Saturday, April 2, 2011

Great Book on Family-Friendly America.

I tried to post this in the comments to the question below, but couldn't get the formatting to work. So, here's a brief review and a link to a book that is awfully good about the topic.



Tax credits, childcare benefits, school vouchers, flextime for parents, parental leaves--all have spawned what journalist Elinor Burkett calls a "culture of parental privilege." The Baby Boon charts the backlash against this movement and asks for a reevaluation of social policy. Burkett's cause isn't served by her sarcasm, which leads so easily to exaggeration and strained humor.

She proposes, for example, that there exists an unwritten but widely understood "Ten Commandments of workplace etiquette in family-friendly America," which includes items such as "Thou shalt volunteer to work late so that mothers can leave at 2:00 p.m. to watch their sons play soccer" and "Thou shalt never ask for a long leave to write a book, travel, or fulfill thy heart's desire because no desire other than children could possibly be worth thy company's inconvenience."

Burkett is more convincing when citing real-life examples, such as a legal secretary who applied for flextime and was told that benefit was available only to parents, or the case of Sarah, a childless travel agent in Seattle who invented a fake daughter, put her picture on her desk at work, and proceeded to take long lunches ("trips to the pediatrician") and leave work early for "family emergencies."

Ironically, as Burkett describes, it was the search for equity that inspired the various pro-parent benefits of the "family-friendly workplace." A new attention to childless workers does seem to be in order--permitting them to substitute some benefits for others, for instance, or to receive bonuses instead, and to work in environments that support their choices not to have children. --Regina Marler


  1. Not to be demanding, but... why do academics have kids?

    We are reading a blog dedicated to the misery that is academic life. Why complicate what is already ridiculously demanding by making kids?

    Honestly. I really want someone to give me a compelling reason for having children. I've never heard one.

  2. Monkey, you're in for a shitstorm. Parents won't be talked down to like that. I'm standing over >>>>>>>>>>>>> here.

  3. I've read this book. People it's written for will love it. Parents will not.

  4. What a preposterous idea. More bitter childless people congratulating themselves. Stupid.

  5. Why have children? a) Because having children and raising them well is probably the most valuable form of volunteer labour for our communities that any of us will ever do. This is why any society worth a damn will support the endeavour, and any society that doesn't is doomed.

    And b) because kids are amazing.

    And I have those in the wrong order.

  6. Rimi -- your assuming childless people are all bitter is just as blind as Academic Monkey's assumption that those who have children are just increasing the misery.

    I don't have kids. I don't want kids. I'm not bitter, I'm happy to not have kids. I cannot understand those who want to have kids, in the same way that I cannot understand those who are attracted to the gender I'm not attracted to. However, I understand that there are people who do, and there are people for whom it's an essential part of a fulfilling life.

    The mistake we all make is by assuming that those who come to the opposite conclusion from us have something wrong with them.

    Are children a public good? Yes. But does that mean that those who don't choose to have kids should face just as much sacrifice as those who choose to have kids? No... because they aren't getting just as much reward either. But should those of us who don't have kids sacrifice *some*? Yes. There can be balance here. Alas, as was pointed out in the previous thread, our society currently implicitly assumes that you must not take any gaps in your career AND you must be amazingly involved children. It's not sustainable, but alas it's how it is right now. The result is that everybody's suffering from society's screwed up assumptions. Let's stop sniping at and blaming each other, and assuming that those who have make different choices than our own are fundamentally wrong and fundamentally unhappy.

  7. Given the very real fear of overpopulation, academics are the ONLY people who should be considering procreation.

  8. I am not a bitter childless person. I am a happy child-free person. Some people want them; some people don't. This makes people different not better or worse.

    I have an enormous amount of compassion for people who work and have children. I can't imagine trying to do it. Accordingly, I choose not to. I should be free to do that without criticism.

    One thing that I have appreciated since beginning in academia is that I haven't been chastised for my decision not to have children like I was when I had a non-academic career. People in this profession are much more open-minded about others' decisions, and I really appreciate that.

