Single Parenting and the Decline of the Middle Class

Of course you’ve heard all about how the wage disparity between the classes is the worst its been since the days of the robber barons. I needn’t tell you about the middle class working longer hours for less pay nor about how 80% of the national wealth is owned by 20% of the population (if it is even that much of the population; i’ve seen figures showing less).

I’m not going to complain, mind.  I am grateful for the life we are able to afford:

heat (which has been a bit spendy this winter)
whole or organic foods / pastured meats
access to information
personal transportation
clothing as needed
more than adequate housing

but also:

our house is 1400 sf.  This is more than adequate for our family; indeed, I can’t see owning anything larger because….there’s that much more to clean…but it is on the “small” side in our current culture of mega-homes (I see this trend changing even now)
Our cars are at least 10 years old (safety is an issue here for mine; we’re looking to buy something newer/safer this spring, altho not NEW. I’m grateful we’ll be able to do that)
We keep the thermostat at 60 to save heating expenses.  We haven’t frozen yet.
I make as much as possible from scratch to make our food money go further. It means much more time in the kitchen (I’m grateful to be able to do have the flexible time to do it)
The pittance of income that I actually earn sometimes causes a great deal of stress with my child (again, grateful I can do it, however)
We don’t have cable TV (we don’t even have a TV) nor do we have Xbox or Wii or whatever-the-current-thing-is
Our furniture is second hand, cheaply bought or hand=me-down (and looks it!), excepting the few good pieces that have been handcrafted by my amazing stepdad and his wondrous wood-working skills.

the list goes on but what I’m getting at here is that we don’t live an extravagant lifestyle yet I personally am constantly reminded how good I really have it, especially when compared to most of the rest of humanity both in the whole history of the world and currently.

I’m not complaining. My point here is that even the decent, comfortable middle class lifestyle that it sometimes feels we are scrimping for and ekeing out comes at a great cost.  T works for a Fortune 500 company and the job is one he enjoys and that we are glad he has.  But for the past month and a half he has been regularly working 6 days a week, 12 to 14 hour days due to the year-end schedule of accounting.  I think I’ve mentioned that he won’t even be able to take time off when his new baby is born, which is very soon.

While I appreciate that at no other time in history has life been so full of creature comforts and that most men have never had the luxury of “taking time off” (who cares for the animals if you don’t?  who gets the crops in on time if you don’t? that wood isn’t going to chop itself), still it’s easy to be bitter about the excess amount of work that is required of middle class employees these days, when they can’t even fully participate in seminal, milestone events, just to earn their salary (T’s is at the bottom of the range for his position. It’s not lavish but it is certainly enough). 

My Point:  The flipside, of course, is that, while husband works, someone still needs to care for the children. That someone is mom.

There are hundreds, thousands, millions of women for whom this is the default case and you know what? Women get by. They make it. They are tough. But regardless, it is hard to be the sole caregiver. I’ve only been doing it for 6 weeks or so but it is emotionally toll-taking, whether or not the mom admits it.  Again, our society is not set up to deal with this kind of situation right now.  In the past, when you lived next to your mother or your aunt or your sister or your schoolmate’s second cousin, the tasks were easier to accomplish (I guess. However the isolated pioneer women like Ma Ingalls did it, I’ll never know) or if not easier, at least you had the company of other women in your community to ease the path and help churn the butter.  The idea of the nuclear family that is so prevalent and so held as the ideal today is harmful and detrimental to not only the societal fabric but also to mama’s sanity!

There will be an end for me and fortunately I am in the position to be on the recieving end of further help when the time comes to add to the family.  But scrimping, saving and working unconscionable hours, while the reality for most in our society today, is in the long run an unteneable situation. 

Who knows what will come next?  I very much wonder.  Perhaps not a lifestyle that is easier but perhaps a lifestyle that is made easier by a restoration of family and communal contact.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The Mom
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 06:29:00

    I am all for restoration of family:)


  2. Rachel
    Mar 05, 2011 @ 10:04:00

    I am catching up on your blog while I’m waiting to Skype with you and meet Hugh!!!

    In Italy, especially in Southern Italy, families stick together. Many of them live with kids, parents, and grandparents all in the same home or town home. They (I’m generalizing a bit) like living near other people, whereas upon our return to the States I am hoping that we will be able to live in a rural area!

    I don’t mind living NEAR my family, but I don’t want to live WITH them. I love everyone very much, but have been raised with an independent personality, so I like having that separation. I feel like I actually became closer to my parents and sister when I moved out of the house. It gave me the ability to see them all with an outside perspective. I know this wasn’t the point of your entry, but I find family life fascinating over here. The women are usually at home. I heard recently that women in Italy are not content with being housewives. I go out during the day and only see men – the women are at home.

    There are some badly written thoughts of mine! : )


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