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Choices, constraints, and the 'mommy track.'
December 2, 2007 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Insightful, sociological, bitter: A scholar reflects back on her entry into the academic 'mommy track.' An interesting blend of meditation-on-resentment and just-plain-resentment, worth a read both intentionally and un-. [via]

As the poster (olderwoman) points out in her first comment, the post nearly/neatly glosses over the fact that it's written from the perspective of a tenured academic. Her post - not quite an 'essay,' thanks - interests me for several reasons: it's emblematic of the limitations and bizarre literary blind spots of online confession/analysis by scholars; it doesn't flinch in describing the anger and (self-/hubby-)loathing baked into so many relationships, affluent and otherwise; it might be a deliciously reflexive demonstration of the nature of self-righteousness or a run-of-the-mill example of it, or something uneasily situated halfway between. I wouldn't actually call this 'best of the web' in aesthetic, scholarly, or confessional terms, but something about its ironies appeals to me. The scholarly blogosphere isn't well represented on MeFi, so there you go.

Incidentally, if you have an eye for academic blogs in general, follow the 'via' link to Crooked Timber, one of the best academic group blogs for several years running. A bit predictable in its politics sometimes, but then isn't everyone?
posted by waxbanks (69 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I followed this link from Crooked Timber too. I'm authentically curious, waxbanks, so feel free to follow up: what are the "bizarre literary blind spots" of this piece? They weren't apparent to me, so maybe they are mine too.
posted by escabeche at 1:41 PM on December 2, 2007


Huh. My mom has a Sociology PhD and she said getting into sociology was the worst mistake of her life. Apparently it's "sooo boring"
posted by delmoi at 1:43 PM on December 2, 2007


Grow the fuck up.
posted by phrontist at 1:44 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Choices. Each choice that I make has consequences, some that I like, some that I don’t like. Not all my choices are constructive. I don’t think I get much value out of the time I’ve spent playing free cell or doing crossword puzzles. I don’t know whether taking the time to work on this essay is worth the time I’m spending on it. But I know I’m making those choices all the time.

...
posted by phrontist at 1:47 PM on December 2, 2007


Huh. My mom has a Sociology PhD and she said getting into sociology was the worst mistake of her life. Apparently it's "sooo boring"

I would think that people who find sociology excessively boring would not pursue PhDs in the field.
posted by billysumday at 1:50 PM on December 2, 2007


"it might be a deliciously reflexive demonstration of the nature of self-righteousness or a run-of-the-mill example of it, or something uneasily situated halfway between. "

What exactly do you mean by this?
posted by mr_roboto at 1:59 PM on December 2, 2007


In retrospect, I probably should have used more paid child care and household help, as the children would probably have been better off with a saner mother, but I did not want to concede defeat to the constraints in my life. I preferred feeling angry to adjusting.

Having conceded this point, why exactly is this a gender issue? Newsflash: kids impact upon one's professional choices. Her husband was supportive in the early stages of her career and then took career building opportunities once she had established herself. Sounds pretty egalitarian to me. It reads as pretty narcissistic (not to mention gender-baiting) to discuss the issue of "choices" and "constraint" without treating the choices and sacrifices her husband might have made for the sake of family.
posted by felix betachat at 2:10 PM on December 2, 2007


Grow the fuck up.

Who's supposed to grow the fuck up? And why? What are you talking about?
posted by facetious at 2:12 PM on December 2, 2007


"In retrospect, I probably should have used more paid child care and household help, as the children would probably have been better off with a saner mother, but I did not want to concede defeat to the constraints in my life. I preferred feeling angry to adjusting."

So, sure, it may not be easy to realize, or admit, that you need extra help. I get that. But it strikes me as rather odd, that a rather long time afterward she was still making the same mistake.

"After about ten years on the mommy track, it was time for another shift in priorities. My spouse changed jobs and traveled less. . . . I worked at home, so I was there in the background, but I ignored my children more."

She is a tenured academic, which generally entails a rather nice salary, and her husband seems to make a fair amount himself. How could she not see the value of extra help after more than ten years?

That kind of selfish refusal to recognize reality borders on negligence. (I find it amusing that she seems to resent her kids for their refusal to quietly allow her to ignore them. The nerve of young kids today!)
posted by oddman at 2:15 PM on December 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


I find it amusing that she seems to resent her kids for their refusal to quietly allow her to ignore them.

I think the point was that the kids were being equally ignored by both parents, and that the kids' interpretation of this state of affairs was "My mom is ignoring me."
posted by escabeche at 2:18 PM on December 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Her husband was supportive in the early stages of her career and then took career building opportunities once she had established herself." FB

FB points to something else that bothered me. She notes: "When he was home, my spouse was “superdad,” who did a lot of the work and played a lot with the children, so there was a big hole when he was gone. He was aware of how much he did when he was around, but not of what it was like when he was not around. I wanted him to confront the consequences of the work-home choice he was making and feel just as bad as I did."

