -- seems out-of-touch to me, with their angry cry that Vargas should just job share with Diane Sawyer. A laughable idea. The far better, more practical, win-win solution is Vargas' honest, straightforward approach to balancing work & young children.

Posted by: Leslie | May 31, 2006 11:40 AM

I don't think our struggles are all that different. Essentially, rich or poor, we all want what's best for our kids. I just recently accepted an offer that will provide more flexibility than my current job, but is offering a salary that's 16k lower than what I'm making. Some may say I'm crazy..bc I'm now a divorced mom of two little boys. But I believe because I'm doing the right thing for my kids (not rushing them out the door at 6am each day to make it to work by 8, for example) that it will all work out. Yes, I may have to forgo some "luxuries," but in the long-run what I gain (a better quality of life) will be a much greater reward.

Posted by: Stand Up for All Moms | May 31, 2006 11:55 AM

Well, first of all, Amen, Laura. Going on, I think the moral of story was that motherhood requires a sacrifice from any woman who takes on that endeavor, regardless of where she might career-wise, regardless of whether she thinks she can afford it or how much help she might have available to her; motherhood inevitably is going to require sacrifice from the millionaires to the paupers. Having said that, I saw Katie Couric on the Tonight Show several years ago and Jay Leno had asked her if she brought her girls. Her reply: they're at home with their caretaker. So, granted, having children is going to impact the average mom a lot more than Katie Couric. She has more money. But some people like to use money as an excuse for why they make certain career decisions (some, not all). Someone might make the argument that both incomes are needed to "survive" when actually both incomes are needed to maintain a certain standard of living. If one person came to make the amount of both partners, they might simply buy a house that costs twice as much and find themselves in the same "dire" situation. But I did note that someoone mentioned that there are those who are seriously trying to get by and cannot pare down any further. That's why I said some, not all. Though, its true that some people just don't realize when they are putting undue stress on themselves.

Posted by: dcp | May 31, 2006 11:58 AM

Wow, what a nice day on the blog!

I couldn't agree more with the thoughtful posts by Laura and WorkingMomX. I think we do have to let go of our fear of "screwing up" either our careers or our children, and see that we have to define success for ourselves. Clearly, not everyone has this luxury, but I think more of us do than realize it. Like so many posters, I value time with my family and flexibility and have opted for a different career path in order to suit that, and really, I couldn't be happier with my choice. Sure, I still fantasize about winning the PowerBall, but as far as real life goes, I think I'm extremely lucky and very happy.

Posted by: Megan | May 31, 2006 12:03 PM

Laura, your comments are excellent. I have been free all of my life to make my own choices as far as how hard to push my career. Like Katie Couric, I have had the financial means to do so. When I was young, I saved my money so I could be a SAHM when I had children. Then I decided not to have children and to pursue art and study and travel. For me "having it all" always meant working long hard hours to rise to the top of some corporate ladder, sacrificing your children and your relationship -- because that's the way the feminist movement seems to have defined it. I hated that lifestyle and never wanted it, and felt it was pushed on many women who would prefer to not work so hard and have more time for their families. Isn't having it all really about having the choice to work or not work or work part time or have kids or not have them?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 31, 2006 12:09 PM

Are we working dads really better off because society approves of our choice to work? I try not to work late, I rush home, don't ever play golf or go out with friends after work -- and yet I am still missing half of my boy's childhood.

My wife -- who was doing very well in a high-powered career before our son was born -- chose to stay home because she finds it more rewarding (and we both agree it is much better for our son). She could have chosen to go back to work, and that would have been pretty typical and accepted in her milieu. She had legitimate choices, and there are plenty of women in our circle who have opted for either route (office or home).

Whereas, not only does professional culture generally look down on Mr. Moms, but I am also trapped because I make twice as much money as my wife did. We just, just barely can get by as a one-income family (but don't ask me how we will pay for education and retirement). It would have been out of the question, financially, for me to have been the one who stayed home (a not atypical scenario). So, women ABSOLUTELTY have it very hard, BUT we tend to overlook the lack of choices men have, and act as if they make no sacrifices or compromises. Our choices are extremely limited, too. And, in terms of culture (at least among certain demographics), and with regard to financial realities, one could argue that our choices are even more limited.

We working dads DON'T have it all -- we miss seeing our children all day, every weekday. My wife and I agree that -- although being a homemaker is an extremely challenging career -- that she is much better off, and got the better end of the deal.

Posted by: Working Dad | May 31, 2006 12:21 PM

Dahlia Litwick on Slate had some interesting commentary to the media reaction to Vargas' story. One of her comments was:

"At the core of all this chatter is also an interesting and unspoken problem about pregnancy and maternity, and the ways in which women who are fully competent to do any job at any other time may nevertheless falter or choose to rejigger their priorities for a few years. There were days during my pregnancies when I couldn't even rinse and spit, much less cover a major news story. When do you think I'll be allowed to write that without setting back the feminist cause?"


