Uninterrupted time of most mothers lasted no more than 10 minutes
July 22, 2019 7:24 PM   Subscribe

"Women’s time has been interrupted and fragmented throughout history, the rhythms of their days circumscribed by the sisyphean tasks of housework, childcare and kin work – keeping family and community ties strong. If what it takes to create are long stretches of uninterrupted, concentrated time, time you can choose to do with as you will, time that you can control, that’s something women have never had the luxury to expect"
posted by Lycaste (49 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
That’s why I value access to a wide variety of birth control options. We do have that luxury now. And it’s why that very access to birth control options is (consciously or not) so threatening to people whose political inclinations are to revert society back to the status quo of some past era.
posted by mantecol at 7:38 PM on July 22, 2019 [13 favorites]

This year I got my mother’s day card literally while on the toilet trying to take a shit in peace. My 4yo kid just burst right in “happy mother’s day!”

It was just too on point I couldn’t even be mad.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:27 PM on July 22, 2019 [52 favorites]

The problem with that logic mantecol is that it suggests that women who do decide to parent get to kiss their creativity goodbye, despite the fact that the kid came from the loins of a second person. Dads do not have this problem, as is mentioned a few times in the article.

Not to mention that there's no birth control in the world that will make an unwilling or oblivious man do the domestic labour and the kin work that is so often shunted onto the shoulders of women.

Birth control won't give us back our flow. It's on our partners to carve out time for us the way our work carves out time for them.
posted by Jilder at 8:35 PM on July 22, 2019 [57 favorites]

If only kin work and reproductive work could be socially valued as uninterruptible time that creativity needs; part of the problem is that in this world, "creativity" has a narrow and distorted meaning which is used to make it exploitable by (patriarchal) capitalism, to enhance inequalities, and so forth.
posted by polymodus at 8:44 PM on July 22, 2019 [8 favorites]

There are countless studies done on how screentime negatively affects kids. But nobody ever asks, how will it harm the kids if their mother hasn’t read a continuous chapter of dense literature in the last ten years.

I fully confess to plonking the kids down with a phone and reading theory at the coffee shop. If you have a problem with it, go ahead and play pattycakes with them. (Seriously, go ahead.)
posted by The Toad at 9:08 PM on July 22, 2019 [63 favorites]

Not to mention that there's no birth control in the world that will make an unwilling or oblivious man do the domestic labour and the kin work that is so often shunted onto the shoulders of women.

As we shift from a world where many women aren’t educated and pregnancy just happens, to a world where women have the freedom to self-sustain until they choose to get pregnant (if ever), I’d hope that people who don’t wish to pull equal domestic weight in a parenting or family situation would be seen as less attractive mates. And then there would be social reinforcement to gain those domestic skills. It’s all part of the shift from the pre-birth control to the post-birth control, whether any particular individual chooses to procreate or not.
posted by mantecol at 9:10 PM on July 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

It’s all part of the shift from the pre-birth control to the post-birth control,

Half the world lives in places where birth control is not merely available but often mandated by governments in ways that infringe upon human rights. None of these places, with all their over abundance of birth control access for going on 50+ years now, are anywhere close to becoming gender-egalitarian Utopias. Quite the opposite, in fact.

So no. It's not "all" in the shift to post-birth-control era. You are missing the crux of the matter: focusing on a fringe feature of body autonomy and confusing it for women's full liberation from patriarchal oppression.
posted by MiraK at 9:21 PM on July 22, 2019 [42 favorites]

I want to send this to my sister, a stay at home mom with undiagnosed depression and a husband that equates any creative pursuit as taking away from the family, but forcing such a naked examination seems cruel.
posted by Monday at 9:39 PM on July 22, 2019 [11 favorites]

As we shift from a world where many women aren’t educated and pregnancy just happens, to a world where women have the freedom to self-sustain until they choose to get pregnant (if ever), I’d hope that people who don’t wish to pull equal domestic weight in a parenting or family situation would be seen as less attractive mates

There has been plenty of discussion on Metafilter - and elsewhere - of the ways in which men who gave every indication of being feminist and egalitarian all too often fail to uphold those values once children enter the picture. This isn’t a problem that is solved just by birth control and choosing not to have children with Obviously Sexist Men.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:43 PM on July 22, 2019 [44 favorites]

My husband's been home for a couple weeks and a couple days ago he finally snapped at our three children, "HOW DOES YOUR MOTHER GET ANYTHING DONE WITH YOU INTERRUPTING HER EVERY THIRTY SECONDS?" because he thought I had a lot of free time being the work-at-home parent but was shocked to discover how it actually goes.

And the answer is, slowly, and in small chunks, BECAUSE I'M BEING INTERRUPTED EVERY THIRTY SECONDS.

The times I get things done are a) when I stay up after everyone's asleep and can have uninterrupted focus (but am often tired the next day) and b) when I leave the house, alone. Summers are particularly bad because my oldest only has half-day camp, my middle has to be driven twice a day, and my youngest is home with me. During the school year my older two are at school all day and have school transit (i.e., a bus). When my youngest takes her afternoon nap, they're at school and I can get shit done. During the summer, my oldest is home by the time she takes her nap, and mid-nap I have to go get my middle child from camp (hence the husband is home). They are honestly very good during nap time (it is "quiet rest time" for everyone during the toddler's nap, and they know they have to read or quietly play video games without talking to me), but it's just not the same as being alone, you can't bring the same focus.