    In my former life, people were always trying to convince me to have children. Why? Why would they want me to have children if I didn't want to have children? I think having pet is the greatest gift I've ever been given, but I would never try to talk others into getting them if they didn't really want to. There is no room for ambivalence when being responsible for another living creature.

  9. There's no reason to have children other than you want to have and raise a child. If you don't understand that, it can't be explained to you. It's like golf. People play golf because they like golf, though it makes no sense to me. Don't try to tell me why you like golf. I'll never see it. I think golf is expensive and boring and dumb. People think having kids is expensive and boring and dumb, too, and they're entitled.

    However I can only speak for myself when I say that having and raising a child has been the most rewarding experience of my life, bar none, and my desire not to fuck it up is my first priority. Not my teaching. Not my scholarship. Not any other human relationship, even the one I have with my husband. My child comes first.

    That's me.

  10. Why have kids? "Because having children and raising them well is probably the most valuable form of volunteer labour for our communities that any of us will ever do."

    It seems we are making a mistake in relying on untrained volunteer work for "the most valuable job in the world." And kids are not always "Amazing."

    I think, personally, that we should revert to the model of a village raising a child. Rather than treating kids as these private enterprises officially but then relying on everyone else to make accommodations, we should be open and honest that it takes a whole community and start having trained people to provide the best environments for the kids and raise a more adept next generation.

    @ALL: I am, of course, playing devil's advocate here. But Terry, I do appreciate your decision to distance yourself from such an aggressive post.

  11. As someone who is childless only partly by choice (I had a pretty good idea of how much work parenting is, knew I wouldn't make a good single parent under present conditions, and didn't find a partner at the appropriate stage of life to be a partnered parent), I probably fall somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, I do absolutely think that raising children is a public good, and deserves far, far more support than our society gives it (if more such support were available, I might have dared the single-parent route). On the other hand, I'm amazed by (1) people who genuinely thought that combining parenting and career would be easy (this seems to me to reflect a failure of both observation *and* imagination), and expect others to take up the slack when it turns out to be much harder than they expected and (2) parents (mostly but not exclusively moms) who seem determined to make the whole enterprise into as time- and energy-consuming a competitive sport as possible, often at the expense of the children in whose welfare they're supposedly investing their every waking moment. Somewhere, there's got to be a happy medium, which allows parents sufficient time and energy to care well for their children *and* themselves; children sufficient age-appropriate responsibility and benign neglect to grow up to be independent, productive citizens (if the kid is only interested in playing soccer/baseball/the oboe when a parent is watching, then it's not clear that the kid is interested in the activity for its own sake at all); and everybody, parent or not, time and energy to invest in activities that support the longterm welfare of all members of their communities, young and old, related or not, parents or not (this third arena, incidentally, is where at least some of us who are childless are spending our "public good" time -- more of it than ever before, in fact, since many moms and dads choose to spend their limited discretionary hours solely on kid-specific activities during the decades when the kids are at home, but still expect the parks, trails, churches, farmer's markets, museums, community festivals, etc., etc., etc. to be present and up-to-date when they choose to patronize them. A generation or two ago, many moms and dads with young children were involved in such civic-welfare activities; these days, they are overwhelmingly carried on by the childless and empty-nesters).

    I have to say, I haven't really run into the problems Burkett describes. But I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more recognition of the ways in which parenting can be selfish and well as selfless, and a bit more respect for the contributions of the childless to the community as a whole (including, but not limited to, its children).

  12. Books like this are bullshit. Not because we should be privileging parents over single people -many of the benefits extended to parents should be extend to everyone as part of treating people with respect and humanity - but because it attaches some kind of idea that people without children are 1) better than those with children and 2) an oppressed class. Neither of these are true.

    Also, let's stop talking about this as if it's "parents," okay? Because when we complain about the "parent" who took time off work, we're talking about a mother. As was pointed out in the other thread, fathers may not even *consider* taking time off, while for mothers, it's a given. And this imbalance is one of the many, many factors contributing to the second-class position given to women in all fields, academia included.