So let's get this straight her husband, who travels a lot, apparently takes on an extraordinary amount of the responsibilities when he's home, and she resents him for it? Seriously? She was angry at him for doing to much! The nerve of some people, how dare they do more when they have the chance.

What would it take to make this woman happy?
posted by oddman at 2:22 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't see anywhere where the author claims that the conflicts between family and work are "a gender issue." This could have been just as easily written by a male academic who stayed home watching the kids while his wife took long trips.
posted by transona5 at 2:23 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


What's missing from that essay is any sense that the author may have just been trying to do too much at once. She seems bitter that there was no way she could plausibly

a) have a healthy marriage
b) raise kids
c) teach classes and do research in sociology
d) be involved in politics
e) remain a healthy and happy person

all at the same time. As if she was being denied the right to fit as much into her day as she thought that she should be able to.

I don't have much sympathy for her. Her eyes were much bigger than her stomach, so she's angry at her stomach for failing to keep up.
posted by tkolar at 2:25 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


This comment might be a deliciously reflexive demonstration of the nature of sarcastic scorn for the self-absorbed academic, or a run-of-the-mill example of it, or something uneasily situated halfway between.
posted by Horken Bazooka at 2:25 PM on December 2, 2007


Granted, escabeche, but when she put off making their lunch she was ignoring them in a way that her husband wasn't.

By agreeing to stay at home, and not hire a nanny, she agreed to shoulder the responsibility of making lunches and giving the kids something to do beyond watching TV. Her husband did not agree to take on those responsibilities. So, she was shirking her accepted duty with respect to the kids, he wasn't.
posted by oddman at 2:26 PM on December 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


The whole tone of the piece was bitterly removed. It made me sad to read. I could not be married/a partner with someone like this. We don't hear much about what the children have brought to her life. If you tell me that educated people could not figure out something for their children to do all summer other than sit in front of the television, I say bologna. She seems to see raising children within a dynamic of power struggle. "Call you father, he is not going to help you either so don't blame me because you can physically interact with me" (I am paraphrasing here). This point, seems like taking academia to a preposterous level.

My takeaway from this piece: My children ruined my quality of life. My husband is to blame as well. I was too wrapped up in myself and my belief-constructs to realize that my life is real and not a some lab sample.

Christ.
posted by zerobyproxy at 2:27 PM on December 2, 2007


facetious: Who's supposed to grow the fuck up? And why? What are you talking about?

Pretty much what zerobyproxy and tkolar said.
posted by phrontist at 2:32 PM on December 2, 2007


I started reading this pretty much assuming that I was going to be supporting the author whole heartedly: yeah, it's hard to do scholarship and childcare at the same time; there's a bias in the academy, still, against motherhood and gender bias against women, etc. etc. But all I came away with from that piece in the end was "So... life doesn't turn out the way we expect it to, huh? Shocker, I know."

I'm really not too sure what she's complaining about. And I say that as somebody who really did raise a child almost completely single-handed, and whose academic ambitions were put aside for many, many years because of it. And I have no regrets.
posted by jokeefe at 2:41 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Guys, what the fuck? "Dumb broad whining"?! What?

I didn't read this as the bitter, hateful, child-hating woman you guys seem to pull from her. I read it as a woman reflecting on the choices she has made in her life and the consequences of those choices, as well as her reflection that those choices affect future choices upon future choices for her and her children. I did not get "I hate my husband and my ball-and-chain children"--she was pointing out, quite accurately, that giving up hobbies and career for her kids while watching her husband soar can result in resentment. She's a goddamned human being, and human beings are allowed to acknowledge that children are not continuous balls of sunshine. If she did not elaborate paragraphs upon paragraphs about how much she loves her kids, we're supposed to condemn her when her kids were not the point of this essay? Did you not catch when she acknowledged she got off the mommy track and ignoring her kids more hurt them? I figured it was kind of implicit that she felt terrible about this, but then again I do not get pissed off at mothers who are not happy to be Susie Happy Homemaker every minute of their fucking lives.

Regarding her husband doing jobs, she was not lamenting the fact that he was superdad, but the fact that he was superdad made his absence all the more painful. Yeah, when you get used to a good situation you are upset when it ends. So she admitted this. OH MY GOD! Again, the admission that mothers are sometimes human! Blasphemy!

I didn't see a "dumb broad whining". I saw very introspective, open contemplation, and a willingness to expose one's more unsavory traits to further that. The conclusion, that our and others choices affect our lives, is not an original one. Oh shit, so that means she's not allowed to talk about it on her blog, and put it into a sociological perspective? I didn't realize. I better call the blog police and ask them to shut down my online journal, because I have so many entries reflecting on age-old adages and how they relate to my life in particular. Why, it is almost like I am learning! About life! And myself! Why the hell would I write about that, amirite?

