What We Talk About When We Talk About Money

Making dough. Earning a crust. Breadwinning. None of the most iconic phrases that have to do with making money speaks of luxury. It’s all about getting each day our daily bread. Regardless of our careers, and how much money we need or think we need to succeed, the hard truth is that work is not an option.

If you are reading this blog, you are probably one of the world’s luckiest people when it comes to work. You have plenty of options, and you will do more than just get by. You are interested in these issues because you want to maximize your enjoyment of life, including the time you spend at work, and odds are that you love your career. But you probably also have or want to have a family.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the women in my binder sent me this article from the Bucks blog over at the New York Times. In it, Nadia Taha adds up all the costs of raising a child in her social milieu and comes to a shocking figure: $1.8 million. While we unite and procreate for deep, meaningful reasons that have nothing to do with our financial circumstances, this is a real issue for families.

One of the women in my binder said that, though she never in over a decade of ascending professional achievements thought this would be true, she would love to be a full-time housewife – at least for now, while her daughter is very young. Another noted that the problem of unpaid maternity leave is compounded for families in which the woman is the primary breadwinner, and this scenario is increasingly common. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows women to come back to their jobs after taking maternity leave, but if that leave is unpaid, it leaves this kind of family in a tough spot during one of the most cost-intensive periods of their life together. (For the time being, I can’t even begin to think about what this is like for women in what we awkwardly call non-heteronormative relationships.)

But we also have to consider men, who are liberating themselves from traditional notions of manhood. Rather than bear the sole burden of providing for the family, they want to have time to enjoy their personal successes. They want to spend time with their kids and to pursue their own passions. It is as unfair to always ask a male partner to bring home the bacon as it is to require a female partner to stay in that home and cook it.

When I wrote last week about the apotheosis of Ke$ha, I was trying to get at the same issue: While affecting a typically male persona may be usefully subversive, it isn’t enough. I know plenty of bright women who have stay-at-home husbands, and just like I refuse to criticize the choices of traditional households, I won’t knock theirs. But I think we can do better.

As people and as a society, we should strive toward a family model that allows both partners to succeed professionally without depriving them of the reasons they work to begin with. Just as women should be able to contribute to the world through work, men should not be robbed of the joys of fatherhood.

At least, for me and the family I hope to have, that’s what it means to “have it all.”

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