  13. @Barb,

    Good points, but I'd like to say that there is nowhere near an argument that childfree kids are "better" or "oppressed." Instead, general pop culture depicts them as bitter/pitiful, or oblivious to the pain/stress of their parenting colleagues. See, for instance, the derogatory term "HINKS" (hi income no kids) that are flung around news sites and blogs, referring to this idea that no one ever considers how tough it is to be a parent. Despite the overwhelming images on TV, news, and film supporting family life.

    I think people moan that no one considers how tough parenting is because those very people did not expect how tough it is. They got pregnant thinking about cute toes and first words instead of sleepless years and the extreme personal responsibility over another human being.

    Again: more common support networks needed.

  14. Since the origianl posting is now split, I'm also posting this comment here, for clarification (I posted it on the original posting, too)...

    Surprisingly, to me, the most resentment is not coming from the childless/childfree people in the department (whom, I assume, are used to being asked to overload themselves), but from those whose children are now old enough to not need constant supervision and who were NOT afforded the accommodations that the new crop of parents is seeking. THEY are the ones who are saying, "Wait, I did this 10, 15, 20 years ago with no concessions and even less maternity/paternity leave so why do I now have to sacrifice twice?"

    I agree that perhaps I need a refresher course in gender studies because clearly, by even addressing this, I am a misogynist who hates all parents (parentalist?). I am reminded of students in my race and gender courses (yes, *gasp*, I teach courses in race and GENDER) who claim that by even addressing the issue of race, one must be a racist. By even raising this as a problem in our department, I must therefore hate women???

    And for the record, I am childless, but not childfree. My partner's child has lived with us for 15 years. While this beautiful child did not spring from my loins, I am a parent. But some people (fewer in an academic setting) still look at me as a child hater for choosing not to have my 'own' children. A colleague even snarkily commented, when I asked whether she could rotate days she dropped off her little ones at day care with her spouse so she could teach a MWF 9 a.m. class, "Well, you wouldn't understand since you don't have kids." Perhaps she has missed the multitude of pictures in my office with me and 'said kid.' But the smug attitudes seem to reside on both sides of the coin (smug marrieds, smug parentals, smug singles, smug, smug, smug). And I'm tired of this shit!

    I just want to be able to make a decent schedule with classes from 9-5 p.m. (with a few seminars in the afternoons and evenings) that the professors can teach without glaring at each other in the hallways.

    Is it too much to ask that the parents not act like children?

  15. I have no children of my own.
    Some of my best friends have reproduced. I enjoy their children.
    I don't mind paying taxes to support public schools.
    I even enjoy teaching other peoples' children if they make it to college.

    But I routinely pull into the "customer with infant" spaces at the supermarket.
    That's just bullshit.

  16. @Cynic: I'm not surprised by the pattern you describe. I hear some of the same comments from parents of grown children (mostly women of the first generation who remained in or returned to paid work while raising children) discussing the participation (or lack thereof) of the current crop of parents in civic and church activities. Something -- or several somethings -- has/have changed in the last decade or two. I'm not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg (or which one of those came first), but it seems to me that the culture has become more demanding of parents *and* parents have become more demanding of the culture. Heaven knows how we get out of that spiral, but I suspect we need to, if only because, as this blog regularly attests, it's not working very well. Over-intense parenting produces snowflakes, and snowflakes are not the responsible citizens we're envisioning when we describe raising the next generation as a contribution to the common welfare.

  17. @Contingent: I don't mind accommodating where I can, and if it is pedagogically sound to do so, but sometimes there is no way to meet the demands of all parties (one such ridiculous request was to match up the class time with that of the babysitter: teach the class from 2-3 p.m. on Mondays, 9-10 a.m. on Wednesdays, and 3-4 p.m. on Fridays). That professor seriously did not even consider that students are taking multiple classes and was furious that I wouldn't even consider ASKING the students if they could switch their schedules to accommodate him/her. "Could you please just ASK them? It can't hurt to ask," was the response.

