The world has changed

Published 8:34 pm Friday, September 20, 2019


Coffee with Mimi

Recently, I had a wonderful and far ranging conversation with a retired gentleman who has a depth of knowledge of 20th Century historical and societal events.  He had informed and non-judgmental opinions, well-grounded in facts and evidence.

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One topic we discussed was the events which led to the economic need for an average family to depend on some source of secondary income in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.  Not a lavish lifestyle, but one in which the family could live in a comfortable home, educate their children and maybe take a vacation now and then.  At the end of the working years, the parents could feel secure in their retirement, knowing their children could repeat the process. Generations would follow.

This gentleman is a bit older than I am, and his history spanned across the years of this societal and economic shift.  We talked about how personal choice figures into the decisions a family may make.  Traditional roles need not be assigned to particular family members, but perhaps the need to provide for the family in the modern world has limited choice and therefore, perhaps the quality of life.

I have been employed outside the house for virtually all of my adult life.  It just happened that way.  First, I went to college, graduated and started working — like millions of other men and women my age.  I just didn’t marry until I was considerably older than the average person at the time.  I didn’t think about it much.  So, by the time I got married, I was well established in my career as a teacher.  There was no process of decision making about changing my lifestyle. I went to school on Thursday, took Friday off, got married on Saturday and returned to school on the following Tuesday.  We had a weekend away, but I was a swim coach and the team had a meet on Tuesday.  So, there you go.

Life moved along.  In relatively short order, we had three children.  They had excellent child care arrangements and loved playing with their friends while I was at school.  We socialized with the other families in the kids’ classes.  Summers were spent doing things not at school.  In the fall, we all went back to school.

Throughout the years, I never really gave much thought to our life. I worked, my husband worked and that’s what the family knew. In retrospect, I didn’t choose to work. I did work.  Obviously, I had to work after college and I liked it.  As time moved on, I never thought I was forced to work because of outside influences, though certainly the results of working made other decisions possible.  I never felt limited in my life because I worked.

Perhaps I was selfish.  Though I felt very fortunate in my employment situations throughout my life, maybe others in my family would have preferred that I not been so tied to what occupied me from dawn to evening.  My children, particularly my daughters, and I have had conversations about this. They are both grown, each following very different paths of their own.  One is married, one is not.  One works in a more corporate world and the other in a service field.  Both are very good at what they do.  Perhaps, in the future, they would not need to work for financial security.  But, for now, they do need to work and they are engaged in valuable community work.

Until my retirement, I spent my entire career in education and the education support field.  I guess I’m really still at that.  But, my girls already have explored different facets of the career world, and I expect they will have a few more adventures before it is all said and done.

So, the world has changed.  Yes, it is true that it is possibly more difficult to raise a family on a single income in the 21st Century.  But, it brings me to my point.  Historically speaking, someone in the family stayed home and someone worked in an income generating job.  The person who stayed home had a role in the home, and that was to make the home. Families were fed, clothed and housed through the efforts of hours of work each day by a person at home.

Because both my husband and I worked outside the home, did our family miss out?

I like to sew.  I made special holiday outfits for the girls. I could alter and hem prom dresses.  I made slipcovers and draperies.  But, I certainly could not make every item of clothing for them or furnishing for the home. I had to rely on other sources for such.  Sometimes, we had a vegetable garden. It was fun and humorous. However, we would have starved if we had to count on my preserved produce for the long winter months.  My girls, nor my son, for that matter, do not sew, none of them even owns a sewing machine.  They might not ever.    

For whatever reason, the world was forced to change. I would like to think that allows more space for us all to choose.