Raising a family is no trivial pursuit
Does anybody remember the original “Trivial Pursuit”? Ronald Reagan was president, “The Dukes of Hazard” was on TV, and George Lucas was finishing “Return of the Jedi.” If you’re in my demographic, you played it in your twenties with your twenty-something friends.
Fast forward to today. One marriage and two children later, I thought it’d be fun to play again. I bought the 90s edition and forced my wife and kids into a Family Bonding Situation. We finished the game, but our only bonding was the Krazy Glue of frustration.
The 90s edition is impossible. I missed question after question. We kept changing the rules to make the game easier; it didn’t matter. Somebody won after an hour. I don’t think it was me.
What went wrong? How in a single decade did the Trivial Pursuit King become the Trivial Pursuit Klutz? Watching my children put the game away, it hit me: I had kids.
My wife went to law school, then left the work force to be a stay-at-home mom. She’s back now, but earns less than male (and female) lawyers who never left. Is that fair? You bet. Our choice, our consequences.
I have to assume her drop in earnings after marriage isn’t that unusual. If you compare the earnings of never-married women to never-married men, the “wage gap” narrows to 2 percentage points. Hard to find discrimination there.
People disagree about why women’s earnings drop after marriage while men’s do not. Some believe that American society is unjust, and demand laws to fix the problem. For them, fairness is more important than freedom.
I think that’s exactly backwards. Freedom is what’s important. The only kind of “fairness” that should matter in America is equality under the law. Equality of incomes or outcomes has no place if it comes at the expense of freedom.
No wonder I couldn’t answer a single “Friends” question. When Jennifer Anniston was turning heads, I was working two jobs so my wife could stay home. No wonder she couldn’t answer any “1990” questions: We were raising a 2-year-old and a newborn. I could barely remember my name then, let alone the Secretary of Defense.
Our terrible performance at Trivial Pursuit got me thinking about what parents give up. Sometimes the trivial is a key to the profound.
It’s considered bad taste nowadays to suggest having children requires you to give up something. What is obvious outside the New York Times and back pages of Newsweek is unspeakable inside them. This is a terrible injustice, because the facts are indisputable.
Everyone knows that women make sacrifices to raise children. We just can’t talk about it. A wage gap between men and women must be sex discrimination. But that sound bite obscures a far more complex reality.
In a country where people are allowed to decide for themselves what life paths they find most rewarding, men and women are going to make statistically different choices. That’s because we’re different. And you know what? Vive la difference!
Besides, it’s nonsense to say that family men don’t give up anything. We make sacrifices all the time.
I know that my life decisions impact my career. My academic resume’ would be more impressive if I had never married. As I approach my mid-forties, I know Harvard is not going to offer me a job. That is neither unfair, unjust, nor discriminatory. It is both Harvard’s choice and mine. I don’t know about Harvard, but I made the right decision.
If life experience has taught me anything, it is that no amount of money, no “family friendly” social policy, no circumstance of fate will let anyone “have it all.” Believing otherwise is just wishful thinking. The best you can do is decide what you want out of life, then make the tough choices that you think will get you there.
That’s not a bad thing. Tough choices are what life is about. They are how we distinguish trivial pursuits from important ones.
© 2005, Barry Fagin