The Mother of All Blog Posts
As the end of the year draws near, I find myself looking back. Because the future is uncertain (both the country’s and my own) there’s more nostalgia wafting around just over the keyboard than usual. Let me try to convey some points I hope you remember in the event I’m not regularly popping up in your inbox in 2017.
1. Mothers Are Doing It All
The majority of women are in the workforce, and mothers are no exception. Even with children of under a year old, most mothers are drawing paychecks. Women have been earning more academic degrees, even PhD’s, than men for decades. Now women are more than half of US law students.
Strikingly, in addition to these increased hours of paid work and educational attainment, women are still doing most of the unpaid domestic labor in homes and for families. Women are also spending more time actively engaged with their children than men, even in comparison to their own mothers who were not employed. We are also the ones who get pregnant, birth, and then breastfeed our babies, thereby perpetuating the species, ensuring the future of the citizenry and all players in the economy upon which society depends. (And they call us the weaker sex? Please.)
2. Mothers Are Getting Very Little Back
In spite of mothers’ achievements, basic employment standards available around the world are lacking in the US. Of paramount importance is paid time off for new parents and paid time to visit the doctor or take a day to recover from the flu or care for a sick family member. The net result of this policy failure is lower women’s labor force attachment than comparable countries which drags on the economy. New parents are under more stress and going back to work sooner, which negatively impacts their physical and mental health. Because lack of paid leave drives down the number of mothers that breastfeed their children, children’s health is negatively impacted. Infants are also less likely to get well-baby check ups and regular vaccinations.
The cumulative impact of privatizing the risks of motherhood strains household budgets, drives women out of employment, and increases the poverty rates of both women and children. Our child care mishmash means children that need care and early ed don’t get it, families that can find it can’t afford it, and those that can’t afford it end up leaving the workforce. A fifth of US children live at or below the poverty line, and the cost of inadequate health, care, and education translates into lower educational attainment, chronic (and costly!) physical and mental conditions in later life, an uptick in incarceration, and a greater need for public assistance. Those costs are spread throughout society and paid for with tax revenue. A policy failure which begins in infancy mushrooms and ends up implicating all of our public and private institutions. It is much less costly to make sure parents and children have what they need from day one. Yet updating our policies to address the needs of families – very different now than when workplace standards were formulated decades ago – is still resisted by lawmakers.
3. Mothers Must Exercise Their Power To Make Change
Mothers are the busiest people. They are also unlikely to expend their time and energy to further their own interests. It strikes me that mothers will organize themselves to the summit of efficiency against:
These are all worth and valuable causes. We devote ourselves to the well-being of others, and fail to recognize that our well-being, too, plays a vital role in achieving that. I’d so love to see organizations focused on mothers in political office, mothers for family economic security, mothers for equal pay, or mothers for respecting motherhood in tangible ways that will change the norms and expectations that only disadvantage women.
Mothers will not find themselves in a better situation because they deserve it, or have earned it, or because “it’s the right thing to do.” That has never been the way of the world. “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Frederick Douglass understood something that women thus far have refused to act upon. Respect for the care we do, respect for the work we do, and justice for half the population will elude us until we simply insist upon these things. Until then, we are complicit in our own social diminishment and economic devaluation.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington
Mothers & Money: Recovering From Divorce
A few weeks ago I wrote about my interview with Kimberly Palmer and her book, Smart Mom, Rich Mom. Readers had a chance to win a copy of the book by sending in a personal finance question. The sender of this question got the book:
Having recently been through a dreaded “D” of my own (Divorce) I’m curious as to what advice you have for a single mom to pay down debt and boost her credit score from the negative affects of a short sale when half of my check is going to childcare and I’m not receiving any child support from my ex? I have a budget but feel like I’m treading water and unable to gain any real traction.
This particular question involved a mother as provider of both cash and care for her kids, with an eye on her financial future, dealing with one of the common destroyers of economic security. It’s a position millions of women will find themselves in. Some of the suggested actions are moves all women should think about, whatever the condition of one’s marriage. They may make sense even if divorce never happens to you.
