Up until the age of 28, my life was pretty close to any feminist’s ideal. I was educated, had a successful career and even had a marriage with an enviable division of labor.
From 7 a.m. until 6 p.m., my husband and I pursued our own accomplishments and scrounged for ourselves. Back at home, we took turns on dinner and laundry. He mowed while I vacuumed. We both brought home the bacon, and we both fried it up in the pan.
It worked just great. Up until I was 28. That’s the year I got pregnant. That’s when I had to make The Decision, the one that most women face, and many dread: Who would take care of my baby? Me or another?
My answer, I knew, would not please the feminist crowd. I had heard their arguments. If I stayed home, I wouldn’t be personally fulfilled and would be sacrificing the gains women had made.
But I made peace with those. There was something more important, I decided.
With my decision logically thought through and made, I was a little surprised when nagging questions kept popping into my head.
But is it really wise to give up your career? What if you need to go back to work?
“I’m sure I’ll go back to work someday,” I told myself. “But right now, this is what I need to be doing.”
But to let him earn all the money?
“It doesn’t matter who earns the money,” I was getting a little irritated with myself. “This is a family.”
But it hit home when an acquaintance gave me a sly little smirk and remarked how “trusting” I was to suspend my career.
I got it.
In her eyes, in the eyes of many and, yes, in my own eyes, I was making myself vulnerable. And no woman, it is understood in the sisterhood, should ever make herself vulnerable. Why? Because, as feminists are quick to point out, I would lose any and all power I had in my marriage.
“Women who are dependent upon their husbands for livelihood are in a weak position to bargain with their husbands over anything else,” writes Ann Crittenden in The Price of Motherhood. “If he refuses to clean up after dinner, what is she going to do? Threaten to leave with the baby? Not likely.”
Not only would I lose my power, but I’d basically be at the whim of my husband.
“No doubt the majority of breadwinners never abuse their power, but that is not really the point. The point is they could if they wanted,” Crittenden warns darkly.
According to the feminists, money is power. And women are only equal when they are earning. As former National Organization for Women (NOW) president Karen DeCrow wrote, “Love can flourish between adults only when everyone pays his or her own way.”
Not a pretty picture. But it gets worse. If I’m vulnerable in marriage, I’m even more vulnerable out of it.
“If [a man’s] marriage fails, he can walk away with his wallet and enter the secondary marriage market largely unimpaired,” Crittenden writes. “Women, on the other hand, invest heavily in their children but have nothing like the same security.”
It’s not just liberal commentators, even, who recognize this fear of divorce.
Conservative Danielle Crittenden (not related to the liberal Ann) writes in her book What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: “Because of the instability of marriage today, many women feel compelled to keep working. They dare not take the risk of leaving their jobs lest, in ten or twenty years down the road, they find themselves divorced.”
Liberal Crittenden advocates government and business policies to make it easier for women to work and have families. But I didn’t want to work, I wanted to raise my child.
Conservative Crittenden advocates changing our attitudes to value motherhood and recognizing that women need help getting time away from the workforce. But I had no time to wait for changing attitudes. I was trying to figure out my own.
As a young woman raised on “girl power,” having a “provider” seemed a pretty bitter pill to swallow. What should I do? Continue to work because of a fear of abandonment or stay home and hope for the best?
Thankfully, through some heavy talks with God, He showed me there was a third way. My understanding started to center around Jesus’ words in Matthew 6.
“So don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.”
I was waffling between whether to let my husband provide for me or to provide for myself. God was making one thing crystal clear: I was wrong both ways. He was my provider.
Still, I could almost hear the feminists sneering at me in my mind, mocking my naiveté. What good will that do you when you’ve been left alone with your kids? Will your God provide for you then?
Finally, with assurance, my answer was yes. Should that eventuality occur, somehow, someway, my God would provide. I didn’t need to fear doing the right thing now because of what might happen someday.
God also showed me that I could have confidence in my husband for the very reason most feminists would distrust him — he believed deeply in his responsibility to God. Kevin was accountable to me and the baby, yes. But, more so, he was accountable to his Creator who had commanded him to love me as Christ loved the church.
Even current research seemed to give me a little support. In The Two-Income Trap, author Elizabeth Warren points out that in the 1970s a single-earner family and dual-earner income family had about an equal probability of breaking up. During the 1990s, however, a working wife was 40 percent more likely to divorce than her stay-at-home counterpart.
Feminist scholars would argue that a stay-at-home mom is more dependent and, therefore, can’t leave. But now, on the other side of mommyhood, I see a different reason.
Raising a family is hard work. And I mean hard. It stresses and strains you, and grows and matures you like nothing else you will experience. Had Kevin and I tried to fit our baby into our 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. life, the pressures would have been enormous.
As Warren acknowledges, “Perhaps the combination of working and bringing up the kids makes for a more stressful home life and leaves the two-earner couple with less time for each other.”
I think that’s right. Kevin and I still have pressures — his mainly to provide for the family and mine mainly to raise and maintain it. But many pressures have also been lifted. We both know the kids are in good hands — our own — and we don’t have to try to squeeze our family life between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. at night.
Feminists told me to fear staying at home because of divorce. Could it be that by choosing traditional roles — choosing, in essence, to “divide and conquer” our lives — that Kevin and I have found a way to ease the pressures and make divorce less likely?
Of course, I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I could face divorce someday, though I don’t think I will. We might face financial ruin tomorrow, though, of course, I hope we don’t.
But what I’ve come to realize is that my financial security, whether I’m working or not, is not in my own hands. My financial security — in fact, my entire security — is in God’s.
Copyright 2005 Heather Koerner. All rights reserved.