Cue the Misogyny

This week, the blogosphere buzz has been about Edmund Andrews' article in the New York Times magazine. Andrews writes about how he, an economics reporter, got himself so far in debt that the bank will soon foreclose on his house. At first, the story seemed to be about reporters' pay and easy credit. Andrews abdicates responsibility for his debt because the banks gave him money. And they let these people drive cars and vote.

But Megan correctly steered the conversation in another direction. Andrews' problem wasn't that he made too little money. The problem was that he made too little money to support two families.  He couldn't afford to get married again and shouldn't have. Andrews never entertains this notion and, in fact, fails to ever say that child support payments are a good thing and that he had a responsibility to care for his first family.

As I was reading the comments on Megan's blog, I was stunned by the new direction of the discussion in her comment section. Now, it wasn't that Andrews screwed up by getting married again. It was that his wives were bleeding him dry and that his second wife, who was raising the kids, was a leech and idle.  One guy called SAHMs, Yoga and Pilates women. Another commenter thought that the husbands probably liked having sex with the yoga moms. Then they all exchanged the usual crap about how women steal all your money. Lovely.

But I expect that nonsense from McArdle's comment section. In fact, they were distressingly predictable. (Sorry, Megan.) What I wasn't expecting was the anti-women remarks from other female bloggers.

At TAPPED, Dana Goldstein wags her finger at SAHMs and says that they put themselves at risk financially by not working. That is true. But Andrews' first wife wasn't getting her house foreclosed on. She thankfully had good lawyers, so when Andrews abdicated their agreement, she was able to keep the house and have her children supported. I'm sure she needed to go back to work, too, but she still has a roof over her head. I find it amazing that a women could read that article and come away with the lesson that the wives were the bad guys and not the man who felt entitled to set up two households.

But that post wasn't terrible. There are risks at staying at home and I've written about them before. Sure, she could have written about the enormous obstacles women face in finding work in a sexist workplace and the difficulties in finding a balance between caring for the kids and their own employment. But she didn't. To find real misogyny, one must turn to Double X. I take back all the good things that I said about Double X.

Dayo Olopade compares SAHMs to mistresses. She calls them "trophy wives" and "arm candy." This is written by a woman? Maybe it's one of McArdle's comment trolls in drag? What kind of misogyny is Slate publishing under the guise of feminism? I'm horrified.

43 thoughts on “Cue the Misogyny

  1. Over at your other thread, bj points out that alimony and child support appear to have been about 48% of his after-tax earnings, whereas Maryland guidelines suggest 16%. If he really is paying triple what the state suggests, that’s part of the story that is getting left out. Were her lawyers *too* good? Is it right that a divorce settlement should preclude starting a new family? Is that even what’s going on here?
    Andrews is far from sympathetic, but given the systemic enablers (from Alan Greenspan down to Bob the pusher-broker), the second wife also making poor financial choices, to at least the remote possibility that the first wife had some role in the failure of that marriage, we’re looking at a story without any completely sympathetic characters.
    Anyway, and more on topic, is there anything worth reading at Slate that wasn’t written by Dahlia Lithwick? Prudence is a guilty pleasure, but otherwise I’m stumped.

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  2. I’m thinking that Andrews’s new wife isn’t enough younger than Andrews to count as a trophy wife. If you do it right, when you announce the engagement, people should have trouble deciding whether to call Chris Hansen or offer congratulations. Ideally, she should have graduated high school after at least one of your children. For example, the 84 year-old founder of 84 Lumber marrying a 22 year old who worked in his spa.

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  3. For all that, it seems that other commenters at Megan’s did a pretty good job of calling out the posters that were out of line. I enjoyed the thread, once it passed the 100 mark.