Here is Kimberly’s reply:
Divorce is tough financially for so many reasons – not only does it often impact the income dynamics of the household, but expenses usually go up, as well. You also have to rethink insurance policies, estate plans, retirement beneficiaries and more. The issues you bring up – off– loading debt and protecting your credit score while managing a tight budget – are among the most urgent. First of all, you want to be sure your credit score is protected from any actions of your ex by going through all your accounts, including any loans and credit cards, and making sure they are in your name only. Unfortunately, credit scores can be ruined by former partners if the credit cards and loans are still shared.
After you get things separated, you can make slow and steady progress toward paying down the debt — not easy when you’re also paying for child care. I don’t know the reasons behind the lack of child support payments, but that could be something to explore legally, with the help of a lawyer.
The main thing to focus on now, as you navigate this transition, is to avoid building up further debt — so if you are treading water, that’s an accomplishment in itself. Then you can slowly pay off the debt over time — and move on to more fulfilling pursuits, like saving for college and other goals.
Pretty heavy stuff, but worth thinking about.
In my initial post about Smart Mom, Rich Mom, Kimberly highlighted the importance of not reducing our own financial security when we’re caring for our parents. Now that old age can last for decades, many families scramble to cover basic expenses for a longer lifespan. I was reminded of Kimberly’s warning when I saw this article in the Washington Post, Don’t let your parents drag you under financially. Our sense of responsibility to those who cared for us can be strong. But taking care of them financially, when it draws down our own savings, increases the likelihood that we’ll be dependent upon our own children one day. That’s not a family legacy anyone wants to hand down.
Now that I think about it, I don’t really need to be rich. Smart mom, financially secure mom is good enough for me.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington
“The Other F Word” – Interview with Creator Caytha Jentis
Caytha Jentis got in touch with me after she read my blog on the “Bad Moms” movie. She too has a story. As a film maker, she also has a way to tell it. She trains her lens on what mothers do after the children have grown up and moved away. (Yes, it does happen!) That’s a seismic shift for a woman, a phase full of drama, self-discovery, and probably some hilarious false starts too. Incredibly, this rich subject matter is rarely if ever in front of the camera. Caytha aims to change that with “The Other F Word,” a comedy web series you can watch right here and right now. In fact, it’s currently an Amazon Video Direct All Star, and the number one performing short form episodic show. Caytha and I had a great talk. Highlights below!
Q: In our initial conversation you told me you’d been “blindsided by motherhood.” Would you tell me more about that?
I was raised in a progressive New York suburb in the 70’s. My education was very gender blind. Boys and girls were required to take both shop and home economics, organized sports were equally available, and our senior class President was a girl. I came of age as a first generation post-feminist, aware that I had choices thanks to my ‘older sisters’ but naïve to their real impact as a double-edged sword. Also I never really gave thought to how becoming a mother would change gender role parity, and how it would change me.
Q: What do you want to convey through your web series “The Other F Word“?
As Gail Sheehy wrote, women live lives in chapters – many defined by our bodies. As I was approaching fifty and my kids were getting older I noticed profound changes happening in my life and the lives of my friends. For many of us it was as exciting as it was frightening. A very big chapter was coming to an end, yet the next promised to be a time where we could come first – previously it was our careers, partners and children who did. But who are we now? I wanted to create a show that conveys this time of life in a relatable and entertaining way through four women friends – three who are moms – and their coming of age journey in mid-life. In crafting the stories, while their relationships with men are important, their quests to find themselves and their friendships with each other were even more important. While this sounds deep, the show has as much humor as drama. That’s my storytelling voice.
Q: What prompted you to turn it into a web series?
The second time I was blind-sided was by the ageist rejection I got from the entertainment industry as executives kept telling me that this was a show targeted to a ‘tough demographic.’ This made no sense given the large numbers and significant buying power of mid-life women. As an independent producer, I knew how to work outside the system and short form web/digital series is the new frontier embraced by the coveted millennials. I knew how to find our audience online and began a massive grass roots campaign while writing the script. I want to build the audience in hopes that bloggers like you would help to spread the word. Our stories should not be as invisible as many of us have felt at times as mothers. While short form episodic content “web series” may be new to many over 30, I believe like Facebook, the audience will “trickle up.”
Q: Can you describe the reaction that the series has received?
