Nov 8, 2009

To be a Yiddishe Mama (part 1)

In the November ’09 issue of Country Yossi Magazine, in the "Dear Bubby" column, Bubby advises a woman who wants to stay home with her children and who has bitachon about her future, to accede to her husband’s wishes and get a job to ease their financial burden. I found Bubby’s response reprehensible for a number of reasons, as follows:

1-In response to the mother asking whether her husband is right for urging her to leave their children and go to work, Bubby offers the trendy morally relative response, “in situations such as these, there is no right or wrong … there is never one absolute correct method … both husband and wife need to do what they feel is best.”

The correct response is the husband is wrong. Flat out wrong because when he got married he gave his wife a contract called a kesuba in which he says that he will provide. I remember listening to a shiur by Rabbi Y. Zweig of Florida who said his grandfather gave his grandmother money for the expenses of the week, the same amount each week, and she never knew whether business was good or bad because he didn’t tell her. That wasn’t her concern. Her home and children were her concern.

Now this could have been diplomatically presented by Bubby who could have said that unfortunately, due to the husband’s feeling frustrated and worried he is saying things that are inappropriate. He is not permitted to “constantly pressure” her to find a job fast.

2-Why wasn’t it even suggested that the couple examine their lifestyle and expenses and see whether cutting down and out would be a tremendous help.

Perhaps the wife can be guided to respond to her husband, “Dear husband, I understand that you are worried but I have faith that all will be well. Let us examine our expenses and see where we can cut down. Since raising our children is my top priority and is in their best interest, I am willing to cut out …”

And let them see what they can eliminate, whether it’s no eating out, no buying take-out or prepared food, shopping for the children at the end of the season, not replenishing her wardrobe but making do with what she has, his not buying a suit and hat that often, eliminating cell phones or getting a much more limited plan, getting rid of their car if he can use public transportation to get to work, getting rid of other gadgetry that costs them money, staying home in the summer, no vacations if they can’t afford it etc. Many things that are taken for granted today are luxuries and unnecessary. Better to sacrifice the toys and perks than the kids!

And perhaps, if she is home, they can eliminate some tuition by not sending their children to school before the age of 4. Just because it has become the norm to send babies out to school doesn’t mean all have to follow that trend.

Why wasn’t it even suggested that they closely examine what income she would be bringing in if she got a job and how much that income would cost them in babysitting, household help and buying take-out? Why wasn’t it even suggested that she could bring in money by working at home or part-time?


  1. Let's calculate the lowest income necessary to live in some parts of Brooklyn NY.
    Rent: 2 bedroom apt approx $1500/month =$18,000 per year.
    Utilities:water and heat may be covered in tenements but electricity and phone may be together $100 to $200 per month depending on running the AC so figure close to $2000 in utilities.
    Insurance: if they can get medicaid, then it covers all medical expenses except over the counter, otherwise figure at least $700 per month or about $8000 per year for medical insurance.
    Food: Maybe they qualify for WIC and Food stamps and can use a food bank for extras, otherwise food costs about $5 per day for each family member if they eat cheap food. Shabbos and yomtov are more so figure at least $8000 per year on food for a family of 4.
    Toiletries, paper goods and diapers: It cost about $50 per month for each child in diapers and of course there are the other needs that the family has such as toilet paper and figure at least $50 per month for these other supplies. That is $1200 per year for 2 kids in diapers and at least $600 a year in other items.
    Clothing, shoes, hats, coats, sheitels, of course the price varies according to where one shops but most growing families probably spend $4000 a year on clothing (about $300/month. Could they spend less? That depends on the size of the family, trying to keep pace with the neighbors, hand-me -downs, etc.
    Transportation: without a car, trains are $2 each way per person. That is a $16 round trip for a family of 4. A car in NY costs about $238/month for insurance.(approx $3000 per year. Then there is gas, parking, tickets, repairs, (maybe another $100 t0 $200/month).
    Toys, gifts, exterminators, etc, figure another $100 a month (about $1200 per year).
    All totaled, this couple with 2 kids and without government help needs about $51,000 to live on. Government help and doing without a car can cut it down to around $38,000. They may be able to economize another $2000 but that would mean doing without some things. What kind of job does the husband have?

  2. Recalculating: many families manage to spend less than $300 on clothing and related costs such as dry cleaning and alterations but spend more on the subway because the fares went up 50 cents a ride. I also left out taxes, tuition, and tzedukah and religious expenses such as checking tefillin and mezuzzahs, using the mikveh, shul dues, aliyah pledges, paying a mohel, buying arba minim, etc.