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  4. “Over at your other thread, bj points out that alimony and child support appear to have been about 48% of his after-tax earnings,”
    Oops, you added the “after-tax” — I wasn’t paying attention to that part of it, and child-support/alimony payments have complicated tax treatments. And, the 16% was for child support, not alimony. I don’t know how these levels were set (and I think there’s a reasonable possibility that they were set voluntarily, since they seem higher than I’d expect for a court-ordered plan).
    I think that saying “he shouldn’t have gotten married again” as a solution for his money woes is like saying that a woman shouldn’t have children if they wanted to keep their job. Both (human companionship/offspring) are deep human needs, and to throw their absence as part of the solution to a problem is unrealistic (and, I’d add wrong).
    I think one can make an argument for contractual obligations to the first wife that supersede the needs of the second, or third, or whatever. But, I don’t think we can make that same argument for children (i.e. the children from the first family v the children from the 2nd family). The children have similar/identical claims on their father, and the fact that one came 2nd shouldn’t change the legal rights of the child.
    That equation doesn’t come up in Andrew’s case — since he didn’t reproduce again. But, if he did, I don’t see why the financial obligations to the first child should be different than to the second.

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  5. Yeah, Dahlia Lithwick had a very good post on why we need another woman on the SC. Keep meaning to link to it.
    I don’t know if anyone should be entitled to start a new family anymore than anyone should be entitled to a house and a J.Crew sweater. His first responsibility is to care for his first kids and, if his wife made sacrifices in her career to care for their kids and support his career, then he has an obligation to support her. I don’t know if that percentage should be 16% or 48%, but he has to meet his obligations.
    I wrote a post awhile back talking about trophy wives and made some comments about Hooters and names that end with an “i”. But got in trouble for slamming the hard working women of Hooters.

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  6. I don’t think the 50/50 income split is unfair, given that Andrews’ first wife’s half goes to support several people. Anyway, Andrews made commitments to these people. $4,000 a month is not going to support a household of four (or however many) in the lap of luxury, even if they live in a low cost area.
    The other dimension is that that level of support is probably not permanent. Andrews may expect much lower child and spousal support obligations in the next several years, which was probably one of the reasons that he over-extended himself so badly on the house. The funny thing is that no one has mentioned college yet–depending on how the financial aid recipe works out, a bunch of kids from upper-middle class homes are facing either downward mobility or a nasty debt load.

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  7. When I grow up, I want to write half as well as Dahlia Lithwick.
    Also, I would get in a lot more trouble than you for slamming the hard-working women of Hooters, in almost any sense of the word slamming.
    Framing, framing. Is it entitled to set up a new family? Or is it a settlement that prevents him from building a new life?
    I can only think of one friend who’s collecting child support, and of course I cheer every time she goes to the judge for an increase because he really was a jerk, but as a general rule? Hm, I dunno.

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  8. “…a bunch of kids from upper-middle class homes are facing either downward mobility or a nasty debt load.”
    There’s always state schools and/or working at Hooters through school.

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  9. Of course, there’s bound to be some downward mobility as you’ve got two households and split them into three (and even into four for the time they were dating). And, I’m guessing that most of everybodys’ nest eggs went to divorce lawyers and airplane tickets.

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  10. “I don’t know if anyone should be entitled to start a new family anymore than anyone should be entitled to a house and a J.Crew sweater.”
    And, would this still be true, if the wife left the husband? say, for example, for a slacker who won’t be contributing any income to these new families that are being set up? I vehemently disagree that the entitlement for a J.Crew sweater is equivalent to the entitlement to have a family and companionship. You also haven’t addressed the needs of a new child in a new family (or are we going to pull an Elizabeth Edwards, and ignore the needs of any newly existent child in favor of the ones who were born in the first contractual family?).
    I do think wives & husbands should be able to make binding contractual agreements, though I prefer they make them when the decision (for example, to stay at home) is made, rather than when they get divorced. I’m also wary of plans that obligate behaviors into the future (i.e. a doctor has to stay a practicing doctor at the Cornell fertility clinic, rather, than, say, become a doctors without borders volunteer). I think SAHM moms are in a vulnerable situation, but that solutions that divide future income have all kinds of consequences that are problematic (as do any contracts that require future behaviors).

