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Are Women Too Naive About Marriage – And Divorce?

There’s a sobering article in last week’s Salon that bears reading by all mothers near and far. Titled “Regrets of a Stay-at-Home...

There’s a sobering article in last week’s Salon that bears reading by all mothers near and far. Titled “Regrets of a Stay-at-Home Mom,” it depicts the mindset of a recently divorced, partially-employed mother of two who — after being out of the workforce for 14 years — discovers it ain’t so easy getting back into the game when she needs a full-time job.

The author, Katy Read, only partly blames the current economic crisis for her job-hunting woes. Rather, she places most of it on her decision 14 years ago to invest first and foremost in her children (“sliding . . . skating . . . supervising art projects . . . helping them with their homework”) over and above things like securing a retirement fund or a sufficiently well-cushioned savings account.

As she writes: “I did what the experts advised: developed my skills, undertook new challenges, expanded my professional contacts. I advanced creatively if not financially, published essays in respected literary journals that often paid (cue ominous music) in copies of the magazine.” Fast forward 14 years and Read finds that “My income — freelance writing, child support, a couple of menial part-time jobs — doesn’t cover my current expenses, let alone my retirement or the kids’ tuition.”

Her conclusion? Much like Sandra Tsing Loh — who, in a much-hyped article in The Atlantic a few years back urged women not to marry lest they end up, like her, in a workable but loveless “companionate marriage” — Read does the same. She counsels new mothers to forget all that stuff they hear about having “quality time” with their kids. They should go get a job so that they don’t end up broke and bereft like her.

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Image: 50% Dissolution by Donna 62 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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  1. Elle January 11, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend “The Two Income Trap”. It talks about bankruptcy and why and how people find themselves in trouble when they thought they did everything right. It was a fascinating book and a relatively quick read – the last … quarter? third? of the pages are all citations.

  2. delialloyd January 11, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    Thanks Elle! I’ve heard of it but not read it. Now is clearly the time!

  3. Kim January 12, 2011 at 10:25 am #

    Hi Delia, this really struck a chord with me. I’m 26 and completing a PhD. Since meeting my partner, I’ve noticed that slowly my career aspirations have taken a back seat as I’ve become aware that one day we’ll have children and I want to look after them. I already find it confusing knowing what to do and what career path to take and I don’t even have the children yet! It would be useful to hear from women who have successfully navigated this too. Do some couples set up joint pensions from the outset? Are pension pots automatically split in a divorce settlement? Important things to think about I guess.

    I don’t often post, but I read your blog every week, you always have such interesting articles! Kim

  4. delialloyd January 12, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    Thanks, Kim. I have no idea how different couples manage the financial thing-in different ways, I suspect. And I think how the resources get divided in a divorce is subject to negotiation. But the bottom line is-be sure you have a cushion of your own. I have friends who discover, too late in the process, that they can’t count on their husband (financially or otherwise.) Hate to be a downer but I thought the Slate article was a real wake up call!

  5. Jenny January 13, 2011 at 4:41 am #

    Sigh. For some reason, this irritates me. So, I ask myself, why is it so?
    It’s easy in hindsight to think we could have done things differently, but we may be in error to attribute the cause of our current woes to one thing or another.
    Was it investing in her children that was wrong? Hmm, I wouldn’t have thought so – it’s both parents’ responsibility, or why have them for goodness sakes?

    Was it not taking an interest in the family finances, letting ‘the man’ handle it all? Or was it just bad luck – marrying a guy, having kids, it didn’t work out. Can you really plan your life always based on contingency? What if this marriage doesn’t work, I better neglect my kids just in case?

    My analysis is probably flawed, but I’m still annoyed.

    I also get cranky when people try to parlay their bad experience into something we’re all meant to learn from. I think the trend to confessional writing isn’t helping with this.


    • delialloyd January 13, 2011 at 9:24 am #

      I hear you, @jenny and thanks for all of the thoughtful comments. I don’t think she’s trying to suggest that one should “neglect the kids” and focus solely on money (many would say there’s no trade-off there, anyway) but only that one has to be realistic about the emotional and financial aspects of marriage. At least that’s what I’m trying to say, anyway! (ps-agree that this is an upper middle class worry since most women don’t have the choice to opt out…)

  6. GingerR January 14, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    Investing in your children can include investing in yourself.

    When they’re little they need someone to watch them. Depending on your own aspirations for them, and that can include them being responsible for you in your old age, they may grow to need more than just “you.”

    My own husband contracted a fatal disease early in our marriage. Although it wasn’t fatal and he became quite successful quitting my own job never seemed like the prudent thing to do because it was not a sure thing that he’d be around to care for us in the future.

    It’s not just divorce that presents risks to families.

  7. delialloyd January 15, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    Ginger-point well taken. Sorry to hear about your husband and thanks for the important reminder-you are too right.

  8. just-euphoria January 28, 2011 at 5:46 am #

    Forget the past, see the future….

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