I think this raises an interesting point with regard to the reactions from NOW and others. I remember feeling torn during my own pregnancy about recognizing the fact that I was faltering. I knew that my brain had fogged up, I was tired, I couldn't focus, and that this seemed to be a fairly natural result of growing another human inside my body. I felt like I should be able to admit this to my colleagues. On the other hand, it seems like there is so much pressure to show that women can do anything, anytime, and that showing weakness during pregnancy was somehow a setback to feminism. This to me seems like a failing of our feminist movement, that we have foreclosed women from feeling like they can recognize the impact of pregnancy and birth on their lives without it having a permanent negative impact on themselves and other women. Anyway, I wondered what others' experiences and reactions to this issue were.

Posted by: Megan | May 31, 2006 12:30 PM

I agree with the working dad that some dads don't have many choices. My mom satyed at home with me and my siblings until I was in high school. My dad was up at 4:00 in the morning and didn't get home until after dark. After eating dinner and taking a shower, it was time for bed.

He worked on the weekends sometimes too. So, I can sympathize with fathers who feel that they don't get to spend enough time with their children.

Posted by: scarry | May 31, 2006 12:49 PM

Thanks, scarry. I neglected to mention how many men feel their lives are wasted, and are driven to early heart attacks, due to very demanding jobs. My Dad died of a heart attack at a fairly young age; most agree that work stress was a major factor.

I appreciate the supportive note.

Posted by: Working Dad | May 31, 2006 12:53 PM

where did NOW say that succumbing to the stresses of pregnancy is a set-back to feminism? I think some are painting their words with a negative brush.

NOW objects to the limited choices still facing people (men and women) -- 30 years after feminism became a recognized "ism." Vargas choice to identify her pregnancy took the sting away from identifying CBS news as not supporting family friendly policies. She was faced with saying - "Hey, CBS isn't a place that recognizes family as a value." Or saying "Hey, I'm pregnant and can't do my job." Which statement would provide a chance at re-instatement when she's ready to go back to work. I found Vargas' statement along the lines of politicians saying "I want to spend more time with my family." A non-confrontational way of bowing out gracefully.

Posted by: Columbia, MO | May 31, 2006 1:04 PM

Megan, I know exactly what you're saying. I've never been pregnant yet I get it: If you admit to morning sickness as the reason you were 5 mins. late to work, it seems to set back the whole feminist cause, especially if you're a woman in an executive role. Why is that?

Women fought for the right to enter the workplace and do the same jobs as men, but so many lost contact with their roles as mothers. They didn't just give them up, they felt they had to pretend they weren't females in order to compete with men and be allowed on the playing field.

It's time that feminist leaders admit that women AND MEN want time to parent their children as well as the chance to build a successful and rewarding career.

Posted by: AJ | May 31, 2006 1:11 PM

I also agree with Scarry and Working Dad. I think men face a very different set of limitations and that fact is often overlooked in the work-life debate.

I also think that until we address those, women's choices will be slow to expand. If men are not able to make a choice to either stay home or slow down their careers, women will not have the benefit of their husband's support at home, no matter how much the husband may want to give it. And that in turn limits the woman's ability to pursue her career if that's what she wants to do.

I don't mean to make it sound like one issue is subordinate to the other - I guess my point is that until both men and women are free to make their choices regarding work and life, both will be limited by the roles society has traditionally assigned to each. They need to be addressed together to make real progress.

Posted by: Megan | May 31, 2006 1:15 PM

This issue has been in my mind for several weeks since I found out I am pregnant with my first child. I chose a job in the government to start my career (I had my first round of interviews on 9/11/2001) since things weren't looking too stable at the time. The job required a committment of a few years and now that committment has ended.

Meanwhile, I have amassed over 100K in student loans. While I realized that I would have to take a job eventually that would have long hours, I did not realize what some of those jobs are really like (many times while in school people don't tell you the real story). Many of the jobs that would pay off these loans require you to work 16 hour days 6 days a week. While I am willing to put in 12 hours 5 days a week and maybe a weekend or two a month. I felt that this 16 hour 6 day a week thing was completely ridiculous. Not to mention that my peers in private industry are answering blackberries clear through to 2 am.

I am tempted to remain at my government job since the hours are better. As you can imagine, the money is not very good for the DC metro area, and I am the breadwinner in my family. My current job would be perfect if I were paid three-fourths of what the private folks make. As it is I am paid less than half. I have been struggling with whether I should make the sacrifice for 3 years to go to that private firm lifestyle or stick it out here.

Honestly, I want to believe that there are jobs out there that will pay reasonably, but also not require unrealistic hours and committments.

