Because They Would Do The Work Anyway

Leslie Kaufman had an interesting article about caregivers in the New York Times last week. It explored the special care that a caregiver who is related to her charge can provide. According to one such caregiver, Tracy Keil, she* can help her charges who don’t want “just a baby sitter” to live as they would like to live, to “get out and about, go grocery shopping or see a movie.”

Mrs. Keil quit her lucrative accountant job to stay home, and she wants to be “compensated” for what is now her “full-time job” of caregiving. “She sees it not only as a battle about income but also about dignity and respect.” She’s never regretted leaving her paying job, she enjoys her new role, and she’s confident in her competence, but she worries about the financial repercussions of working for nothing.

There’s a growing group of caregivers who are lobbying to not be taken advantage of anymore. Advocates for these caregivers suspect that the government does not pay them (so far) because “they know they would do the work anyway.”

Have you guessed who the charges are?

All of the issues in the article could apply to a stay-at-home mom caring for her kids, but instead it’s about soldiers who come home from war in need of full-time care. In many cases the health aides paid for by the government provide unacceptable care, so many wives of soldiers have quit their jobs to care for their loved ones themselves.

I don’t want to make light of the atrocities of war that render grown men and women in need of full-time caregivers. And, of course, the least we could do as a grateful nation is facilitate our veterans’ return to living to their full capacity.

But.

How come we don’t talk about mother-caregivers in similar terms? I’m not saying I’d like the government to pay me for being a mother, though I do find it appealing when Nora Roberts has characters choosing to accept the “professional mother stipend” in her futuristic Eve Dallas crime books.

I’ve pointed out before that the Child Care Tax Credit is unfairly preferential to working mothers (and fathers) who pay non-relatives to care for children.

Why doesn’t anyone talk about “compensating” (or at least not punishing in the tax code) mother-caregivers? After all, it’s not just a matter of income, but of “dignity and respect.”

Also, why weren’t there protests about this betrayal of feminist ideology — this suggestion that people are happier when cared for by a relative rather than a paid aide or in an institutionalized setting? Shouldn’t someone warn these women of all they are giving up and how they are setting feminism back by settling for a mere caregiver role?

Jane

*I’m not saying a man can’t be a caregiver, but all of the examples in this article were female.

The Book of Mom, redux

It is very difficult for me to write this, but my conscience will not be silenced: I must admit that I have judged something unfairly. I have prematurely condemned it for being unoriginal and unenlightening. You know what doesn’t really bite? What actually has moments of soul-searching, and, as Sally (7) says, many scenes that are “laugh out loud”? Turns out, Hannah Montana is not a bad show — the interaction between father and daughter is well worth the time of any parent and tween. But that is a post for another day.

Today I must confess to another sin of pre-judgement. I was wrong when I said The Book of Mom Bites. The End. Now that I have read all 261 pages, I can in confidence tell you that what I should have said was:

The Book of Mom Bites the Big Tuna. The End.

First, though, I’ll list the things I like about this book. Because I can only imagine how awesomely scary it must be to send forth one’s book to an uncaring world, like casting pearls before swine, or sending your firstborn to kindergarten. Will her teacher recognize that she is WELL above-average the first day?

What I like about The Book of Mom

I like that life/friendship/marriage/motherhood/people are portrayed as having so many ups and downs that it’s nearly impossible to determine whether they’re “good” or “bad.” But it’s hard to appreciate this when the characters and their relationships change too conveniently based on what kind of foil the narrator needs at any particular moment. (NM = Narrator Mom, BF = Best Friend):

NM Depressed = BF Perfect Example of All Good Things.
NM Enlightened = BF In Need of Reciprocal Wisdom.
NM Open to Husband = Husband Complete Jerk.
NM Resenting Husband = Husband Unexpectedly Sends Her to a Spa.

I like that tough topics are addressed: alcoholism, near-adultery, cancer, incest, borderline child abuse, unhappy marriages, and unfulfilled motherhood. But it’s hard to embrace this aspect because too often the revelation of a character’s issues (e.g.: BF witnessed father’s rape of sister, p 241) are transparent deux ex machina (ducks machines) tacked on ex post facto (after they would do any good plot-wise) that presumably explain otherwise incomprehensible behavior.

