the feminine mistake

I haven't yet read this book, although I plan to:

The author argues that when women allow themselves to become too dependent on men for their financial well being, they are taking a huge risk. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But millions of women are still giving up jobs and careers to stay home full time, believing that they can count on the deal they have struck with their husbands: they will take care of the children and he will provide his wife's financial security.

Women who do this mean well. I did it myself for a number of years, and I continue to believe that having one parent at home most of the time is optimal for babies and young children. It also helps a household run more smoothly even as the kids get older. God knows it would be easier if either Jon or I worked, say, half time.

But it's a big risk for the women who do it. Fifty percent of us will end up divorced or widowed, no matter how good our marriages seem when our children are little. And I can tell you from personal experience that ending up a mother in your mid-30s with no husband-with-a-job, no retirement plan of your own, no full time job and no health benefits is not a good place to be. It's even worse for women who find themselves in that position in their 40s, 50s, or 60s.

I wrote about my own experience as a "displaced homemaker" RIGHT HERE. As I say in the piece I wrote, I was luckier than most. I had kept one foot in the workplace even as I stayed home with my children (I was a freelance writer and editor) and this made it somewhat easier for me to find a "real" job and get back into the workforce, but it wasn't easy. If it hadn't been for significant family help during the transition, I would have ended up on public assistance.

My advice to all young women is to assume you will always have to earn a living for yourself and your children. If you take time off to be home with children, be smart and keep one foot in the workforce with freelance or part time work. Go back to work at least part time when your kids go to school. Get a retirement plan in your own name and start socking money away, even if you are a stay at home mom.

And we should all be working within the political system for better family social supports in this country that don't force women to make such stark choices between financial security and family obligations, starting with one year of paid maternity leave and retirement benefits for stay at home caregivers.


Anonymous said...

These are words of truth and wisdom.
becky mom of Willie

Anonymous said...

I worked for a law firm while I was in college. You wouldn't believe the number of women who came in, stunned, having spent 10, 20, 40 or 50 years in a marriage only to find themselves served with divorce papers. These women "never believed it would happen to them." They had devoted their lives to being the "perfect" wives and mothers. Some were looking at having to find a job or job training in their late 50s. Not a pretty picture.

I don't care if I married a millionaire, I would never give up having a job or let my skills become rusty. Divorce CAN happen to you. Depending solely on another person is suicide.

Anonymous said...

You know the system should be more supportive. I mean the courts and the workplace. For instance, maybe retirement funds should not be considering a marital asset for the divorcing person who made the most career and financial sacrifices. (Usually the mother.) Maybe corporations should make opt-outers part of their diversity initiatives. And so on.

helen said...

I read a review of the book but have decided against reading it so will be interested in your take when you finish. At the age of 37 with a new 8 week old, I have decided to give myself a "gift" and take next year off my full time job. This decision was quite difficult for me as I have always worked 2+ jobs (even in grad school) and it is hard to imagine not being completely secure and independent financially. I am lucky, though, in that I teach and even though it is a (comparatively) low paying gig it is one that does allow for long term child care leave and is forgiving in terms of allowing women to take time off to raise their young children. I also (like most teachers) have several "side jobs" I do for extra money that I will be able to continue while I take the time off. However, I would like to see my profession become more progressive (many states do offer 1/2 and 3/4 time for teachers) so it does not have to be such an "all" or "none" choice---work full time or not at all. I doubt many corporate lawyers would be satisfied with my salary pre or post divorce, though...

ErinOrtlund said...

I think your advice is good--women should definitely be encouraged to have an education and work experience and not to assume someone will always take care of them. And I think it is dangerous to stay completely out of the workforce for too long. Personally, I'm willing to forego paid work for a few years while my kids are small--we have life insurance if DH were to die.

Other good societal changes would be: more professional PT positions, more job shares, universal healthcare to increase people's options (maybe then parents can share childcare more equally if healthcare isn't tied to FT work) .

Angel said...

If you want to be a part of the change, go to

They are a nonpartisan group working for change in the political system, focusing on family issues.

Anonymous said...