I get SO FURIOUS when my husband ALSO stays up after the kids are in bed because THAT IS MY TIME FOR NOBODY TO TALK TO ME, DAMMIT. He's like "But when else do I get to talk to you?" and I'm like "WHENEVER YOU WANT BUT NOT DURING MY QUIET TIME" because he gets uninterrupted quiet at work and on the train and ALL THE TIME and I get AFTER EVERYONE IS ASLEEP and THAT IS ALL. Frequently he's NOT talking to me, he's doing his own stuff, but the POSSIBILITY that he MIGHT talk to me is nearly as distracting as actual talking.

Embarassingly, my oldest announced the other day, "Mom, you only say INteresting when you're not actually listening to what we're saying" and I have been fucking caught out and that is going to seriously cut into my working time now that I can't pretend to be listening to stories about Minecraft by saying "INteresting!" at appropriate intervals.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:46 PM on July 22, 2019 [79 favorites]

This isn’t a problem that is solved just by birth control and choosing not to have children with Obviously Sexist Men.

Last post because I don’t want to dominate this thread, but we are less than a century—just a handful of generations—into the safe & effective birth control era, compared with eons before it. I don’t expect the shift to be fast, unidirectional or evenly paced, but I do think that figuring out how to control the timing of pregnancy was a hugely pivotal milestone in human history. Certainly not the only one or the last one we need to figure out. But I mention it because it seems to be more under threat than usual in one of the world’s most powerful countries.
posted by mantecol at 9:54 PM on July 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

My children have learned that if their mother is reading a newspaper, you can probably detonate small munitions in close proximity, and only get the response, "Can you just wait until I finish reading the paper?"

It was a major concession that 8 months ago I cancelled the daily paper. But if I get the weekend paper, I can carve out my space from the chaos with its pages.

And as I get older, and now that my youngest is 14, there is a whole bunch of stuff that I DO NOT DO - I don't drive, I don't pick up clothes, I don't cook three meals a day, I don't read report cards in the absence of the reportee, I don't send emails to teachers, I don't ask for extensions on assignments, I don't phone about being late to school/sport/social.

My mother has given up on my house-keeping skills, the garden is a mess. One day, I may get enthusiastic about the garden, but while there are children in the house, I will continue to ignore the house-keeping. Which is what feminism is about as far as I am concerned - I decide MY priorities.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 10:21 PM on July 22, 2019 [25 favorites]

the POSSIBILITY that he MIGHT talk to me is nearly as distracting as actual talking

forking THIS! This is a thing that people (read: my DH) simply fail to understand. Not knowing how long until you're interrupted means you pick incorruptible things to do.
posted by DebetEsse at 11:31 PM on July 22, 2019 [41 favorites]

I got interrupted nine times while eating a bowl of cereal yesterday. Nine. I no longer take on any mental or physical task that can’t be repeatedly interrupted, because what’s the point.

It’s complicated by feeling like I’m not being good enough as a parent, too, either for not having relentless reserves of energy for playing or conversely for failing to persuade my older child to play independently on my schedule rather than hers.
posted by Catseye at 1:30 AM on July 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

the POSSIBILITY that he MIGHT talk to me is nearly as distracting as actual talking

incidentally, this x 1,000,000,000,000 is why open offices SUCK. For everyone. IMO it will never be preferable to prioritize "collaboration" over the need for uninterrupted, distraction-free time to focus and think and create.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:06 AM on July 23, 2019 [13 favorites]

Women without children, who have male spouses, also have flow issues.

This isn't about kids. This is about men. Read the article and marvel at all the men who had spouses who were just expected to do the heavy lifting behind the scenes so their men could create. Read about men who had maids and housekeepers and other women in their lives that they did not breed with and whose labor is invisibly supporting their art.

It's not about fucking birth control. It's about men.
posted by Jilder at 4:32 AM on July 23, 2019 [57 favorites]

I_Love_Bananas: incidentally, this x 1,000,000,000,000 is why open offices SUCK.

I had to work from home last week because my daughter's support worker was injured, and I can say with confidence that an open office is less distracting than a child. As much as my co-workers might want to, they do not, in fact, keep repeating the same request over and over after I tell them that I just need a minute to finish something up. They have been socialized to space out their repetitions a respectable amount.

Nor do they flip back and forth every 30 seconds about what they want. They give me at least a couple of days for that.
posted by clawsoon at 6:37 AM on July 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

It s about socialization. I have had to beg and plead for my partner to leave the house so she can have personal time. I built her an office in our very small house, but as people mentioned, being in the same house has its own problems.

She just doesn't trust me to cook, clean, or take care of the kid despite my record of competency of doing such things. And our repeated arguments about this.