Although I have not read the NOW comments in context, I think that the real problem for most people, as has been discussed here many times, is what options could businesses provide that help families but also benefit business. These companies who lost great workers--I wonder did they offer any options other than 1)full-time, in-house work or 2)stay at home?

Posted by: Not sure | May 31, 2006 1:16 PM

No problem working dad, I missed my father terribly when he was at work.

Posted by: scarry | May 31, 2006 1:28 PM

Part of the problem is the notion that excluding possibilities is an evil that can somehow be avoided.

Every meaningful decision we make in life opens some doors, and closes others. The assumption that somehow, we are able to fiat an exception this in the case of children and careers strikes me as foolish.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 31, 2006 1:57 PM

anonymous poster: "The assumption that somehow, we are able to fiat an exception this in the case of children and careers strikes me as foolish."

but if we don't try .....


Posted by: Columbia, MO | May 31, 2006 2:09 PM

I so appreciate working dad's comments-- my husband's father died of a heart attack at age 48 -- he was in corporate sales and traveled extensively and I think it was stress related and was not around very much. My own father had a very high stress job while my mother stayed home and thankfully he retired. But I don't feel as though I have ever gotten to know my father as well as my mother because he was gone so much. Back then (I was born in 1963)things were so different for men. For example, my father missed my sister's birth because he was in court and the judge wouldn't postpone the case so my father could be at the hospital. I am grateful that there are more opportunities for women today because I think it lessens the burden in a way for men. That having been said, this past weekend I heard a comment that I would have expected maybe in 1950 or 1960 but not today. during a weekend away the family we were with have what you call a "traditional" situation. The husband works long hours and the wife stays home. He actually said he had to work hard to keep his wife in the lifestyle that she is accustomed to.... I didn't know that families existed like this any more and there was more of a partnership between husbands and wives. It was a very old fashioned comment. I would be interested to know if any of you have heard comments like this recently and what your thoughts were on this. I am all for choices but to be a woman who expects her husband to make all the money so she can live at a certain level is very strange to me.

Posted by: typical working mother | May 31, 2006 2:14 PM

So what we're saying is that men can naturally "have it all" because they allow the women to take over some of the raising responsibilities.

But women can't "have it all" because they won't allow the men to take over some of the raising responsibilities?

The solution seems kinda obvious to me...

Posted by: Liz | May 31, 2006 2:16 PM

To typical working mother - perhaps more disturbingly, I was having a conversation with my father about college choices for the offspring of his friends recently, and he gave two examples where the parents refused to send their daughters to as good a school as they sent their sons since "she'll just end up getting married & having kids anyway." In 2006 this happens! To kids! Can you imagine making that kind of decision for an 18 year old? Stay home, don't stay home, it doesn't matter much to me since it is often up to the woman. But to make that decision for someone else.....

Posted by: I was shocked | May 31, 2006 2:27 PM

"The husband works long hours and the wife stays home. He actually said he had to work hard to keep his wife in the lifestyle that she is accustomed to...."

My wife's parents have this arrangement, as do my Father-in-law's male siblings. I don't think that my Father-in-law or uncle-in-laws care much for the fact that my wife works. Luckily, my Father-in-law raised a very strong woman who fights that battle with him on her own, and I am never made to feel badly. My mother-in-law dislikes me anyway, and I'm sure that's just one of the reasons...

Also, I work with plenty of corporate types who wear it as a badge of honor, almost brag that their wives don't (have to) work. These guys don't seem to have any issues with the professional women in our organization, but for some reason they seem relieved that they have "made it" and can give their wives (whether they have kids or not) the gift of not having to work.

The larger point is that as a young male in a professional firm, these older guys are your role models. You have to be very careful to learn what you can without picking up some of their more harmful "traditional" notions of how to interact with women in the workplace and how they use their wives as objects to decorate their professional persona.

Posted by: Proud Papa | May 31, 2006 2:30 PM

To I was shocked

That is an odd comment to make and yes that is very disturbing......I think it just goes to show you that while we have come a long way, there are many people today who like the way things used to be better and which is why the struggle will go on to change the perception about women in the workplace, and about the ability of men to make changes to balance their lives too!

Posted by: typical working mother | May 31, 2006 2:34 PM

Bravo Working Dad.
I'm a mom of two who works part-time and my husband and I are living with the same contradiction. It would almost certainly be better for our kids if he were the one working part-time. (He's more patient and also gets more joy out of the games they play together. I love them to pieces but am really better at the practical stuff like packing lunches and scheduling.) I wish we could both work part-time, and would even be willing to work full-time to get him more time with our kids. But his job pays much more and the culture in his company is pretty hostile to part-time moms, let alone a dad, while mine is parent-friendly and lower-paying.

