Tag Archives: Tiger Mom

Wives Who Refuse to Work: Strikes Chord

holding finger

This morning I woke up to read a post by the always insightful Lisa Belkin, whom I’ve been following for at least 15 years. Today she asked her followers on social media for thoughts about this Letter published in The Guardian newspaper entitled: A Letter to My Wife, Who Won’t Get a Job, While I Work Myself To Death.


As I read the letter, and the many comments and harsh judgements in response, I started wondering what else was going on in this couple’s relationship. There is undoubtedly more to the story than meets the eye.And isn’t that always the case when only one side is presented? Didn’t he mention that she did work part-time at one point but it didn’t pay well? But for arguments sake, lets just imagine that this man’s letter is truthful and reveals the whole story.


Wow, as a former parenting & pregnancy editor, and a careers writer for years—and a single mom, this letter struck a chord. And, apparently, it did with many other women as well. Remember all the trends in parenting over the past decade? There’s been the Lean In argument verses the Opt Out one. Lisa Belkin actually coined the Opt Out term, referring to educated women who stop working. Here’s a Pew Research Study that confirms 10 % of all educated women in America permanently opt out of the workforce.

Women are their worst enemies it seems. We can publicly shame others and find fault in just about anything a mom does or doesn’t do. Opt out and homeschool? You are ignorant, fearful and financially irresponsible. Work long hours as a partner in a law firm? You must be selfish, materialistic and risking your kids’ health and well-being. Remember the backlash on Tiger Parenting? (Time Magazine wrote a piece about the real effects of Tiger Moms on their children. Go Here to read it.)

Women criticize each other on just about everything—where as men seem to shrug things off more with a Live and Let Live attitude. Maybe a man disapproves of another man’s choice to stay home with his kids for a few years while his wife works, but rarely does that man get angry and write a scathing letter or op-ed to The Wall Street Journal or New York Times bludgeoning that man’s choice. Women, however, are different. We seem to want to make others’ choices wrong so we can feel better about our own—a sign that we are too caught up in worrying about what others think? At least, that’s how it seems to me. Or, we want to justify what we choose, like Opting Out of the workforce for a few years, so that others can see our point of view and still approve of us. But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is what you and your partner feel good about. If a person decides to spend more time with his/her kiddos, that’s his/her choice. And if a woman opts out, the husband had to have been on board with it at some point.

So when does that point end? My question for the author of that letter is at what point did your wife ‘not working’ become a massive bourdon filling you with anger, resentment and seething indignation? And did you relay this information to her clearly and honestly? This letter feels like a justification for leaving her.

I strongly feel that couples often don’t communicate strongly enough and clearly enough about their agreements. If they did, they could each adjust and change and move forward. But sometimes, they don’t want to adjust, change and move forward. They want an exit strategy. I would guess that even if this woman got a job tomorrow, her husband’s resentment wouldn’t vanish and they may split anyway. There are other matters at work if the two couldn’t talk about this issue before and start working toward a solution.

I can relate to what this husband is relaying, however, because I slightly lived through it. I never opted out entirely from the workforce, but I didn’t live up to my husband’s changing standards. I’ll explain. After our baby was born, my husband and I decided that I’d stay a freelancer, rather than enter the full-time workforce, until our child entered kindergarten. My husband was on board with this agreement, until he wasn’t. And that was discovered via stressed out comments and me over-hearing what he said to male friends whose wives worked full-time. It was a harsh wake up call to me that our agreement didn’t matter and somehow I was the last to know.

Here’s how our agreement (to let me freelance verses full-time work) began. I was offered a full-time journalism teaching position at Loyola Marymount University when my oldest was 9 months old. I panicked. Yes, it was a cool gig and I’d edit the student newspaper and all other publications while teaching students and mentoring the student writers at the paper. And then suddenly it seemed like an awful lot of work for very little pay. Day care cost more than what I’d earn. So, we decided as a couple, that I’d turn the position down and just continue to freelance as an editor and writer until our baby was in kindergarten. It would also allow us to be mobile—a good thing since we moved to Atlanta and to London within a two year time frame and my clients went with me.

I thought, as a wife who continued to freelance and keep her career track stable, while also doing the lion share of parenting, allowing my hubs to work long hours and move up in his field, that I was a very good egg. But clearly I wasn’t in his eyes, even though he rarely told me. Again, I overheard things or would get snide comments.

