Caught in the Rug Rat Race
Sit in any local coffee establishment or wine bar and listen to the ladies chat. If they’re single, it might be around comparing jobs, friends, clothing, social media posts, etc. If they are parents, you likely hear what sounds much like a competition of whose schedule is busier with volunteer and kid activities. The competition is fierce regarding summer camps, club sports, private lessons, etc. To answer “no” to any sport or activity request is not only uncool in the eyes of your child, but gosh, imagine what so-and-so’s mom would say if you didn’t pack in as much as possible? A couple fascinating articles quantify what seems to be happening in many cities and suburbs around the country. The first discusses when this “rug rat race” starts – and it’s so interesting! According to the NY Times article the age at which women are having children in the U.S. varies greatly, based on geography and education. The average age in San Francisco and New York is 31 and 32 respectively, and in Todd County, S.D., and Zapata County, Texas, it’s 20 and 21 respectively. WOW! The biggest differentiating factor is college. Admittedly I would expect that to delay the birth of a child, however it’s fascinating that the delay is seven years – not four. “A college degree is increasingly essential to earning a middle-class wage, and older parents have more years to earn money to invest in violin lessons, math tutoring and college savings accounts — all of which can set children on very different paths,” the article states.
Speaking of tutoring, and the expense of having children, I thought this article, also by the NY Times, was nearly as fascinating as the approximately 700 comments it received in response. “An economic mystery of the last few decades has been why more women aren’t working. A new paper offers one answer: Most plan to, but are increasingly caught off guard by the time and effort it takes to raise children.” Literally, the share of women in the labor force has leveled off since the 1990’s, baffling researchers when more women are in law school, med school, and earning more college degrees than men in general.
I’m sure you have your own opinion as to why this is happening. “Women got it so wrong, researchers argue, because it has become harder to work and have children” the article states. Personally, I’m not sure it’s that women “got it so wrong,” but that maybe priorities and perspectives have changed. If we can change our mind on our major in college, there’s probably a chance we’ll change our mind on how we want to spend our day 20 years later. The article tries to blame different factions for why there aren’t more women in the labor force, from policies to gender stereotypes to a misunderstanding of what it takes. I’m not here to blame anyone, but will admit that I am in the very middle of this rug rat race they describe, trying to make sure my kids have every opportunity possible. My husband and I have made things work, while both working, my starting a business, traveling, etc. Our two boys are actively involved – one has math, choir and Mandarin after school; the other has gone through several sports and now “only” plays golf eight days a week J This past summer, he traveled to five tournaments in other states, all requiring a minimum of an eight hour drive, plus lodging, miles on the car, and yes it meant someone was missing work, while the other was home with our other son. Neither of us could travel for work unless we had to, and that required red-eyes or someone coming with us to make it happen. There is no doubt, if we had more “typical” jobs, this summer would have been impossible. (Ironically, both boys thought they had the best summer ever and my husband and I finished the summer frustrated and exhausted!)
So I’m probably in too deep to make a truly objective assessment about what the article has to say. As a parent we do things hoping everyone comes out better in the end and, well, our “end” hasn’t taken place yet. I do have a few thoughts that the article doesn’t discuss though, and wonder if you would agree…
The article mentions young girls have been told they can “do it all.” Add to that enabling parents and a college degree, and that all seems possible when you are 22. But while the opportunities are there, we still have the same 24 hours in a day, so we have to decide what takes priority and where we wish to focus our time. Now that enough women have grown up knowing we have a choice, I think women and men both are evaluating the options and making choices that make the most sense for their own situation, no matter what the formula is.
I wonder, too, if, after seeing how hard it was for our moms to climb any version of a corporate ladder and their encouraging us to climb as well (now that they paved the way), we are seeing that a life of climbing can be exhausting and making it to the higher rungs isn’t necessarily that spectacular. If given the choice between stress and coloring with a five-year-old, coloring can be therapeutic and why some of us choose that direction over work. Besides, we are all living longer, so there is a chance we can get out of the “rug rat race” and into the rat race again later. “Women are more likely to work than previous generations at almost every age, found Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist.” Therefore, knowing we will live longer, we may choose to go back and forth between work and home, even if it means career advancement takes longer.
While the decisions we make might never seem easy, the important thing is that we take the time to breathe and enjoy the choices we do make (willfully or not). We are only given one life to live, so let’s make the most of it. Take stock of how you feel today, and consider how a pause, or an extra deep breath might wedge in a little calm before you respond to that unpleasant email, or the mishap your child admits to. Nothing is permanent. Inhale. Exhale.