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Bernadine Spitzsnogel

Bernadine Spitzsnogel
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All material on "The Raven Lunatic" blog is copyrighted by the author. Author of "The Luxury of Daydreams"--available on amazon and all major book sites.

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Salon.com
Editor’s Pick
APRIL 13, 2012 3:11PM

On Mommy Track Choices

Rate: 46 Flag

Democratic pundit Hilary Rosen stepped in a pile of it this week when she stated that Ann Romney had never worked a day in her life. I don’t know much about Hilary Rosen, nor do I know anything about her personal life.  I probably know less about Ann Romney, except that she has multiple sclerosis and raised five sons, all adults now.

From where I sit as a Baby Boomer—albeit a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, worker—I know it is all about choices.

Since Betty Friedan wrote the book about the “problem with no name,” since Gloria Steinem first published Ms., since Hillary Rodham Clinton defied cookie-baking for the practice of law, the buzzword for women has been choice.

My mother had no choice. Though she was educated as an elementary school teacher, she was fired as soon as her pregnancy with me showed on her petite frame.  We couldn't have small children with a teacher who was pregnant, even a teacher who had been married for two years.

Perhaps what Ms. Rosen was trying to say about the former Massachusetts First Lady is that Mrs. Romney had the choice, the choice to stay home and raise her five children and let her husband worry about serving as the breadwinner. And that was apparently Mr. Romney’s choice also.

Women always have a choice. But for some women, the choice might be “work” or “don’t feed the kids.” 

Not all choices are good ones.

My husband and I graduated from college during the last Great Recession.  Jobs were scarce and we were grateful to be employed. There was no question that I would work when we had a child. My husband was lucky enough to find a rare tenure-track position in a small university. We had no intended to stay here for a quarter of a century, but the choice of giving up his tenure-track position in an increasingly choppy and scary academic world seemed clear.

 I could have chosen to stay home. That choice would have meant we did not buy a home. That choice would have meant we were eligible for government subsidies, as several of his co-workers chose at the time.

 Time passed and he made more money.  

But we made another choice. That choice was to only have one child. Because neither of us was at the time of our child’s birth in lucrative jobs, we knew that our pooled resources would better serve a one-child household.

For me, the choice was easy because my husband didn’t expect me to come home and fully do the “second shift,” that sociological term for all the work that needs to be done at home after the work day is finished.  I also enjoyed my work and felt as if my skill set contributed to the world.

Unlike a lot of men, he took as much or more responsibility for the home front as I did. From the time our son was two until he was in the fifth grade, I had employment that kept me away from home on a lot of nights and weekends. My husband was the one who picked up the slack, not me. 

 His choice.

Ironically, the year our son left home I lost the lucrative job I had since he was in the fifth grade which had provided the amazing combination of great  income and tremendous flexility by working outside an office. When I took the job, I knew it wouldn’t last, but we decided to ride that train until it ran out of track.

When it ran out of track, we made the choice for me to build a home-based business. This was a shift for me; as I took back much of the home front responsibilities from my husband. Now he didn’t have to worry (most of the time) about making dinner, and could more fully focus on his career.

But here’s the point.  While I’m not a pointy-headed elitist, I am a lucky person who has pretty much stayed in the middle class, yes, the waning middle class, most of her life.

By luck and by choice, we were able to find a balance between home and work. My son is a compassionate person who saw that men could play just as much of a role in raising a child as a woman does.

I do not condemn women for staying home, though I will get my back up when people diminish the difficulty of working full-time and raising a child. Because of choices and compromises our family made, I think we had the best of both worlds.

For the man who devotes everything to career and leaves all the childrearing to the wife, he is missing something. And the child is missing something.  Also, women who are educated and step out of the work force for a time have to recognize that they are competing against those who did not. Again, a choice.  Not bad nor good, just a choice.

That being said, I recognize that many women or men don’t have a choice. As I said in the beginning, they may not have a partner or may simply need that second income. This is what I think Hilary Rosen was trying to say, and I suspect Ann Romney cannot fathom.

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Well said B! It is only about choices... when you have a choice.
R
Thank you for putting this so clearly. I was a 'had to work to pay the bills and feed the kids' single mom, but I had a few choices, some not well made, but mine for the education! And I agree, I'm sure that Mrs Romney worked very hard and tirelessly for her family at home, but there's really no comparison with someone who has to work outside of the home to pay the bills. The choice to stay at home or go to work might now be a myth of the disappearing middle class in the USA!
What a wonderful post, Bea. It's true that some women don't have a choice, or their children don't eat. I don't judge mothers in either camp~ I was in both. I worked when my daughter went to school and still do. I took those few precious years at home because it meant everything to me to do so. I was lucky to have the choice. ~r
As you already know, Bea, my story is much the same as yours. I think the real point Hilary Rosen was making is that Mitt Romney said he is informing himself about women's issues by asking Ann Romney. Rosen botched it, but she was correctly asserting that Ann Romney is probably not tuned in to the average women's home and work issues.