Thank God kindergarten started one year earlier in England than in the US, as my husband was clearly “over” our agreement and on a campaign to change me. I’m such a smart person, shouldn’t I be doing something other than writing so I can actually earn more money? He was over my profession in general. I was editing books on contract and writing for magazines that didn’t pay terribly well, but was also able to spend more time with our three-year-old, allowing my husband to travel, work long hours and rise within his company and attract eyes of recruiters. I thought I was pitching in. But he was stressed out. Yes we moved for his job. Yes, he wanted to live in London. Yes, I was the only expatriate wife that I knew in our circle of friends who was able to work part-time. Still, London is one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Once I took a full-time editor job, it was like a huge audible sigh was released within our marriage. The pressure was off of him completely. The job paid well and I could work from home, so I oversaw the part-time nanny, was still able to go to parent-teacher conferences or school plays and could still manage our household—allowing husband to continue work travel and his long hours. We could save more, vacation more and just breathe.

Why am I sharing this personal tidbit? Because I think couples often get stuck in a rut of holding tightly to past agreements. I wanted to sternly hold on to the understanding that I’d go back to full time work once my son was in kindergarten. It was rational. It made sense. But living in London and all it’s massive expense, was triggering fear in my husband. The agreement needed to be re-thought out. And it was. But there was another side to this story too. I WAS working and doing most of the parenting, allowing the husband to be able to do whatever it took to rise in his field. I wonder what the real story is in this letter? Did this woman work part-time but didn’t want to be a partner because of the hours and because her husband wasn’t around? Perhaps he needed to work extremely long hours to make partner and she wanted that for him? And besides, when kids were small,  she’d still have to do the majority of the parenting, cooking, help with homework, carpooling, etc.? Maybe now she is planning on working now that the kiddos are off to college?

This couple has let so many years go by that likely the husband has bottled up his anger and it’s now overflowing. She likely may feel entitled and mis-understood and not appreciated. Raising kids isn’t easy work. Maybe she manages all their finances and cooks, cleans and manages all the family vacations and family communications. (Why is it that women tend to send out all the holiday cards, plan all the birthday parties, for instance? Is it demanded within our XX chromosome? I hate that.)

What are your thoughts? Some followers of Lisa Belkin wrote in scathingly to the wife of this letter—even calling her stupid. In their eyes, she was stupid for putting her marriage at risk, for not being a good role model for her children, for not contributing financially, and more importantly, for not keeping her career on track in case her husband died or left her “for a younger model.”

Ouch. How much fear is in all of those statements??


I instinctively feel that it’s always important for a woman to work, even if just part-time or freelance in order to stay in the game. It’s good for the pocketbook, it’s good for the self esteem and it provides intellectual stimulation away from the family dynamic. But, my view, by no means, is a harsh judgement against my fellow stay-at-home moms. Some women feel that their husbands would have NO way to move up in their fields if their wives didn’t do all the childrearing.  We live in a country that allows freedom of choice and we are all on own journey of self discovery. She was married to an attorney. Maybe his hours were brutal? Maybe she thought it was the best for their family and he agreed and couldn’t bring himself to say differently until he was DONE. Maybe he has his eye on a young female attorney and just wants an exit clause? Who knows.

Thoughts? Is it okay in this day and age for a well-educated woman to stay home until her kids enter college? Does a husband need his wife to earn money in order to “feel loved?” And, if so, to flip that coin, a wife must need a partner to help with raising the kids and household tasks to “feel loved.” Hmmm….I’m suddenly feeling better about not being married anymore. Sigh. Doing all the work without expectations of help, or without resentment or feelings of unworthiness due to this drama, is actually a relief.

Feel the same? Feel different?

Chime in!

Always grateful to those of you who read my musings!


Why The Youngest Grows Up Too Fast

(And Why There’s Really Not Much You Can Do About It)

