JB: How different are things for you now, three years after you first wrote that piece, Katy?
KR: Things are much better, thanks, though still not where they need to be for me, financially. What's interesting is that my situation improved, indirectly, because of the piece itself.
After the essay ran, the op-ed department of my local newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, published it on the cover of the Sunday opinion section. The lifestyle editor saw it and started offering me freelance work. Some of those assignments were for a group of special sections the paper had just launched. Soon I heard they were looking to hire a part-time writer for those special sections. I applied for the job and, voila, I've been doing it since April 2011.
It's a great job in many ways: I write about a variety of genuinely interesting topics, and we're a small department in the newsroom, with a lot of creative independence and flexibility. On the less bright side, it's part-time and its benefits do not include health insurance.
My savings have dwindled, so when I write stories about preparing for retirement I try not to think about how they'd apply to me. One son is in college, the other a high school senior. As they leave home, I'll be losing child support, which constitutes nearly half my income. So, you know, do the math -- unless something changes I'm still going to be in trouble. I try to stay optimistic, though.
JB: It's wonderful how much good came out of the original article. Hopefully, we can generate some more buzz this time around. So, what would you say now, Katy? Was it worth it to be a stay-at-home-Mom, knowing what you know and where you find yourself presently?
KR: I cherish the time I had with my sons, experiences I wouldn't have had if I'd been working full time. I get emails from mothers who say they stayed in full-time jobs and feel wistful about what they missed. Even professionally, those years allowed me do things (freelance for national magazines, publish literary essays) I wouldn't have done had I remained a newspaper reporter. So yes, it was definitely worth it.
But if the best way back into the workforce is to write an internet essay that goes a little viral, we're obviously hanging a lot of mothers out to dry.
The headline that Alternet put on my essay, "The Major Life Regrets," etc., is hugely misleading. I do have regrets, but they're not as much regrets about my own life as they are regrets that our culture and economy and typical workplaces are structured in ways that devalue caregiving, put excessive pressure on mothers, leave at-home parents without a safety net, don't provide as much flexibility as both mothers and fathers need to care for kids while also earning livings.
We've still got this all-or-nothing mentality. At work, we act like people don't have kids. At home, we act like parents don't have jobs. For example, just as I started my new job in 2011, my son joined an after-school lacrosse league. Great activity! Except that he had practices at 3:30 p.m., four afternoons a week, at fields all over Minneapolis.
And of course it's inexcusable that women who do make the choice to "opt out," for whatever reason -- and there are many logical, understandable ones -- have such a hard time opting back in later. I believe it may actually have been easier for my mother to return to her advertising career in the 1970s than it would be now, because employers in those days weren't as disapproving of the choice to take time off for kids. It was what most women did, not a reflection on their abilities as a copywriter or whatever.
JB: I hear you, Katy! I understand you may parlay some of this into a book. Tell us about that, please.
KR: It's a memoir that also examines the larger forces of what I call motherhood culture, the pressures that have influenced my own experience raising children and, I think, those of many other women. For example, the so-called "parenting experts" I naively trusted when my sons were babies insisted that ordinary daycare centers were insufficient; children were said to need nearly constant one-on-one attention in their first three years. Part of the reason I left my job was that I saw that those responsibilities were all but impossible to combine with my responsibilities as a newspaper reporter. Meanwhile, of course, there weren't lot of great newspaper jobs that would have allowed me to do those things while keeping a foothold in the workplace.
The book also looks at how much more heavily those burdens fall on mothers -- fathers have their own issues, to be sure, but mothers are still widely expected to be the primary parent and I still see newspaper articles and so forth addressed to "moms." But if mothers express dismay over any of this, our arguments are not taken seriously: we're said to be whining or engaging in "mommy wars." Slapping the label "mommy" on things mothers do is a effective way to trivialize them.
JB: How true.
KR: Oh, there's a lot to discuss! I could have gone on and on in my essay, but you know space limitations.