Posted by: nyc mom | May 31, 2006 2:45 PM

Regarding Typical WOrking Mother and I Was Shocked comments, I know or know of couples who have this arrangement in two ways. I know of some where the husband clearly resents the fact that the wife doesn't work but wants to maintain a certain lifestyle, as it puts an enormous amount of pressure on the hubby. I also know of some like Proud Papa describes, who view it as acheiving a manly obligation to support the family. Both seem odd to me, though the former is way more troubling to me than the latter.

Also, there was an article in the NYT recently about how many women going to Yale and Harvard and other elite schools eventually stay home. It was so odd, the author and commentators in the article couldn't seem to make heads or tails of it, and there seemed to be a sense that this was such a waste of education and set back from women. I feel like those attitude devalue women and education - an education is valuable in and of itself, it isn't just training for a career. And why is it a waste for a woman with a great education to stay home with her kids? Augh! All these attitudes run deep, I guess...

Posted by: Megan | May 31, 2006 2:47 PM

My brother in law works three jobs to take care of his wife and three kids. The kids are five and up so in all actuality she could get a job if she wanted. She just doesn't want too. She does make it a point to point out that I work and leave my two year old in daycare five days a week, which is wrong, because I work from home two days a week now. She just doesn't bother to ask, only criticize.

She's always talking about what is best for the children, well in my opinion in their situation, what's best for the children is that their father doesn't have a heart attack or fall asleep at the wheel. My brother in law is constantly strapped for cash and always tired.

My in laws agree that she should stay home, although they complain that she doesn't do anything. I on the other hand am the black sheep because I had a baby I don't take care of. It's seems I just can't win, so I've stopped trying.

My opinion is that I don't care really what other people do until they make an issue out of what I do. So to answer a typical working mother, yes these kinds of relationships still exist.

Posted by: scarry | May 31, 2006 3:00 PM

Ok, thinking about it more, I guess I don't think it's so odd for a man to feel proud that he can support his family and allow his wife to stay home, because I guess I kind of feel that way as the breadwinner for my family.

My husband and I recently switched roles - I work full time and earn our primary income. My husband is starting his own business part time and is otherwise the primary parent to our son. I do feel good about the fact that I can earn enough to support us and allow my husband to work part time, because I do think it's easier on a family if both parents are not working part time. So it does feel good to be able to keep us in that position. So I guess I understand that point of view for men when I think of it that way, as opposed to a trophy-type thing.

Sorry to post so much, I'm in total procrastination mode...

Posted by: Megan | May 31, 2006 3:08 PM

"they seem relieved that they have "made it" and can give their wives (whether they have kids or not) the gift of not having to work".

This is becoming more the goal of men in the workplace as we have more and more wives on TV not working and living in a certain "style". I mean, I know young men who want to make enough so their wives can stay home with the kids but also have free time to take yoga classes and get manicures, and that's what the wives want. They see it as aspiring to an upper-middle-class lifestyle and in some ways, when I see the stress of the two-income family, I don't blame them.

Posted by: LoganCircle | May 31, 2006 3:14 PM

I agree with Megan. Those comments about elite schools and women "wasting" their education are not helpful. My mother graduated from an "elite" woman's college in the 1950s, first worked while my father was in law school and then in the midst of the feminist movement was a SAHM, but gave herself the job description of "domestic coordinator." She was way ahead of her time even though she stayed home with us and was and is still an awesome role model for me. However, her education was not "wasted." When I was 13, my father in his traditional way asked my mother to get him another helping of mashed potatos -- she slammed the bowl down and announced she was going back to school to get her masters degree. She basically started a new career at age 40 and in the mid 70s and taught college, wrote papers and started her own consulting business. My point (I know it took me a while to get to it) is that even if people make the decision to "leave" for a while to focus on their home, they can always go back. My mother was at home for many years but developed wonderful skills even though she didn't "work outside the home." My mother still has her business at age 70 and my father is the one to do the domestic things now.

Posted by: typical working mother | May 31, 2006 3:15 PM

I read the NYT articles and confess to being bothered by the responses of the young women. Without children and/or partner to speak of, the article was about stereotypes. Because these women were projecting about their future, they were not making the best choice for their children/family: they do not yet exist. So I read it less about best choices than about expected roles.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 31, 2006 3:18 PM

I read the NYT articles and confess to being bothered by the responses of the young women. Without children and/or partner to speak of, the article was about stereotypes. Because these women were projecting about their future, they were not making the best choice for their children/family. They are not weigh the balance of responsibilities of their partner. The children and partner do not yet exist. So I read the article to be less about best choices and more about expected roles.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 31, 2006 3:20 PM

I've been both a SAHM and a working mom, and I have to say that I think it's far, far easier on both parents if one is at home with the kids. Life is smoother, you don't have to constantly be juggling two work schedules with the needs and demands of the children, and while you may be poorer in material things for making that decision, the peace of mind you gain from knowing who is with your children at all times is priceless. I'm back at home now, and it would be nice if my husband made a whole boatload of money so we could afford the luxuries, but we get by and it keeps us from that keeping up with the Joneses thing -- 'cause we can't. It is a sacrifice we're willing to make.

A lot more families could do this. My husband made $62,000 when I first left work, and we moved to a smaller house, didn't buy new cars but drove our old (paid for) ones, didn't eat out or buy big ticket items, etc. It is doable. You just have to be willing to live smaller.

Posted by: Other Mom | May 31, 2006 3:22 PM

Sure "a lot more" families could cut back and live on less. But my friend who has the handicapped child and can't get back into her career field can't. They don't buy luxuries, they buy necessities. Their rent is going up (unfortunately, they don't own a home because they can't afford one in their area, the best area in the country for services for their child), their savings are gone. My friend absolutely knows it would be better for her not to work outside the home, but their situation is such that she must. It's hard to read all the people who say "oh, families could do fine on one salary if they'd just live smaller". How small do you have to go?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 31, 2006 3:36 PM

Some folks don't want to "get buy" in view of the high divorce rate.

Posted by: June | May 31, 2006 3:40 PM

To the anonymous poster from 3:36 p.m., you are using an exception which actually proves my point. There are always people with special needs kids, single parents, and so on who will need to work. But there are a lot of people who complain about not being able to stay at home, and then drive away in their BMW to get their child from private school. Most of the SAHMs that I know were surprised at how it's easier than you think to make it on one salary -- again, provided you are willing to make sacrifices. It's a matter of priorities with these people -- not with everyone, obviously, but with a lot of them.

And as for not staying home because of the high rate of divorce, well, life is full of risks. Your spouse could be hit by a bus some morning, too. I guess it comes down to personal choice.

Posted by: Other Mom | May 31, 2006 3:46 PM

Other Mom - You are right "life is full of risks". That's why I was real glad I had continued my legal career when my 40 year old husband dropped dead of a heart attack!

Posted by: June | May 31, 2006 3:53 PM

"And as for not staying home because of the high rate of divorce, well, life is full of risks. Your spouse could be hit by a bus some morning, too. I guess it comes down to personal choice"


Absolutely! And this is the argument for keeping at least one foot in the workplace, not for staying at home full-time.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 31, 2006 4:03 PM

I agree that people don't often see that they could easily live on less. Or if they see it, they just don't want to give up the lifestyle they have. I took time off from my career to write and study, using money I had saved. It surprised me when friend said, "I wish I were in your position!" because he (also single with no kids) had a much higher salary than me and not much debt. He just can't (or doesn't want) to see how much money he spends each month on things he really doesn't need or even particularly care about. He shops when he's bored.

Watching an "Oprah" series about families and debt really opened my eyes. Many of the families didn't know how much they owed and had no idea where their money went. I started thinking about and listening to my friends and most of them freely admit they have little "control" over their finances. Few have a budget or a plan of even weekly spending.

That said, many could indeed live on less, but few of us are in the position to have million$ in the bank and a high-profile career so that the choice of working or having time with the kids is a simple choice, not a huge financial decision.

Posted by: Anne | May 31, 2006 4:06 PM

Having it all. Someone said that men can have it all because they can let their wives raise the kids while they work, and that women aren't as willing to do this, and thus can never have it all. I would just like to point out that being an absentee father (or mother) cannot be defined as having it all. You are not having it all if you are traveling or working all the time and miss the bulk of your kids growing up. I think a lot of men, in previous generations especially, came to realize this after the fact. Women, perhaps, are not as willing to forgo time with their kids, so they may opt out of careers that demand too much of them. Men, on the other hand, were expected to work and succeed and it was tolerated when they were only tangential to raising kids. But they did not have it all. They had the job, and they saw a little of their families, and society let them get away with it. Again, it comes down to society's expectations, which are changing. Men were seen as having it all even if they missed their kids growing up. Women were seen as bad mothers if their kids took a back seat to their careers. Same set of facts for both, different value judgements.

Posted by: rockville | May 31, 2006 4:12 PM


As far as working to have luxuries go, if food, clothing, and a college education is a luxury than, hey count me in. I try to respect everyone's choice but when people make out like most people work for "new things" it makes me a little bit defensive.

I also have a new car, not a BMW, but it's new. I don't want to break down on the road with my daughter. It's about safety. I'm not trying to say "look at me I'm a working mom, I can afford a new car."

