Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shamed By Mr. Rogers

Having purchased the hilarious book-about-books How to Avoid Huge Ships and Other Implausibly Titled Books, Mr. Flossie was inspired to pull off the shelves his own little collection of odd books. One of them, Mister Rogers Talks with Parents, initially charmed me because it contains in an appendix the sheet music to all the Mr. Rogers songs. Plus, who doesn't love Mr. Rogers?

But then, of course, I had to torture myself by looking up what Mr. Rogers had to say about working mothers. Although he concedes that children are not "bound to suffer emotional damage if they don't have full-time mothers," he also opines that "if a mother has a choice about working during her baby's first years, she does well to think long and carefully about what that choice will mean." Foreboding words. He quotes a working mother:
From my own experience, I would like to suggest that sometimes the decision to work during the first year or two of a child's life is made in too much haste. I had already worked for a number of years; I had an advanced degree. How could I possibly stop midstream, and take a few years off? My brain would atrophy! I would lose my momentum; I was meant for better things. There are few decisions that I now regret more.

Thanks, Mr. Rogers! I now feel terrible. He hastens to add that many mothers have no choice and have to work. It's those who choose to work just for kicks that he wants to gently remonstrate with. Well, guess what: I work for kicks in the sense that we could, if we wanted to, with effort, subsist on Mr. Flossie's salary. And yet I still work. I freely admit I would much rather stay home with Buddy than head in to the office every morning—I'm not one of those women who feels relief at getting away to the relative calm of work. Furthermore, I know it would be better for Buddy if I did not work: even though we have the best nanny in the world, there are certain things that only Mommy can provide, especially if Mommy is breastfeeding.

So for all those reasons, I really should be at home. And yet I'm still working. Why? The money! And secondarily, because I sort of like my job. Although we were far from poverty-stricken when I was growing up, there was always the pervasive feeling of there not being enough money. And my adult life has been dominated by low-paying jobs and graduate school. My Scarlett O'Hara rock-bottom "I'll never go hungry again" moment of grad school was the day both my credit card and debit card were maxed out, and I had to abandon a cart of groceries at the co-op. I got paid the next day, so I hardly starved, but it was just the embarrassment of it all.

With that background, at this point in my life I need to know that I could support myself, Buddy, and my family if I needed to. And then there is sort of liking my job. It's definitely the best job I ever had—the most flexibility, the most independence, the best colleagues, the best bosses, the most creativity—and I am good at parts of it (though on some days I feel like the only parts I'm good at are the paper-pushing parts, like processing payroll vouchers). It's also in a very desirable, liberal-arts-major field. If I gave it up, I'm a hundred percent certain I'd never get as good a job again.

And those are the paltry reasons why I abandon my baby son for thirty hours a week. I hope that in the end, the harmful effects of my absence will be at least partially mitigated by the positive effects on the family of Mommy having a job she likes that brings in some money. I tell myself he doesn't seem horribly unhappy with his lot in life. There are still plenty of these smiles, and as I am well aware—and fully embrace—facilitating these smiles is my most important work.

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