Whose Issue Is This?

Sciencewoman ponders seen and unseen parenting responsibilities. In a discussion about parceling out responsibilities for a large project, the department chair expressed his desire not to unduly belabor a Department Dad because of his Very Special Parenting Responsibilities; Sciencewoman, however, he had no problem assigning the task to her. Until reminded by her colleague that Sciencewoman, too, is a parent. Why was Daddy’s time more worth protecting than Mommy’s? Well, one hopes the department chair has learned a lesson.
What really burns my shorts even more, however, are the resentful commenters who think that parents need to suck it up and not get “special treatment”.


For example, J says

I agree this was ridiculous, but I’d also be upset since I don’t think parents should be given special slack for the sake of the kids (even small kids) – at least not all the time. Everyone has things in their personal life they’d like to attend to, and I figure we should all share the burden, and make sure that at least over time things even out. So maybe I get a break on one service task because I can’t really do one element of it due to daycare/whatever child related thing, but I’d hope I would remember the colleague who picked up the slack that time so I could repay them in the appropriate circumstances.

Mike opines

I have no problem if working parents are given some slack as long as the workers without children are given the exact same amount of slack. It is far better that some things go undone than it is for one group of workers to be forced to do more than others without receiving additional compensation.

And mxracer652 says

Since work & children was brought up, why no discussion of how working parent (male or female) gets cut a ridiculous amount of slack because they have kids?
It’s just another form of preferential treatment toward one group.

and

ScienceMama:
Please explain to me why YOUR responsibilities are more important than what I do with the free time in my life? After all, your “responsibility” is a choice of which I have no voice in.
flygrrl:
It is simple economics. People who work longer and produce more are worth more money, therefore they get paid more. People with kids can’t work as long, therefore they get paid less. This is not some nefarious conspiracy.

Let’s tackle that “it’s all your responsibility, not my choice” and “you aren’t worth as much if you are raising kids”.
People with these views seem to forget that if society is going to continue, someone needs to have – and raise – kids. And that takes time and effort. And we need to somehow allow, as a group, for this task to be accomplished, because we all benefit. Even – especially! – those of us who don’t have kids. After all, the kid you’re raising today may be the person wiping my ass someday in the nursing home. I’m sure not going to have any kids of my own around to do it, and the cats are pretty worthless when it comes to things like that. What is it worth, to society, to have some people willing to take on the work of producing the next generation? It ought to be worth quite a lot, but so many people continually pretend that having kids is all “an individual choice” and has nothing to do with our collective selves.
Do working parents get cut a tremendous amount of slack because they have kids? Please show me the workplace where this happens. It’s sure not in academia, where one is expected to produce just as much research and published papers as one’s peers who aren’t devoting any time to raising the next generation. In fact, some women who take advantage of a university’s “stop the tenure clock” option find themselves penalized: their colleagues think that since they had all that “extra time” off from teaching, they ought to have produced more scholarship than normal.
Raising children is not a hobby, and your video game time is not equivalent in importance. That’s not to say that your boss should think it perfectly normal that you spend every waking hour at work. People who whine about singles being disadvantaged compared to those slacker parents forget that the larger issue is about how to make our workplaces more humane for everyone.
The whiners often see child-care policies as just about children. What we should all be talking about is how to design our workplaces so that they can accommodate all kinds of life issues, whether it’s a new baby (birthed or adopted), a devastating family illness, or the need to care for aged parents. Nearly everybody is going to encounter at least one of these at some point in their lives. The question is not “why special policies for those breeders” but “how do we accommodate the realities of life and make sure the workplace still functions?”
Advocating for parent-friendly policies is not just for those with children. Everyone in society benefits if people are able to raise children (to perpetuate society) and continue as productive members of the workforce. We all benefit from having the workplace recognize that people have lives, things happen in those lives, and we occasionally need time to attend to them.
We have to stop thinking narrowly about just what affects me, personally, right at this moment in my life. We have responsibilities to each other as citizens. I think we have a strong responsibility to speak up especially for issues that are not our “own” personally, because many times a person who doesn’t “own” the issue will be taken more seriously and can have more impact than a person who does. Men speaking out for gender equity, whites for racial equality, straight people as allies of gays and lesbians, and non-parents advocating for better parental policies – this is how we ought to approach the world.
In the end, it all comes down to justice, and if you are advocating only for your own self-interest, you are not playing the part of a good citizen. Whose issue is this? It’s yours, it’s mine, it’s everyone’s.

