Monday, October 03, 2011

Piss on the Door Knobs

Hello readers, Ava here. I have asked Jeff to use his blogspace to insert some reflections about parenting in the post-industrial era. While Jeff’s perspective is written from the local, household influence, I’d like to write about the political economy of parenting in these post-industrial times. What I have found is that what distinguishes us from our parent’s and grandparent’s generation are the constraints that act upon us for which we have no control.

We moved for employment a year ago. Our house didn’t sell the first week on the market, or the first month, or the first year. To sell it, we will pay an ungodly amount of money to bring our total losses to an even more ungodly amount of money. And it hurts. Polly was born there. Pip took his first steps there. There were birthdays and holidays and visits from friends. I remember the weekend that Polly learned to wave and we had pizza at the kitchen table for dinner.

We now rent a two bedroom apartment, as described in Jeff’s post, On Wildness and Sharing Our Space. And while the location is wonderful, we are tired of being exploited in the shameful renter/tenant environment that clouds most places in America. Our lease was inaccurate when signed, we are responsible for maintaining a property that the owner avoids responsibility at all costs, and we are at the mercy of someone else’s schedule.

For the past two months, we have pursued purchasing another home. After signing a contract and getting it inspected, we found that the risk of potential repairs was too great. And we’re sad, because we feel we have done “everything right” and we deserve the security and stability that marked previous generations.

And this is the chaos of post-industrial parenting: the notion of doing “everything right” as causally related to security and prosperity is a myth. I know it’s a myth, I teach hundreds of students a semester that it’s a myth, and yet I don’t want to believe it. I want to believe that I can work harder and harder and it will result in a better life for my family. I want to believe that there is a “right decision” and a “right way” and that we are, indeed, doing things right. And the frustrating thing for the post-industrial parents is that we ARE doing everything right. It just doesn’t mean what it used to.

In explaining our ups-and-downs in the post-industrial economy, a friend of ours said of our vacant house, “Piss on the door knobs. It will make you feel better.” Well, as a nation, we’d better get ready for a whole lotta piss on a whole lotta doorknobs. Because there are a whole lotta post-industrial parents doing “everything right.” And we’ve got nothing to show for it but vacant houses with pissy doorknobs and a crumbling economy.


Will said...

I don't quite get what's "shameful" about the renter / tenant environment. Certainly not all landlords are bad people -- having a bad experience with one landlord doesn't mean that buying is the only other alternative. And, there are a lot of benefits to being able to call someone to fix your problems rather than be on the hook for them yourself (even if the landlord is unresponsive, in most areas, the law greatly favors tenants, so there should be some recourse to dealing with the situation). Really, I think more people should be renting vs. buying, especially in areas where housing prices are high.

We own a house now; we have a higher income than a lot of folks where we live, plus we have 2 incomes and no kids, and still would not possibly have been able to buy a home if we hadn't had help from family. I think for many people in many areas, renting simply makes the most sense.

In "previous generations", many people rented rather than owned - I think the "cult" of home-ownership is a recent thing.

Kevin Leuthold said...

My grandparents, when they started out, were so poor they couldn't afford curtains or rugs for their home for the first year. They worked 16-hour (or longer) days through the depression to scratch out enough to keep afloat. Certainly there were many things out of their control (the economy, banks' lending practices, the terrible weather of the dust bowl), yet they never blamed others for those constraints. They took pride in not taking on very much debt. They did "everything right", and it worked out for them. But they also witnessed many good hard-working folks around them who also did "everything right" and did not succeed.

What's more, they had no modern conveniences. When they started, no electricity or car. No washing machine, vaccuum, or television. They never had a dishwasher.

Of course doing "everything right" is no guarantee of security or prosperity, but it never has been.

Leslie said...

I completely agree with Kevin. There has never been any sort of guarantee that if you do "everything right" that it will work out. Never will be either.

Leanne said...

Thank you, because right or wrong, this is how I have been feeling the past year, too. The system is rigged. Here's to hoping we emerge in a way that affirms real people instead of corporations and money, and enjoy our hard work and children.

Anonymous said...

A bit late on the comment here but here goes.

The media in this country has always pressed people to take risks rather than being cautious.

The real estate bubble was obvious to me when, in 2003, at an age above 40 we were shopping for our first house.

I couldn't see paying that kind of money and I knew it was an artificial demand because people were buying up multiple houses to "flip". This wasn't a secret. It was in the news daily.

It was obvious to me that there weren't enough people needing to buy a house to actually live in to make it pay off for all the speculators who owned 4 or 5 houses at once plus all the new houses being frantically built by builders.

The economist magazine was the only publication I saw that predicted a crash well in advance. This was where I first heard of the Dutch tulip bubble that happened centuries ago. But if you said anything in the US back in the 00's people chastised you for being a pessimist.

We need to teach people in school to recognize bubbles, either tulips, dotcoms or real estate and not take the bait.

We also need to teach people not to get caught up in hype. Does a flashy casino make people think they'll win a bunch of money or does it indicate that the casino is winning a bunch of money?

I'm guessing you just happened to be in a position to buy a house at the time rather than being involved in investing. In that case you were a victim of all the speculators.

Steve said...

Have you considered foreclosure or short sale. I am a parent considering both options. It feels like failure, but I rather "fail" than let my son suffer.
I am actually looking forward to renting and spending more time with the family

Anonymous said...

Look into walking away from the house. Unfortunately, don't have a source on how to do it, but, for many, it is the best option.