Most of the women and men I know are hardworking. For example, my wife, Dr. Barbara Nemko, Napa County Superintendent of Schools, works 60 hours a week while being a good wife and mother.
However, over my 29 years and 4,500 clients in my career counseling practice, in my out-of-work conversations, and in reading trend pieces in the media, I've observed a dramatic increase in the number of people, capable people, afflicted with what I call the Parasite Syndrome.
Here's how the Parasite Syndrome prototypically plays out:
1. After graduating from a brand-name college, the parasites in-training go abroad, for example to India or France, to "find themselves." They return a month or year later, no clearer, although perhaps more desirous of a pleasant and fulfilling life.
2. They take a pleasant and/or fulfilling but low-paying job. (Most pleasant and fulfilling jobs pay poorly--supply and demand.) But because of a desire to live a middle-class lifestyle, the person mooches off parents or romantic partner.
3. At this point, many of the female parasites-in-training think that potential long-term romantic partners who don't make good money are losers. Most males don't think that way of educated low-income women, and so are more willing to marry them. And so, many more female than male would-be-parasites find a host.
4. Sometimes, the income-generating spouse prefers that his spouse not work but that's now uncommon except among the wealthy. More often, the income generator (or his or her parent) asks the spouse to try harder to land a professional-level job so she can contribute to the family income she's good at spending.
So, the non-earner makes a half-hearted failed effort after which she or he rails, for example, "You don't understand how tough the job market is, especially for a woman, and especially with a liberal arts degree."
Few husbands or parents have the guts to tell the non-earner, "Then why did you major in art history?! (or French literature, sociology, women's studies, etc.)" They fear the onslaught of fury, tears, or retaliatory accusations likely to follow.
5. Soon after, if a woman, she gets pregnant. Sometimes, the husband subtly or not subtly asks her if she wants to have an abortion, for example, "Do you think we're ready?" Because he can't force her to have an abortion, the baby comes, even if he doesn't want to be a father nor financially support it, let alone become the sole source of income so she can be a stay-at-home mother.
Men, unless you are ready to be a father or have absolute trust that your partner, without fail, uses reliable birth control, you must wear a condom every time or, if you're sure you never want children, have a vasectomy. Why? Because if she gets pregnant, you have no power: No matter how fervently you plead that you don't want a baby, if she decides she wants it, you're stuck with at least 18 years of enormous commitment of time, energy, and money.
Ah, relationships: They can be so rewarding yet so fraught.
5. She (or occasionally, her husband) insists it's important for her to stay home at least until the child is five, although, as I've documented in earlier posts, the research does not support the validity of that assertion. See, for example, the review of the literature I present in the third-from-the-last comment on this post.
6. When the baby reaches school-age, the brand-name-U-grad mother knows it's unseemly to remain a stay-at-home mother, so she gets pregnant again or goes to graduate school.
7. After taking a long time to finish graduate school and after another desultory job search, she fails to find more than an easy, ill-paying, part-time job, claiming, for example, that the job market is tough for stay-at-home moms.
8. The stay-at-home woman or man creates make-work to seem busy, taking longer to do things than necessary: for example, cooking unnecessarily time-consuming meals ("I had to stop at the Indian market for this spice,") searching for the perfect bathroom accessories, and getting overinvolved/overprotective with the kids, often inhibiting the child's self-confidence and self-efficacy.
Here's a less obvious example. After booking a teenager onto my show to talk about the book he wrote, his stay-at-home mother sent me a dozen emails filled with more information about him than I could use in five shows. Despite my saying, "I have more than I need," she kept sending more stuff. That enables her to tell her husband and friends that it takes a lot of time to support her son's efforts to promote his book.
9. If our reluctant worker lands a job, he or she doesn't work hard at it. She or he invokes excuses she's heard from her friends, pop psych or women'smagazines, or therapist, such as "I'm so afraid of failure that I don't try." or "I'm a perfectionist, which is painful, so I avoid tasks."
10. So this person continues as a mediocre worker, or quits, complaining that the boss is a jerk, work is too stressful, that corporate America (or government, or nonprofit employment) sucks, and/or that the workplace isn't family-friendly, or that "It really would be better if I stayed home with our child."
11. Women live much longer than men, in part because of the stress of an out-of-home job, so it is likely that women non-earners will bury a beast-of-burden husband or two and go to her grave having taken far more from family and society than she has given. She has been a parasite.
The saddest part is that these people--both the women and men--who are afflicted with the Parasite Syndrome are so capable; they could so abet society.
Alas, they choose to have hurt the society they could have helped. They take up slots at prestigious colleges., having written application essays asserting that they want to do important things to improve society. (I've never known of a successful application essay to Brand-Name U whose admission essay said, "I aspire to be a stay-at-home parent.") They then freeload off parents and spouse, and later, often squander yet more societal resources by going back for another degree without ever making much use of it. They certainly never come close to living up to their potential. You don't need a brand-name degree or two to be a good stay-at-home parent, let alone a stay-at-home childless wife, which, as reported in a recent study, is a growing group.
Medical school is a particularly unethical example. Many people go to medical school knowing they'd like to work part-time
and take some years off for parenting--Given the shortage of physicians,
especially in urban and rural areas, that is unethical.
If you know someone, male or female, who is afflicted with the Parasite Syndrome, consider emailing or showing the person this article. True, their first reaction will likely be defensiveness at being called a parasite, but if their behavior, in fact, fits the syndrome and they are reasonably well-adjusted, their desire to not be thought of as a parasite is more likely to motivate them to change than would a tactful request to put more effort into their career. Why? Because a tactful request rarely disturbs complacency, let alone a parasite.