Oh, but perhaps I am just another dumb broad for not being outraged. Excuse me, I gotta go get pregnant and start knitting baby clothes. Why spend time thinking all these big, obvious thoughts that all the Smart Philosopher Men have already thought for me? My fertility is a-wastin' and I have a uterus to fill!
posted by schroedinger at 3:17 PM on December 2, 2007 [11 favorites]


[a few comments removed - if the best you can do is "dumb broad whining" please save it or take it to metatalk]
posted by jessamyn at 3:29 PM on December 2, 2007


This reads to me like an honest (slightly dull) reflection on a normal life with choices and tradeoffs, followed by some not terrifically-earthshaking observations about how our actions have consequences. It doesn't read as whining at all; it reads like an inventory of choices and their consequences. I can't imagine why anybody here is griping about the author's personal choices (I think escabeche is exactly right about the "children only saw mom ignoring them by working at home, when dad was ignoring them by traveling for work" part), and I can't imagine why waxbanks posted it, really.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:45 PM on December 2, 2007


As transona5 said, I didn't get any gender emphasis from the article; if you had told me it was a male writing, I'd have believed you.

The biggest problem I see was that the author tried to have her cake and eat it too. You can be a stay-at-home parent whose job is raising the children... or you can be a work-from-home parent, and address the need for childcare. She refused to make that choice (how ironic) and instead of succeeding at either, she failed at both.

I think the point was that the kids were being equally ignored by both parents, and that the kids' interpretation of this state of affairs was "My mom is ignoring me."

I think that to understand that they were being "equally ignored" is asking too much of the children, frankly. They see Parent A at home and Parent B away. Who should they have turned to in need?

"Once, when my spouse was traveling and my daughter was griping about something I was not helping her with, I told her to call her father in Florida and complain to him about it."

The author agreed to the arrangement where the spouse travelled frequently. Parent A and Parent B were both complicit in creating the scenario where one is constantly away and one is constantly home. When the scenario seems to no longer be working, why is it okay for Parent A to denigrate Parent B for being away? In a way, that's unfairly penalizing the children for having needs, as well.

"Despite such attempts at political education, my children would still talk about the effect of mothers’ work but not fathers’ on their children’s lives."

Seriously -- what was "political" about that "education"? I don't see any gender inequity there; I see a pair of parents who didn't take the time to explain to their children that The Business of Work can take on many forms... sometimes it's a lot of travel, sometimes it's working from home, and sometimes it's a standard 9-to-5 gig. The author herself admits that she didn't care to set those boundaries because she didn't want to admit her own failures as a Superparent. That's not political, that's just selfish.

The mommy track isn't just academic; it is a regrettable factor of career development in any industry. Still, I think that the whole notion itself is borne of privilege. There are plenty of women who would love the option that is conferred by the idea of the "mommy track," but they are single parents, or their household needs both incomes no matter what, or because they can't afford to support children, they don't have any. Merely having the option to stay home with one's children is a luxury, regardless of industry or gender.

And yeah, overall I thought the "essay" was fairly phoned-in. The writing was meh, the grand conclusions were meh, and the author seems to be lacking in the critical self-awareness that could have made the piece great. But, I'm glad it got posted here anyway; the world could use more conversations about what it means to be a two-career family in the 21st century, not fewer.
posted by pineapple at 4:06 PM on December 2, 2007 [4 favorites]


schroedinger: I completely agree with you that truths about motherhood need to be told, that our recieved ideas about what a mother is desperately need examination, and that women must not be afraid to speak out about the profound difficulties and isolation that goes along with it all. Raising children is hard work, but it is also, largely, secret work, or work shared only with a circle of other mothers, many of whom are desperately afraid of not living up their own ideals of what motherhood should be.

But I'm sorry, I just don't think this essay really accomplishes much of that. From my reading (as I said in my comment) I don't get a lot of her complaints; they seem a bit unreal to me. Not the part about trying to preserve an intellectual life in the midst of househould chaos, or anything like that; but what impact, exactly, this has had on her life in a negative sense, that isn't similar to and even to lesser degree than what the majority of other parents experience.

She has tenure; she has an upper middle class income; she had the option to hire a nanny and admits that what stopped her from doing so what her own sense of perfectionism. I'm happy to read a thoughtful exploration about motherhood, a vexed subject if there ever was one, but this isn't it.

The "dumb broad" stuff I'm ignoring on principle.
posted by jokeefe at 4:25 PM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


"But, I'm glad it got posted here anyway; the world could use more conversations about what it means to be a two-career family in the 21st century, not fewer."

About that, frankly, I don't see why anyone would choose to be in a two-career family if they could avoid it. That seems fairly obvious. However, while most people would claim that they can't afford it, I think it's largely doable. You have to be willing to live modestly, but it is very much a real possibility for most families. (And by modestly I mean that you'll probably have to give up most of the trappings of a typical American-materialistic lifestyle. You can certainly still own a home, have health insurance, etc.)
posted by oddman at 4:25 PM on December 2, 2007


I don't see why anyone would choose to be in a two-career family if they could avoid it.

Because work contributes to one's sense of self. Because work is interesting, a way to stretch oneself, a way to have colleagues and an intellectual community. Because spending all your time with children is stifling for some people.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:36 PM on December 2, 2007 [6 favorites]


And I don't think she's criticizing her children for thinking she was ignoring them. (I took it that she was making a mild joke when she said "I tried to get them to see the political consequences of seeing it that way".) I think she's just saying, it isn't actually fair for the stay-home parent to get dumped on that way. Of course it's understandable that children have that view, but that doesn't mean the stay-home parent is actually guilty of ignoring them more.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:39 PM on December 2, 2007


Good timing. I'm right now avoiding working on a paper on the history of women in the workforce, so my slant on the blog is a bit...gender oriented.

What I got was that, while the husband was superdad at home, he was still allowed to be gone. His dream job, while it entailed travel, was of a greater importance than hers. Implied in all this is that because she's a woman, the care of the children is her responsibility and any help she gets from her husband is extra.

Now what pisses me off about this, is that this woman never thought before having children what the effect would be on her career. She bought the Superwoman ideal hook, line and sinker. And compared to women of earlier generations, her life was cake. She actually was allowed to get tenure, and while she didn't contribute as much to her field as she may have wanted, she wasn't forced to leave her job.

On my end, as an academic *not* on the mommy track I grow more and more frustrated by my colleagues who are. When deadlines come, or work piles up, it's my responsibility to stay late and do the work. They've got to leave and pick up the kids or go to a play or what have you. And it frustrates me because I can't say, "Look, I need to go home and read a book on something non-academic, hang out with my boyfriend and play with my cats." That's not a valid excuse, while having children is. AND, my male colleagues with children are right there with me. Working late and travelling as needed. They don't have to worry about the kids.

Then again, I examined just how much work it would be to have the career I want and kids and decided it's just not worth it. I've put too much time and energy into my job and I don't see the rationale in scaling back to have kids. I also understand that kids aren't like cats, and ignoring them for extensive periods of time results in far worse than some pee in your shoes.

Regardless, it will remain a gender issue as long as women are by default the ones who have make the career/family decision. It's changing, but not as much as it should. And of course, this is all moot point for those who don't have the economic freedom to have a career. Those who are working just to keep food on the table are far less likely to care about mommy v. daddy tracks. The only solution is to create social institutions that provide better options for both spouses to work and actually enjoy their lives. But how that is gonna happen, I've got no clue.
posted by teleri025 at 4:39 PM on December 2, 2007


I guess I should clarify that I don't see this essay as particularly fantastic, not really Front-Page Post material though if you haven't seen this sort of stuff before I can understand why you'd like it. My initial response was directed at those who would read a less-than-stellar post about making life choices and attribute it to a dumb broad bitching who didn't know her place as a mother.

I don't think she's lame for figuring out all this stuff now, or daring to write about it. Nearly everyone writes or thinks this kind of stuff, where they're not making any particularly new or original pronouncements about what it's like to live their kind of life, but it's important for them in order to sort through their feelings. The difference is, now people post their sorting-out publicly. I feel like the question of whether or not they "should" fill up the intellectual cyberspace with basically completely repetitive essays is moot at this point--they're going to do it anyway, and hell, I would dare you to find anybody attached to a diary or journal (on or off-line) who hasn't done it.
posted by schroedinger at 4:53 PM on December 2, 2007


"Because work contributes to one's sense of self. Because work is interesting, a way to stretch oneself, a way to have colleagues and an intellectual community. Because spending all your time with children is stifling for some people."

Yeah, sure, great. And this is the kind of person that should think long and hard about whether they are really the family type. Not everyone is. In this day and age it's totally cool to choose not to have children because they are basically incompatible with the lifestyle that you want. That's fine. Not a problem at all. What is a problem is the behavior of people who value the kind of life you just mentioned and still want to have kids anyway. If you find children stifling (even just sometimes) than marry some who will happily nurture them for you or don't have them. Choosing to have kids when you aren't willing to give up a self-centered lifestyle is irresponsible and unrealistic. (That, it seems to me, is the mistake that the sociologist made.)
posted by oddman at 5:19 PM on December 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


oddman, your view seems to be much too simple: either have kids or have job, it is not possible to do both? What I said is that spending all your time with your kids might be stifling. The opposite of that isn't spending no time with your kids, it's spending some of your time doing things other than being with your kids. Surely you must accept that parents should be allowed to spend some time not with their kids.

It is perfectly possible to be a two-career family and both spend time with the kids. Complicating factors here were that her job as an academic is the kind of job where you're expected to spend lots of extra time outside work, and his job required extensive travel.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:42 PM on December 2, 2007


oddman, it's fine with me for you to think as you do, but you do know, right, that your view is in the minority? That most people don't think that valuing work and having kids are incompatible? And that if the only people who had kids were the people who met your criteria, it would be a really small country?

As for the original article, I think it's worth pointing out for the "boo hoo, life involves choices" commenters that the author explicitly says in her last paragraph that lots of people feel resentful about the mere fact that life involves difficult choices, and that this resentment is a mistake. She then goes on to explain why it's a mistake, but this part is written in sociology language, which I do not always understand.
posted by escabeche at 5:43 PM on December 2, 2007


waxbanks: it might be a deliciously reflexive demonstration of the nature of self-righteousness

Very insightful post, but I disagree with your interpretation of it. Self-righteousness comes from a place of assured moral authority. I read no sense of moral authority from the poster.

(from the article) I decided that I was on a path to a morbid old age with all the weight I had gained while sitting at the computer all day, so I started spending time counting calories and exercising. I lost a lot of weight but I also lost bone mass, which may prove more harmful in the long run, I don’t know.

There's just this mood of bitter, helpless ambivalence, as illustrated by the above excerpt. From the title and tone of the post -- reflective and deeply personal -- I expected her to end it by expressing regret for her choices. Instead, she ends it like an academic paper, calling for further research.

That, to me, was the culmination of bitterness. Unable to claim victory or defeat with any certainty in the end, left with nothing, she appeals once again to imagination, that promise of a promise. Heartbreaking.
posted by Laugh_track at 6:03 PM on December 2, 2007


LobsterMitten,

I grok what you say, but two little points:

LobsterMitten writes "What I said is that spending all your time with your kids might be stifling. The opposite of that isn't spending no time with your kids, it's spending some of your time doing things other than being with your kids."

No, the opposite is spending no time with your kids. The happy median is spending some of your time doing things other than being with your kids. Sorry, that was just a little semantic point that was bugging me.

Second, in a similar vein, the opposite of being a stay-home parent is having a career. But the happy median might be working part time.
posted by Bugbread at 6:11 PM on December 2, 2007


Actually, I think you're both right. Saying that someone doesn't spend all of his time with his kids is compatible with his spending some of his time with his kids and with his spending none of his time with his kids.
posted by inconsequentialist at 6:18 PM on December 2, 2007


bugbread: I meant that the logical negation of "spend all time with kids" is "spend some time not with kids". "Opposite" is imprecise, so it was a misleading thing to say, given what I was intending.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:24 PM on December 2, 2007


LobsterMitten, of course parents need what we might call time-off from the kids, granted.

But, and you and I seem to disagree on this, I don't think you can be good at both being a good, attentive parent and having a successful, ambitious career. Either one is a demanding, consuming endeavor a person simply can't do both.

Escabeche, I may by in the minority, but then again it would seem that the majority of modern Americans spend a lot of time lamenting their inability to do everything that they need to. Perhaps my assessment of the demands of parenting and careers would lead to fewer regrets, if it were more common. I don't disagree that you can value having kids and want a great career, I simply don't think a good family will be on in which both parents try to have great careers even while raising children.

Granted, I have old-fashioned views about family.
posted by oddman at 6:28 PM on December 2, 2007


the opposite of being a stay-home parent is having a career. But the happy median might be working part time.

Or the opposite of being a stay-home parent might be having a career that demands 80-hour work weeks and frequent travel, and the happy median might be a "normal" career that's more modest and flexible about its time demands. Given the vast gap between, say, the way oddman and I look at these things, it's hard to imagine there's going to be any consensus on what "medium" means in this setting.
posted by escabeche at 6:48 PM on December 2, 2007


Oddman, both parents can have good careers and be good parents as well-- it's just hard to be an *American living in the US * and do so and have more than one child.

Other countries have managed to make decent work/life balance possible. The problem is not career v. family-- it is that America refuses to provide the support needed for such balance.

I'm struck repeatedly by the second-child thing: women seem to do fine with balance if they have just one, but when it gets to be more than that, without high income and serious help, it seems extremely difficult.
posted by Maias at 7:00 PM on December 2, 2007


I think being a good, attentive parent is consistent with having a career. Maybe not with being at the top of your field, and maybe not with continual advancement in a competitive and time-consuming field. But certainly it's compatible with a 40 hour a week job outside the home.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:03 PM on December 2, 2007


LobsterMitten wrote...
It is perfectly possible to be a two-career family and both spend time with the kids.

That greatly depends on the people involved.

Two of my brothers are doing the two-career family thing: in one case he and his wife are both professors and are spreading the load evenly, in the other case they're both computer professionals and have been trading off being the stay-at-home parent. Both families seem to be making a good go of it.

Here's the thing though: I know *I* couldn't do either of those. There would just be too much complexity, too much overhead from switching from parent to professional, etc. I'm sure I would survive, but I would be writing blog entries much like the one presented here.

So while I think it definitely is possible to have a two-career family that spends time with kids, I don't think it's a trivial endevor or one that is suited for everyone.
posted by tkolar at 7:03 PM on December 2, 2007


fair enough, tkolar. I don't think these things are easy no matter how you slice them.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:04 PM on December 2, 2007


I would think that people who find sociology excessively boring would not pursue PhDs in the field.

You'd be surprised.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:29 PM on December 2, 2007


Good point Maias, I know my wife and I would much rather live under France's family leave policies.
posted by oddman at 8:32 PM on December 2, 2007


ethnomethodologist writes "You'd be surprised."

I was soooo close to posting this exact same sentence in response to that comment.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:47 PM on December 2, 2007


There is an important point up-thread about the unfairness to co-workers regarding the concessions sometimes given to parents. I think if you're in an industry or academic setting which requires long hours, lots of travel, whatever, that you should recognize that is probably not compatible with being an involved parent.

For example, it would be foolish to be an associate at a big law firm, aiming at a partnership, and then decide to have a family--expecting to be able to cut down from 70 hours a week to 40 and not eviscerate your chance at success.

On the other hand, you could still successfully practice law at a smaller firm or on your own--the pay would be less, and there wouldn't be a chance to buy your own slaves or whatever gilded lilies they give partners at big firms, but the choice is still there.
posted by maxwelton at 9:28 PM on December 2, 2007


Little late to the thread. Pretty interestng - more than the blog post for sure. I got to the part about "owing" the husband for his career and stopped. Expectations are pre-resentments, and it looks like the couple set themselves up for that by "taking turns", or really not, just waiting until things were intolerable enough to make a change.

Reading it again, I was a little mollified by the edits she put in afterwards, so now it seems more like a venting than anything else.

Coincidentally, Mother's Movement Online has an article on this, too.
posted by lysdexic at 9:29 PM on December 2, 2007


I'm authentically curious, waxbanks, so feel free to follow up: what are the "bizarre literary blind spots" of this piece? They weren't apparent to me, so maybe they are mine too.

The comment is about the fact that the essayist is a tenured associate professor. Thousands of female adjuncts who sacrificed the fruits of their education to dutifully follow their husband's career would love to have her problems.
posted by Crotalus at 1:24 AM on December 3, 2007


Yeah, to be the really boring pragmatist:

Sometimes having a career is compatible with being a good parent. Sometimes it isn't. It depends on the parent's personality, energy levels, career field, details of their actual job duties, personality of the kid, etc. etc. etc. So it all ends up on a case-by-case basis.
posted by Bugbread at 1:39 AM on December 3, 2007


I don't think you can be good at both being a good, attentive parent and having a successful, ambitious career. Either one is a demanding, consuming endeavor a person simply can't do both.

So, unless a family is independently wealthy and neither parent needs to work, every family with kids has at least one bad, unattentive parent or one unsuccessful, unambitious worker?
posted by Daily Alice at 2:57 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Daily Advice, that's the less charitable way of putting it. Another way is to simply notice that raising children is an ambitious, demanding career in itself. So, unless the family is wealthy you are likely to have one parent that is focused primarily on a career outside the home and one parent that is focused on a career in the home. This is on the assumption that the parents are willing to realize that it's better to materially less well-off than to have latch-key kids. Neither one is a bad parent, although one spends more time with the kids.

Or put it this way, how many people do you think can be successful physicists and anthropologists? IF parenting, as is widely acknowledged, is just as demanding as any career why do we think that people can magically be successful at two completely different jobs just because one of them is labeled "parenting?" It seems more likely that a person trying to have two difficult, full-time careers will be bad at both.

(Of course, there are unusual situations which allow exceptions to my broad generalization. For example both parents might be tenured professors in a field that does not demand much travel.)
posted by oddman at 3:58 AM on December 3, 2007


Daily Alice writes "So, unless a family is independently wealthy and neither parent needs to work, every family with kids has at least one bad, unattentive parent or one unsuccessful, unambitious worker?"

No, you're confusing your "ands". You could, for example, be a good, attentive parent with a successful but unambitious career ("ambition" being code here for "really really time intensive"). Or a good, attentive parent with an unsuccessful ambitious career. Or a good but inattentive parent with a successful, ambitious career. Etc. Etc. You just can't have all four at the same time. If "ambitious" means "time intensive" here (as I understand it), yeah, both parents can't spend massive amounts of time on their careers and still be attentive. There literally aren't enough hours in the day.

Actually, if one of them is an insomniac, all things are go.
posted by Bugbread at 5:44 AM on December 3, 2007


Really, the more I think of it, the more "time-intensive" is really the key. It doesn't matter if it's a career or a job, ambitious or unambitious, successful or unsuccessful. Being a good parent involves a significant time investment. If the career we're talking about doesn't require a significant time investment, then it might be possible to be both attentive and careerily successful. If it requires a significant time investment, either the parenting will suffer or the career will suffer.
posted by Bugbread at 5:47 AM on December 3, 2007


She made the decision to let him have his "dream" job because she "owed" him one. Well, if it's not a workable situation, it doesn't matter who "owes" whom. She's bitter and unhappy but they're "even"? Big mistake.
posted by cogneuro at 6:37 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


That most people don't think that valuing work and having kids are incompatible? And that if the only people who had kids were the people who met your criteria, it would be a really small country?

Really? Has it changed to the point where most people as opposed to a small minority value work now?

I'd say that anyone who values an ambitious career if, as I suspect, it is a small subset of the population, should probably not have kids. Fulfill your parenting needs by occasional volunteering to help out some children somewhere or whatever have you. I mean if you can do it, fine, but if not shame on you for having the kids to begin with. We're not exactly short on people these days and the bright members of our species would do better (especially those with sociology degrees) helping along the multitude of children who have little to no support in their lives. The only reason I can see for having one's own kids from such a privileged stance is racism (i.e. wanting to better the survival of members of our species who share the most genes).
posted by kigpig at 8:07 AM on December 3, 2007


The only reason I can see for having one's own kids from such a privileged stance is racism (i.e. wanting to better the survival of members of our species who share the most genes).

Umm, that's not racism, that's wanting to pass on your genes. In fact, heterosis is one of the best strategies for that. Focusing on people who share the most genes is called "inbreeding".
posted by tkolar at 8:34 AM on December 3, 2007


It is because heterosis is a better strategy that inbreeding is not a good strategy for survival of those who share the most genes but it seems a bit tangent.

I'm not clear about the confusion...as with the post, she's not just looking at the actual birth process but planned from the beginning on raising the children herself which is much more than just passing on your genes. It means you will devote many resources to those who share the closest genetic structure to you of all living children. The next closest are other primary family members, then extended family, once upon a time community, then nation (which was loosely tied to race). Loving your children is at the top of the hierarchy of the concept of racism albeit the passive form.
posted by kigpig at 9:19 AM on December 3, 2007


I'm of the opinion that some people want to have kids, and others want to be parents.

That's the attitude (or choice) that defines how a person is going to work, parent, and generally live his or her life. Whatever someone says s/he wants, it's what they do that really tells the story.
posted by lysdexic at 9:23 AM on December 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


on the assumption that the parents are willing to realize that it's better to materially less well-off than to have latch-key kids

People don't work only for material gain. Work can give other benefits that are very important for adult quality of life. Happy, interested adults who have things to think about other than their children can be better parents because of it.

For that reason, it's not always better for the kids to have a stay-home parent.

Also, lots of school systems have "extended day" after school programs which are fun and safe and provide positive role models and socializing activities -- it's not at all obvious that an 8 year old is worse off going to extended day until 6:30 than she would be going home to a suburban house to hang out with a parent.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:53 PM on December 3, 2007


"it's not at all obvious that an 8 year old is worse off going to extended day until 6:30 than she would be going home to a suburban house to hang out with a parent."

If we assume that the parent and the day care staff are equally engaging and an equally good model, I strongly disagree. Nothing beats family.

Now if you want to compare a wonderful counselor to a disinterested parent who will plant the child in front of a TV, then sure the kid is better off at the care center. But, then we're talking apples and oranges.
posted by oddman at 5:58 PM on December 3, 2007


oddman - I mean it can be fun and stimulating and engaging for a kid to be in afterschool care -- given the way many neighborhoods are ill-suited for outdoor play, and lacking in other kids to play with, it can be even more stimulating than being at home. And that kid can have a great nurturing happy relationship with her parents, who come and pick her up at 6:30. Painting a woe-is-me picture of the latchkey kid, or the kid who has two parents working fulltime jobs, is just not realistic. Those situations can be bad, but they can also be good.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:21 PM on December 3, 2007


Granted, claiming that all latchkey kids are badly off is unrealistic. Certainly some live in areas where good afterschool programs are available. But, I don't think that arguing that in general latchkey kids are worse off than kids with available and attentive parents is perfectly reasonable.