I have no idea how to change her compulsion to stop me from doing caretaking duties. Distracting her with expensive scotch can only be a temporary solution.

And yes I understand that I have to make time for myself to do the domestic work, I am not socialized for it. But if I tell my partner when I'm doing the work, she will interrupt it. So now I m hiding my domestic plans, so she can t clean the bathroom before I do it. Because if i do it, she is less of a woman, not kidding.

Before the kid, I used to be jealous of all her time in organizing meetings, now I call her colleagues to figure out when they are, and my next step is to organize her gym schedule. But I don't know, this sounds like what they call marriage.

Hilarity aside, its socialization of men and women. I can build her an office and bookcases, but I can t force her to leave domestic work alone. It haunts her mind.
posted by eustatic at 6:53 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Women without children, who have male spouses, also have flow issues.

Word. It isn't my kids who interrupt me 12 times while I'm trying to do a work task, because I don't have any kids. But my partner, similar to Eyebrows's above, kind of assumes that "we're both at home" equals "Blast is available for chatting." I work from home, I work "regular" (plus) hours, if it is 9:15 a.m. and I'm on my computer, I'm working. No, it isn't creative or fulfilling. It just feeds us and keeps a roof over our heads, that's all. Not the least bit important.

But lord help me if I am in any way a detectable presence while he is trying to do his (yes, creative and fulfilling) hobby work at night. How can anyone focus if there's potential for distraction around??? Gosh dear I just don't know. I just. Don't. Know.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:56 AM on July 23, 2019 [11 favorites]

Thank you for sharing this article.

"But I wonder if it isn’t also that women feel they don’t deserve time to themselves, or enough of it that comes in unbroken stretches. I wonder if we also feel we don’t deserve to tell our untold stories, that they may not be as worth listening to." All of my mom's children are grown, they have downsized into a smaller house, and there is just less.work.to.do. But my mom can't stop and is depressed when she does stop doing things like ironing sheets, scrubbing floors. It would be one thing if this made her happy, but it actually makes her mad and sad. She has a lot of wonderful things in her life, but sometimes I see the grave danger of making your life about taking care of things and other people. She literally does not know what to do with herself. She would have been an amazing CEO in my opinion, if only she had been born in an era where women were encouraged to go into business.

"Their wives protected them from interruptions; their housekeepers and maids brought them breakfast and coffee at odd hours; their nannies kept their children out of their hair." I am currently in school, raising our young child (with co-parenting), and sharing the load of running an airbnb, while my husband works in an office. For a long time, I have felt guilt about him support me (i.e., making all the money). A few months ago I read a times article where the sociologist said something like "it's not that the men are supporting their wives who stay home; it's the other way around. Given our hectic and unrealistic expectations at work, the only people who can excel at work are those who have full time help at home." And, bam, yes, all of a sudden I realized that I was at least an equal contributor to the family.

All the stories in the article of women squeezing creative pursuits in --- In an episode of Death, Sex, & Money, Uma Kondabolu says (something like), "your body is there, but your mind is elsewhere" on doing chores while raising small children. I have come to embrace the power of fantasy as an adaptive technique to carry me through these happy, but difficult years. However, to mangle DuBois though, there is a kind of dual consciousness that comes with a cost, in splitting your mind away from your body. It's not just the loss of beautiful creative works from women, though I do feel that loss. It's something more elemental too.
posted by CMcG at 7:28 AM on July 23, 2019 [14 favorites]

But my mom can't stop and is depressed when she does stop doing things like ironing sheets, scrubbing floors. It would be one thing if this made her happy, but it actually makes her mad and sad. She has a lot of wonderful things in her life, but sometimes I see the grave danger of making your life about taking care of things and other people. She literally does not know what to do with herself. She would have been an amazing CEO in my opinion, if only she had been born in an era where women were encouraged to go into business.

So okay, your mom just can't stop doing the work she has become habituated to even when it's frustrating for her to do it. Just like there are some CEOs who can't and won't stop being workaholics because that's what they are habituated to, even when the day to day work is frustrating for them.

I have to wonder about the implicit judgements of worth contained in those words about your mom (which I too found myself agreeing with until I caught myself). It's as if we'd consider her sad, mad, frustrated workaholism to be less "dangerous" if only she had been a CEO instead of an unpaid domestic caregiver. Almost as if her earning the CEO bucks and getting the CEO public accolades would make us feel better about the quality of her life, even though she would be equally or even more dangerously sad, mad, and frustrated as CEO.

I like to take every chance to remind myself that the capitalist notion of "your worth lies in the money you make" is not true, not true, not true. Your mother's (and your and my) work is as honorable and worthwhile as any CEOs, and almost certainly much more purely good. She has a lot to be proud of. All our unpaid caregivers do. I hope we can find it in ourselves to show them the honor and give them the accolades and recognition they deserve.
posted by MiraK at 7:40 AM on July 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

I spent yesterday furious because I am writing a book that is going well, but I haven't been able to work on it for two weekends straight due to Life Issues, and then I had some time booked but a work 'emergency' came up. Also I'm exhausted this week.

