Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Economics of Choices: When sacrifices become gender related

Yesterday's Economic Empowerment lesson took an odd and unexpected turn. A discussion about making good choices shifted to a therapy session between one attendee and her young daughter. Maybe I should be disappointed because the exchange that ensued cut into my lesson time, but I went home that night feeling enlightened.

I was at the slide discussing the decision making process when relationships was broached by several of the women. It started a lively talk about dating after divorce. We started identifying the opportunity costs of such relationships when the therapy session started. At times it was heated, with the young girl objecting to her mother's new boyfriend. It divided the participants in half, with some siding with the mom and the rest coming to her daughter's defense. I sat there uncertain as to how to react, wondering at times whether I should redirect the conversation back to economics and the decision making process. Not that I didn't try, but somehow the discussion veered back to relationships. It turned out to be one of the most enlightening discussions on gender inequality.

As one of the women highlighted, we are still chained to traditional and unfair expectations. The young girl upset at her mother's dating had accepted her stepmom long ago. But she was adamantly against her mom's new boyfriend. The girl was to later confess that her mother should be devoting her time to the kids and not the boyfriend. It turns out her siblings were in agreement. This thinking has led them to cause their mother a lot of grief and she found it understandably unfair. I sat there wondering after sometime what would cause this young girl to think it was okay for her mother to make this sacrifice. Apparently, it was not the mother who reinforced such ideas because she became defensive and at times very upset with her daughter's reasoning. Could it be her father was somehow transmitting these ideas to her?

What we discovered by the end of the night was that this mother had been sacrificing her happiness for her children's sake for much longer than she ever should have. She had stayed in an abusive relationship to spare her kids the agony of coping with a still held taboo - divorce. She endured years of mistreatment with a controlling man to make her children happy. During this time, her young daughter had internalized this as normal.

During the class, the mother had stated several times she had made wrong choices in life. She now wants to make better ones. Her first step was to walk away from an abusive relationship to build a better life for herself and her children. As many mothers like her, she strives to make good choices she can grow from. After yesterday's discussion, this brave woman has some time to go before she sees the benefits of her decisions.

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