This argument has raged on ever since I can remember. Back when you and I were climbing the career ladder we were likely to be maligned by the stay-at-home mothers for being bad and selfish mothers. I continue to wish people would make the best choices for themselves and leave the rest of us alone to make ours.

Lezlie
I wish these woman lived in the "real" world of trying hard to feed and put clothes on their children...
Both my mom and dad worked outside the home and both raised the kids aka me and my brother.

I say to both sides, get back on the issues and second, I'd vote for Ann Romney and Michele Obama before either of their Hubbies!! YEA!!! GET THEM BOTH ON THE TICKET AND LET THE MEN HIT EACH OTHER!! Woo!! :)
Can't think of a better way to put this whole mess into perspective... excellent post!!
Well said, Bea. Love the picture, especially the hair. Mine looked exactly the same./r
This is an excellent analysis of the parenting opportunities and choices that people make for their situation. We too shared responsibilities. When we sold our business we thought my husband would easily get a job at 40 with his MBA from his youth. We were wrong. I went back full time for a while and part time when he figured out what he was going to do again. He was a great "mom" and still is. We definitely co-parented our children and it has born significant fruit.
I know this topic is bringing out serious discussion on our site and others, but I hope this discussion fizzles out in the political arena because it is used as a bogus distraction there, painting one woman's comments as a liberal view. We can return to it after the election and debate endlessly, but bottom line, there are no obvious answers and we all have our stories. And meanwhile, women are losing needed legislation under this Congress.
It seems like you and your husband definitely made the right choices. And I'm glad that such a sweet person as yourself was blessed with a husband who willingly helped out at home. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this -and for sharing the picture -it's always great to see you! :-)
What Lea said. She hit it on the mark with her comment. It's so offensive that we even have to dredge all of these old issues up again and again because it's an election year. There's something off-putting and smarmy about the whole thing. ... Your post resonated with a lot of us who have been in your shoes. Rated with my hat off to you and your husband for working as a team.
The best choice you made was your husband. Thanks for sharing your working mom story.
It sounds like your family was one that was able to work together to make everything fit.
and I suspect you're so right. r.
You bring up some good points. It is my opinion that Hillary Rosen's judgment of Mrs. Romney for not joining the career path as someone "who never worked a day in her life" is misleading and false.
The tuffer it is to make the commitment, the more I admire the mother who chooses to stay home and raise her children herself.
Well, I'm sensing a theme in today's posts. You were in a position to make choices and it sounds as though you made them well. As you note, others don't have the stay-at-home option. It's regrettable that Rosen singled out Ann Romney as, unless I've missed something, she herself hadn't made a public statement. She was just the subject of her tin-eared hubby who claimed her as the source of his understanding of issues of concern to women. Now the Repubs have gleefully misconstrued the issue and it remains to be seen how effectively the Dems can continue their legitimate critique of host of anti-women Repub policies.
RRated.. Great discussion.
Very good post. Everyone should be able to have that choice, man or woman.
Good post Bernadine. I wish every woman COULD choose what's best for her and could stay at home for at least the first year if she wants; for many as single parents and sole breadwinners, it's Rock and Hard Place. If you work, you're a selfish yuppie who puts her career before her children. And if you DON'T work, you can look forward to being put down as a welfare cheat and a free-loader.

We need more women and more working mothers in elected office!

rated
I agree with you here. My father was always missing and I still regret or feel like I never had one.
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Beautifully put! Thank you. Yes, I've been on both ends of this. When my daughter was born, I chose to stay in the workforce rather than lose my earning potential by staying at home, even though that meant more than half my income went to childcare. At my job on a socially/economically/ethnically diverse High school, I see parents every day who don't have many choices at all - it's work or go hungry, often the students are contributing what they earn to the household, too. Again, thank you for this clear-eyed view. R.
As always, you said it well. My concern with Anne Romney as Speaker for All Women is not that she stayed home comfortably with her children, but that she does not share your awareness.
First, I confess to be speaking in full ignorance of the situation. I don't know who the hell Hilary Rosen is or what she said, and I know nothing about Ann Romney, except that she chose to marry a mannequin who is much more charming when portrayed by Jason Sudekis than in person (and yet infinitely preferable to a certain Pennsylvanian Savanarola--but I digress).

If Rosen was making the point that the Ann Romney, by virtue of being well off, was out of touch with the reality of most American women (and to a lesser extent men because not all feel the burden of fatherhood as acutely as women feel the responsibility of motherhood), who have to make difficult choices about staying at home or working or somehow magically managing both, fine. If, however, she was denigrating those who choose to stay at home, she is as guilty of imposing her own moral standards on others as the aforementioned frightening PA Savanarola, and fie on her.