It's not that I cannot find the time to work on it. It's that I can't find the time/interruption-free-time to a) take myself and my goals seriously and THEN b) find the time to work on it and THEN c) keep working through the difficult bits and still manage a). I actually do have a solution but it's expensive. If I get on a train, I'm good, and no one can expect me to do anything from the train. Unfortunately I can only afford to do round trip fares so often for lunch in Montreal.

My kids are 8 and 12, and my 8 year old is still in High Interruption Phase but it is slowly making more space, so anyone with younger kids reading this, please take heart that at least that part moves a bit.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:44 AM on July 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

Hi MiraK, it's probably poorly phrased, but I don't have any judgement towards my mom or anyone who does the work to keep a home and family running smoothly. I did not mean to imply that being a CEO is better. I do think my mom would have liked it better.

There is certainly an issue that we do not value domestic work appropriately. To me, this piece is about individuals who yearn to do something in addition to domestic work. It is their own, personal desires (which possibly are exacerbated by society's devaluation).

Your comment really bothered me because I feel it presumes a lot about my attitude towards my mom. In fact, I am currently primarily focused on domestic work and value the work my mother undertook for me. And if you read on in my comment, you may see that the point that I was trying to make is that domestic work underpins a lot of the more societally valued capitalistic work in our society.

In any case, I think you might really like Susan Fraiman's book Extreme Domesticity, which is a literary critique that examines the value of domestic labor (i.e., making a home).
posted by CMcG at 7:58 AM on July 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

Almost as if her earning the CEO bucks and getting the CEO public accolades would make us feel better about the quality of her life, even though she would be equally or even more dangerously sad, mad, and frustrated as CEO.

I assume that CMcG meant she might find being a CEO more rewarding than doing housework. Some people do find caretaking and housework rewarding, but others do not even though it is absolutely necessary work crucial to the functioning of a home. My mom had the drive and ambition to get a STEM PhD in an era when that was simply Not Done by women, but in the end she ended up subsuming a really promising career to take care of the house and kids while we hopped around the country following my dad's jobs. Frankly, she was not suited for homemaking* and poured her ambition into us instead, which did not turn out well. She was always happiest when she was working and had something of her own to put all that energy into. I think the whole family would've been better off if she and my dad switched places. It's not a capitalism thing. It's temperament.

*I don't mean in a "she was a bad homemaker" way, but in a "it clearly did not satisfy her and that manifested itself through emotionally abusive behavior" way
posted by schroedinger at 8:01 AM on July 23, 2019 [7 favorites]

Women without children, who have male spouses, also have flow issues.

This very weekend, I started a home improvement project that I have been dying to work on for months. Unfortunately, I need some assistance from my tall husband to get the project started because there were some high shelves I couldn't reach without a stool. He helped for 5 minutes and then complained about getting "roped into a project that he wasn't planning on working on." I laughed maniacally because, well...you know. Then I told him he could go work on whatever he wanted to do, I had all the top shelf work I needed from him.

Not 20 minutes later, he calls downstairs because he needs my help putting in an exhaust fan in the bathroom. He needs someone to flip the breaker, and to hold the fan up, and to run downstairs and flip the breaker again. After 45 minutes of helping him on his project, he looks up and sheepishly says, "Damn, I did it again didn't I? Pulled you off of your project. Sorry babe."

He knows. He feels bad about it. He's a good man. But it doesn't stop him from pulling me off my projects, whatever they may be, when he needs the help.
posted by teleri025 at 8:10 AM on July 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

I actually introduced the term "time confetti" into my performance reviews at work because aaaaa it happens here toooooo (I work in a tech support role, that phone could ring at any time with an issue that's going to take me an hour to resolve).

Long before I even had kids (I may not even have been married quite yet) I had to put the smack down on my husband for devaluing my own creative work. At the time I'd gotten super into sewing and fiber arts it was serving nicely as a creative outlet for me but my husband clearly saw this as frivolous when compared to his Verreh Serious Writing Hobby (100% a hobby--he never had any plans to publish anything, he just enjoys writing--which I do too but at this particular moment in my life I was pursuing another creative endeavor). I put up with his obvious smugness and feeling free to interrupt me in the middle of my own projects in order to get me to drive him to the coffee shop so he could talk about his Verreh Serious Unpublished Writing with other Verreh Serious Unpublished Writers for a little while and then just let him have it with both barrels. He gets no cookies for hearing about the unmet needs of his loved one and adjusting his attitude, but I do want to acknowledge that he did do so.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:11 AM on July 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

My husband and I are both writers. And he has a habit of wanting me to read/review his work and offer constructive criticism — he’ll read a passage aloud and I’ll give my assessment. It’s a positive thing — you don’t become a better writer in a vacuum and we genuinely enjoy editing each other.

Except. Except, for the first few years of our marriage, he had this annoying habit of coming in and just launching into what he wrote, expecting that the very minute he began talking, I’d drop whatever I was doing so I could pay attention to him. And nine times out of ten, what I was doing was my own damned writing.

“Hey, I was working, can you wait until you see I’m not busy” didn’t work. “Can you see that I’m working too. I don’t think you’d appreciate it if you were in the middle of a hot stretch and I derailed you” didn’t work. “Can you NOT” didn’t work.

