Tuesday, January 10, 2006

My View of the News: Homemaking

I saw Terry Martin Hekker on Katie Couric's show the other morning, talking about how her idyllic years of homemaking came to an abupt end when her husband of forty years divorced her.

Terry Martin Hekker, the author of this article which was published in the New York Times (you can get a trial membership if you want to read it--or email me and I'll send you a copy of it,) wrote a different Op-Ed piece years ago for the NYT which later morphed into a book extolling the virtues of being a homemaker. And in her current piece, she doesn't exactly say she regrets it--she said she'd marry the same man and have the same children, but that she'd go to school when her youngest did and earn a degree so she could earn a living. Because, you never know, after all. She says if she wrote another book, it would be titled, Diregard First Book.

She essentially says she wasted time working for community and charitable organizations when she ought to have been looking out for herself. (Really, if you haven't clicked away yet, go ahead and read that article.)

Here's what I wonder:

1) Should all women assume their marriages will end in divorce sooner or later? And if so, will that becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy?

2) If we, as women, refused to date, have relationships with and marry divorced men, would those men honor their vows? Or will this constant partner-switching continually worsen?

3) Did the so-called "Sexual Revolution," (and the birth control pill) directly increase the divorce rate?

4) Does this woman's story mean that homemaking in and of itself is a pointless waste of a life?

5) What kind of a loser man leaves his wife of forty years in such a predicament? And what kind of sleazebag woman would marry him?

(Update: Almost instantly, I regretted my questions in number 5--and thought question number 3 was kind of out of place--but I will leave them so the comments make sense. It is clearly wrong of me to call people names, even names which are crossed out as a sort of lame joke. I have far too much personal experience with this topic to be rational and impartial and I realize my questions are over-generalizations and insulting to my readers who also have personal experiences--some more painful than my own, to be sure.

So, I apologize, but I leave this post as originally written--in haste, while babies were rolling around my floor and with particular people in mind. I have appreciated the responses so far and thank you, my diverse band of readers, for offering your perspectives. When I open my brain and dump out the contents, I ought to use a strainer to get the lumps out before hitting "Publish Post.")

11 Comments:

Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Good questions. Because I feel lively, I'm going to take a stab at #3.
There is a book on the history of women in America which points out that while the divorce rate has skyrocketed in the latter part of the 20th century, this isn't an entirely illuminating statistic because a) the divorce laws were so draconian or nonexistant that people often just lived apart without the divorce decree, often beginning new families with new partners and b) the life span at the beginning of the 20th century was 45 years, leading to entirely different expectations of "Til death do you part".
Now, if the question is "Did the Pill increase premarital sex?", I would be inclined to say yes, except that I know my mother, who was raised in a tiny, highly Catholic town in the Midwest, graduated from high school right before WWII, and half of the female population of the graduating class was getting married the next weekend, because they had to. She herself arrived seven months after her parents' wedding, and I suspect her driving need to not become the wife of a local farmer kept her chaste far longer than the admonitions of a (celibate) priest would have.

6:13 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

I won't take a stab at any of them, I'll just sit and ponder questions I would never have asked on my own.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

1. No. Maybe.

2. Women will never do anything collectively. Men know this.

3. No fault divorce increased the divorce rate. I believe most, if not all, lawmakers at the time this type of legislation passed were men.

4. Homemaking is not pointless but it holds no power. And homemakers can be even less powerful with all the opting out going on. Oh wait...men will watch out for us won't they? Men will make sure we're ok and taken care of won't they? Of course they will.

5. Perhaps someone leaving his wife after 40 years is the same as someone realizing she's a lesbian after being married 10 years. And what kind of sleazeball man marries a loser woman like that?

9:34 PM  
Blogger The Dung Beetle said...

1) Should all women assume their marriages will end in divorce sooner or later? And if so, will that becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy?

My answer: No. Her situation is unique to her and does not represent ?all women?, no matter what she writes. Now, if a ?hypothetical? woman bases her choices on the mentioned assumption, as written, obviously it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. However? there is nothing wrong with a woman choosing to establish her own individual identity and educating and bettering herself both prior to, and during her marriage, in addition to, or instead of choosing to be a homemaker. Not saying that one option is better or worse than the other, and clearly, ?educating and bettering oneself? is a matter of perspective. Some consider being a homemaker a key element to bettering themselves, and there?s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It?s a matter of apples and oranges, or six on one hand, a half-dozen in the other. It?s a matter of personal choice.

