Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ode to Unemployment.

I know what I’m supposed to say here.

I’m supposed to say that being a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) is the hardest but most fulfilling job I’ve ever had. I’m supposed to say that I don’t at all feel like my education was wasted, because my law degree is part of what makes me such an effective and insightful parent. I’m supposed to say that it’s great knowing that I have my credentials to fall back on, or go back to, if and when I ever decide for whatever reason that my time as a SAHM is coming to an end.

But screw that. I was never one to toe the line and I don’t see any point in starting now.

The truths are these:

(1) I love, love, love being a SAHM, on many, many levels; and I am obsessively devoted to my three extraordinary, scrumptious little girls. Being a SAHM was something I always wanted for myself and for my family, and I feel tremendously fortunate that my husband’s job allows me the privilege. Full stop. But being a SAHM certainly does not give me that same sense of accomplishment that I gained from, say, taking a witness deposition. Rather, with SAHM-ness, the experience is much more “Thank God I survived today” as opposed to “Look at what I got done today!” There are no obvious benchmarks, no productivity markers, no end-of-year bonuses. I mean, sure, I take huuuuuuuuge satisfaction in my four-year-old’s ability to read books at a six-year-old level, and I am enooooooooormously proud of how exceptionally well-adjusted all three of my daughters are in social situations. But on a typical day-to-day basis, I have nothing tangible to SHOW for my considerable time and effort. Or, the tangible things that I *do* have to show for them are, frankly, INANE. (See, i.e., the gigantic paper Easter bunny that I, as “class mom,” was required to construct for my daughter’s school Easter celebration.) (And our family does not even celebrate Easter.)

Now lest you be fooled into thinking that I actually *enjoyed* the five years I spent working as an attorney, let me quickly disabuse you of that notion: for the most part I despised it. Going to law school was never my idea (thank you, overbearing parents), and to placate them I intentionally only applied to the three highest-tier law schools I thought I had zero chance of getting into (thank you also, Ivy League, for lowering your standards so as to accommodate little ol’ me). I spent just about every day as an associate doing the absolute MINIMUM I could do to avoid a billable-hour apocalypse, while at the same time charming the pants off every partner (not literally) (but I never rule anything out; there’s no such thing as a normative morality) so that he/she would not notice that I was only barely doing the job. So no, it isn’t the work that I miss—it’s just the quantifiable nature of the work that I miss. My husband closes deals. I just deal.

(2) I am 99% positive that being a SAHM is a gigantic, embarrassing, ethically objectionable (per my own, non-normative moral code) waste of my education. I have a freaking top notch pedigree, for crying out loud. The reality is not lost on me that there are people on this earth who would do anything—ANYTHING—to secure a seat at either of the Ivy League schools I attended. People who have remarkable resumes by age 17, astronomical SAT scores, tear-jerking sob stories. And yet, for reasons forever unknown to me, I was given those seats. So that I could get my world news from Perez Hilton. And visit my Facebook profile an average of twenty times a day.

Hey, I’m not saying that there isn’t an advantage to being intelligent. There are, honestly, a bunch of really good parenting decisions I’ve made (teaching my kids basic sign language at 12 months of age, for one, which gave them the invaluable gift of self-expression while not stunting their speech development) that I believe can be directly attributed to my willingness to seek out and critically process information. But good lord was it really necessary that I take out several HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of dollars in student loans (all of which are still relatively intact; hello, minimum monthly payments!) and become an attorney (took and passed the bar in 4 different states!) just so that once in a blue moon I could enlighten my Mommy and Me class with some obscure reference to the theories of Piaget?

Nope, I’m wasting my education, I’m pretty darn sure of it. And I have massive guilt about it, too. Maybe law schools should make every female candidate sign an oath (worthless, admittedly, other than for its effectiveness in propagating said guilt) vowing upon admission that she will continue to practice law after giving birth instead of just sitting back and letting her smarts atrophy while all the male associates move robotically down the assembly line toward partnership?

(3) I am not at all convinced that I could go back to lawyering, even if I had the desire. Not because of any psychological or emotional hang-ups, mind you (ask me, on a bad day with the girls, like when one of them has just spent 45 minutes screaming directly into my eyeballs for no intelligible reason, whether I would work for FREE and the answer would be yes), but because I have the sneaking suspicion I have turned into a certifiable idiot. Too many episodes of The Wiggles, perhaps; but the idea of having to sell myself in a job interview as a dependable, functional adult absolutely makes me cringe. Now as you’ll recall, I was never a rising star in my law firm to begin with; but before having kids, at least on paper I was as competent as the other associates of my year. At this point, however, I—having zero poker face—fear that I’d immediately blurt out: “Treat me as if I just graduated from law school yesterday. A really crappy law school. In fact, treat me as if you’re only hiring me as a favor to my dad. And speak slowly. I’m new to this planet.”