I think this is baloney. First of all, the divorce rate is not 50%. That number means that in any given year, the applications for divorce will be half the number of the applications for marriage. The actual divorce rate, meaning the number of marriages which end in divorce, is closer to 30%.

Now, whichever odds you prefer, I'm not going to live my life in fear. Why bother to have kids when your marriage could explode at any moment? Surely their health and well-being would be better off if they didn't exist, rather than subject them to the 50-50 divorce rate?

If I get a divorce, then it will be difficult, but I will get by. I will be stronger for my pulling myself up out of the mess.

But if I work now, then I and my family, would be unhappy, and we would all feel a lot more stress. We like having me home. We feel it is best for our children. It is better for our marriage, because I don't have so much to juggle. I like the quality of life that I have. I don't want to trade the happiness that I feel today, for some bleak future that may or may not happen.

After all, I'm going to be unhappy if I get a divorce, whether I worked before or after it. I might as well keep that happiness I have now, instead of trading it for unhappiness all around.

So work if you want to work. But I'm happy at home.

Jenny said...

I'm at home with my son, which I believe is the right place to be. But before I decided to have children, I went to law school and practiced for several years. I'm comfortable knowing that if I suddenly needed to return to work, I could.

I recently spent 5 years in the West, and I noticed that the LDS community generally follows this model. The young women know they will marry and have children (lots of children), but a large percentage graduate from college before doing so.

Not only can divorce leave a woman the breadwinner, but so can tragedy. Education is a good backup plan. Of course, not all careers permit an easy transition back into the workforce after long periods of hiatus.

Anonymous said...

Thank for Is there anything on the site about the impact of divorce on mothers? I'm not finding it.

mamalife said...

Amen. While I hate leaving my girl 4 days per week to go to work, I also value the fact that I am teaching her that women can earn money to support themselves and/ or contribute to the household. When she grows up, if she is blessed enough to have the choice not to work and chooses not to, great. But I also want her to always have a means to support herself if needed so she will never feel trapped in a bad situation simply because of money.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised this is such groundbreaking news to people. I feel like I've been hearing this message my whole life. I can't even be sure where I heard it, it's such a part of me. I have always worked, and always preferred to be self-supporting.

Coincidentally, my parents divorced when I was in 2nd grade, and I saw this scenario play out first hand. I can still feel the after-effects from the divorce, and my parents did it peaceably! It was so hard to watch my mom struggle for so many years. I still doubt she's saved adequately for retirement. The hardest part of being part of a broken family for me was witnessing the difficulties my mom dealt with.

I think a lot of you are right on for continuing to keep up your skills, education, and keep a foot in the door somehow.

dewi said...

I'm also surprised this is such groundbreaking news and that women are stupid enough to not work once the kids are school age.

My father told me this in 1975.
When so many of my parent's friends were divorcing I remember while I was whining about my future in college he demanded that I always earn a living for myself even if I got married. I am the youngest child and my mom went back to work when I was in third grade (she did not need to financially). She loved work, she worked in an accounting firm and I adored how beautiful she dressed to go to work in Manhattan. Her life seemed so much more important then my friend's mothers who stayed at home and she dressed so much better! She and my dad are still married.

Anonymous said...

One year of paid maternity leave?

What about fathers?

And who will pay this year of no work? I assume it will be the folks who are still working?

I don't begrudge folks having kids and choosing to stay home, but I shouldn't have to pay for it. They want to do it. Fine. Let them pay for it.

Angel said...

Anonymous, Chapter 3 of the Motherhood Manifesto addresses mothers leaving the workplace to care for their children and the impact.

Clisby said...

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by retirement benefits for stay-at-home caregivers. Stay-at-home spouses do get Social Security retirement benefits, if the working spouse contributes to SS. They also can open IRAs. If you mean an unmarried stay-at-home caregiver, I think they should be able to pay into the Social Security/Medicare system if they want. I don't know the rules for opening an IRA if you have no income and aren't married.

Leslie said...

"I'm also surprised this is such groundbreaking news and that women are stupid enough to not work once the kids are school age."