    I am really not sure how to fix this and the Registrar is already on my tail for not having had the schedule up already! Students are supposed to be able to start registering for classes this coming week. To that, I say, "Hah!"

  18. @Cassandra

    I feel like suddenly I understand the intense debate so much more. This thread (and its partner) is like the Parenting 101 class I've desperately wanted for the past 15 years.

    The helicopter parents, the over-involvement in their children's lives, the detraction that makes for their profession and the way they then need to lean on other people so much more than before... I see the world in suddenly different hues.

  19. @Cynic: that *is* dadblame ridiculous, and if the faculty member doesn't realize that, (s)he is severely narcissistic, terribly sleep deprived, truly desperate, or perhaps all three. I also suspect that yet another piece of the puzzle is that babysitters are paid very little, and must piece together multiple part-time gigs to make something approaching a living (sound familiar?). That leads to -- you guessed it -- scheduling difficulties for the sitter, which mean scheduling difficulties for the parent(s), which mean scheduling difficulties for the department scheduler.

    All of which is yet another argument for a full year of paid parental leave followed by the availability of high-quality, low- or no-cost (to the parent) day care/preschool, with teachers paid on the same scale as other public school teachers, starting at age one -- in short, what several European countries provide. It would be expensive, but I suspect a good economist could show that it would be no more expensive than the current system, which, as the comments in these threads show, takes a lot out of parents (especially mothers), coworkers, *and* employers/supervisors/schedulers.

  20. My wife and I are probably odd people in that we could not imagine being married without a family around us. Whether that was adopted or our own children. I fully recognize that other couples see their marriage in a different way. But that is the way we see our relationship, and we feel very happy with our choice.

    And I strongly recommend that people not "plan" their children. Have them by accident. That way, at 3am when they are screaming, you can't say to yourself "I planned this!?!" I know, dumb advice for the typical tenure track academic, but it was so much more fun for us that way.

  21. While this book sounds like a major piece of shit (the US is one of the most family-unfriendly countries in the industrialized world), I fully support the idea of childless people getting time to take care of sick friends and relatives, pursue volunteer work or work in a non-profit day and night, or do anything else that is an unremunerated, 24-hours-a-day contribution to the social good.

    And Faris, that's being a douchebag. Have you ever hauled an infant in a car seat and 5 bags of groceries to a car at the same time? Or waddled around 8 1/2 months pregnant (I have seen "stork spaces," which were much appreciated during the 2 months I had to use them)? Or tried to get the infant car seat snapped into its base without your older kid running into a lot full of moving cars? Ah, I thought not. Pulling into those very rare "parents with infant" spots (which frankly, I've never seen except at Babies-R-Us, where they seem entirely appropriate) is like parking in a handicapped space, douchey.

    Ugh. I'm back to feeling really sick about this blog, or perhaps about the academy as a last bastion of male privilege.

  22. I think people disagree on this, no? Is it impossible to say we have different agendas, those who choose to have kids, those who choose not?

    Singles and childless - in my experience - get screwed in the academy all the time. All. The. Time.

  23. Can we get back to the original question??

    "Honestly. I really want someone to give me a compelling reason for having children. I've never heard one. "

    Because my husband and I are gorgeous and brilliant. Why would we not want to produce little clones of ourselves (who will later fuck us over in one way or another)? Ah, I love my little bugger, but he's only 1 now.

    And @ honest_prof-- you are now showing your true colors as a man : "And I strongly recommend that people not "plan" their children. Have them by accident. That way, at 3am when they are screaming, you can't say to yourself "I planned this!?!" I know, dumb advice for the typical tenure track academic, but it was so much more fun for us that way. "

    As a woman, I CANNOT imagine not planning a baby for the beginning of a winter or summer break (preferably the latter). Perhaps this is my way of not screwing over all you lovely childless people who would have to cover my classes during maternity leave. But, really, if you "want it all," I think planning is essential. Of course, then the baby fucks it up and comes early, or forces you on bed rest, or has to stay in the NICU... but trying to plan is a good idea. And, trust me, planning to have a baby can be very, very fun as well.

