March 19, 1998
I never wanted or expected to be financiallysupported by a man, but I now have a beautiful 9-week-old daughter,and my heart hurts when I think about returning to my full-time job.Here's my story:
I grew up in an affluent suburb. My family wasstable and loving. My father was a successful professional, and mymother was a homemaker and a volunteer at our school and in theJewish community. When I was in college, my parents divorced, and mymother had a hard time emotionally and financially as she struggledto rebuild her life. Luckily, everyone is remarried and happy now,but I vowed that would never happen to me.
I went to college and graduate school. I became alicensed clinical social worker. I thought that, with this type ofcareer, I could always work, no matter what the circumstances. Whilea grad student, I met and fell in love with a wonderful man, who ismy best friend and husband. We married four years ago, and these havebeen some of the best years of my life. He is truly a treasure, and Ibelieve it was beshert that I found him. We both thought that it was importantfor us to share everything -- working, running the house, et al. Itwas easy to be together and plan our future.
Due to our expensive student loans, my not workingwas never an option. I felt conflicted about this, althoughrationally believing that marriages are stronger when a woman sharesthe responsibilities of financial support, decision making, andrunning a household with her mate.
Also, both of us experienced the scare ofdownsizing in the labor market, and were happy neither one of us wasthe sole support. We bought a house, saved money and began investingfor our retirement. We are not wealthy, but we live in anupper-middle-class suburb with a good school district and a vibrantJewish community surrounding us. We have worked hard to get where weare.
Last year, we felt ready to begin our family. WhenI became pregnant, we were thrilled. I decided to find the best daycare available, since I did not have the luxury of working less thanfull time.
You may ask why I am agonizing. I have had thetime of my life being at home with my daughter; I love every minuteof my three-month maternity leave. (Thank God and Pat Schroeder forthe Family Medical Leave Act!) I had no idea it would be so difficultto leave her. My husband wishes I could stay home more too. He seeshow happy I am, taking care of her, and we both wish I could havejust one year at home with her!
When you wrote that half of women withnursery-school-age children are in the work force, I thought tomyself, "I would love to wait until she's nursery-school-age to goback to work full-time." I would be happy to work part-time. I dothink there are benefits to being in the work force, and children canget a great deal of care and stimulation in good day care.
It's just that 40 hours a week is too much for me.I have a good job that helps the community as well as my finances. Ijust think that nature intended for a parent to be the main caretakerin an infant's life.
How can I resolve this?
St. Louis Mommy
Dear S.L. Mommy,
What happened to your parents understandably leftyou a little anxious, regarding financial security. While it isadmirable that you are among the few who are financially responsiblefor your future, perhaps for the sake of your child, you mightconsider either part-time work, job-sharing or simply investing someof your own savings in your most precious commodity.
When a parent truly wants to stay at home with achild, the long-term yields of time, love and attention invested in achild can never, ever be matched by an early retirement in Miami.Just think of yourself at age 80, looking back upon these years. Whatwill you be most likely to regret -- not having worked more or nothaving spent more time with your child?
When my husband and I were young, we got marriedfirst and then lived together. Lately, we have received severalinvitations to showers/luncheons for young couples that have beenliving together for two or more years. Since the parents of theseyoung people are our friends, we believe that some sort of gift isobligatory, but we are in a quandary because 1) we do not condonetheir children's lifestyle, and 2) we have young adult children whoare aware of the behavior of their peers. If we send gifts, themessage may be misunderstood by our kids. They may think that we aresaying OK, that it's just fine to live together beforemarriage.
Deborah, I'm tired of walking the fine line,trying not to judge the behavior of our friends' children, whilemaking it clear to our own kids that it is not OK and that we expect themto behave differently. Kindly offer some words of wisdom.
Distressed in Denver
If you do not send gifts, you will most certainlymake a statement. But, soon, you will have no one to whom to makesuch statements, because you will have no friends left.
Certainly, your children already know yourposition about living together out of wedlock. And since they areyoung adults, it is doubtful that boycotting the simchas of your friends'children will, at this stage in their development, alter theirmorals. Consider your gifts to be rewards for the decision of yourfriends' children to finally marry and stop "living in sin."
Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angelespsychotherapist.
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