Highest and Best Use is a concept in real estate appraisal. It states that the value of a property is directly related to the use of that property; the highest and best use is the reasonably probable use that produces the highest property value. This use, the Highest and Best Use, may or may not be the current use of the property.
For some reason lately that phrase has been floating in and out of my mind. About nine months after Tank was born and I was desperately flailing at home, a depressed mess who had quit her job to try sahm life on for size, I thought I would get my real estate license. Of course, I was about halfway through the program when I figured out that residential real estate agent isn't the right job for me. Ironically, I ended up working in corporate real estate, but I never did get my real estate license.
No, I find myself thinking about Highest and Best Use in relation to me, not to property. True, I don't really want to go back to work. But some days I think Is this my highest and best use? Why did I go to college? Why did I take up a spot in school that could have gone to someone who needed that education to fuel a career? It seems so dilettante-ish...education for education's sake. Are my sons going to grow up and think women are made to do their laundry and cook their meals and cater to their needs? How can I stay home and model otherwise? I want to raise good feminist sons, but I think doing that as a stay at home rather than working mom is going to be infinitely harder.
Is my personal value derived from my use? When I worked, I was challenged. Intellectually. I did something every day that was exclusive of my family and had acknowledged value in the broader world. What is my use now? I don't mean that in an oh, woe is me kind of way, but in a truly questioning way.
I guess the disclaimer here is that I've never been a woman who is 110% comfortable with either choice. Work or stay home.
Do many people contemplate their highest and best use? I don't think that my corporate job was necessarily my highest and best use, but nor am I convinced that staying home is. I've been home for more than ten months now and I am startled to find that I haven't figured more of this out by now. And also startled to find that I haven't gone to the gym every.single.day now that I have the luxury of time (but that's a post for another day).
I've read the books - Freakonomics that postulates that whether or not a mother stays home is not a factor in a child's educational success. The Feminine Mistake which argues the long term personal economic cost to a woman to stay home is too high. I have always been wary of the stay at home life and I still harbor doubts. Is there a third option? I think there are probably lots of third options and I will have to find the one that fits me. It's not PTA and it's probably not graduate school to pursue something more meaningful. Work at home? Entrepeneur? Maybe. I'm still looking. And I simultaneously recognize the immense privilege and luxury I have of even contemplating these questions. It is also an economic luxury as many women have no choice.
Men, by and large, have neither the luxury nor the burden of having to seriously consider these issues for themselves. The cultural assumption is that they will work and provide for their families. End of story. They need not struggle against the current unless they want to break that paradigm. Mothers must always choose and regardless of their choice will be judged for it. By themselves or by others.
I am going to be...in seventeen days...(gasp! horror!)...FORTY. How do I not have this figured out by now?!?!?!
After re-reading the above, I feel this blog should come with a warning label at least in the short term...
DANGER - midlife crisis post ahead!
I know this territory is a field of land mines, so go for it! Comment away!