Literally the only thing that worked was me interrupting him enough times — and ignoring his annoyance at having His Process Disrupted — to a point where he was capable of retaining the memory of his annoyance the next time he interrupted me and I snapped, “You don’t like it when I interrupt you, so think hard whether I like it.”

I’ve also noticed at work that most male editors and writers really had a hard time when I put a stern “It’s not a good time, don’t interrupt me from X to Y time, I’ll be available after Y.”

The presumption that a woman’s time and attention are resources to which men have unrestricted access is so real. Put hard and productive limits on your availability and there is always blowback.

(Nota bene: Some of the worst blowback I’ve received has come from women, and all of that from a place of “If I have to put up with this shit, then the least you can do in womanly solidarity is tolerate it too.” Bull, madam. Bull.)
posted by sobell at 8:12 AM on July 23, 2019 [37 favorites]

He knows. He feels bad about it. He's a good man. But it doesn't stop him from pulling me off my projects, whatever they may be, when he needs the help.

Ooof! He knew you were busy working on something (that I assume he knew was important to you) and then he went and started what is quite obviously a two person job? And expected you to abandon your project and come help him? That’s so much worse than encountering an unexpected problem and needing assistance.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:30 AM on July 23, 2019 [18 favorites]

In 1788, Pamela Dwight Sedgwick, then a mother of five (she had two more children, in 1789 and 1791; in all, she gave birth 10 times), added this postscript to a letter to her husband, Theodore, a member of Congress who was rarely at home:

If this letter is neither common sence or Tollerable English you will escues it as I have not wrote a singgle line without twenty interruptions.

And Pamela Sedgwick was a member of the 1% of her day: She was born into financial and social capital. Her husband was a compatriot of George Washington and John Adams. The Sedgwick family always employed at least half a dozen servants in their Massachusetts home, John Sedgwick, a descendant of Pamela and Theodore, noted in his family history, In My Blood. We know so very little about the lives of women who had similar stresses but none of the support structure.
posted by virago at 8:48 AM on July 23, 2019 [15 favorites]

He knew you were busy working on something (that I assume he knew was important to you) and then he went and started what is quite obviously a two person job? And expected you to abandon your project and come help him?

And this was after he complained about getting "roped into a project that he wasn't planning on working on" a mere 300 seconds into assisting his wife when she asked him.

If I were in a position to give advice to any woman thinking about getting married today, it would be, "Value your time like a man does." Even if that does nothing for how her partner sees her free time, the would-be wife might have a shot at prizing her right to control her time with the same entitlement her partner takes with his.
posted by sobell at 8:53 AM on July 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

Joel on Software had an interesting column a couple of decades ago on how task switching slows down the average time to get things done, even if task switching takes no time at all. I've found it useful for thinking about both software development work and childcare work. It is a great thing to have someone who treats you like this:
In fact, the real lesson from all this is that you should never let people work on more than one thing at once. Make sure they know what it is. Good managers see their responsibility as removing obstacles so that people can focus on one thing and really get it done.

When emergencies come up, think about whether you can handle it yourself before you delegate it to a programmer who is deeply submersed in a project.
For "programmer", read "your significant other".
posted by clawsoon at 9:04 AM on July 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

A couple years ago my friend flew me out to visit her in Texas, and for an entire week I didn't cook for myself, I got to nap as I wanted, had hours to myself where I read. No one interrupted me in the bathroom. My showers went long and I did a full hair care, skin care, and tooth whitening routine.

I came home so recharged. I hadn't realized how far my shoulders had creeped around my ears and how tired and burned out I was.

I've not felt that well rested and calm since.

My sister is a full-time RN on an emergency helicopter and has two Labradors and 2 kids under six, one on the spectrum with adhd. I can't even imagine the level of frazzled she is in comparison.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 9:27 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don’t have kids but this is honest to god why I took up knitting as a hobby. My other hobbies — reading, writing, sketching — require uninterrupted time and focus, and ideally space. So for family trips and long required socializing visits (like 10+ hours), I taught myself the ultimate feminine task— small, portable, can be done in 5 minute increments. Not like reading, where people are unhappy that you’re not paying attention to them; or sketching, where you are called away at a moments notice; or writing, where people want to peer over your shoulder. Plus my birth family was socialized to my crocheting grandmother, so they believe it’s virtuously productive. At least I get a fucking scarf out of all of it.
posted by Hypatia at 9:59 AM on July 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

A few weeks ago I went on a (very pleasant!) vacation with friends, a married couple. The wife in particular is a close friend of mine, close enough that on my reasonably frequent visits I will pitch in with visible chores, occasionally cook something for them, etc. We rented an AirBnB on the coast and brought along their two Extremely Good Boys. The AirBnB host also had a dog. I vividly remember one evening when I was just trying to read on the couch and, because the family unit was more scattered than usual and because the AirBnB dog took an extreme shine to me, due to all the dog requests for attention, I couldn't get through three pages. I mean, it was fine for one night; I love my friends' dogs and the AirBnB dog was quite sweet. Still. It wasn't quite as "voluntary" as when I randomly do a chore at their house. This, I thought. This is why I don't have kids, this is why I didn't marry. The only person who distracts me at home is me, and that's plenty.
posted by praemunire at 10:11 AM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Given our hectic and unrealistic expectations at work, the only people who can excel at work are those who have full time help at home.

