On the brink of another life change, before I got married the first time, my mom offered the following unsolicited advice:
“Always have girlfriends, and always keep your own bank account.”
In other words, always stay interdependent with others outside your family, and always maintain enough independence to call at least some of your own shots.
It’s something I’m considering as I navigate the fraught terrain for women planning to merge career and child care for the first time. How do I find this stuff? How much should it cost? How do you make sure it’s good?
And the biggest question of all, one that keeps coming up with other friends who are expecting children or new parents:
Is it selfish to keep working when child care is so expensive and he makes more money than I do?
That question. My goodness. That question we’d heard before and never thought would apply to us.
I keep thinking back to my mother’s advice. Always have girlfriends. It’s not just about friends. It’s not just about marriage. It’s about a woman’s place in a broader world. It’s about support systems. Having just one support system is not supporting yourself as well as you could. My family is important to me. But I feel like I’m selling all of us short if I don’t have friends and career, which are also important to me and my sense of identity.
Always keep your own bank account. This one feels more tricky. Like a lot of women married to men, my husband makes more money than I do. And with a kid on the way, the questions get louder. As one New York Times blogger wrote, Why Do I Think My Salary Pays for Child Care? I admit to the same thinking, and hearing it among friends. Does it economically make sense for me to work? Given that we almost always direct this question at women, how will we clear the way so our daughters don’t have to ask this question? Sure, we often get paid less. But maybe if we stick around at work we can help be part of the ongoing and as-yet unrealized call for equal pay.
It’s also about now and not just the future. As one of my friends said to me, sure he makes more than I do, and he’s going to pick up more money for the baby’s needs. What if I work less or not at all to stay with the kid, and I want to buy a pair of jeans? What if I want to stop for a coffee? And whether we’re talking about disposable income or accessing basics like food and health care, that’s what money really comes down to: Power. The power to make your own decisions and be in control of your life.
I don’t have easy answers to these questions. Our baby will come soon. As I consider a life on the brink of great change, I can’t stop thinking about what my mom said. Mixing interdependence, independence, child, work and family is not easy. It makes me frustrated that these issues are typically seen as women’s issues. They are societal issues. My guess is the more we move toward that frame, the easier it will be to make some changes.