I like that these issues aren’t resolved satisfactorily. That resembles real life, right? But this is fiction, and some sort of resolution would be nice. If you don’t mind manufactured conflicts, surely manufactured solutions wouldn’t sully your writing aesthetic too much.

I like that friendship is so important to NM. I also sometimes wonder what on earth I’d do without my best friend. But NM’s friendships are a bit codependent, and I can’t help thinking that if she could be only one-tenth as understanding of and interested in her husband as she is her BF, she would have the best marriage on the planet. At one point (p 113), BF says “Honey, where have you been? We are married,” and I think that’s just wrong.

I could go on, about the fact that this book is fiction when it isn’t and full of New Age-y profundities that aren’t (p 237) and man-bashing (p 224-5) and dialogue so contrived and stilted (p 154) that at one point (p 226) BF asks NM: “Are you reading a script?” And all I can think, is, FINALLY, someone says something you might hear in real life.

Or I could point out how icky it is that in this work of “fiction,” NM finds the meaning of life in a workbook called A Course in Miracles, which happens to be the actual basis for seminars the author teaches in real life. Coming soon to a town near you: Taylor G. Wilshire (author) Teaches A Course in Miracles, Which Tate (“fictional” NM) Says Saved Her Life.

But I’ll just skip to the ickier and ickiest parts that make me want to pull out every strand of hair on my head. While jumping up and down on the ashes of this book.

Ickier Part of The Book of Mom

I think we can agree that the whole point of this book is figuring out how to embrace and enjoy (or at least survive) Mom-hood.

Right when NM reaches the bottom of her incredibly whiny downward spiral, she realizes that she and BF should create something together, “like a book that empowers children.” (I could point out here that TGW (author) is also coming out with a series of children’s books, but I’ll restrain myself). BF says the book should have a “parenting edge, like ‘Get off your cell phones, Blackberry, and email and be present for your children. . . . kids can’t wait, and we don’t get that time back with them. It’s lost.'” And NM says, “So your message is that parents should be connected and one with their children, living fully in the moment” (p 92).

The children’s book is written by NM and illustrated by BF. It is a success, and NM has to fly out-of-town for a signing on the same day that her oldest son has a special performance at school. He doesn’t understand why mommy won’t be there for him. NM explains:

I will be there; not in body but in spirit. . . my spirit is who I really am — it will be wrapped around tightly hugging you, embracing you. My words will be in your head telling you how much I love you. . . . If you get sad or scared, remember my heartbeat is tugging your heart. . . . I will be there every minute that you are there; I will not miss one beat, because my love will be all around you. . . . I’ll be the invisible power that walks in front of you and behind you. (p 175-6)

BUT I WILL NOT ACTUALLY BE THERE BECAUSE I WILL BE IN ANOTHER TOWN PROMOTING A BOOK ABOUT HOW TO PARENT CONSCIOUSLY BY BEING PRESENT FOR YOUR CHILDREN AND LIVING FULLY IN THE MOMENT.

Ickiest Part of The Book of Mom

Maybe we can agree that the other whole point of this book is that motherhood is a challenging, important thing, that, if approached with wisdom and love and balance, will be fulfilling. Also, armed with this new self-knowledge, a woman will feel that what she does as a wife and mother is of incomparable, intrinsic value.

NM’s strained marriage plays a big role in The Book of Mom, and, since the roles of mom and wife are often inseparably entwined, this should be a strength of the book. The biggest breakthrough in NM’s marriage comes when she is finally able to get her husband to see her as an equal partner after her new writing career takes off and she is a “working woman now. A working woman who got paid, that is — with money and respect.”

BECAUSE IF YOU ARE NOT GETTING MONEY FOR WHAT YOU DO, YOU DO NOT DESERVE RESPECT, EVEN FROM THE MAN WITH WHOM YOU HAVE CHOSEN TO BUILD A LIFE AND FAMILY WITH.

Of course there is nothing wrong with being a work-at-home mom or a working mom or a mom from Mars, but, please, do not tell me that those are the only options for a woman who expects equal partnership with her husband, or, heaven forbid, happiness. Do not advertise your book as a paean to finding sanity in being a stay-at-home mom and then slyly conclude that the only way you see it working is just that — for the mother to start really working. Have the guts and the wisdom and the insight, damn it, to share how you found being a MOTHER to be a viable role for women.

Or write a different book called The Book of Mom Who Earns Money. Just please don’t ask me to recommend it.