  24. Yes folks its...."The War of the Breeders vs. the Freebies" or as its known in Japanese "Kingukongu tai Gojira."*

    Roscoe Smith, the academy screws the free people because they can walk away; somebody with a spouse is much more likely to tolerate the idiots in admin and a person with a spouse and a child is even more their slave.

    * I haven't written anything about the disaster in Japan because it's beyond comprehension how easily entire villages could be reduced to driftwood scrapyards and how those taxcheating scumfucks at GE could sell the Japanese on their reactors....I can understand why the Fukushima Dai-ichi plants were built (oil shocks of the 1970s) but there had to be a lot of greasy under-the-table deals to get away with it. Japan has 100+ reactors and that figure boggles my mind seeing as how seismically-active the country is and its history with (our) nuclear weaponry.

  25. @Strelnikov, wouldn't the academy do the opposite if it knew that breeders had nowhere else to go b/c they're now more desperate and could therefore use them however they please?

    And yes, the Japan tragedy is just that. My mother's whole family comes from that region and spends time daily carting water and food to areas that still have none. My cousin loads up their little truck (it's nothing like an American truck) and takes requests from people who simply NEED things that he then drives back to find for them. My other 70-year-old uncle bikes out with bottles of water strapped to his handlebars because he has run out of gas. My one aunt has taken in 18 people (into a house that in America, wouldn't even house a couple), and yet they are all working together (as the proverbial village that we hope to raise our children in).

  26. Why should academics have children?

    Why SHOULDN'T academics have children?

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  28. Anyone notice that natural selection has been reversed. Profs represent the top of the IQ curve, yet we have fewer children...

  29. honest_prof, that implies that IQ is a major positive in the biological fitness stakes...

  30. maybe this is a stupid question, but how do we know profs represent the top of the iq curve? i'd bet against it myself, and i've been in the business a long time, but i was wondering if honest prof had a study in mind.

  31. The reason I had a kid was that I like kids and thought I could do a pretty good job at it. After having had a kid, I am very glad to have done it because it's extremely humbling. There is so much you cannot control, and it divests you of the illusion that you can outsmart, out-talk, or out-maneuver everything. It takes an entirely different kind of intelligence, one unrelated to IQ, to figure out how to meet a kid's needs while still holding the line on civilizing him or her, and I've learned a lot from that challenge. Also, it turns out that playing with toys again is fun, and that child development is a fascinating field.

    But I should say: I had only one child, after tenure, and after logging 10 years of service and teaching. In another profession I would have had two, starting much earlier. So I think I've sacrificed some aspects of family life for academia, and that you cannot have it all.

  32. Many studies, but consider, you went to college, this puts you in the top 40% by standardized test scores. To go to grad school, most grads will have GPAs above 3.5, this puts you in the top 10%. Complete graduate level courses, now you are in the top 5%.

    This is all by average. Sure there are examples of PhD's who are as dumb as a box of rocks, but on average, they represent the top of the IQ curve.

    IQ, and other g loaded factors, are signs of biological fitness.

  33. No kids here by a combination of choice and circumstance (the circumstances under which we would have reproduced were difficult, thus influencing our choice). I will say that 95% of the parents I work with are faculty who happen to have children. They are professional, dedicated colleagues who know when to put kids first and when to put work first. They talk about their kids, but they talk about pedagogy, theory, hobbies, spouses/significant others, other family members, current events...pretty much everything most people are interested in. They are well-rounded people. This applies to both people actively parenting kids at home and those whose kids have left and maybe made grandkids.

    Then there's that 5%. Most of them are moms, but there are a few dads. The child becomes the filter through which all life is viewed and around which everything is based all the time. They can't serve on that committee, refuse to teach that class that begins after 1:00, won't attend that evening event, can't cover early morning advising, don't have time to write that report because They Have Kids and It's So Hard. (We have a couple of grandparents like this too except it's not that it's hard but that they are the joy of the grandparents' lives and therefore must always take priority.) And they have to tell us all about it constantly. And I do agree it's hard, so I don't knock that as a truthful statement. I do, however, strenuously disagree with it as a "get out of work free" card that can be played an unlimited number of times. Or even worse, sometimes they will bring said kids with them to class, committee meetings, or office hours. I have seen this turn out fine on occasion, but most of the time the children are restless, bored, and not conducive to good working conditions.