  1. Becca
    February 13, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    I couldn’t agree more on how you put the issue into context with the question “how do we accommodate the realities of life and make sure the workplace still functions?” I think this is really the key issue, and a lot of the ‘whiners’ you quoted would obviously be able to reach some common ground with you once everyone agrees to focus on that question.
    That said, I can’t help but sympathize at least a bit with the ‘why reward breeding’ perspective. At best, society needs to balance the drive to perpetuate society with the modern reality of overpopulation. If we are talking about what society should reward, taking care of the elderly and having a new baby are not necessarily morally equivilent. Not to mention that the former is typically considered ‘less fun’ than the later- and thus might benefit more from external rewards. Yet which are more common, maternity leave policies, or elder care policies? Broad ‘family care’ policies are vastly preferable to either.

  2. Scott Belyea
    February 13, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    I generally agree with you, but I’d point out that I got “cut a lot more slack” (both formally and informally) as a parent than as an adult child trying to help with aging parents.

  3. yeahbut
    February 14, 2008 at 1:24 am

    “What we should all be talking about is how to design our workplaces so that they can accommodate all kinds of life issues, whether it’s a new baby (birthed or adopted), a devastating family illness, or the need to care for aged parents. Nearly everybody is going to encounter at least one of these at some point in their lives. The question is not “why special policies for those breeders” but “how do we accommodate the realities of life and make sure the workplace still functions?”
    I totally, totally agree with that. But I do also agree with the commenters you criticized. The problem is that the above isn’t what happens, the reality is that select group of parents get slack cut while the rest of us get left hanging for any number of other important problems that we need flexibility for. I think it’s the sense of inequality, rather than a criticism of the needs of parents, that was being voiced.

  4. Soha
    February 14, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Here’s the way I see it: Big picture. There is a disconnect between women getting their Ph.D.’s and becoming full professor–I don’t think that anyone can argue with that. In my experience, most of the women that “don’t make it” leave the tenure-track route not because they’re not smart enough or good enough scientists, but because they want to have children. In general, women are forced to make a decision that men are not. That’s the disparity, right there. Some women can do it, things are changing, etc. etc. But as a female graduate student who wants to have kids, it’s scary as hell. And it’s a dark, terrible secret. Showing interest in children is the kiss of death around where I work, at social gatherings I take great care to avoid any little ones because I know how disappointed/concerned my advisor and committee members (including female–no children) would be. This is not atypical, I’ve had (quiet, closed-door) conversations with women grad students at other institutions who feel the same way.
    If it were me, I wouldn’t want to weed women out this way because I would want to know that I earned my job and success because I was one of the best, not just the best of the people that didn’t bear children.
    I’m looking at my own life as an experiment. I’m a graduate student who has published plenty, won prestigious fellowships, secured my own funding, and am now working on a number of different research projects (in addition to my dissertation) and manuscripts. I also will try to start a family in the next few years. We shall see, maybe I’ll get weeded out and just think how much easier I’ll make it for people like MXRacer652, Mike, and co. to get funding, etc. without competition from me AND they won’t have to “pick up my slack”!

  5. Helen
    February 14, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    “I also agree with you that “one job=doable by one person…” But, for the sake of argument, do you think that that could ever happen? I mean, that’s how people get ahead a lot right, working harder and longer than other people? I guess that that is the crux of the whole discussion, how can people with other obligations compete with those who have few non-work responsibilities?”
    Do I think it can happen? Of course. But not if people focus on divisive crap instead. Once we say, “But let’s pick one issue as more urgent and focus there,” we devolve to infighting over who’s issue is most urgent/important/pretty/sparkly/special.
    Let’s go there for a moment. As Scott Belyea pointed out above, it’s currently easier to get consideration for childcare than for elder care. However, as I think another commenter pointed out, having children is a choice, but having elders to care for isn’t. By the “most urgent first” logic, then, parental rights and concerns don’t matter right now, not until after we’ve solved elder care issues.
    Or another take on that one: At a workplace full of the upper middle class, clearly their children have as good a chance as any of making it ok, but my inner city kids do not. Therefore all parents should work extra hours so I can have more time to teach kids society is marginalizing.
    How do those work for you?
    “In your #3 post, I’m not quite clear on why the discussion was racist?”
    Commenters on the thread Zuska linked to chose to equate what non-parents do with their non-work time to “hobbies” and “video games” as opposed to caring for children, and Zuska chose to continue that red herring here in her post. This is bigotry of the foulest sort. It sweepingly says that elder care or teaching children not of our own race or anything else we do with our time is just hobbyism of no more importance than video games as opposed to sacred childbearing. It’s ageist, racist, and I don’t know what else.

  6. Helen
    February 14, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Ah, the “If it didn’t happen to me it doesn’t exist,” line of argument. If you do have a PhD, I’m surprised you’re willing to devolve to something so illogical.
    Discrimination happens. It happens against people who have children, and it happens against people who don’t.

  7. Helen
    February 14, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Zuska, did you even read what I wrote? Nowhere did I say you were “trumpeting parental rights above all others”. I objected to commenters on the post you linked to and to you equating what non-parents do in their non-work time to hobbies and video games. It’s a horribly bigoted comparison to draw. As for where I got racism out of your choice to repeat that equating, I’ve explained that; which part didn’t you understand?

  8. Helen
    February 14, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Zuska, did you even read what I wrote? Nowhere did I say you were “trumpeting parental rights above all others”. I objected to commenters on the post you linked to and to you equating what non-parents do in their non-work time to hobbies and video games. It’s a horribly bigoted comparison to draw. As for where I got racism out of your choice to repeat that equating, I’ve explained that; which part didn’t you understand?

  9. Helen
    February 15, 2008 at 11:38 am

    No, Zuska, you’re just defending your own bias and the bigotry in your own choice of words.
    You chose, not I, to ride the hobbies and video games line. Those words to describe what non-parents do with their non-work time did not come from mxracer652 or from me. The discussion all along has been about non-work time and responsibilities and how they impact the work environment, and you chose to follow the grossly bigoted notion that for parents this means childcare and for non-parents it means means hobbies and video games.

  10. February 15, 2008 at 11:49 am

    Oh for pete’s sake. If you insist on attributing to me views I don’t hold and accuse me of making arguments I didn’t, and then find fault with me for my non-existent views and arguments, there’s nothing I can do about that. Enjoy yourself.

  11. February 15, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    I totally agree with you, Zuska, but I think you missed one very important part of the issue. I commented on Sciencewoman’s post as well. that I feel that it’s not only about making room for parental responsibilities. I think a big part of this is the idea that women who have children should be taking care of those children, and not doing other things. If we mothers would just stay home like we are supposed to, the problem would be solved. I can let most of the whining roll off my back, because if I need to be away from my lab because of other responsibilities, then I do it. If other people need more time for their “stuff” they should ask for it. It’s not my problem that someone else is lacking a backbone.
    What really gets me is the feeling that it has to be one or the other. Either I’m being a good mother or I’m being a good scientist. I worked my butt off to get into the top PhD program in my field. They only accept about a dozen applicants each year. My older child was 5 years old when I started, and my husband and I had already decided that we would try for number 2 after I was finished with classes and teaching. When we succeeded, I can’t tell you how many people either asked if or expected that I was considering leaving school, including my in-laws. WHY THE HECK WOULD I THROW AWAY SO MANY YEARS OF HARD WORK WHEN I’M HALF-WAY TO A DOCTORATE? Because a real mother would put her children first and forget about all that science stuff. And a good woman wouldn’t bother everyone with her hustling and bustling about trying to finish her thesis research while raising two kids. It’s too hard for everyone else to have to accommodate my extremely regular schedule and realistic goal setting. ARGH!

  12. mxracer652
    February 18, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    Hmm, late to the party, but since I’m taken to task here goes:
    My definition of Free Time = time that isn’t necessary to deal with basic life necessities. Studying for the PE exam, grad school, cooking instead of eating junk, exercise, et cetera are all done in “free time”, unless you’re a full time student, then that is your job (I’m not).
    Those pursuits contribute nothing to society or the GDP.
    Back to the subject, as you said, occasionally needing time to take care of kids/parents/cavities is A-OK! Everyone I’ve ever worked with either made the time up at a later date, or took vacation/leave/personal/sick days. I’ll fight (or whine as you perceive it) for anyone to do so, hey, I even leave early one day a week for class. But I always make that time up.
    Persisitently (as in the original topic, daily) needing time and not completing the demands of your job = something’s gotta give. Hire a babysitter, find a different job, or FMLA.
    My own personal observation is that the demands of a large amount of careers out there do not mix with children/family things. Would you agree that in some cases, you cannot eat your cake and have it too (career/child(ren))?

  13. Luna_the_cat
    February 20, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Helen — the conversation you refer to in post #3 went as follows:
    mxracer652

    ScienceMama:
    Please explain to me why YOUR responsibilities are more important than what I do with the free time in my life? After all, your “responsibility” is a choice of which I have no voice in.
    Schlupp

    On your answer to ScienceMama: Why are children more important than other hobbies (say, video games)? Um, maybe, because children are people, and video games are not? Jut my weird idea.