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  11. Items:
    1) Andrews left his wife for his second wife
    2) The children in the new household were not his–they were hers by her first husband, whom she left for Andrews

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  12. “And, would this still be true, if the wife left the husband?”
    If she isn’t the custodial parent, she will find herself forking over child support or facing legal unpleasantness.
    As the song goes in Cabaret, money makes the world go round, and a responsible adult has to stop and pencil out whether their lifestyle plans makes sense. The resource pie is only so big, and the more pieces you slice, the smaller the slices are going to be.

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  13. I’m not touching Megan’s comment thread, but as a SAHM, I’m truly disturbed by it. My husband and I talk about my decision to stay home with our children (and I homeschool them also). We discuss me working more and the pros and cons of that from both his side and mine, and also consider what the children would lose if I was home less. Living on one income is right for me, him, and our boys, at least currently. Surely most families are making these decisions in the same way? I imagine, Laura, that your marriage is like this too. Isn’t that what modern marriage is about?
    And also, where are the kids in the discussion? Sometimes I just want a t-shirt that says “It’s about the kids, stupid.”

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  14. “What kind of misogyny is Slate publishing under the guise of feminism?”
    This is a very good question for the editors over there. Why not ask?

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  15. “And, would this still be true, if the wife left the husband?”
    If she isn’t the custodial parent, she will find herself forking over child support or facing legal unpleasantness.
    No, she won’t, even if she’s not the custodial parent, because she’s not earning any money. And, if she were the custodial parent (because, leaving a husband for a slacker doesn’t mean that you are not still the primary parent, who gets custody), then, presumably, the former earner in the couple has to pay the child support. Frankly, they probably have to even if the woman leaves her husband for a non-slacker high earner (since he’s not obligated to support the children, their father is).
    Megan, I understand Andrews’ scenario; I’m now talking about what happens in other circumstances.
    The point I’m trying to make is that there seems to be an assumption that “blame” and “choice” and the ability to pay go together, but they don’t. The economic contributor to the pie doesn’t have to be the same person who is making decisions that result in increased economic expenses to the multiple family units (i.e. slices) that are being sliced from the pie.

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  16. In my experience (which is, admittedly indirect), judges will not hestitate to order someone with no job to pay child support if they think the person is employable.

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  17. OK family law lawyers (if you’re out there), tell it like it is. What are the legal repercussions for a non-custodial low-income parent?
    I was looking at a Fox News (yeah, yeah) article from 2002 that says that the average income of non-custodial moms is $15,000 a year and that only 57% pay any child support. The average non-custodial dad (who is a much more common critter) makes $40,000 a year and 68% pay at least some child support.
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,59963,00.html

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  18. “In my experience (which is, admittedly indirect), judges will not hestitate to order someone with no job to pay child support if they think the person is employable.”
    That’s my impression, too. However, I wonder if there’s a gender discrepancy.

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  19. Ed and Patty met. They fell in love. But they were both married to other people. Three options:
    1. Tearfully renounce the possibility of bliss in each others’ arms and return to their spouses: think Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter.
    2. Carry on an affair either without the knowledge or with the (possibly tacit) consent of their spouses. Since in this case, they lived on opposite coasts, this wasn’t practically possible.
    3. Divorce their respective spouses and marry.
    Once they’d chosen the third alternative, all else followed: the generous payment to Ed’s first wife, the niggardly (and grudged) payment from Patty’s first husband, the consequent tight budget, the difficulty in finding (and funding) a place to live. Ed’s financial choices were between bad and worse. Sometimes he chose bad, sometimes worse. We criticize his choices, but he never had a good possibility to follow, once he and Patty had made the decision to “follow their hearts.”
    Before criticizing that decision ask yourself: suppose you met the love of your life tomorrow, suppose that love reciprocated, would you coldly run the numbers, conclude you couldn’t financially make it if something went wrong, and on that basis (and that basis alone) pull a Celia Johnson? And if you did, would you be proud of doing so?

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  20. Amy, I’d guess that all of the gender discrepancies stem from the tendency for the woman to have custody (at least joint custody) unless there is some problem that is also likely to preclude her from being seen as employable (i.e. drugs, drink, disability of some type). It will take some time for that to shift.

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  21. Sorry guys, I actually have my SAHM hat on right now. One kid has a half day and I need to get him a haircut and do chores, so I need to throw out one quick comment and dash.
    I find it interesting that this guy gets a green light on accumulating a bigger family than he can afford, while OctoMom is a punch-line for doing the same thing.
    I actually think that this guy could have afforded the two families if number 2 wife had gotten a job right away, they had rented, and been very, very cheap. Maybe they should have hired a lawyer to get more money from the her ex-husband.

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  22. I’m with bj on this one. I’m in no position to determine who “should” be entitled to marry. The implication about affordability strikes me as an odd requirement — my husband at is current (high profile-low pay) academic job is in no position to afford having a stay at home wife. Does this mean that he shouldn’t be entitled to get married to me unless I’m willing to work?
    This sort of logic also is similar much of what I see on the Motherlode blog at the NYC, where invariably people write in castigating the “breeders” for having children they cannot afford — in the lifestyle that those writing require (no need for daycare, total freedom for school days, and full payment for college so the children will not require taxpayer support). Clearly this is not what is being suggested here — but the logic bothers me nonetheless.
    I’m with Doug is that these people made some foolish decisions, decisions that the article owns up to, at least to some extent. I’m not about to take away marriage licenses for stupidity or insolvency, though.

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  23. Their problem wasn’t that a SAHM is automatically a feckless financial drain; their problem was their lack of sensible planning. Alimony is almost always “rehabilitative” these days (enabling a divorced wife to retrain for a new job), not permanent. And child support lasts until the youngest child is 21 – again, not permanent. And oh yes, buying a house at the peak of the bubble, which a LOT of people did and now they’re in foreclosure or underwater.
    But as the Queen song goes, “I want it all and I want it now!” Ed and Patty wanted each other, they wanted a house, they wanted “the lifestyle to which they were accustomed.” They didn’t plan for Ed’s paying out the wazoo on child support (which is perfectly acceptable; a man has an obligation to his kids even if he’s left their mother) and alimony (ugh, I hate alimony, but it probably is only for 5 years or so). They didn’t plan for Ed to be the one to foot the bill for stepkid expenses. (My guess is that Patty left her husband for Ed, and so Patty’s ex was able to get away with a very low CS payment; he might have threatened to take the kids as well). They didn’t plan for Ed to be the sole income earner.
    That Scouting motto, “Be prepared,” really is a good thing to remember in life.

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  24. Laura, you said at one point that this is a story about divorce, but I disagree. I still think to some degree it’s about values and status. bj’s replies are contributing to my analysis.
    People go through life and things happen to them, because of them, and in spite of them. What they have to do is realistically look at the situation. Andrews could just as easily have had some sort of health issue with one of his children that necessitated paying $4000/month out of his salary. Or he could be paying for his parents’ nursing home care. Or he could have a coke problem.
    What matters is not that these financially draining things happen but how you deal with them. The point is that Andrews valued material goods (clothes, houses, vacations) so much that he made bad choices. He just couldn’t believe he and his second wife and their assorted dependents could be happy with anything less than a certain economic status.
    I think he *can* support two families on his salary. He just couldn’t do it the same way he was used to.
    We need to call people on this. Frugality shouldn’t be some trendy choice people are making to be cool in financially difficult times.

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  25. “Does this mean that he shouldn’t be entitled to get married to me unless I’m willing to work?”
    If you’re planning on paying for this by running up the credit cards, cash-out refinancing the house to pay the credit cards and then deciding to stop paying the mortgage and living rent-free until the bank gets around to foreclosing on you.

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  26. I know where you’re coming from, Julie. I have avoided reading the mother-hating stuff in the blogosphere for a while, but I know all about it. I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that adults with jobs shouldn’t get married. I might tell a 19 year old who works PT in K-Mart that they can’t afford to get married and start a family, but no one is stopping him. It happens all the time and I’m all about helping them out. I also think that gov’t needs to assist families as much as possible with subsided daycare, nursery schools and all that. But the goal is for people to acquire only what they can afford and to not demand an excessive amount of help from others.

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  27. Fair enough, Laura. I totally understand the use of living within one’s means (and I do work, for that reason and more — as you know). I guess I just shudder at language implying that marriage rights should be caught up in the language of economics. America’s history of restricting marriage first by race and then by sexual orientation doesn’t sit well with me.
    And the logical extensions (which seem a bit ridiculous, I grant) seem unappealing (if men lose their jobs and can’t afford a family, must they divorce?). And why is this standard only applied to men? (Or is it? The posts on here seem to imply that, but on the other hand, it was a man that wrote the article.) Do we expect that women should not marry unless they can afford to support a husband and children?

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  28. “What kind of misogyny is Slate publishing under the guise of feminism? I’m horrified.”
    Slate’s been like this since it was founded, by Kinsley, who worked as an editor for Martin Peretz, helping to make ‘The New Republic’ what it is today. Snarky contrarianism is as deep in Slate’s genome as the Hox genes are in ours.
    Saletan has worked very hard at Slate to make Kinsely look like an good man.
    Heck, they still employe Hitchens.

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  29. Have I mentioned that my 8 year old has started saying “Fair enough” (for example, when I tell her that she doesn’t have to practice the piano on Saturday because she practiced it on Friday morning?).
    Where does the phrase come from, anyway?

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  30. More specifically, it was George III’s response to the Treaty of Paris. Upset after hearing that the United States got everything east of the Mississippi, an aide reminded the king that the U.S. did agree to keep Delaware. George responded with ‘fair enough.’

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  31. On the 48% of Mr. Andrews income issue in child support/alimony – I think it is more likely that each child is eligible for 16% (up to a certain dollar limit dependent upon actual income of each family) and then you need to add in the alimony as well. When I looked at the Maryland child support table – it looked like the child support for 2 children if you were making $10K a month would be a little more than $2400. Which would mean that if they had a straightforward settlement, Mrs. Andrews is getting approx. $1550 a month in alimony. Not exactly lottery winning there.
    Personally, I am not at all fussed by the fact that the courts in Maryland seem to do their best to protect the children who are affected by divorce. Mr. Andrews decided to leave his marriage. His children should pay the *least* financial consequence possible in that case. And the child support/alimony that he was paying doesn’t really seem to be outrageous…any way you want to look at it.
    He left his wife and children (3 people) who still need a place to live, food on the table and the other pieces of life which many of us know to be quite pricey. He and his ex-wife used to have his whole salary with which to fund their joint family’s lifestyle. Now, she has less than half of that income. But still 75% of the people who made that family and almost all the same fix expenses (house, food, education). If anyone truly believes that she is somehow living high on the hog – the level of delusion out there is higher than I previously believed. I would be shocked to learn that the 1st Mrs. Andrews still has a lifestyle that even closely resembles the one she had during her marriage. I have a feeling that she most likely has a full time job at this point, as well as most of the responsibility in raising their children. And who knows if she is going to have to sell the house that he owned jointly during their marriage. It might be way too expensive for her to live in once the children are out of school and the child support checks are done.
    I guess I am kind of shocked by the number of people who really seem to believe that somehow the 1st Mrs. Andrews and her kids have made out swimmingly (in terms of finance) due to her divorce. It is kind of sad that anyone could believe that. If people think it is outrageously skimpy that Mr. Andrews was only left with $2770 a month (for himself) – why is $4000 a month outrageously generous for the other *3* people that made up his family? 3 people need more room to live, eat more food, have more fixed expenses. And yet it is somehow wrong that those three people are living on basically 1 1/2 times the amt. Mr. Andrews is (if in fact mom didn’t get a job)? Get a clue.
    Why should the 1st Mrs. Andrews (or that Courts for that matter) consider whether Mr. Andrews may want to voluntarily take on more financial responsibility for further dependents when determining the child support and alimony payments? His future choices have nothing to do with what the courts are going to determine his responsibility to his children should be.
    He didn’t need to become financially responsible for another wife and her children. He chose to do that in the face of the plan financial facts he was living. To put it even more bluntly – his “feelings” were writing checks his income couldn’t cash. Ever.
    He is a thief and a liar. And that doesn’t have anything to do with his first or second wife. That has to do with something fundamentally wrong with him. He borrowed money he couldn’t repay and knew he couldn’t repay. He is living in a house free that he doesn’t own. And this is supposedly due to the child support/alimony payments? Delusion seems to be Mr Andrews main area of expertise, not finance, not family building, not writing.