I have spent days writing and re-writing this post. I know I shouldn’t admit that as inevitably there will be a professional writer among my readers who will still be able to point to indelible flaws in its structure or word choice. Oh well. My hesitancy isn’t from a fear of perfection. It actually has been one that surprised me as I began writing on this topic and discovered how very personal it is. My dear friend pointed out to me last night that if it’s too hard to be honest, I either leave my own family and past out of my writing, or stop blogging altogether. I think he’s right on so many levels. The topic of how the youngest grows up too fast is one that hits very close to home. There is just no way I can write about it without my own filter—without touching on my own unique childhood. I am the youngest of four from parents very distracted by their important careers and failing marriage. Because of that, I raised myself to a large degree. I am a product of those times and I grew up very quickly. Instead of rebelling with my independence and lack of attention, as others may have done, I became a little adult.  I had watched my older siblings and some of their friends struggle and I became a very serious child. By 17, I had managed college entrance exams and visited colleges solo and even drove myself three states away on the first day of college. A few weeks into college, I had a job at an NPR radio station with a spot after “All Things Considered,”  interviewing visiting judges and attorneys and had a legal beat at the newspaper by end of that year. That winter, I landed an internship at a TV station. Sophmore year I left for a summer study-abroad in London with British media. Senior year, I had a writing internship in Maine. As you can see, I was working professionally before my junior year and could barely focus on studies from all my “work” demands. It’s just the way things were for me as I had little understanding of how to relax, let alone party, like most co-eds—as I had to take care of business. My childhood shaped who I am today and why, surprising to some, after working so hard, I was able to throw my career into first gear, freelance, and focus on my children. It was a knee-jerk reaction. It had deep-seated psychological roots stemming from a lonely childhood. And it is why I may sometimes get labeled as a ‘too involved’ mom. I had a strong desire to always be near my children. To always be there for them. To not let them grow up on their own. A fabulous career with a national magazine could wait if that required latchkey kids at home. Sadly, that’s the gut fear raised out of my past. And I wrestle, even today, with my strong belief that all women should follow their dreams and their careers. It’s a conundrum that I own up to. (Trust me, critics.) So, with all of that out of the way, here is my original essay:

As the youngest of four, I remember sitting in my big brother’s room, looking at his rock posters of The Rolling Stones and Jimmy Hendrix, and covering my ears as Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” blasted at full volume. “We DON’T Need No Ed-U-CA-tion!” … “We Don’t Need No Thought Control!”

The bass reverberated from the L-shaped walls of my big brother’s room. My hip, big brother would smile a sheepish smile at me. I was maybe nine or 10 years old. My brother, who is six years older than me, was always playing music. I thought he was incredibly cool. He could do anything with a camera too (before Photoshop and digital cameras, mind you.). He’d go into dark rooms and super-impose a picture of himself dressed in character, between Mick Jagger and the rest of The Stones, or walking across Abbey Lane with The Beatles. He introduced me to Led Zepplin, Santana, Ozzie Osborne, and a whole host of bands—not that he always wanted to. Like the time I listened to “The Wall” at full-tilt. I recall that I couldn’t open his door to leave, so I was forced to “listen” at such excruciatingly high volume that even my screams couldn’t be heard. But I’m sure this was probably done after I had begged repeatedly to be included when all the big kids from the neighborhood would go into his cool room and leave me alone in the den with my art and books.

After school hours are always tricky for younger siblings of parents who work. There’s a lot to do between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. each day. And life for the youngest in a household involves politics and daily maneuvering. Big brothers and big sisters ignore, pick on, and then periodically threaten or bribe their youngest sibling on a weekly basis. (The threatening and bribing are the big guns that only come out when the little one knows too much about rules being broken or any mischief your parents “can’t know” about.) You get the idea.

I usually hated knowing about boyfriends or friends coming over or parties when the parents were away—as I would be wrought with guilt and fear: guilt for lying to my parents, and fear from what my older siblings might do if I told. Again, that’s just life as a much younger sibling. And when the age gap is very big, the youngest grows up much faster and is then left alone. By the time I entered high school, I was an only child as my two sisters and brother (who are all one year apart from each other in age) were in college.

So, I’m looking back at those times and thinking about the future for my two sons. My oldest is 10 years and my youngest is three. It’s a big age gap. And for the past year, my youngest has been exposed to video games, movies and music I’d rather he wasn’t. It’s excruciatingly hard to monitor. On occasion, a new babysitter will let the older one pick out a movie to watch that I don’t want the younger one to see. Or, my oldest plays LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” on his ipad and suddenly, the three-year-old is running around the house singing it. Or, the older one will start playing a video game in front of the baby when I’m in the shower, etc. etc. For two years I’ve been lecturing my oldest tonotwatch certain movies and TV shows, or play certain games, or say certain words around his little brother. I lecture him and remind him that there were no big brothers forcing him to watch inappropriate things when he was little. I even dock TV time, or take away games when he disobeys. I think I’m getting a handle on those type of things.

But this Spring Break, my oldest son’s best friend from London visited and I watched little Jamesy stare up at them both with awe. He trailed them wherever they went. He idolizes his big brother and all of his friends. He wants to be bigger. He wants to do whatever they do. As the youngest, I completely understand. Before you know it, my oldest will be in high school and my youngest will be in elementary school, listening to rock, watching inappropriate YouTube videos, and possibly keeping secrets about his big brother’s friends who are all hanging out at some point after school while I’m at work.

I’ve read some expert commentary and articles about how to help kids from growing up too fast. Almost all of them focus on the youngest ages and on whether we push children to learn too much, too quickly, in kindergarten. Some, like Lisa Belkin, wonder how some parents also manage to simultaneously “helicopter parent” by hovering too closely. That may all be true in today’s society. I’m also sure that I had far too much independence as a child and a teenager. But even today, with our “helicopter” and “tiger mom”  parenting styles, aren’t they usually on a timer? Or are these styles relegated to non-working parents only? How many parents still hover over multiple children during high school years, for instance? How many working parents—or single working parents—can afford to do so? I mean, who wants to pay for a part-time nanny for a teenager and an elementary-aged child? At a certain point, the high school kid is usually allowed to be home alone after school and expected to “babysit” the youngest.

I think it’s absolutely okay. This article is in no way an endorsement for all women to stay home, by the way. (And why is it that in 2012, almost everyone still expects the mom, not the dad, to stay home?) I’m very intrigued by The Conflict by Elizabeth Badinter, to be released soon in the U.S. The New York Time’s Motherlode post equating modern day motherhood to today’s version of sexism, is quite compelling. Perhaps the pressure to be the perfect parent isolates and represses women? Perhaps that pressure also leads to more divorce or more mid-life crisis down the road? It’s hard to leave careers and focus solely on the kids to the exclusion of one’s ambitions, one’s passions, one’s interests and sometimes one’s own health. It’s also hard not to leave careers and stay home with the kiddos in today’s world that seems to scream that staying home is necessary (at least in elementary years) for your children’s proper development.

I know I’ll have to go back to work full-time fairly soon. My divorce settlement, and California law, means that I’ll have much less to live on by the time my three-year-old is six. (California law says spousal support is only mandatory for half the number of years you were actually married, and begins the day of your legal separation. Part-time work won’t be enough, I’m afraid, to make ends meet.) I’m actually not frightened by all of this. I’ve worked full-time before and will work full-time again. Being a single mom with no family nearby and an Ex in Europe, means my little guys may find themselves home alone after school in the very near future.

I expect that many of you face this scenario already. And while you may desperately want to shield your youngest from growing up too quickly, there is really little you can do. I’ve decided that the best course of action is to decide right here and now not to ‘check out.’  Just because I may not be able to be with my boys each day after school—does not mean that my only option is to just hope it all goes well. I hope to enroll them in sports and after-school programs. I will try to find them male mentors. Because without all that, they’ll be left to their own devices, a lot, in L.A.—and there’s plenty of temptation here. To a certain extent, kids have to have enough room to find their own way in this world. But I know from experience that it’s critical not to turn a blind eye as a parent during the teen years. I am so thankful that I’ve put my divorce—and the madness that occurs when one parent is desperately trying to keep a marriage together—behind me. That chapter is closed. As someone who is now in her 40s, I see couples all around me who are beginning the middle-age malaise. You know what I mean. It’s that time in life when people start thinking critically about their choices, their life, their disappointments, their relationships, their dreams. It’s a time when many couples fall apart. It’s a time when many parents “check out” and focus on their own needs.

I lived through that. As I mentioned, my parents literally checked out as they focused on work and saving their marriage. I was completely on my own after school and had no curfews and no over-sight. Luckily, instead of rebelling in high school, I grew up. Little girls sometimes do that. I took on responsibility. I didn’t screw up or skip school or do drugs. I rose to the occasion by becoming a little adult. I had little fun, as you can see from my work ethic in college, but at least I didn’t do drugs or get pregnant. But I had neighbors, mentors and lovely teachers who helped me. Not all youngest children in my scenario would fare so well. And I imagine boys may be different. Thinking about my little boys in L.A., I wonder how I can help. There isn’t much we can do to slow down how fast our youngest children grow up—but perhaps we can help them make better choices? We can choose to keep lines of communication open. We can choose not to ignore them when we come home from work. We can choose to check in during the day by phone or have neighbors check in. Yes, even single moms who may work long hours away from home can find mentors, coaches, other moms and family to help us stay connected to our kids.

So I fully expect my youngest to idolize his big brother for years to come. My oldest is a sweet and thoughtful boy, but as a teen, he may get hit with teenitisis. Aren’t most teens obsessed with their friends and their own needs? I expect that there will be moments when he is supposed to be babysitting and friends are over. I expect that my Jamesy will experience many of the same things that I did as the smallest with much older kids at home alone. These moments will help shape and define him. There will be many lessons to be learned away from mommy’s eyes, and I have to be ready for that.

Thanks for reading! Phew, this was a long one! Please chime in if you have any advice or similar fears. X