Ahhh, this bums me out. All of the above bums me out. Because I worked hella hard to get those Ivy League degrees (don’t you just bet Michelle Obama and I had eerily similar days today?), and now I take my toddlers to the playgym in the middle of the workweek right alongside a bunch of women who never really bothered applying themselves to school at all. (Note: I actually have no idea what those other women do; they could be astrophysicists for all I know; it just makes me feel better about myself in a very juvenile way if I think of them as intellectually inferior middle school dropouts.)

And if you want to take this to a really existential level of crisis, riddle me this: By virtue of the fact that I have given birth to only daughters, haven’t I only condemned the whole pointless cycle to start all over again? I mean, I plan to lean on them academically just as my parents leaned on me (what? it’s my God-given right to repeat all the parenting mistakes my own mom and dad made)… only so that they, too, will ultimately discard their hard-earned law/medical/graduate degrees in order to stay home and breed with the rest of the middle school drop-outs?

So there you are. I am a very smart person who is very much in debt because of some very prestigious degrees that become more and more obsolete with every passing day.

Feel better about YOUR life choices yet? J


  1. Look at it this way - if not for law school, you wouldn't have met that fabulous husband or have those scrumptious girls. :) Clearly the loans were all worth it!

  2. Awesome awesome. I just had this conversation with my mother (a lawyer) yesterday: if I weren't practicing, wouldn't my expensive education go to waste? What I love about you is that you OWN that it is going to waste. However you feel about it, at least you admit it. And suggest that maybe that's OK. I still stress about my six-figure loans, etc., but the truth is, I wonder if I even LIKE being a lawyer enough to have it justify the time it keeps me away from my children. Everytime I go to Starbucks (now that I'm home on maternity leave) and see all the other moms in yoga pants, I judge and want to scream, "Usually I'm in a suit!" And, yet, yet -- I'm also really jealous of them because they are home with their children. Have you read "Perfect Madness" by Judith Warner? I'm enthralled by it at the moment, though I know she has lots of critics. Anyway, again, I think what is great about you is that you aren't trying to pretend that being a SAHM is anything other than it is. (P.S.: I also try to tell myself that without my six-figure loans and my law degree, I never would have met my husband, have had my children, etc. etc. It does help...!!)

  3. Note to ASL and Kathryn: I intentionally try to NOT justify law school on the basis that it's where I met my fabulous husband, because isn't the appearance of going to school just snag a wealthy man to support me one of the absolute WORST crimes against feminism one could commit? Even if it wasn't premeditated??

  4. You're a great mom, and what you are doing IS very valuable b/c you and Daddy are going to raise three very fine girls who will become very fine women and will undoubtedly make enormous contributions to what ever it is that they decide to do in life. They're very lucky to have you as their mother.

    And - we went to first grade together, Mommy. You're not fooling anybody. You're more brilliant than anybody else I know. And nice too!

  5. OK, just wrote and lost a huge, long soapbox-y comment. Tabbed browsing FAIL.

    Anywho...I think a worse crime against feminism would be if you went to law school (or didn't, for that matter) and married some wealthy guy (because of the *wealthy*, not because of the *guy*) who insisted that you *had* to stay home with the kids, keep a perfect house, home-cook all meals, etc., etc. Premeditation does matter - you didn't set out to marry the rich guy (and since I happen to know your husband, I *know* that's just ended up being a happy perk for both of you!), you married someone who believes in the notion of equal partnership and making joint decisions for the shared priorities of your family. But here's a question - if it turned out that your earning potential far outweighed his, would you work while he stayed home? It doesn't really matter, but do you stay home because you think it's important for your kids to have a parent at home, or because you think it's important for *you* to be at home?

    For me, I don't *have* to work, from a financial standpoint, but I *need* to, for my personal well-being. I'm actually the youngest of three daughters of two working parents (and a mom with a BS, MS, MBA, and PhD!) - but my two older sisters both stay home with their kids - so I don't think it necessarily matters which choice you make in terms of role modeling for your girls. What's far more important, in my view, is showing them an equal partnership in action - that both Mommy and Daddy (or, for that matter, both Mommies or both Daddies) contribute in the ways they're best suited to, regardless of traditional gender roles, and that family priorities are determined jointly, big decisions are made jointly, etc., while still respecting everyone's individual autonomy and needs. Easier said than done, of course.

    For now, I've basically made the choice to set aside any of my own professional ambitions and stick with a job that gives me enough of a grown-up outlet (and resume filler) while still maintaining loads of flexibility so that we can have the type of family life I value (even with kids in daycare). Admittedly, that means my paycheck is pitiful - and that, even working, I still have days when I feel like I'm wasting my advance degrees and my potential, while also missing precious time with my kids. I prefer to (oh-so-humbly) believe that society's loss is my family's gain.

    Enough rambling. Love this post...could talk about this for hours.