Aug 2, 2010

Work-Life Balance and Plasma TVs

Article in The Age online yesterday:

My reaction reading this article, as to most others on this theme, was "yeah that's me". Paradoxically when reading these articles (which I devour, though they offer no solutions!) is at once deflation that the "no work-life balance" lifestyle is still the norm, and comfort that I'm not the only one.  It can be hard at times to remember that you're not the only woman out there working full-time while every other mother is at home or working part-time.

(Yes, it's a "first-world problem", and not the worst thing in the first world by a long shot. But please a little slack - this is the blogosphere after all).

But what dismayed me when reading this article was all the comments afterwards. Like all comments after an opinion piece they were forthright, accusatory, bitter and rude. As always, the participants end up slanging off each other. As always, after a while someone comes in conciliatory or attempting a compromise which unleashes defensive replies or a new round of slanging off... So far so usual.  (Really you should just read the opinion pieces and not all the comments afterwards!) But what was dispiriting was the number of people who commented basically that people who work are greedy and selfish and want wealth at the expense of nurturing their families.
Are we really still in that place?

Okay - so in the extremely unlikely event that any of those people will read this comment, I will explain how this thing works, with working and childcare and cash.

Some people have to work because of circumstance, even if they have small children.
These people love and cherish their children and want the best for them.
Their children are as happy and as well-adjusted as other children.
Not everyone who is working and paying off a mortgage has bought a mini-mansion.
Not everyone who is working is high-flying their way through a top-tier career.
The people in top-tier careers are working those jobs because they are the jobs they know and are good at - just as we all do the best job we can get for the hours we need to work.
There is not a simple equation of giving up paid work meaning giving up luxuries or giving up a glamorous career. The couple who sacrifice one person's work, or someone's career, to provide a stay-at-home parent are very strapped for cash; they see the working parents going out for coffee or buying something expensive and they think "Well if they just gave up that, they wouldn't have to work."
It's not like that.
In the situation they are witnessing, the dynamic is actually this:
Both parents need to work to pay the mortgage and bills. Neither parent is earning enough to cover these expenses singly. But with the combined salary, after expenses and daycare there is a little discretionary cash available. This is one of the advantages of the arrangement - as every arrangement has its advantages and disadvantages.

Believe me, before returning to work after 8 months' maternity leave, I sat with notepads and calculators and spreadsheets and did every sum you can think of, taking into account bills if at home, bills if out of the house working, benefits, tax incentives, salary, daily expenses while working vs daily expenses while home, part-time work, full-time work, etc.
If I could have stayed at home longer, I would have.

There were also things I was not willing to sacrifice - not because I am selfish but because I trust the cost-benefit analysis in my head. We were not about to sell our house and rent, or try to live with one car. I know people do this, but it would not have been right for us; the stress or added logistical difficulties would not have outweighed the benefit (for us). Every family sacrifices some things and draws the line at those they don't believe are of benefit - every family.

Until recently I used to say "and we don't own a plasma TV thank you very much!" - but I can no longer say that, exactly (it's LCD not plasma). But give me a break, we go digital next year, and prices have dropped.

So please - everyone - a little understanding and respect for our fellow parents. Whether working full-time, part-time, or not at all, the good parents and good-enough parents are all the same: making choices, sacrificing some things and enjoying others, doing the best they can with the cards they've been dealt, for the benefit of the children they love.
And don't most of us do a pretty good job?

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