Thursday, July 9, 2009

Living our values

ETA: Comments are now open.

I am frustrated. I have been on an email list for about 13 years, that's for parents who chose to stay home and parent with intention and connection with their children and families. Now that some of our children are into their teens, we are talking about re-entering the work force. (Caveat: even though many of us were stay at home moms, just as many of us have worked part- or full-time over the years, trying to balance work and family).

This conversation coincides with a visit with my mom and sister. And I'm frustrated about money and values and they are warring frustrations.

This is not a new argument. There is a faction of the email list who says you can't have it all - you can't work, or have a career and be a present and connected parent. But it seems to me that what they mean by "career" is lots of money. To me, it is all about choice. I have been parenting and working part time - with my kids at work with me, or from home, or while my spouse/partner was home with them - since the beginning of this parenting journey. So for me, it's a choice about what kind of work meshes with my values around family and parenting. These were intentional work choices that I made in order to prioritize parenting AND my career (which admittedly, was not a high-end corporate whatever, but was a stressful, busy, human services career).

This has meant that we are poor. As in, below the poverty level for a family of 6 (probably even for a family of 3 or 4). As in, never making the bills on time, never able to buy new stuff for myself, not able to replace the lawnmower, or put new tires on my car, and having a lot of credit card debt. I can't even use our credit cards anymore because they are maxed out and we're trying to pay the off. I don't have family support financially, and never have.

And these conversations on my email list, and the fact that my mother just put about 30 pairs of almost or brand new shoes in a bag for Goodwill is painful for me watch. One, because of course I would like to just be able to buy something w/o having to think about it, but two, because people just take that ability for granted. My sister was hanging my mom's very nice shirts and they were talking about how to care for their high-end clothes and how to hang them...and I'm thinking. Wow. I don't even own anything like that. All my shirts get folded (barely) and stuffed in a drawer. I have a few suits from my short time in corporate, but that's it. Our daily lives are worlds apart.

Choosing to be a full time (or mostly full time) parent is something that is not respected or recognized in our culture. Women (and men) who take themselves out of certain parts of the work force to parent for years, have a very difficult time re-entering their fields if they leave for several years. It is viewed as suspect. That time off is not valued for what it was - taking responsibility for children brought into this world - not turning them over to others to raise.

They say you can't have it all - and I guess that's true, depending on your definition of "all." I don't have any money, but I do have some work, and lots of family, and a strong marriage and wonderful friendships, and am fulfilled and doing work that meshes with my values. When I worked in corporate, it sucked out my soul, even though we had more money.

I don't know, I'm just thinking out loud about values and culture and the wild disconnect between how we are told we must live our lives to be "successful" and how often that living does not reflect the values that we actually hold. And how I can't buy my kids new shoes this week because I value raising them more than working full time in a job that I tolerate, just to be considered "successful."

I'm not trying to be judgmental - I just really don't get it. Sure, some people are fulfilled by jobs that I wouldn't do for all the tea in China, but at what cost to our culture and our families and our values? If we keep buying into this model of economics that doesn't honor families and parenting and values, it's just going to perpetuate itself. But things don't seem to have gotten more tolerant or flexible in the last 10 years - less so, since the bust in 2001. Telecommuting jobs are few and far between and part time jobs the same.

I'm frustrated. And this post will certainly piss off any number of people, and that's OK as it's a difficult, cultural, classist, racial issue.

No comments: