My fellow mothers are becoming grandmothers — although, remarkably, none of us looks the part — and all those high school and college graduation parties that morphed into wedding showers are now morphing into baby showers.
Those baby showers are unsettling for me in more ways that you might guess. The young women who were once our babies are saying that they are planning to stay home with their babies, and I am feeling the sting of rebuke.
I would have predicted that our children would repudiate our decision to work outside the home while they were growing up. Working motherhood doesn't look very appealing from a child's point of view. We thought we were being strong, independent role models for our children. They just thought we were grouchy and half-nuts.
And, 40 years after women moved into the work force in great numbers, it is still a trial to balance work and home life. Quality day care and flexible hours and job-sharing — the kinds of accommodations that might make it easier for a woman to work at least part time — have not kept pace with the numbers of women who want to, or must, work.
But I am hearing something else from these young mothers besides a decision to stay at home while their children are young: The cost of day care represents too great a portion of their paycheck to make it worthwhile to work, they say. If the price of day care equals half of their salary, these young mothers conclude, it isn't worth the trouble.
I might agree with that. Women who work outside the home still do most of the work inside the home, too, and it could take a hefty paycheck to tempt a young mother into that maelstrom.
But a young mother is making a mistake if she thinks that she has to earn enough to justify her job — that the price of child care comes out of her paycheck instead of out of the family budget. After all, it is his child, too.
So this is another element of working motherhood that has not changed in almost half a century: Her job has to more than pay for itself. Her clothing, her lunches out, her transportation, perhaps the cost of a cleaning service — all of that must be subtracted from her earnings, and if there isn't enough left over, her job isn't "worth it."
Considering that women still earn less than 75 cents for every dollar earned by a male counterpart, this equation might never come down on the side of a mother returning to work.
I hold my tongue at these baby showers, even though I'd love to pull out a chalkboard and show these young women the real elements in the equation of working motherhood: self-esteem, a change in venue, an unspoken requirement that the dad play a bigger role in child-rearing and household tasks.
Not to mention the fact that if anything happens to him — death, disability or divorce — she is not left scrambling to provide for her children.
Like the mortgage and the water bill and the groceries, the cost of child care should be considered a line item in the family budget — something that both the working husband and the working wife benefit from and for which both are responsible.
Child care is the price of doing business in families where both parents seek to spend some of their time working. It isn't anything either spouse should be required to justify.