    Barn Owl

    [much about other social responsibilities]

    The assumption that “video games” fill the free time of childless individuals is so inane and judgmental that it doesn’t even warrant a snarky reply.
    *rolls eyes*
    me

    Barn Owl — wait, are you seriously trying to argue that children are not more important than video games? Because that’s the “weird idea” that you are criticising there. Did you not really read the Why are children more important than other hobbies (say, video games)? part?
    Schlupp


    Barn Owl, please note that my comment was written as a reply to another comment by mxracer652 that heavily emphasized the “choice” involved in what everyone does in their “free time.” That comment had “responsibility” for children in quotes, which does suggest mxracer652 proposes not to take this obligation seriously. So, I had got the impression – and I may have been as wrong as you were about my comment – that mxracer652 WOULD suggest that having kids is a choice like playing video games. Add to that the fact that a colleague recently did argue that the choice to have children was equivalent to the choice to play video games…

    Short summary: please track the conversation, and curb your outrage.

  14. Mike
    February 20, 2008 at 10:30 am

    Your post was very informative zuska. You do not believe that people should be paid fairly for their labor. You called out my comment for stating that a person who works more should be compensated more. Do you think that a childless person is less equal than a person with children? Why should a childless person be forced to to provide more labor without increased compensation?
    There are two fair options.
    1. Those who take up the slack for those who have to take off should be compensated more.
    2. Those things which can not be done by those who have to take off just go undone.
    There is a biased option as well.
    People without children should be forced to do more labor without compensation because their labor is less valuable.

  15. February 21, 2008 at 9:08 am

    Okay, mxracer652, as per my comment (#22) thanks for being honest:

    My own personal observation is that the demands of a large amount of careers out there do not mix with children/family things. Would you agree that in some cases, you cannot eat your cake and have it too (career/child(ren))?

    It’s nice to see someone wear their misogyny on their sleeve. Seriously, though, that’s the essence of the problem. There is no reason why career and children shouldn’t mix. It does no benefit to society to have that separation rigidly imposed. In fact, it does great harm, as was pointed out by Soha in #8.
    On to this little gem:

    My definition of Free Time = time that isn’t necessary to deal with basic life necessities. Studying for the PE exam, grad school, cooking instead of eating junk, exercise, et cetera are all done in “free time”, unless you’re a full time student, then that is your job (I’m not).
    Those pursuits contribute nothing to society or the GDP.

    Is that so? I guess having a more educated populace does not benefit society. And having people move up the ladder to higher paying jobs does nothing for the GDP. And cooking. I can’t believe anyone would do that when we have vending machines filled with high calorie, low nutrient foods at the end of every hallway (make sure you walk there during your free time, though). Forget about excercise. Taking care of your body should be way down on the list of priorities. So much the better for society that we nice and fat and sick, as fast as possible, so that we can make way for the next generation. Who will be raised during somebody else’s free time.
    I’d like to see how a society run on that model would work. Actually, no thanks.

  16. February 25, 2008 at 2:01 am

    Ewan,
    I’ve got two things to say to you:
    1) Brush up on your biology, because I’m sure it wasn’t you who carried your child for nine months, complete with all the daily discomforts of doing so, nor was it you who went through labor to bring the child into the world. Women who have children have to take time off after a birth to recover. For men, it’s a choice, that they can then get pats on the back for making, for being so supportive.
    2) If people are asking you “can’t you get your wife to do that?” how does that play out for a person who actually is a wife? It is a lot harder to be the one who is expected to do all the grunt work of raising children, while being simultaneously bashed at work for doing it.
    I’m glad you help out with the daycare pickups, and maybe you do an equal share of everything else related to the care of your child. But a lot of dads do not. And a lot of bosses, professors, and colleagues think nothing of dropping a woman down two or three notches on the respect scale the first time she has a scheduling conflict due to childcare arrangements. I’ve never been asked “Can’t your husband do that?” Instead I get the sighing, and the rolling of the eyes, and I know that suddenly this person has relegated me to the playground.

  17. Soha
    February 25, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Hello Ewan et al.,
    From reading this whole string of comments I’ve been given a lot of different perspectives to think about with this whole issue/issues.
    My concerns are primarily with the first year or two of having the child. In particular: taking months of time off, having someone biologically dependent on me (I know, women don’t HAVE to breastfeed, but I don’t see it as much of a choice), pumping throughout the day, the challenges of going to conferences, and being less productive–thus disappointing my advisor and committee.
    My husband is like you are, he plans to be equal in this child rearing business. But I would guess that we won’t be able to split things (approximately) down the middle until the potential child is weaned.
    I don’t know how much slack is or isn’t cut to who and when, but I do think that things are changing for the better and will continue to change.
    I don’t think that you’re the enemy Ewan, but I do know that when my husband and I do decide to have a child I will be the one that HAS to take a few months off, undergo the physical changes, etc. We shall see….