Posted by: scarry | May 31, 2006 4:14 PM

I read the NYT article as well, but I didn't find it nearly as disturbing as others. Maybe it's because I'm the same age as the women interviewed (21, recent college grad). The part I did find disturbing was the author's view that educating someone who wanted to stay home with their children was a waste of time and the expectation by some of the interviewees that their husband would totally support the family. I was actually thrilled to see that there were other women out there that wanted the same things I wanted and were thinking about the same things I was thinking of.
I've known since high school that I wanted kids and if at all possible (financially and with the support of whoever I marry) I would stay home with them. I don't have kids. I'm not married. Am I wrong for projecting into my future? I know that I will most likely not be able to be a full-time SAHM, that I will have to work at least part-time and that I need to start saving money now to give myself a choice later.
Just because some of us young, college girls are thinking seriously about work-life balance before we have to seriously deal with it doesn't mean we're regressing back to the 50's. I think it's great that we're thinking about it now, trying to figure out OUR priorities so we have meaningful discussions with our partners and make decisions in our careers so we won't be faced with the same choices our mothers (who had us in the 80s) had to face.

Posted by: Young and traditional | May 31, 2006 4:22 PM

I think it all depends on what you think of as necessities. I know a family that has 5 children and the mother stays at home; they rent in a not-so-great district, drive an old car, have no health insurance (the kids are on a state plan), and no money for their children's college tuition, but feel they are making the best choice for their children. The mother has said, on more than one occassion, that she does not see it as her obligation to pay for college, but it is her obligation to be there for her children as a SAHM.

At the other end, I know a couple who own a house in an expensive and hip neighborhood, have two new cars AND two Vespas and complain that they still can't afford to have children.

Two extreme cases, can't say I agree with the choices of either of them, but just goes to show it all depends on what you think is a must have.

Posted by: Megan | May 31, 2006 4:29 PM

I think it's great that we're thinking about it now, trying to figure out OUR priorities so we have meaningful discussions with our partners and make decisions in our careers so we won't be faced with the same choices our mothers (who had us in the 80s) had to face.

Posted by: Young and traditional | May 31, 2006 04:22 PM

But by deciding essentially unilaterally that you plan to stay at home, aren't you leaving the men with the same choices as your father: none.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 31, 2006 4:39 PM

Just a few thoughts ... this has been a great discussion.

To "not sure" working in a government position who posted about are there opprotunities other than putting in 12 - 16 hour days ... yes, but your options are better in government, non profits and progressive universities where the "bottom line" is a little farther removed. There are also some recruiter headhunter type businesses forming which are helping place women in temporary and part time employment. These are not old school temp-agencies, but agencies focusing on highly skilled professionals. From personal experience, I am finding employers wiling to discuss options when you are established as a competent and vital asset. Flexibility is out there, but you need to keep looking and asking.


Another thought which may come across as controversial ... besides the detriment to children when both parents are working 150% (as the 40 hour week is really a myth)
is there also a detriment to marriages? Sometimes there is a value to just having time to be with our partners, and to be able to focus on our relationships, not just to getting done the necessities. So many families are working so hard and so long that "the family" itself gets lost.

Many people on this blog have posted about the frenetic, high achievement cycle in the DC area. This frightens me, and concerns my husband and I enough that we are looking at changing the choices we make in order to provide for our children a more balance role model. I am wondering if this is really something which is less in other geographic areas.

Posted by: mom of 2<3 | May 31, 2006 5:10 PM

Mom of 2, it really is different when you get away from DC. We live in NC now and it is a much slower pace and more family friendly. We have a house that would have cost $700K in DC that we can afford on one salary in a great school district. A good friend of mine moved her family to back of beyond Iowa, and while she has to drive an hour to get to the nearest Target (and Starbucks!), she has fresh eggs every day, the best corn you've ever eaten and good schools. They bought a 4 bed/2.5 bath house in a great neighborhood for less than $100 K. Their kids spend the mornings in daycare (Dad's a writer) and then are home with Mom or Dad. It is possible.

Posted by: Other Mom | May 31, 2006 5:17 PM

"It is a sacrifice we're willing to make."

I'm sorry and this is going to sound snarky but when people say these things it really turns me off to any of their other points.

I mean, I sacrifice too and so does my husband to create a better life for our daughter. Just becasue you stay home and I work doesn't mean that I don't sacrifice.

Posted by: scarry | May 31, 2006 5:19 PM

Scarry, no one said that only stay-at-home moms sacrifice. I think what they're saying is that they made a conscious decision to sacrifice certain things that might be important (to other people) so mom could stay home. All parents make sacrifices for their children.

But since you brought it up, what are you sacrificing?

Posted by: Unreal | May 31, 2006 5:27 PM

Maybe this is also a matter of perspective. I think it's weird when parents talk about sacrificing things, because I don't really see the changes that we've had to make as sacrifices, just changes. To me, "sacrifice" makes it sounds like something that was really hard to give up, or something that you had to give away at a loss. Having my son fundamentally altered my priorities and desires, so I don't feel like I have sacrificed a high powered career, or the ability to travel, I just feel like those things aren't that important to me anymore. Although I guess I do feel like sleep has been a sacrifice...