2) If we, as women, refused to date, have relationships with and marry divorced men, would those men honor their vows? Or will this constant partner-switching continually worsen?

My Answer: Assuming that the man always makes the choice to divorce is a sexist point of view. Women get fed-up too. But to answer the question as it is written: If a man chooses to disavow their vows, it will most-likely have little to do with the grass being greener on the other side, and more to do with their own-lawn being full of weeds. People make poor decisions all the time. People make uninformed decisions all the time. People have drunken marriages in Vegas all the time, only to wake up and say, ?Holy crap! I did WHAT?? I?m over-simplifying the case, but my point is, if someone chooses to divorce, chances are, there are some very wrong things going on in their household, and it?s probably not going to matter much if they are ?blacklisted? by the other gender.


3) Did the so-called "Sexual Revolution," (and the birth control pill) directly increase the divorce rate?

My answer: Seeing how, much like you, I like to avoid broad, sweeping generalizations and labels, and that I hadn?t even reached puberty during the ?Sexual Revolution,? I don?t know and I have no opinion. But I do know that, in all my personal experiences, only one of my five serious adult companions were on the pill during our courtship.

4) Does this woman's story mean that homemaking in and of itself is a pointless waste of a life?

I believe that, based on her experiences, her story means that homemaking was a pointless waste of HER life. I?d like to hope that no one is so presumptuous as to speak for ALL women.

5) What kind of a loser man leaves his wife of forty years in such a predicament? And what kind of sleazebag woman would marry him?

My Answer: I defer to elizabeth?s answer on the first part. I couldn?t have put it better myself, but I?ll make this addition: Like I mentioned before, as humans, sometimes we make poor, uninformed decisions. Speaking from experience, vows or not, I see no point in continuing a loveless charade. If the choices are between a few years of hardships and sadness, followed by finally finding happiness and true-love, versus a lifetime of unfathomable misery as a couple, numb with the burden of days, weeks, months, and years of simply going through the motions, I would choose the former.

As for the second part, the kind of sleazebag woman who would marry him is the kind of sleazebag woman who is capable of looking past the prior poor decisions of said loser man, and instead of ostracizing him, loving him anyway, like a true Christian is taught to do.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Krisco said...

Mel,
I wrote about this same woman on my blog recently. (Didn't realize she was hitting the Today show, too...)

As for your questions -

1-Women are in a tough bind. Definitely they should not assume their marriage will end, or it will become self-fulfilling. At the same time, women need to be able to support themselves too. And how they get the skills for that, while still possibly marrying and having kids, can be tough.

(Plus, God forbid, there are sometimes other reasons why women need to be able to support themselves and their children besides divorce.)

2. There are lots of reasons people divorce, and being a scumbag isn't the only one. Unless they could somehow be *labeled* - that would be great. (Okay, Ladies, that guy with the red glowing light on his forehead - scumbag!)

3. I don't think the sexual revolution increased divorce. I think it delayed marriage.

And I don't think the pill increased divorce; I think it (ironically) increased abortion....everyone's so sure they're covered, or if not that somehow they ought to be because they could be, that sometimes they're not. (Meaning, maybe a lot of men assume the woman is "taking care of it", and she's sometimes taking a chance..) I don't know, but there's still a lot of unplanned pregnancies in this nation and I'm not sure why since most of us have the mechanics figured out. And the pill is technically available.

4. Homemaking a waste? Definitely not. Not even for that woman's life; I bet her kids turned out great, and she has good relationships with them. (Let's hope.) But I DO think this is just one more reason "life balance" is so hard. We're so busy as homemakers, who could think about training for something else simultaneously? But is there ever a ramp-up time if you need it suddenly? Seriously, women have a predicament.

5. Leaving her in a predicament - can't say. Leaving her at all - again, can't say. Relationships need attending to, too, but of course, it takes two. As for the other woman? Who knows. To herself, she might just be the current one, and not someone's "other" one.

11:22 PM  
Blogger Krisco said...

Oh....the post where I chatted about this woman and her book is at: this link right here . It's in the middle of some other rants, so it's hard to tell by the name (something about "getting dumped", I believe...)

And if it is bad protocal to include this link here....please disregard and I apologize. Only because Mel is so dang nice (suck up! suck up!) and good about promoting conversations, I thought it might be okay, just this once...