Definitely this, but perhaps the causation is more the other way around. "Given that there exist those who have full-time help at home, we have hectic and unrealistic expectations at work."

When it comes to honoring caretaking work and the people who do it full-time, I have mixed and admittedly hypocritical feelings. I thought it was great when it was my mother (who was very happy to be a SAHM) doing it for me. I have less positive feelings when those of us without full-time help have to compete in the workplace with the husbands of those who do.

And the idea that such work is really very creative and the only reason we don't see it that way is because capitalism and patriarchy? Maybe next time I have 5 minutes between cleaning up the mess from the last snack and setting out the next snack for my 6- and 4-year-old, I'll ponder that a little more.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 11:46 AM on July 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm a stay-at-home mom with three kids, and also a writer. I write books and articles. I stand at the pot, stirring the sauce, or at the changing table, and I repeat the next line of whatever I'm working on over and over to myself, so I don't forget it. Eventually, I grab a post-it note and write it down.

I've written 2 300-page books in 30-second increments, on post-it notes. This has caused me to nearly lose my mind several times, but it's also taught me to make the most of any time I can grab. Before I was married with kids, I was like, "I've got hours to write! I'll just watch this movie first. Plenty of time!"

Now I'm like "10 minutes? 10 minutes?!? That's like 4 queries and a synopsis!"
posted by staggering termagant at 1:38 PM on July 23, 2019 [12 favorites]

Lol I've been trying to write a thoughtful response to this all day.
posted by slidell at 5:16 PM on July 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

This is why I don't have kids, this is why I didn't marry.

Likewise; as someone with executive function issues which include increased difficulty with task switching, I would not be myself, or anything remotely recognizable as myself, if I did not at least have at home the freedom from external distractions and interruptions I currently, for the most part, enjoy.

And then there is the fact that no one I've ever dated has given more than half a shit about anything I do, intellectually, artistically-- honestly it's difficult to remember what they did care about, at this point, other than the things that directly affected them or what would reflect well on their sense of self and reputation. Woe if I happened to be good at something they considered to be their domain, either in fantasy or reality. At best, a brief compliment on the mention of a poem written or an award won or an audition passed (none of them ever came to see me act, or sing, or present my artwork) and then back to ignoring that part of me. And because the final product had no real value to them, the space and time and energy to complete it was a mystery. How could I possibly not be available to hang out with them for hours, or stay over at their place another night? They liked to have me with them while they worked, nearby, available, but mostly silent. Attempting to bring my work over to do while they had me on standby was useless, as suddenly they had a hundred questions or comments or performative noises to make to ensure my attention was at least partly on them. This is far from the only reason I haven't looked for another relationship, but it's a big one.

Among women, I have mostly received this type of treatment from those with narcissistic or borderline personality disorder. I have no idea if the men I dated were diagnosed with either of these.
posted by notquitemaryann at 6:32 PM on July 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

In addition to living with children, my SO and I work from home. It is very common for me to say "I have a list of things I need to get done today, so I need you to not bother me" and then put on my headphones and proceed with my day.

I don't believe my SO has ever uttered anything remotely like that to me.
posted by vignettist at 7:43 PM on July 23, 2019

My wife and I have been talking about this recently, as we start thinking about having kids.

I've had a lot of practice ignoring distractions. Imagine, sharing a New York studio with three other people, doing my homework in the corner of a raging college party, etc. Sometimes my wife will walk up and poke me in the head before I notice that she's come home and said hello to me more than once.

Perhaps relatedly, I also respond very poorly to interruptions. Interrupt me more often than once every minute or two, and I'll feel literal nausea, as if the change in mental focus were inducing physical vertigo. Once when a coworker was doing something particularly unfamiliar and turning to me with questions at every step, I excused myself to the bathroom for a few minutes until the nausea passed. Then I came back and watched him work until he got back onto familiar ground, because trying to go back to my own work in between his questions was worse than useless.

So, uh, kids are going to be interesting.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:35 PM on July 23, 2019

So, uh, kids are going to be interesting.
Young kids and interruptions are tough because if they are not interrupting you every few minutes (10 minutes- ha!!!) then they are tearing something up and making a giant mess. So you either take the interruptions while doing something you prefer or you take the interruptions while cleaning up someone else's mess.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:47 AM on July 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've been visiting friends (three different sets) with young kids for the last two weeks. I intellectually knew about this fragmentation of time thing but experiencing it first hand... I am in awe of parents. Mothers especially.

One thing I have noticed with all three families is that at some point during the week, the man of the house would reach a limit and either shut himself away, or insist that the woman take the children out of the house so he could have a stretch of time to concentrate on something. Two nights ago my friend and I had to wander the streets going from cafe to park to cafe from 7pm until 10pm with her 5 year old and two young teenagers because her husband had to get some writing done.