  18. Ewan
    February 27, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Acmegirl, I think that you may have a set of assumptions that don’t hold…
    Acmegirl said:
    I’ve got two things to say to you:
    1) Brush up on your biology, because I’m sure it wasn’t you who carried your child for nine months, complete with all the daily discomforts of doing so, nor was it you who went through labor to bring the child into the world. Women who have children have to take time off after a birth to recover. For men, it’s a choice, that they can then get pats on the back for making, for being so supportive.

    Obviously I am denied the choice of whether I would wish to carry a child. No, I’m not considering myself to be discriminated against because of this fact of basic biology. {removes tongue from cheek.}
    As it happens, I took off far longer after my son’s birth than did my wife, by both of our choices and despite the fact that she had institutional support to do so whereas I did not. I gained no pats on my back; rather incredulity and comments on loss of productivity. Having obviously been there and shared them, I’m perfectly aware of all the consequences and discomforts of pregnancy, thanks.
    2) If people are asking you “can’t you get your wife to do that?” how does that play out for a person who actually is a wife? It is a lot harder to be the one who is expected to do all the grunt work of raising children, while being simultaneously bashed at work for doing it.
    I’m glad you help out with the daycare pickups, and maybe you do an equal share of everything else related to the care of your child. But a lot of dads do not. And a lot of bosses, professors, and colleagues think nothing of dropping a woman down two or three notches on the respect scale the first time she has a scheduling conflict due to childcare arrangements. I’ve never been asked “Can’t your husband do that?” Instead I get the sighing, and the rolling of the eyes, and I know that suddenly this person has relegated me to the playground.

    ‘help out with’ and ‘maybe do an equal share’? How quaint. Nope: please substitute ‘do all of’ and ‘do all of’ in there. And I’d be grateful if you would resist assigning to me a stereotype, thanks. But – to use your terminology – it is clear that “this person has assigned me to the workshed” simply because I happen to be male. Jeez.
    Soha –
    – I spent a very boring couple of trips in hotel rooms with screaming infant, washing out pump parts so that they were ready for my wife’s conference breaks :). And a lot more time going over to daycare with bottles of pumped milk – but it can all be managed, honest, even while getting tenure/moving to tenure-track. The physical side – well, good luck :). Not that I would wish to change places, but at least my wife had official, medical leave for the bedrest; I had to simply add in to my duties the added care for her during that time (sorry, that’s more of a response to acmegirl, really; your comment didn’t deserve a barb.)

  19. February 28, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Ewan, it’s wonderful that you are so involved in child-rearing and that you take equal responsibility for things that need done. What’s not cool is that you react to a discussion of an institutional/structural barrier for women (women in general are expected to be responsible for childcare, women in general are held to a more critical standard when they take time off or adjust work hours to accommodate child-rearing) as if it is a personal attack on you, Ewan, personally. You may be a great example of how it can (and should) be done but you definitely do not help by getting personally insulted when women discuss the very real difficulties that attend having a child when one is on the tenure-track in academia, the difficulties that are specific to being female. No one said you were part of the problem. Why did you jump to the conclusion that you, personally, were being insulted and targeted as a scapegoat? You might want to think about why it’s so difficult for you to endure a discussion of why child-rearing is difficult for women academics.
    This is a typical example of how (many) men react to discussions of gender inequity with “but there can’t be a problem because I’m a nice guy!”

  20. March 3, 2008 at 3:24 am

    mxracer652:
    Every one of the issues you mention (surprise travel, odd work schedules, emergencies at work, and the like, can absolutely be handled by someone with children, provided mechanisms are in place to ensure that childcare is uninterrupted. Do I think that employers and society should play a role in meeting that need? Absolutely.
    Ewan:
    Oh, I see. You are “incredulous that it might be believed that a lower set of expectations might be applied to junior male faculty (a class of which I happen to be a member) than of junior female faculty”
    I guess those of us who have experienced that phenomenon (including ScienceWoman, whose description of such treatment started this whole discussion) are mistaken.

  21. August 27, 2009 at 3:58 am

    My husband is like you are, he plans to be equal in this child rearing business. But I would guess that we won’t be able to split things (approximately) down the middle until the potential child is weaned.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: