“Another Casualty from the Crisis: Family Time”

Posted on: Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

This article from a week ago, by WSJ’s Sue Shellenbarger (the hardest working woman in work/life balance) came to my attention today. It’s worth a read, and a comment.

To summarize in a word: Bummer. Recessions are not only bad for portfolio values, but also family values, it appears.

People cling to their jobs during rough times. They also take jobs beneath them, and are forced to find new ways to pay the bills.

This is nothing new, as the article states:

“Data from past recessions tell the story. The proportion of people working part-time by choice fell in the recessions of the early 1980s, the early 1990s and 2001. And although the percentage of at-home dads among married-couple families rose in the 2001 recession, that turned out to be an economic blip — caused mostly by heavy layoffs among men. The ‘trend’ waned when the economy recovered.”

Dang. Call me the world’s first Masculist, but it often seems that women have made more strides in creating life choices than men. Sure, pinstriped (and sometimes pinheaded) men still rule politics, Wall Street, and more. But women keep making progress, and expanding their menu of possibilities.

Men do too, but not so much. There is still a stigma of shame or shirk that greets stay-at-home dads. And they are about as rare as, well, female senators. I ought to know. Despite a flexible but infinite workload at all times, I know what it’s like to be the only dad among gaggles of women picking up your kid at daycare, preschool, school, sports, and the like.

One can be completely left out of the invitations for playground meetups and coffee klatch—to say nothing of Tupperware and Avon parties (or whatever women sell to each other at such events these days). Some assume I’m a single (divorced) dad—taking my turn in the custody turnstile. (There IS a lot of that.)

But back to family (and other) values. For the record, YES, it’s very hard to spend the money we’re about to spend right now; many a family skips the vacation, daytrip, or movie night when the economy sours.

In my case, 2 Heads is a little business that sits very low on the food chain, and gets punished (if not vaporized) during recessions. Freelance creative consultants rarely seem indispensable. So it can take years to grow billings back to where they once were. And by then, it’s about time for another recession, right?

But for us, it’s rather now or never. An alignment of times—our kids are both in elementary school, and their teachers and principal have kindly issued extended “hall passes” that (some say) will not be so forthcoming in middle school, when advanced placement discipline hits.

Economic slump or no, this much I do know: A crucial goal to shoot for in life is to NOT let economics and crashes and things affect day-to-day OR big-picture plans. Maybe that goal is achieved simply by running away in this case. Plug your nose and go. After all, when is there ever a perfect time for anything?

I’ve been an aggressive investor in equities since 1984 (mostly stock mutual funds, nothing too fancy or short-term). So like all who’ve held stocks: Been there, seen that. I’ve lost many a night’s sleep to shrinking numbers. It didn’t help. It pays to take on less risk as you grow older (and richer), learn from mistakes, and test your risk tolerance—again and again and again.

Or as one rich old right-winger once told me: The more you have to conserve, the more conservative you become.

As the article suggests, pumpkins and bonfires don’t cost much, and can bring more fun and meaning than a day yachting. Maybe people learn to simplify—and enjoy the simple pleasures—during downturns. Bring on the apple pie. Homemade (it’s cheaper!).

We still have an amazing standard of living here in the U.S.A. We still have more housing space per-person than ever. We know that what goes up must come down…and what goes down usually bounces back.

As my Grandma always said,

“It’s not so bad we are off.”

She ought to know. She and my Grandpa homesteaded in South Dakota in the teeth of the Depression. There probably weren’t any stock portfolios, or even salaried jobs, but there was always plenty of fresh jam, home-grown meals, and yes, apple pie as a family at their farm.

Restore family values: Be together. BreakAway together.

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