But when she had to work on something the next day, the kids got to interrupt every five minutes and it didn't seem to occur to the husband to take them away for a bit.
posted by lollusc at 9:50 AM on July 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

These sorts of issues are one of the reasons my wife and I didn't have children; she grew up surrounded by families where the women were implicitly expected to do pretty much everything that wasn't the man's literal paying job and decided at an early age she wasn't playing that game, and both of us hate interruptions, feeling frazzled and/or having too many demands placed upon our free time. My hat goes off to all good parents.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:25 AM on July 25, 2019

Been meaning to write this for days now, but it’s taken me two days to write this comment and the conversation has moved on. So I’d usually just give up. But in the spirit of the thread, I have powered on and I have also captured all interruptions as I type.
[baby yelling, needs attention]

So. The contribution of men to this problem is not trivial. Definitely it doesn’t help if the father of your children expects you to do all the hands-on work, or fails to appreciate the work involved when you do. Definitely it doesn’t help if he himself is constantly interrupting you for whatever reason. Definitely it doesn’t help if you’re married to Gustav Mahler
[baby yelling again, turns out to be in frustration at her toy]
and he expects you to keep the house silent for him and to stop your own work so there’s only one composer in the family. So all that’s true.

But, it feels like the conversation here has drifted to ‘ways individual men interrupt or facilitate the interruptions of women’. And while this is an important conversation to have, there is a level of interruption that comes from children which can’t just be dealt with by individual men changing their approaches. I mean they could try to make the situation *not actively worse*, but children interrupt you constantly and relentlessly all by themselves.

Naomi Stadlen’s book What Mothers Do, especially when it looks like nothing talks about being interrupted as a skill that is actively learnt when you’re caring for a small baby for the first time.
[break for an hour to collect older child from nursery]
As she puts it
[child asks question]
[child asks another question]
“It is this nameless act”
[child asks for something]
“which is”
[“Mummy how do I see where the paddling pool is?”]
[baby wakes, now typing while discussing current mood of baby with older child]
“It is this nameless act when a mother puts down a whole myriad of threads of her personal existence as soon as her baby cries, that deserves some word to acknowledge it.
[“Mummy she bit me!”]
A mother starts an activity knowing that she may be interrupted at any moment
[“Mummy MUMMMMMMMY! Loooooooook!”]
“While she is still new to all this, the sudden interruptions are comparable to turning off a computer without saving all the work first. Slowly a mother learns to spend a few seconds in ‘saving’ whatever she was doing. This means noticing how she is putting everything down and reminding herself what she needs to do next in such a way that she can resume what she was engaged in with minimal trouble. All these complex threads will be picked up later.”
[baby grizzling, needs attention]
“Though it has no name, at least this process has been described. The unique American writer Tillie Olsen mentions it, in arguing how difficult it is for a mother to write novels:
More than any other human relationship, overwhelmingly more, motherhood means being instantly interruptible, responsive, responsible. Children need one now… The very fact that these are real needs, that one feels them as one’s own (love, not duty); that there is no one else responsible for these needs, gives them primacy.

[abandoning this for the day to do dinner/bath/bedtime]

I’m not sure how much I buy her argument that this is something you do get used to after a while, that your
[child wants to know how to make muffins]
brain gets accustomed to it to a degree where it’s ever not quite
[“Mummy where is the clear box of lego?”]
as frazzling as it is to start with. But she also argues that in getting accustomed to this, your brain then gets less good at concentrating on single tasks in a focused way, and that you then feel you’re stupid or have lost your mind because when you do get a chance to e.g. sit down and read a book, you can’t concentrate in that single, focused way so easily any more. And I can relate to that.
[“MUMMY this lego house needs flowers in the window box.”]

Anyway, this is to say: that there is a degree of frazzling, time-shredding exhaustion
[“Mummy? Mummy? When this Lego pyramid is done you know what I get to do?” - we discuss the reaction of various dolls to the pyramid]
which is exclusive to the act of caring for young children, and that the effect of this on women who are usually the primary carers can’t be fixed simply by men getting their act together.