(Oh, and here's an irony - now that she's got a book out and making such a big tour (The Today Show and all), the fact he left her will make her RICH. WOO HOO. So it all worked out in the end after all. (Except for that whole marriage-thing.: ) )

11:29 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

5) If one can hold on to the simple fact that homemaking often FEELS like a complete waste of time, some perspective can be gained.

Almost everything I have done in my life gets undone by the end of the day. This gets mundane and boring.

There is really no reward for homemaking. I actually tend to mock those who do it well. I'm a fool that way.

Homemaking is the single most important thing I have ever done.

Search out a copy of Theodore Dreiser's short story "The Old Neighborhood". Have a box of kleenex handy. This story has quite possibly had more impact on my way of thinking than anything else I've ever read. All men should be required to read this before a judge grants him a divorce.

5:54 AM  
Blogger tab said...

1. No. Why bother getting married if you're going to assume you're going to get divorced? Also what's the point of making a "commitment" if you're just going to get divorced anyway.

2. Well if ALL women refused to date/marry divorced men...well they wouldn't have much to pick from after a divorce now would they? You would think one would be more careful about choosing their spouse and more importantly doing what it takes to make it work and be happy.

3. I don't think the bcp really has anything to do with increasing divorce rate. Lack of commitment has more to do with it along with it being easier to get divorced (legally and more socially acceptable than it used to be).

4. I haven't read her story, so can't say. I personally do not believe so and in fact believe that it is extremely important. I suggest reading "The Stay-At Home Mom" by Donna Otto. After reading it, I now realize how important it is.

5. I have a hard time seeing how one can just do so. People change. People become deceived. Some even keep their head in the sand so as not to deal with it. Doesn't necessarily mean they are awful people...sometimes they make pretty awful decisions. Like I said I haven't read her story so I cannot really form a good opinion--and there are always 2 sides to the story--wonder what his is?

9:21 AM  
Blogger Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Mel, Did you read this article on Hekker http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0108-04.htm She seems to have landed on her feet because of her education and "cause' to write about. There are thousands of women not so lucky and end up in abject poverty. Society owes them for their years of shaping future citizens and wonderful persons. We need a social safety net to guarantee these "angels of society" an adequate pension for their years of service. Of course, I am a Canadians socialist who believes we are our brother's (sister's) keeper.

To raise my two year old son years ago I jumped off the professional ladder to allow me to never work at anything that would stop me, as a father, from being an always available "mother". I now count myself among the poor like so many women do when they are abandonned by their spouse.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Catharine said...

This interview came up as a topic no another blog as well. Here's my experience. I was a stay-at-home wife and mom for four years (almost five), and honestly, I never worked so hard in my entire life. One need only read a few posts on this very blog to know that the job is NOT for sissies!

During Year Four, my marriage fell apart (for reasons, incidentally, having nothing to do with the pill or no-fault divorce). We decided to divorce. Back I went to work, to support myself and carry my share of our daughter's expenses.

Though I had, before quitting to be a SAH, been making fairly decent money with good benefits, I was appalled to learn that because I "wasn't working" (yeah. right) for five years, I'd be starting right back at the bottom! It has taken me 15 years to get back to making a living wage with good benefits.

Still, every time I get my Social Security benefits statement, my retirement/disability benefits are lagging behind my consistently working counterparts by nearly $900 per month. That's because of the time I lost not contributing during my SAH years, and the interim years of low-paying jobs trying to build back up to where I was before I quit.

I believe that Hekker makes a valid point. If a woman chooses to stay at home with her children, she needs to understand what exactly she's giving up. $900 a month is a lot of money that I won't be getting. Would I stay at home again? You betcha. No amount of money could compensate for that time I had with her. But I also might have taken classes and finished my degree, or kept working part-time, or even tried to contribute to a Roth IRA to make up for the lost retirement income.

It's all about making adult decisions, with full knowledge of consequences. And the truth is, 54% of all marriages end in divorce. They just do. You can say you'll never be a victim of that, and you're probably right, but most women say that at one time or another, and over half of them are proven wrong.

My ex-husband and I became parents at precisely the same moment. Yet in the end, only I will be paying the price in terms of monthly income.

~C~

2:04 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

I hate to hear about anyone divorcing after 40 years.

I don't think all women should assume that this will happen, but I equally do not believe in the "that could never happen to me" mentality.

Your readers have actually taken a pretty good stab at your questions. I read them as more "things to think about" rather than really coming up with answers!

7:41 AM  

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