I am humbled and affirmed by the positive feedback to the show. Audiences of all ages – but mothers in particular – have connected with the relatable stories, the humor and universal themes. While I know it’s still an uphill battle to get industry recognition, I’m fueled by the feedback and will continue to tilt at windmills to break through that plexiglass ceiling not only for myself, but for other women who want to restart their lives – at any age!
Q: What’s the significance of the series hashtag “#NoFear”?
I believe one of the many gifts of mid-life is realizing that we care less about what others think of us and that the only thing that stands between us and a goal is our own fears. With real old age looming, it’s a time to realize that it’s now or never, and that there’s more regret in not trying than trying. To me ‘no fear’ is very personal. It’s about our own inhibitions that hold us back. I like to remind myself that if you enjoy the journey, the good news is there is no failure.
Q: How has your motherhood influenced your work?
You write what you know, and anytime I face my internal demons I remind myself that I delivered two babies – one through an emergency c-section and the other after three hours of pitocin-induced labor – it’s part of my fearless mantra – I can take on any impossible challenge.
Q: Any new projects in the works?
I’m starting to write Season Two of The Other F Word. My journey and that of the characters have really only just started. I hope that if we can aggregate a big enough audience and show the industry that this isn’t a ‘tough demographic,’ we’ll find financing – either traditionally or independently. The goal is to be in production in the spring.
Thanks so much Caytha. Women generally and mothers in particular must tell our own stories. Best of luck with the series. Readers, go watch ‘em and share ‘em with your friends! That’ll show the suits in programming that mothers with older children ARE a valuable media consumer group that deserves attention.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington
Mothers and Money – Smart Mom, Rich Mom Book Giveaway
Earlier this month I met Kimberly Palmer, a financial writer and the author of Smart Mom, Rich Mom. She was talking to a group of mothers about her book and women’s financial confidence. I’m a big believer in moms as money managers because I have a theory. I suspect that mothers have an edge when it comes to family finances because we routinely juggle multiple demands and limited resources with an eye on the short and long term every day. What we don’t do so well is take care of ourselves, financially and in other ways. In my mission to provide you with quality mom-centric info, I put a few pointed questions to Ms. Palmer. See our convo below!
For whom did you write the book? Stay at home moms, working moms, young moms, empty nest moms, single moms?
I wrote this book for all kinds of moms! The unifying factor for all moms is that we are all raising kids – and we need to find a way to afford it! That includes saving for not only their futures — college, for example — but also our own. A lot of moms, both working and stay-at-home moms, make the mistake of putting our kids before ourselves financially, and forgetting to set aside funds for our own future retirement. The results can be devastating.
When should a mother start paying attention to her finances?
The sooner, the better. Of course, as soon as you know you are expecting, you can begin to prepare financially by setting aside savings for child care costs or the lost income that comes from a parent staying home. And even before that, you can think about moving ahead in your career in a way that will let you manage life as a mom, which often demands at least some degree of flexibility. (Sick kids don’t take care of themselves!) And after the baby is born, if your budget allows it, you can open a 529 college savings account to start building toward that big goal of paying for college.
Are there any common mistakes you’ve seen moms make?
Yes! It’s so often that we put our kids before ourselves. I think it’s a common instinct for moms, but a detrimental one. If you don’t have a 401(k) or other retirement plan set up yet for yourself, then do that first before opening the 529 college savings account. The same concept applies to your own parents — for moms in that period when we are taking care of both our kids and aging parents, it’s important make sure you are remaining financially secure —everyone is counting on you! It’s often easier for us to spend money on others than ourselves.
I’ve heard that women are one “D” away from disaster, due to a partner’s disability, death, or divorce. Can a mother protect herself financially?
In addition to taking out life insurance and disability insurance, which can protect our families, I think of our own earning power as a form of insurance. As long as we have our own earnings to fall back on, then we will be much more able to navigate any of those dreaded “Ds.” Even if you are not working full-time, you can maintain contacts and even take on contract work so you leave that door open.
Are there policies in the US that make motherhood more financially perilous than it has to be?
Certain policies definitely help moms — paid maternity leave, affordable child care — and not having access them can be financially destructive. Right now, most of us moms have to fund our own maternity leaves, which isn’t always possible to do.
