Monday, March 26, 2007

New Must-Read: "The Feminine Mistake" by Leslie Bennetts

If you are a stay-at-home Mom, Leslie Bennetts' new book The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? will challenge, terrify and offend you. And that's exactly why you should read it.

Bennetts expounds at length on the financial vulnerabilities of mothers, shattering the fairy-tale fantasies we unconsciously carry with us. She and I agree on the basic point that "A man is not a financial plan." Others have said this, notably and Ann Crittenden, but Bennetts lays out the harsh realities of financial depenency through story after story of women who were caught up short by unforeseen twists of fate: divorce, unemployment, disability, or death. These obstacles are quite obvious on a macroscopic level but it is tempting to carry on with the wishful thinking that calamity will never befall us personally. Bennetts' book is strong medicine, but one that every woman should take. Better to read one harsh, challenging book than to sleepwalk through life without a backup plan for self-sufficiency.

As mothers we need to become comfortable with ambivalence and contradiction. Bennetts' book is well-researched AND opinionated. Inflammatory AND valuable. Her sometimes exaggerated style and pessimism feel maddening at times, but even if you don't agree with Bennetts' opinions or analysis of her research, the great news is that she interviewed many women and presents their stories and voices through extensive quotes. I guarantee that at least one of those women will have something valuable to teach you. This elevates Bennetts' work above other recent individual polemics of all political flavors.

I had covered Bennetts' Glamour article in a recent blog post, and I encourage you to read her book. The more stories you hear of women's blindess to their financial vulnerability, the more you can understand Bennetts' passionate advocacy to encourage you to find a way to keep your career alive. She pierces through cultural denial and taboos by pulling back the sentimental mask of motherhood, love and marriage. Her work may be inflammatory, but I liken it to the inflammation that you'd get from a vaccination. We may prefer reading books that validate our life paths and choices, but it can be even more valuable to read the opposing view and formulate an intelligent response.

I am proud that I devoted a chapter to career development and financial planning in Mojo Mom. I covered much of the same ground as Bennetts in abbreviated and much more optimistic form. Read both books, and don't just judge which of us is right; decide what you think for yourself.

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Anonymous Mamacita said...

Yes, every woman must keep her career alive, but then we're fair game for those who would say we're not paying enough attention to our children. We get it coming and going, and it's bruising 24/7 unless we balance based on our own needs. As a single parent, I can tell you the pressures rise exponentially.

2:12 PM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

You are so right. It feels like we're caught in a vice grip of pressure from both sides. The cultural conservatives have made their values judgements. What I like about Leslie Bennetts is that she reminds us that being able to financially support ourselves and our children is also a "family value."

Her book is hard to take, but seeing my own Mom go through the experience of being a displaced homemaker after almost 20 years of marriage, I see that Bennetts' message is an important one.

I wish you the best!

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I'm only eighteen, I've never even been in a relationship, and already I'm feeling the pressure to both have a career, but also to get a man and start a family. I'm not sure how the family side of things will work out, but I will tell you one piece of advice my gran gave me, that I am always going to follow - make sure you are financially independant of your husband, so that, if you need to, you can walk away. I will cherish this advice till my dying day, I swear.

5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a stay at home mom but I know pretty darn well how to be independet of my husband. It has been 19 months since I have seen him as he is fighting for our country in Iraq. I'm 25 and have 3 small boys and it is a great comfort to him and a joy for me to be able to raise 3 little men. I'm faced everyday with the thought that maybe my husband won't be coming home and yet I still don't brush my kids to the side to be a career woman. Did anyone ever think about the fact that ADD and ADHD was never a factor say 50 years ago because they had their mother home to supervise and look after them? Our children have become terrors because they have no one around after school or during the day to keep an eye on them or guide them. We are blind if we think that our children would rather be wearing designer clothes than to have quality time with their parents. People need to grow up and stop being selfish. I had these children, it is for me to raise them, not to push them off to inflate my ego.

9:37 AM  
Blogger SandieAndie said...

I haven't read this book and I won't! I have been a SAHM for 20 years! YES 20 YEARS! My husband was AD Navy and just retired a year ago, I pretty much raised 3 daughters by myself while my husband served our country. I not only raised them I homeschooled them for 7 years. I was also a Navy Family Home Daycare provider at one of our stations. Regardless of what I did outside of my daily caring for our children they were mine to care for not someone elses. Just take one look at the children today. Not only do the toddlers and preschoolers need Mom home with them. Teenagers do too. Who's going to be there when things go wrong with their friends, or that teacher, if it's not a RESPONSIBLE ADULT? Their friends, who know nothing, who are quick to hand them a joint, or worse some crack, or a gun. Finances will work out, but you won't ever get your time back with your children.
Just my .02

10:54 PM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Please remember that I don't agree with a lot of what Leslie Bennetts has to say! It is inexcusable to devalue the caregiving that SAHMs provide.

But if Bennetts can get some women to wake up to the necessity to safeguard their financial futures, she will have done some good (although through an inelegant means--yes, she wields a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel).

I can say from personal family experience that the finances don't always "just work out." Your life can be ruined by a financial calamity. Even if you are blessed to sail through life in a happy marriage, you may be called upon to support yourself financially at some point. I urge you to plan for that day.

I recommend Suze Orman's new book Women and Money as a financial wake-up call that will help you get started.