Seems to me that if we spent less time judging other people's lives and worrying about our own (even in the course of making political points), we'd all be better off.
I wish Rosen had chosen (I'm a poet) a different phrase. N'less virtually every woman in the country knows what she meant. Most women have to deal with the Second Shift that AR was able to ignore.
Thanks for this story of choices made, and choices that always cost something.
Well said. We're all getting a bit emotional about this, and you are provoding a more balanced perspective.
Hi Bernadine,
Yes it isn't easy to decide which track is the right track, both tracks come with obstacles. The mommy track might seem like a way better track, but I would think having some sense of contribution to the home, and some sense that a person is paying into their social security wouldn't be bad either. Those things change greatly depending on your tax bracket, but at least you and your husband are both educated. That helps tremendously, and you were both on the same page when it came to having one child.
Many people today are not wanting to have one child, the prices are just incredible, and if you come from that point of view that you want your child to have stuff, and you know what stuff costs, then you either have good jobs, or you decide to limit your expenses. I enjoyed reading about your mothers struggles as well, if it were today the school would have a law suit. They can't fire people the way they used to for being pregnant.
Beautifully stated, especially your last line.
I think it would be immoral for a rich woman like Ann Romney to even think of taking a job, when jobs for people who need them are in such short supply.
I just wrote an Open Salon article on the subject myself. I enjoyed your post!

My mom was a working mom, and my baby sitter was a stay at home mom. Because my family was a 2 income family, it afforded us a more affluent lifestyle within our community. My Mom intentionally monetarily cared for my baby sitter and her children beyond what was her weekly pay, and in turn my baby sitter did extra things for us and my mom. It was a win win situation.

However, I chose to be a stay-at-home mom when I first got married so I could care for my new son. We had to forgo lots of wants to fulfill our needs, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

And, unfortunately for me, I was a single working mom caring for 3 sons while working 2 jobs, and going to school. Just when I graduated so I could make a better living for us, they were grown, and gone. I rarely saw my sons, and I feel cheated.

It's a personal choice, a financial choice, and that decision should be respected by all.
Yes, yes, yes! Rosen's remark was all about choice and it's infuriating how the Romney camp, then the media and the Democrats distorted it and used it as a diversionary tactic.
My wife freelances, so it's a week on here, a week off there. The weeks off are far less stressful for us both. We all do what we must to perservere. Great piece. – www.sawyerspeaks.wordpress.com
What AtHomePilgrim said.
Very clearly and succinctly put.
You are so right about choices, and not everyone has that option. I see so often being the homemaker as not being a value, and life experience, being even less. All is about power and might these days. We were poor, but we decided I would be a homemaker, as my husband started out his photography business. We lived in an apartment and we were caretakers. One lovely perk was a 2 bedroom basement apartment. I painted and cleaned with 2 kids. We made it, and as I look at my kids today and see their value systems, I' proud. Very informative and interesting write.
BIG CONGRADS ON EP!! Way to go!!
Well said as usual, Bea.

Though I agree with Frank Bruni's column in the Times today. I wish that we - and Ms. Rosen - could make our points without sounding condescending to people who have made other choices.
best essay on the subject i've read to date, including the bruni piece in the Times this morning. A++, a/b.
Extemely well said. I think Anne Romney should have a talk with you and then report back to her husband.
I wonder how much help Ann Romney had with the kids and housekeeping. I was an always exhausted stay at home mom for years.
Great post!

This is nonsense. Like all these strawmen arguments (like death panels), they are based on an argument no one was making. Rosen's words were spoken in haste. But if you read or hear the entire statement, she wasn't denigrating raising children, she was talking about working outside the home AND raising kids and how incredibly difficult that is.

Also that it's often not a choice at all. Some women don't have partners. Some partners, stop partnering for whatever reason. Some women raise their children AND have full time jobs. Sometimes more than one job.

If these asshats don't get that, then they don't get it. WE women who did work AND raise kids got Ms. Rosen's point the first time we heard it. Made sense a couple of days ago. Still makes sense today. It's HARDER. Yes it is.

And dollars to donuts, MS or not, Ms Romney's life has been substantially made easier by being wealthy. She can afford all the help, caregivers, servants, whatever household help is called these days. I imagine, she has top notch healthcare too. That's more than a lot of working women have. And a lot more than some stay at home mothers have, as well.
Yes, yes, yes. A thousand times, yes.
R
Unfortunately, the discussion about Ms. Rosen's comment veered off the track, aided & abetted by the Republicans, who smelled a victory.

In saying that Ms. Romney "never worked a day in her life," Ms. Rosen was NOT saying that the typical "stay at home mom" -- or even the "working mom" -- didn't "work," i.e., that raising children wasn't "work."

What she WAS saying was that Ann Romney, with her army of servants, nannies, maids, drivers, etc. could pick and choose which chores to do among the "work" of raising children.

C'mon, does any of us think Ann Romney ever put a load of laundry in the machine, or changed the sheets after a child wet the bed, or cleaned the bathroom after a child threw up, or scrubbed the floors, or did any "dishwashing" other than putting plates in the machine?

If she did take one or more of her children to school or activities, she could do so without piling ALL of them, sleepy or crying, into the car, because she had "help" at home.

"Working moms" -- both those at home and those outside the home -- need to construct a "typical day" of what the chores of raising children look like. Then imagine Ann Romney dealing with those chores, or, as really happened, delegating them. She did, after all, have to spend all that time with her dressage horses.
Rosen runs a PR firm... she knew exactly what she was saying (as did Obama who said a similar thing the week before).