How does the book go about teaching moms financial skills?
In the book, I suggest conversations that we have with our kids about money, which can get more complicated as they get older. I also include a template for a letter to write to your kids about money — it is based on the letter my mom wrote me as I was getting ready to graduate from college. She shared her own money mistakes, values and the choices that helped her and my dad buy their first house — it really stuck with me. I think the more we talk about money with our kids, the more they’ll feel comfortable with it — and it helps us feel more comfortable, too!
Would YOU like a free copy of Smart Mom, Rich Mom by Kimberly Palmer? Email me your most pressing financial question and we’ll draw one winner for the book!! Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org by Saturday, November 20, 2016 at 12 o’clock noon.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington
The Pre-Election Noise In My Brain
Before we are thrust into whatever it is that’s coming next, I’m compelled to put a few personal thoughts out there. Just can’t help myself!
Politics is not entertaining, nor should it be. It’s not a “feel good” sport with “winners” and “losers.” It’s tedious, contentious and very practical. It quickly gets mired in details. It is not fun to watch. It’s even less fun to do, but it is absolutely unavoidable if we are all going to live together in limited space with limited resources and not be constantly beating each other over the head with sticks every day – or worse. The best practitioners know how the Constitution works, get a thrill wading through reams of data, and are masters of detail. They are rarely the life of the party (political or otherwise).
Showmanship, drawing eyeballs, provocative comments – our system was not designed for this. Participatory democracy is serious business, and only staggers and stumbles forward when every player does her or his part. Our part as citizens is to continuously communicate with those we’ve elected and tell them where our priorities lie and what we want them to do. Their part is to further our interests by lawmaking. They must always be beholden to their constituents. They have no reason to if they believe we are not paying attention to what they do. A drive for personal power or enrichment is in conflict with legislators’ obligation to the people they serve.
The Presidential election has gotten waaaay too much attention. Because news outlets are businesses and must appeal to the widest possible audience, they focus on the presidential candidates to the exclusion of state and local politics. This is a mistake. Your US senators and representatives, and your elected state representatives, have greater influence on your life. Voters cannot rely on mass media to find out what they need to know to vote for the people accountable to them and over whom voters exercise much more control. Presidential candidates set out their policy proposals, most of which have no hope of making it through Congress and into law. A candidate’s effectiveness as President will come from his or her skill in moving the dials and levers of a complicated federal machine. Leadership in this context is both art and science.
Washington does not need to be shaken up and is not “broken.” While Congress suffers a self-induced paralysis, the men and women who serve there all come from somewhere else. They are not infected with some contagious disease when they are sworn in and move into their Capitol Hill digs. We move no closer to solving the problem by failing to identify it correctly. And as a native Washingtonian, (second generation, in fact!) the charge rubs me the wrong way. The rest of the country has sent these people here! However, we do desperately need a return to civility, a spirit of cooperation, and a heightened sense of personal accountability. If constituents insist on these things, they will be restored. We must be better at our job if we want our legislators to be better at theirs.
Party politics now requires that legislators be seen to insist and compel, but the founders by design require compromise and flexibility. The men (and I do mean men) in charge of the country target the extreme ends of the spectrum rather than the more moderate middle. They thus put themselves at odds with the very institution they are charged with operating. The Constitution insists on compromise, and compromise in the current climate is reviled as a sign of weakness. When lawmakers are drummed to the sidelines by their own leadership for showing a willingness to talk to the other party, we go nowhere. Frustration and mutual finger-pointing ensue. I’ve seen better conduct in pre-school.
It’s as if you fill your turbo engine with apple juice rather than oil. Congress is the engine and compromise is the oil. No matter how exquisitely designed, the engine cannot go without the right lubrication. In a country of massive size and hundreds of millions of people, pulled by conflicting interests and diverging values, any legislative decision will fail to satisfy someone. The best legislative decisions will be less than satisfactory to everybody, for that is the essence of compromise – nobody gets what they want, and everybody settles for less than they’d hoped. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not sexy, but it works.
That’s it! I’ve said my piece. Moms have more skin in this game than anybody else. Now go vote.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington