Saturday, January 26, 2013

Women, Motherhood, and the Rat Race

Pivoting off a David Brooks column on the "geographical aristocracy," Rod Dreher has started an interesting discussion on his blog about why smart kids leave small towns for certain big cities and then never come back, and the effects this has on their families, their home communities, and conservative values. Maisy, a commenter, said this:
Women in particular are in for a nasty surprise after they jump through all the meritocratic hoops, get out of their small town, go to the fancy grad school and land a prestigious job in an expensive blue-state city . . . and then find themselves at 35 with two babies and no mom, sister, or other female relative within a thousand miles.

In my experience, when that first child is born, the impressive corporate job you’ve worked all your life for starts to look a lot like fool’s gold: You’d much rather be home with your child, who needs you. Immediately, a series of unpleasant realizations hits:

(1) You’ve bought a house (and your husband has a job) in a place where the cost of living is so astronomical that it’s very hard to cut down to one salary. It would not mean giving up luxuries but moving to a crappy, possibly dangerous neighborhood with bad schools. Or your husband could do a 3-hour commute.

(2) Nannies and daycare are incredibly expensive and guilt-inducing.

(3) Your family is scattered all over the U.S., driven by similar forces. But having only strangers whom you pay to help you, at that time of life when you most need help, is unnatural and weird.

(4) Meanwhile, hubby is deep in the meritocratic rat race trying to make partner or whatever, so don’t count on him being around much either. You met him at the fancy school and he still has his fancy dreams, which have not been derailed by having kids. Fat chance he’s moving back to Hicksville.

(5) Your life is incredibly hard, lonely, and pricey, and there’s no easy way out. The girls on Facebook who opted for simpler lives close to home seem to be happier than you are.

(6) Oh — and congratulations on getting all those A’s! It was totally worth it.

Sacrasm aside, someone should start telling girls — realistically — what they’re probably going to want in 20 years. At 35, I would have given anything to have my mom nearby and an affordable three-bedroom ranch house in an uncool midsized town. But my “smart girl” dynamic rocketed me right out of that world before I even knew what hit me.
My own contribution to this discussion was as follows:
I wanted to second what Tyro said. A libertarian, capitalist, dog-eat-dog economic world forces people who care about their families to seek high-paying jobs wherever they can find them. If staying home means living in a trailer without health insurance, then responsible parents will move.

This is why I think free-market capitalism is anything but a conservative policy. In a world of economic winners and losers, anyone who doesn’t want to be a loser, or see his children grow thinking they are losers, has to enter the marketplace and fight hard for a decent share of the pie. John Boehner likes to complain that the government destroyed the world he grew up in, but I don’t think so. He grew up in a world where factory workers in small Ohio cities earned middle class salaries, with pensions and health benefits. It wasn’t the government that took those good, union jobs and left people with the choice of fast food or moving on. Preserving small towns means using government money to cushion the effects of economic change.


Anonymous said...

I so agree with your comments.

kathy said...

I disagree the assumption that the arrival of my first child made me wish I could trade my high earning job in to stay home. It made the time I spend with smart adults all the more precious. I'll return to contemplating Hadrian;s villa now.

John said...

Kathy, I just posted that because it was a mother's perspective on this issue that I think about a lot: the relationship between our economic system and our home and family lives. Obviously women react to the arrival of their children in lots of different ways.