When I read popular accounts of satisfaction or regret over life decisions, I’ve focused more on the positive side, along the lines of the Facebook status update staple from Steven Covey:
How many on their deathbeds wished they’d spent more time at the office – or watching TV? The answer is, No one.” ~ Stephen Covey
Well, I found one today. Some strange bird on HuffPo (yes, I read widely) said this past summer:
In some cosmic way I feel that I let down a generation of women who made it possible to dream big, even though I know the real goal of the Women’s Movement was to be able to dream anything. ~Lisa Endlich Heffernan
She’s talking about her regret about having decided to be a stay at home mom. The subtle, underlying assumption, is an economic argument. Only a career, money, and all the trappings can truly make a person happy. It is a very one-sided article. Her basic arguments were:
I let down those who went before me. Therefore, it follows that so did every other SAHM who refused to jump on the radical feminist bandwagon. Your misplaced devotion to people you never knew and don’t give a damn about you is stunning.
I used my driver’s license far more than my degrees. Because stock trading is so much more important than parenting. Points deducted for focusing on things instead of people.
My kids think I did nothing. In the spirit of magnanimity, I’ll only say that no, they aren’t as vapid as you make them out to be. One point of extra credit for at least focusing on people, even if it was in an icky, dysfunctional sort of way.
My world narrowed. For the sole reason that you weren’t in the traditional workforce? The world is as broad or as narrow as you make it. No points deducted. No extra credit. Ten percent off coupon for an ADT alarm system to protect you from the suburban SAHMs you just accused of being Stepford Wives.
I got sucked into a mountain of volunteer work. And that put you into contact with tons of all varieties of people, but since you didn’t get paid for it, it didn’t count. Five point deduction for again focusing on things instead of people.
I worried more. Focusing on your children at a granular level, I think you said. When you’re commanding the trading floor for your company, you can afford to pay others to worry about your kids. Actually, I see this as a positive, because worry can be productive. We are becoming worse as a society because nobody is worrying about the kids. At the granular level. In fact, the more eyes we have on the children, on the street, the safer we all are. Ten points of extra credit because you cared.
I slipped into a more traditional marriage. This is the one that floored me. Traditional marriage here is a bad thing, according to Lisa. She’d rather come home from work in a “blinding haze of exhaustion” and too tired to pay attention to the kids, than to pick up her husband’s dry cleaning.
I became outdated. She is angry that she didn’t get to keep up with the latest in cutting edge technology and software. Taking back the ten points because (sigh) again, you focus on things and not people. You’re bummed because Lotus Notes clutched its chest and died on somebody else’s watch?
I lowered my sights and lost confidence. This is Lisa’s biggest regret, and she blames it on being a SAHM. Confidence in what? Her value as a person. She is upset because, during the time it took to raise her children, she became obsolete in her former profession. Out of compassion, and because Lisa’s article was a culturally conditioned response, no points will be deducted, however no extra credit will be assigned.
In certain aspects, I don’t blame her for feeling as she does. She probably still has a ton of student loan debt and her job training went to waste. Lets not confuse this debt with having received an education, because they are two vastly different things and it appears she only received job training. Had she received an education, she would have valued her SAHM status for what it was: Freedom from the narrowly structured world of work, with all of the glorious possibilities that entails. The world of work is still structured for men. It punishes women for being women. For having children. For needing to breastfeed at inconvenient times. And all sorts of other things. The SAHM world, on the other hand, due much in part to the advancements in technology and all of these labor saving devices we have now, allows mom to explore, to learn, to grow, to home school, to volunteer, to acquire skills that allow for the upgrade from SAHM to WAHM.
Education should be seen as a lifelong endeavor that has value for its own sake. Job training, and even the idea of a university degree, has some value but this value is limited. It is becoming more and more limited the more expensive “education” becomes.
But education can be as cheap or as expensive as you let it become. It can be as cheap as an on-loan library book or a downloaded public domain Google Books Project file on your e-book reader. It can be as expensive as an Ivy League degree and the years of loan-slavery that ensue or as costly as the misguided notion that the only worthwhile work takes place in the external economy.
I would contend that in many cases today, if you’ve set aside a nice nest egg for your child’s education, you might instead buy them a house with it. Make it a smaller house that is easy to heat and cool, and you’ll be doing them another favor. They will be years ahead of the game.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I am anti-education. I’m two-thirds of a way through a master’s degree. I’m attaining it with no educational debt, too. I’m credentialed in my chosen field, and I read broadly and deeply. Fiction and non-fiction. Books and journals. Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you go to a college or university, that you’ll get an education. What you will most likely get is saddled with massive debt.