I am really offended by this comment. I don't necessarily plan to work when all my kids are in school and there is nothing stupid about me. You don't know everything there is to know about other women's lives and why they make the choices they do.

"my mom went back to work when I was in third grade (she did not need to financially). She loved work, she worked in an accounting firm and I adored how beautiful she dressed to go to work in Manhattan. Her life seemed so much more important then my friend's mothers who stayed at home and she dressed so much better!"

Surely you didn't mean to sound so superficial? The mothers I know who stay home after their kids are in school are busy helping to run schools and churches, doing volunteer work in their communities, and being there for their kids. Am I the only one who thinks that's just as important as keeping track of other people's money? They may not dress very well but I think their values are in the right place.

As for me, if it's not necessary financially I don't plan to work outside of the home while my kids are in the house. You can call me stupid if you want to, but I am going to concentrate on what my marriage and family need NOW, not in some ominous future that may never come to pass. And if it does, I'll deal with it then.

Anonymous said...

I think what KAG is saying is that there should be a middle way. Women should be able to build a healthy family, but should take care of themselves and their children by recognizing that keeping their job skills up is a good idea. She is not bashing stay at home mothers she says it's better for children when one parent can be home most of the time. She is also pointing out that better political support for families would eliminate many of these problems.

Angel said...

" One year of paid maternity leave?

What about fathers?

And who will pay this year of no work? I assume it will be the folks who are still working?

I don't begrudge folks having kids and choosing to stay home, but I shouldn't have to pay for it. They want to do it. Fine. Let them pay for it.


I'm not sure if you realize that the United States is the only industrialized country (besides Australia) that does not offer ANY paid maternity leave for new parents. Doesn't that seem strange, given we are the wealthiest country in the world and one that touts "family values" as a major part of what makes us so great?

Clisby said...

I don't see anything strange about the U.S. not offering paid leave for parents. The U.S. doesn't have universal health care, and providing that would be a heck of a lot more important than paid parental leave.

Angel said...

Well, it seems strange that there is such a huge health care crisis in America as well. The two don't seem mutually exclusive to me.

Clisby said...

They aren't mutually exclusive. They're mutually compatible.

Angel said...

Sorry, semantics seem to be getting in the way of my point. Instead of "strange" insert "ridiculous" and maybe we'll realize we are saying the same thing.

Clisby said...

Not exactly. I don't think it's either strange or ridiculous that the U.S. doesn't provide paid parental leave. I don't see any reason for the taxpayers to subsidize one type of life choice (having children) over another (striving to climb Mt. Everest, for example.) Universal health care, though, could benefit everyone.

Anonymous said...

gosh, only one intelligent comment in the WHOLE field. Yeah its really about living in fear. As for the death: um, isn't that the POINT of life insurance? I am all for women who feel that they have a place in the working world to take it if they can balance it all out BUT to be working because "maybe" you might get divorced in some nebulous future when your kids need you home NOW seems to me to be yes, living in fear of "what if". There are too many neglected kids in the world whose mothers buy into this tripe and then wonder why the kids are out sniffing glue or killing themselves when they barely have any time with mom or dad because every time a career choice comes up mom decides its in everyones best interest to live in fear and advance her career all the while sacrificing her kid. The same might be said for a previous generation of men who felt that earning more money for their families was more important than spending time with them. I suppose ultimately one must trust that if you do the right thing today then you will get by tomorrow. Maybe not with the spiffy new clothes and new house and new car and top notch neighborhood but you WILL get by. And is it worth sacrificing your kids emotional future for something that most likely will not happen?
I might also add that the internet has probably changed the whole face of people being able to both earn money and be there for their families. What's it about? The high powered career or your family?
I agree about the statistics here too: it is being manipulated to sell this point by an angry bitter woman. When you look at these statistics too, they represent population as a WHOLE, not divided into subgroups. A lot of these divorces are people that may not have anything in common with you and your values and way of life yet you are told that you have a fifty fifty chance of divorcing because some other people have an eighty percent chance and thats the way it averages out. A lot of these may be nimskulls who marry for a year and then dump the person, not long term child involving committed marriages. But statistically, its all the same.