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I think the ultimate "Feminine Mistake" is allowing yourself to make life altering decisions based on trends and on peer pressure and bullying by authors. Why do some of these people like Bennetts think she has to "save" these women when some of them made the decision to be SAHMS with a clear mind and have no need or desire to be "saved." Does Bennets think that women who work outside the home are 100% secure? Not with outsourcing and downsizing and covert age/gender discrimination they don't...those women in so-called "pink collar" jobs stand to lose a lot from the lean and mean corporate entities. FACT: you can always get jobs, but your children are only young once. Why should anyone take the joy of mothering away from someone who wants it? Bennetts needs to mind her own business IMO

10:34 PM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Can you always count on getting a job? I think the valuable message is to encourage women to really be prepared for that possibility. It needs to be on your radar with skills and connections.

But while Bennetts' book has led to some interesting discussion and energy around financial awareness, I do regret that I called "The Feminine Mistake" a "must-read." If you have financial awareness and career savvy (even if you are not currently employed), you don't need to read this book.

7:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I commend Leslie Bennetts for her new book. I left a high-paying job when my husband and I adopted our first child, back in 1995. When my daughter was five months old, I began freelance writing and teaching journalism on the college level, always thinking I would return to full-time work when my children were older. Now my two kids are 12 and 10, I have been working part time all these years, and I will tell you it is really, really hard to get back into full-time work. Take a ten-year break from your career -- even if you're working part time -- and it's almost impossible to get any company to take you seriously again. I've sent out loads of applications and most just get a polite, "Thank you for applying, we'll keep your application and resume on file." If I had to do it over, I'd work full time and raise my kids full time. Yes, it sounds hard, and it is, but millions of single moms and lower-income couples manage -- because they have to!! I have given up twelve years of full-time income and it will really hurt me when I retire. Think about it!

11:41 AM  
Blogger Moneymom said...

I just finished Leslie Bennett's book and I am so grateful she wrote it! I am one of the few career moms I know, and the unspoken pressure to quit and stay home is unnerving. My feelings of ambivalence about continuing to work were becoming apparent in my performance, but I realize this is just the escape fantasy women can create for themselves when they are having a bad day at the office. My job provides my whole family with health insurance as my husband is self-employed, which is so important! If you are not independently wealthy you really do need to think about what you would do should something happen to your husband. If you had to go back to work tomorrow and support your family, could you?

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Miscellany said...

In the final chapter of the book, Bennetts writes that her heart aches for the women who are unprepared for the challenges they will likely face in the devastation following unexpected events. She is dismayed by the stubborn defensiveness of women who will not admit to the pitfalls of their reliance on blind faith to safeguard their futures. However, she seems blissfully unaware that her decision to refer to the stay-at-home mothers in her book as, among other things, blithe, disapproving, parasitic Scarlet O'Hara's makes her claim of deep regard for these women seem slightly less than genuine. It is unlikely that a professional journalist does not understand that words matter. If the unvarnished economic facts do not convince the current generation of highly qualified professional women of the importance of financial independence, maybe the specter of Bennetts' straw mom will.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Jen said...

It's interesting that many of the people in the comments to this are assuming that mothers choose to work out of materialism, selfishness or laziness. What sheltered and comfortable lives they must lead. For a large portion of the population, "to work or not to work" was never a question; financial necessity dictates that choice for many mothers. Even when it doesn't, saying that a mother who works outside of the home is not raising her children is false and belies the hard work that mothers who work outside of the home take on. This particular argument is tired; stop judging other people because you have the luxury of a husband to support you and enough money to live off of one salary.

I agree with the author that financial dependance on a man is not a sustainable long-term plan, because you never know what the future will bring.

12:09 PM  
Anonymous CasandraMichael said...

personally I have been in both positions. After i had my first child 3 years ago I was Working 1 month after she was born. This time with my second born I got to take the opportunity to take a year long maternity leave and do not plan to go back to work. I never even realized how much i missed out on with my first until i got to experience being a full time mom at home. I cannot count the things I missed, the connection i could have had. And regret Every moment I didnt get to spend with her that I should have. We dont have the extra money to go shopping every week that we used to. and we live on a budget. But my kids will have the security knowing that I'm always here when they need me. My mom worked 2 jobs when i was a kid and i rarely saw her. we had lots of nice things which turns out where what she desired most. but when my mom did get a week of vaction I remember how good It felt knowing she was there. In the end Everyone has their own choices and values. I prefer my children at the top of the list.

1:09 PM  
Anonymous gayle said...

As far as careers go, do what is best for you!! But, be aware of the consequences and potential pitfalls. I will never regret being a career person, and I love that my child has a "village" he loves and can depend upon. Am I there every waking minute, NO - but we have an amazing bond because I make the time we spend together precious and valued.

I recently finished Women and Money by Suze Orman and for all women (especially SAHM) - it is definately a must read. Too often we stick our heads in the mud and are blissfully unaware of the true financial picture. Knowledge is power!

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In this country we use immigrant labor to pick apples, deliver take-out, sweep floors, and care for our children. What does that tell you about where our beautiful children rate in the "me-me" fueled society of "have it all"? Nothing replaces a mother. As a stay-at-home mother I consider myself a partner in our family plan. I don't feel the need to out-source my career. Yes, I said career. My children rate above produce.

10:36 AM  

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