Posted by: Megan | May 31, 2006 5:43 PM

well, since you ask. I think it's a sacrifice for me to put my daughter in day care three days a week. Some people act like it's easy and that working moms do it to buy BMWs. I do it becasue I want a better life for my child. My mother was a stay at home mom and i'm not knocking her or anyone else, but sometimes the way people phrase things makes other people defensive.

Posted by: scarry | May 31, 2006 5:55 PM

Also, becasue we come from a depressed area of Ohio where there are no jobs in our field me and my husband had to move far away from our families in order to find decent jobs. That was and is a sacrifice. My daughter tells me all the time that she wants to go see grandma. However, for her well being we have to live away from them in order to have a decent life. I geuss it's not really a sacrifice, but neither is giving up new clothes or a new car.

Posted by: scarry | May 31, 2006 5:58 PM

Scarry, I see your name on this blog so often--I didn't realize you worked!-)

I have been a SAHM when my husband made less that 20K a year. Yes, we were in the service so we did have medical benefits, etc. We decided early on that we would try very hard to allow one of us to be home with the kids (2). That meant living on one income. Some of the sacrifices I made were huge. We started off in the same career--he, and our co-workers--are all now highly paid, skilled people. I re-trained to be a teacher. Is it what I want to do forever? Not really. I was good at my job, but without current training there is no way I could go back, and it isn't the kind of thing you can get at UVA. My job, which I took as soon as my kids were in school full-time, does give me many benefits besides money. Intangibles, some of them, but almost as important as the money I make. Our lifestyle is as balanced as I think we can possibly make it (well, I think I wouldn't say no to a laundry service), and I know lots of working women who do sacrifice. In my neighborhood there is a mix--SAHM's who love it, hate it, want to work but can't,Workingmoms who love it, hate it, want to quit but can't. Sometimes it is because of the choices we made earlier, sometimes it is because of what we have thrust upon us.

And I agree with the poster about where you live. My sister in a fly-over state has it ALL (well, all that Madison Avenue says we should have--cars, houses, etc.) baby, and her husband makes less than mine.

One think I have never seen here--maybe I missed it--does anyone here ever feel like they have given up too much? I loved being at home with my kids in the early years, but if I had worked even part-time I would have been saner and maybe a more patient and even-tempered mom. Sometimes I feel my life is too child-centered.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 31, 2006 6:00 PM

Yeah, believe it or not-I work. I am actually a writer/editor, but sometimes my fingers type faster than my internal editor.

I just have a flexible job, I work from home two days a week and I take mental breaks at work.

I didn't mean to start a fight, but I get so tired of hearing my sister in law say things "like nice pants, and then in the next breath tell me how sad it is that my daughter has to go to day care." See other post about her life.

So, I guess the whole "sacrifice" word just set me off. I also know where my daughter is and who she is with all day when she is at daycare. I couldn't leave her if I didn't know and trust them. I

I agree that it is hard to balance life here in DC, that's why me and my husband are trying to move.

Posted by: scarry | May 31, 2006 6:12 PM

Scarry, there will always be people who make comments like that. Just smile and wave. Your daughter is thriving where she is and she's got a mom who's not afraid to make tough choices, like moving away from family when you are raising kids. That is indeed a sacrifice.

Posted by: Unreal | May 31, 2006 6:15 PM

thanks, I shouldn't be so sensitive, but tommorrow I have to go to a wake for my husband's co-worker who was only 42 years old.

Usually, I'm the one sticking up for other people and on more than one occasin I've told a few bloggers to shove it.

It's just been a bad week! Next week will be better, we are going to the beach.

Posted by: scarry | May 31, 2006 6:19 PM

I've had all the Katie-as-exemplar that I need for the next few lifetimes, and you can toss in Caitlin Flanagan and all the other strained, high-six-figure outliers.

The difference between Leslie's 'poster girls' and average women is that the astronomical salaries give the former group choices that are completely closed to 90% of mothers. Viera (a fine person, I'm sure) will get $10 million a year -- or something like TWO HUNDRED FIFTY YEARS' WORTH of the average family income in this country.

So if the job doesn't pan out, I'll bet she'll get by without worrying about keeping up her health insurance.

I think the single most cogent comment in the list was the one that said most working mothers are one sick child away from losing their jobs. That's what "family values" really mean in our worklife. And the business-chorus-for-hire on Capitol Hill (average salary $135,000) have as far as I can tell absolutely no understanding of this. It's been a hell of a long time since most of them wondered at 7 p.m. what to make for dinner, how to oversee homework, and how to handle having to care for a child who can't go to school or daycare tomorrow.