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  32. His first responsibility is to care for his first kids and, if his wife made sacrifices in her career to care for their kids and support his career, then he has an obligation to support her.
    I think it is more complicated than that. Often those “sacrifices to her career” were happily and willingly made: many women prefer staying home to working, and it’s socially acceptable for them to do so. Great. But then isn’t the fact they got to put aside their career for something they preferred to do the reward?
    (It’s sort of moot in practice, my understanding is that Ailurophile is correct about the prevalence of rehabilitative-only alimony.)

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  33. Watching kids at home = working.
    In most cases, the decision to have a stay at home parent is a mutual decision. There may be many reasons behind the decision: quality care for the kids, smooth running household, the lack of good after school programs, the lack of good jobs that correspond to school hours (or lack of hours), the low salary of one parent. In some careers, even a two year gap is a death sentence. I’m actually a huge believer in alimony and post-nups to cover these arrangements. Too tired to find the links right now.

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  34. Laura,
    Would you argue that the reason Andrews was able to earn $120k was that (most likely) he had a first wife who was willing to keep the home fires burning while he maximized his career potential? (Presumably, if he’d been geographically restricted or leaving work every night at 5:05, he wouldn’t have risen as far in the NYT hierarchy.)

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  35. Amy, undoubtedly. What I’m claiming is that if she preferred “keeping the home fires burning” to being the one working (outside the home for pay in a job stressful enough to support a family a four), then her time was as much a reward as a sacrifice. She’s already continually benefited from her contributions to his earning power, in that it allowed her to live her preferred lifestyle.
    I know that some women dislike staying home, hence describing it as “complicated”.

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  36. Is working at home really a “preferred lifestyle?” It’s not a life style. It’s employment. She’s not benefiting from being SAHM. It’s a joint decision to raise a kid at home. You do understand that it’s a lot of work and both parties usually agree to this distribution of labor, because they think that it is best for the kid and because of the lack of reasonable alternatives. You act like SAHMs have won the lottery or something. Really bizarre.

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  37. The decision to work or not to work outside the home is rarely made easily. For women there is always a price to pay regardless of the choice. You stay home the gap is used against you when you reenter the workforce. You continue working full-time and on the fast track, you’re kids are either raised by an nanny or spend 10 hours each day in day care.
    The reality is that men don’t have to make these choices because women will eventually give something up, be it some part of their career or how their mothering skills are viewed by others. This is of course a generalization, but I know very few professional men that make sacrifices in their careers for the sake of the children and society doesn’t judge them for it.
    On the flip side, men are under great pressure to be successful and providers. In most careers they have to work more than 9 to 5. The difference is that they are not viewed as bad parents if they work 16 hour days.
    I don’t blame any woman who chooses to give up her career for the family, even for a short period of time, for wanting to be financially supported while she continues to take care of the children after a divorce. Her husband’s success was most likely a direct result of her willingness to step in and take care of all the work in raising children and taking care of the home so that the husband does not have to while he climbs the professional ladder. Were she to go back to work after the divorce, she would more than likely NOT be able to start where she left off. Even if she could, she might be 2, 4, 6 or ten years behind in her career.

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  38. I guess it’s a “preferred lifestyle” if as a SAHM you spend your days at the spa, but most SAHMs spend their days involved in much less glamorous activities.

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  39. Yeah, I stayed home for a year with two under two, so if you really want to write a book on this topic I’d suggest a more nuanced approach than accusing everyone who disagrees with you of not knowing what childcare entails.

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