I don’t know what the fix is, to the degree it can be fixed. There is a lot of emphasis placed
[“Mummy, do you know how to make a Lego mountain? I do.”]
[baby laughs - “Mummy the baby sounds happy, doesn’t she? Mummy. Mummy. MUMMY she sounds happy doesn’t she? Doesn’t she?”]
optimising your parenting skills
[“Mummy did you know something? The same brick can’t be next to each other. Can they? Can I put the colours next to each other?”]
because then all this will be fine and you’ll have plenty of time left for yourself. But… I dunno. My husband’s solution is to dedicate time with the children exclusively to the children, so he’ll be actively playing Lego
[“Mummy she is SO happy! Mummy happy and nappy rhyme. Mummy. MUMMY. Mummy!”]
with them at times like this rather than doing what I’m doing, which is a constant stream of “mmhm - yes - yep - that’s lovely, darling - stop poking your sister - yes - wow! - yes you are faster than Kid Flash - I said STOP POKING YOUR SISTER” as I type this.
[“Mummy I think that bad guys want to get into the Lego house. So they built a pyramid to stop the bad guys. Can a pyramid stop bad guys?” - this warrants dropping the typing for a while because she’s a bit freaked out at an attempted break-in at our neighbour’s house, so we discuss]
But this is fine for him, where it’s either “focused child-time” or “doing something non-child-related”. For me at the moment (on maternity leave and it’s summer holidays, so home with two children) it’s “focused child-time” or “unfocused doing-something-else-while-simultaneously-placating-children time." And I do both, but I don’t get a lot of “doing something else in peace” time right now, especially not in instalments over 10 minutes long. I don’t even get uninterrupted baths. Reading a post like this before I’d had children, I’d think “God, go and play with your kids, you can do this later”, but I have played with my kids loads today already and this is my ‘later’.
[baby making weird sounds, needs investigating, turns out she’s just doing baby things]
I feel that making it the job of mothers to be okay with never getting to finish a single thought, or making their children play independently on a desired schedule, or “back in MY day we didn’t get focused one-on-one parent time, we had to make our own entertainment, we were outside until sunset!” is not the way forward here.
[“Mummy it brooooooke!” - we have a conversation about the ever-changing nature of Lego architecture]

I think the way forward, to the extent that there is one and I am capable of thinking it through, is at least to acknowledge this work and the toll it takes on our mental states, and to some degree the cultural artificiality of the need for it as well.
[another Lego crisis]
Because while looking after young children has probably been very tiring for everybody who’s ever done it, regardless of time or place or culture, I can’t help but think that making it an activity done entirely within nuclear families with less of an extended family and broader community aspect to pooling and sharing the work makes it so much harder because if you’re on duty you’re on duty ALL the time.
[baby has managed to reach vol.2 of the Oxford English Dictionary which needs rescuing]
And more appreciation for creativity and creative pursuits being a worthwhile end in themselves. And more appreciation of women’s time. And more appreciation of what the work of parenting actually looks like. And, yes, men getting their act together, but this is going to have to be the broader culture getting its act together, too, because individual men doing better isn’t going to fix all this.

Anyway got to go, baby's crying.

(It has taken me another 45 minutes to copy/paste this to Mefi comment box and fix the formatting.)
posted by Catseye at 6:43 AM on July 26, 2019 [21 favorites]

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own. An important feminist text, the essay is noted in its argument for both a literal and figurative space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by men. The more things change...
posted by theora55 at 1:29 PM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

My kids know to ask for things when I'm working because I will say yes out of distraction. Anything not to have to lose focus. I have declared that this does not count.

And I remain grateful to a therapist who pointed out that I had to nap when the children were out because they woke me up from naps to ask questions and talk, so it wasn't 'wasted time'.

What is needed is more alloparenting. Not more people in the room, but a warren where children can be shifted off for a few hours to an obliging aunt or uncle while some work gets done in a room of one's own.

A hobbit's commune.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:16 PM on July 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

In the summer of 1851, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his young son Julian were left alone together for three weeks.
I hardly know how we got through the fore-noon. It is impossible to write, read, think, or even sleep (in the daytime), so constant are his appeals in one way or another.

Either I have less patience today than ordinary, or the little man makes larger demands upon it; but it really does seem as if he had baited me with more questions, references, and observations, than mortal father ought to be expected to endure. He does put me almost beside my propriety, never quitting me, and continually thrusting in his word between the clauses of every sentence of all my reading, and smashing every attempt at reflection into a thousand fragments.
posted by clawsoon at 10:44 AM on July 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

I want to pick up on something slightly different that goes to the aspect of Schulte’s reflection near her conclusion:

“... I do not claim to have any particular genius. But sometimes, I dream that I’m sitting in a dusky room at a kitchen table across from another version of me, who sits, unbound by time, quietly drinking a cup of tea. “I wish you’d visit more often,” she tells me. And I wonder if that searing middle-of-the-night pain that, at times, settles like dread around my solar plexus may not only be because there’s so little unbroken time to tell my own untold stories, but because I’m afraid that what may be coiled inside may not be worth paying attention to anyway. Perhaps that’s what I don’t want to face in that dusky room I dream of....”

I read this article aloud to my partner this morning and we were both in awe at Brigid Schulte’s eloquent writing style and the way this essay is structured. The part of the article I’ve pulled above made us both tear up. Throughout my reading of it aloud, I could feel the power of the history, the research and the facts of each creatively imbalanced partnership or marriage embedded in a poetic evocation of the imbalance in Schulte’s essay. Each imbalance is presented in a personally directed way - a diary quote here, an evocation of the children’s partisanship in the Patti Scialfa/Bruce Springsteen marriage derived from interviews there.

I’m sure she knows this being
“ Brigid Schulte is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist for The Washington Post and The Washington Post Magazine. She is also fellow at the New America Foundation. Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte is published by Bloomsbury in March 2014”

But her work here obviously shows that she’s an amazing writer! And YES, this is so important.
posted by honey-barbara at 1:12 PM on July 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

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