Posted by: Dave in MoCo | May 31, 2006 7:13 PM

Regarding Dave in MoCo's comments -- totally agree with the DC attitude -- my husband and I both left DC (didn't go far though) and are the better for it. I gave up a life of lobbying, fundraisers in the evening, working until 9pm every night. Nope, the high power set in DC has no clue about the real world.

And just a plug for Meredith Viera and the other women -- yes they make a lot. But I like all of those women a lot. I think they are good role models. In addition to Ms. Viera raising I think 3 children, her husband has had MS for 30 years along with colon cancer. Katie Couric makes millions of dollars a year but lost her husband to colon cancer several years ago and because of her star power has had a major impact on the number of people who go in for cancer screenings. Elizabeth Vargas' husband was almost killed by a car jacker a couple of years ago. So, look below the surface of these women and their salaries. They are wealthy, yes, but they have all experienced tragedy in their lives and deal with their own issues on a daily basis.

Posted by: typical working mother | June 1, 2006 10:36 AM

Scarry, I'm so sorry you've had such a bad week! I hope the beach treats you right. And Unreal is right on - I can't imagine your daughter is suffering when she has such a kick-ass mom who will always come to her aid. And I also understand why the sacrifice thing sets you off - sometimes that seems to be a code word for "my decision was better than yours" in the mommy world, which is part of why I think it's so weird - like whoever made the most "sacrifices" deserves the mommy of the year award. Whatever - you have done what you know is right for you daughter and your family, and that's what matters.

Posted by: Megan | June 1, 2006 10:56 AM

But by deciding essentially unilaterally that you plan to stay at home, aren't you leaving the men with the same choices as your father: none.
**
Any man that decides to become a father with her has accepted that choice as the right one for himself.

The man always has the choice to not become a father or not get involved with her.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 1, 2006 11:43 AM

I've enjoyed this post I placed it in my favorites. I am a single mom of a 6yr old daughter (thank God we're both healthy & sane). I took her through life single-handedly, lived in a basement apartment in Southern Queens, NYC, worked & went on welfare, and still make the most of what we have. Now I moved back w/my parents, I work and my daughter is in the 1st grade in a great public school.

My daughter & I have alot of fun in life. It's all a matter of how we view life, parenting. Sacrifice is not even in my dictionary. So in my point of view, motherhood...whether wealthy or poor...working or stay-at-home...married or single..etc...will always be MOTHERHOOD.

By the way, I'm 41.

Posted by: single mamita | June 1, 2006 4:12 PM

Geez, I go away for a week and someone takes my moniker.

I just wanted to make a comment about the women who were taken aback by the "old school" men who were proud that their wives didn't have to work. I am one of those. My goal was to allow my wife to make the choice to work or stay home. I made almost twice her salary when we had our son. During the time she was working, I made sure that we could live off my salary alone, even though she insisted that she was going to go back to work. It took us all the money she had saved up to have our son. Then, after she found out what motherhood was all about, it was her decision to stay at home. It made me proud to be able to afford her that choice.

If that is old-fashioned, so be it. Just don't kick us for being proud of our ability to give our wives a choice. She says it was one of the best gifts I could have given her. (That and seeing "Chicago" and "The Lion King" on broadway for her 40th.)

Posted by: Working Dad (Original) | June 2, 2006 12:03 PM

To working dad (original):

My comment was not about men being proud their wives could stay home. It was the attitude that this gentleman had about it, and was only one anecdotal situation. His comments were that he had to work so his wife could live in the style that she was accustomed to -- I thought it was sort of materialistic and the "hey, look at how much money I make so my wife doesn't have toooooo" attitude. My husband and I both work -- we both have to and I am not jealous of the other family's lifestyle. I don't criticize people for the choices they make but its the puffing of the feathers to look good to other people that bothered me -- I have lots of friends who stay home (and who work) but I when I hear a comment like this it just bothers me.

Posted by: typical working mother | June 5, 2006 12:52 PM

I challenge the "...for the last few centuries." part of Leslie's takeaway at the end of the article, "The reality is that parents cannot work all-out and raise kids for sustained periods of time (ie, years) in exactly the same way that men with stay-at-home wives have combined work and semi-absentee parenting for the last few centuries."

I propose that the vision of an idyllic summer where all children get to play and be entertained from sunrise to sunset is a make-believe verion of the world invented in the 1950s. It certainly did not exist in the centuries previous to the last one.

Running a household used to be a full time job - ironing, washing, cleaning, cooking, shopping - all of it took way more time to accomplish than any of it does now. Maybe there has been vanity associated with the concept of 'wives being able to stay home and not work,' but if so, it's only a few decades old.

So my question is, how did all of us smart, dedicated, accomplished mothers - stay at home and career both - get suckered into trying to force our realities to conform to a make-believe version of life for our children?

Posted by: maryland mom | June 5, 2006 3:21 PM

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