Show me the money, then maybe I’ll lean

If I, as a member of the paid workforce back in the day, had returned to work when our children were younger and in need of full-time child care, and our only concern was the difference between the cost of child care and the price of my labor (salary), I would have have needed to earn far more than I was earning at the time. What I was earning was nothing to sneeze at; I say this not because I’m greedy and wanted to keep a lot of my take-home pay, and not even because the price I put on being home with my children is so high (though it is).

It’s because of taxes–an issue devastatingly absent in all the back and forth among the Leaners In and Leaners Back and even among the Lean Forwards (I’m talking to you, political progressives).

An oped in today’s New York Times by Lilian V. Faulhaber of Boston University articulates the problem nicely, and asks some key questions: namely, Lean In? What About Child Care? In her two-differently-earning-mom scenarios, I’m closer to the second one:

Say she lives in New York State, where the average cost of day care for an infant is just over $14,000… The second woman’s husband makes $90,000, and the job she is considering pays $45,000… If she were single and without children, her after-tax take-home income would have been around $36,000. But because of her husband’s earnings, almost all of her income will now be taxed at a higher rate, 25 percent. After paying for child care, she will take home only around $16,000. This is not even factoring in the fact that many higher-paying jobs, just the type Ms. Sandberg wants women to lean in to, require longer hours — and the more expensive child care that entails.

It only makes economic sense to stay home with the kids (aside from the tremendous emotional sense it makes for me). But there’s a significant compromise, an outright cost, that comes with this sensible choice:

Every year out of the office will affect these women’s retirement savings and Social Security contributions, their chances for promotion, and the likelihood that they will eventually be able to re-enter the work force at the same level and salary.

Assuming (knocking on wood) that my husband and I remain together, and healthy, and financially stable, I should be able to avoid an even longer-term cost: a higher rate of poverty among aging women. (If you earn less on the dollar now, you’ll have less on the dollar later…)

“It’s the most important thing you can be doing right now,” so many, many well-intentioned friends and colleagues and strangers (yes, strangers) remind me when I say I’m home raising the children.

“Important” does not equal “valued.” It just doesn’t. Maybe there’s more value to somebody like me staying home:

  • less congestion during workday commutes thanks to one fewer car?
  • two less children taking up valuable space in our nation’s barely adequate number of affordable, flexible, high quality child care settings?
  • less competition in the workplace because I am not there? (Just think of how many people could be given jobs if an extroverted, whip-smart, charismatic and efficient woman were not in the way? I’d guess at least two. Ha.)

Maybe. Maybe that’s why I have doubts that we’ll see any of what Professor Faulhaber suggests to remedy the situation, such as subsidized child care for all, or change the tax treatment of child care, whether as an increased credit or business deduction.

I lack no confidence, Ms. Sandberg, in case you (and other readers out there) were wondering. I do, however, lack faith that anybody in Congress, or that a majority voting for those in Congress, will put their money where their mouth is when they say,

“I value families.”

At least not in the next 15  years. Maybe by the time our daughter and son hit the paid workforce, they’ll shake their heads at how unfair and hypocritical we all once were.

It’s my workplace and I’ll cry if I want to

Okay, I really need to read her book. Thanks Tracie Egan Morrissey, of Jezebel, for yet another insightful review and interview: Sheryl Sandberg on Why It’s OK to Cry at Work.

I’ve cried one memorable, work-related time at the office, due to immense frustration and feelings of abject helplessness and injustice.

Two colleagues (a man and a woman) and I were meeting with our supervisor (a woman) over our department’s annual review process. Individual performance reviews had been completed, and we needed to submit our plan to the HR department for new titles and amended job descriptions for our myriad public affairs functions. We were going back and forth about titles, trying to encapsulate what it was that each of us did. The man in the room said that he could be “New Media Manager” (it was the year 1999 or 2000, I think, he fancied himself an internet guru). I too, wanted “Manager” in my title, but before I could name a title for myself, the man suggested, “Oh, well she could be ‘Vice President of Good Feelings.'” I had no idea how to respond, I think my mouth probably hung open and I glanced at my supervisor, whose mouth also hung open. We moved on… in the meeting.

I, personally, did not move on. I ended up meeting with my supervisor about the episode, which unraveled into a big mess of a talk about job responsibilities and whether the man on our team was pulling his weight. (Let me be clear: he was not. Much of his internet expertise came from day trading. He left our organization within a year of all this.)

I talked with my supervisor about all of this. I couldn’t believe he thought or even joked that I was all about “good feelings” and he was all about “new media.” I broke down and cried. I was not yet 30 and felt at once brilliant and cocky while feeling stupid and insecure.

It was not pretty. It was youth.

Ms. Sandberg, in discussing the issue of crying at work with Ms. Egan Morrissey, says the following:

“Look, I’m not suggesting that the way to get to the corner office is to cry as much as possible. Nobody is going to publish the next Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and say that crying is one of them. But I am saying that it happens. It has happened to me. It has happened to me more than once. It will happen to me again. It happens to other women. Rather than spend all this time beating ourselves up for it, let’s accept ourselves. OK, I cried, life went on. And I think that’s part of the message of Lean In, like we are human beings, we are emotional beings and we can be our whole selves at work.”

Does crying–being yourself–run the risk of diminishing your likability? Probably. Should likability be a factor in a woman’s success? No. (Only because there is a mess of successful men out there who are utterly unlikable. Some of them are even psychopaths.)

Crying happens, it’s true. Emotions–they’re not going away. I accept that I cried at work, I don’t feel badly about myself for having done so. But I do wish that the person who drove me to tears hadn’t had the power to do so. I had given him that power. I wish I had not.

I wish I had been older.

“Pick a partner”

Irin Carmon’s interview with Sheryl Sandberg makes me want to buy Sandberg’s book. Carmon points out that Sandberg’s thesis on the economics of spousal abuse (concluding that if the abusing man had all the money, the woman was more likely to stay with the abusing man) was highly relevant to her current book. Sandberg claims she’d never thought of that before, but, yes, the thesis is in fact relevant.

“[W]e are not going to get to equality in the workforce before we get to equality in the home… I give advice to young women. I say “pick a partner.” If that partner is female you are in good shape… the data’s very strong that same-sex couples split responsibiltiies much more evenly. If you are a female and your partner is likely to be male… date the bad boys, date the crazy boys, but do not marry them. Marry the boys who are going to change half of the diapers.”

Given Sandberg’s thesis, maybe she should be more specific to young straight women. “Marry nobody until you are sure of yourself, your worth, your potential. Marry nobody until you are wholly unattractive to those would abuse you, or be even remotely unfair to you. Marry nobody until you are only attractive to supportive, compassionate men.”

Is that unrealistic advice? Probably.

But people pick bad partners all the time. All. The. Time.

And people–women and men both–are not always so adept at being a partner, which requires compromise, flexibility, an intimate understanding of one’s own weaknesses, and an insatiable desire to learn from another.

How does one teach a young girl, or a young boy, to pick and be a good partner?

You model it. Are you modeling it?