I'm also willing to make the stronger claim that a majority of latchkey kids are not in the well staffed stimulating environments that you describe and that they would be better off if their parents reconsidered their priorities.
posted by oddman at 6:56 PM on December 3, 2007


Someone said:
I can't imagine why waxbanks posted it, really.
To get people talking, of course. I noted in my FPP that I didn't 'agree' with it in any simple way; I should hope people would have similarly complex reactions to it. Next time I'll make sure to post one of y2karl's 'Bush is teh suck' things, or another roundup of rare hard Chicago house musicians who have webpages, or Youtube links to pets being adorable in run-of-the-mill ways. Sorry about that.
posted by waxbanks at 7:02 PM on December 3, 2007


(Oh and: I'm gratified by the discussion! I worried that this would go down just like my last two FFP's, with like eight comments or something. As for her 'blind spots,' they were covered upthread; as for possible ambiguity, I honestly couldn't tell whether or not the author was reflective about her bitterness and barely-veiled resentments. I'm tempted to give credit for introspection but in this case it seemed...a bit too generous. Not an extraordinary blog post, but hopefully a good-enough MetaFilter FPP. Especially given the bullshit that makes up most of this site, n'est pas?) <---holy shit French
posted by waxbanks at 7:07 PM on December 3, 2007


I'm also willing to make the stronger claim that a majority of latchkey kids are not in the well staffed stimulating environments that you describe and that they would be better off if their parents reconsidered their priorities.

But this is just part of the conservative ethos that being raised by one's parents is necessary for a proper childhood. Historically it tended this way because a child would be left unprotected and would be shunned, plus class was largely an extension of social rank of one's lineage. Nowadays not having parents around constantly coddling a child has a good chance at developing the self reliance and individual drive early on that that child needs to get ahead of the competition. Of course it many times will be worse compounded by the possibility that parents generally send their kids to such programs because they both need to work, or are divorced, one died in a freak turbine accident, etc. so these kids appear to be maladjusted compared with their two-parented brethren.

Anyway, I don't think your point is a given or even necessarily the likely situation.
posted by kigpig at 7:18 PM on December 3, 2007


waxbanks - sorry, I didn't mean my comment to sound mean; I meant it literally. I didn't see what you meant by "blind spots", and given that you didn't seem to like the essay I couldn't really see what the motive was for posting. It kind of looked like an opening to make fun of this woman who was being honest about various tradeoffs in her life, which struck me as a bit unsatisfying as a reason for posting. Maybe it's just that I didn't understand your introductory stuff sufficiently.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:35 PM on December 3, 2007


oddman, consider two economic classes:
One family where the parents could make enough money with only one parent working (professional job), but the other parent chooses to work - either because they value work or because they value the extra, unnecessary money. I think the kids in this family are more likely to be put in a well-staffed, well-run afterschool program in a well-off suburb.

Another family where the parents cannot make enough money with only one parent working (low-level blue-collar or low-level white collar job). Both parents work because they must. The kids in this family are more likely to be in a badly-staffed, badly-funded afterschool program in a lower-income area.

Since we were talking about the first kind of family -- where one parent is choosing to continue working rather than staying home, even though staying home is perfectly doable with just a realignment of financial priorities -- I was thinking of the first kind of afterschool program.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:40 PM on December 3, 2007


LobsterMitten - I guess I just don't see the high quality daycare as benignly as you do. (I've already admitted to be old-fashioned about this.) However, I agree that not all paid daycare is bad. Of course, the sociologist of the original post wanted to both stay at home and have a great career. It was that unrealistic desire that I was reacting against. Your, more moderate stance is no where near that stance. (I would never choose earning discretionary income over spending time with my daughter and I have a hard time accepting that a good parent would. Again this may be my own hang-up.)


Kigpig - "But this is just part of the conservative ethos that being raised by one's parents is necessary for a proper childhood."
I think it's better to be raised by one's parents, not that it's necessary.

"Nowadays not having parents around constantly coddling a child has a good chance at developing the self reliance and individual drive early on that that child needs to get ahead of the competition."
Having parents around does not in anyway entail that the child will be coddled. But really, even if your thesis is right that having fairly absentee parents somehow increases competiveness, do you think it's healthy to be encouraging that in toddlers?
posted by oddman at 9:15 PM on December 3, 2007


n'est pas
holy shit misspelled french! (thanks pineapple. :)
posted by waxbanks at 5:00 AM on December 4, 2007


I would never choose earning discretionary income over spending time with my daughter and I have a hard time accepting that a good parent would. Again this may be my own hang-up.

It is your own hang-up. There are some objective truths about parenting: children need love, nurturing, food, sleep, clothes, socialization, mental stimulation. And they need their parents.

But you seem to feel that there is only one formula for success (all parents, all the time, and anything else is harmful to the child), which simply isn't the case. You can feel free to hold that truth to be self-evident for your own family, but to presume to know what's also best for other families, no matter what, is bordering on tunnel vision.

In other words, of course you're free to believe that anyone who makes different choices is likely a bad parent -- as long as you're okay with other people having the freedom to believe that you are judgmental and provincial.
posted by pineapple at 6:11 AM on December 4, 2007


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