    My chair bends over backwards for those people. This pisses off not only those of us without kids (and we make up about 1/3 of the department) but also those parent colleagues who don't/didn't pull this crap. She pities people like me because she sees my life as somehow less complete than hers. This infuriates me and strikes me as patronizing. Just as I will never know what it's like to have kids, she will never know what it's like not to. She also never takes a good, hard look at the work being done in the department to see who has turned TT work into a part-time position.

  34. Honest_Prof: Have to argue with you on this one. While I will concede that professors probably have relatively high IQs, there is no sign that, within modern humans, IQ has anything to do with fitness. As classically defined, fitness is just the relative reproductive success of an individual, and there is no indication that smart individuals are leaving more offspring than less intelligent ones (or have, at any time during the Holocene). Even if you use brain size as a proxy, we haven’t seen a brain size increase in 200,000 years. While intelligence may have been selected for in the Pleistocene, that selection pressure has long since relaxed.

  35. This is off the thread, but does not IQ correlate with other g loaded factors such as health and reflexes? That would seem to be a biological edge.

  36. I don't have kids because I'm bat-shit crazy. I love telling people that when they ask why I don't have them. For a while I told them I was infertile, too, but there's only a 50/50 chance that's true. There's 100% chance I'm crazy.

  37. Have you ever hauled an infant in a car seat and 5 bags of groceries to a car at the same time?
    How did you haul all that around the store? In the shopping cart.
    So push said cart right out to your vehicle.

    Or waddled around 8 1/2 months pregnant

    No. But I've limped about due to miscellaneous orthopedic injuries from time to time.

    Or tried to get the infant car seat snapped into its base without your older kid running into a lot full of moving cars?

    How does the difficulty of that increase with distnce from the front door of the store?
    The parking spaces are all in the parking lot.

    Ah, I thought not. Pulling into those very rare "parents with infant" spots (which frankly, I've never seen except at Babies-R-Us, where they seem entirely appropriate) is like parking in a handicapped space, douchey.
    They're pretty common in these parts.

    Though I never had my own (or perhaps because), I am the eldest of a largeish brood, and I've spent plenty of time wrangling the younger members. And pitched in more than once to provide care to the offspring of a hospitalized friend. I do have some small clue how akin to cat-herding it is.

    And I find it offensive that you equate fertility with a disability, so maybe that makes us even.

  38. Not fertility, pregnancy, which if you've ever been pregnant you recognize is physically disabling -- as is losing the use of one or more hands while juggling an infant who is not yet walking. And both are TEMPORARY. I've never seen or used an "infants" space, but I cheerfully use family parking at Ikea and thank god for it, because lugging a kid and a cart by oneself is tough.

    But the point is: if the parking space is not for you, don't use it, whether it's for a fire truck, commercial vehicles loading and unloading ("but it's my way of protesting capitalism!", I can hear you saying), people with disabilities, people with infants, or 10-minute parking ("screw that business and its need for parking for quick errands. I'm Faris!"). It's douchey. You're not the center of the universe.

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  40. It's douchey and dangerous, Faris. If some woman with an infant sees you sauntering out of that car sans baby, they might take revenge and leave a dirty diaper (inside out and number 2) under your windshield wiper. If that baby is around six months old or so they will start to have what is called "blowouts." Very pretty. And woe to you if you have somehow left your car unlocked.

    Or they could just call you out. You don't want to be called out by an angry pregnant lady or a lady with a baby. Hormones, serious hormones.

    They will cut you.

  41. Hey, I agree: not cool to park where you're not supposed to, regardless! Beware the wrath of the hormonal (of either gender!).

  42. Insert "black" or "gay" instead of "parents" and this discussion takes a very disturbing turn. Keep that in mind next time you point your finger at "those people."


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