Saturday, August 25, 2012

Weekend Reading: The Grab Bag Edition

I have an odd mix of links for you this week.

Let's start with Oilandgarlic, who turns the usual "how to be happy" lists on their head and posts a list of how to be unhappy.

Next, Study Hacks has an interesting post in which he tracks his time- but unlike the usual timetracking exercises, he just marks the time during which he is engaged in what he considers his most important work. It is an interesting idea, and maybe I'll incorporate it into my timetracking some time. I am still tracking my time- on week 2 now. I am planning to write a post with some observations about where my time is going soon.

Finally, this summary of a study of how male academic scientists balance work and life is both encouraging and depressing. It is encouraging because approximately one-third of the men surveyed have kids and are attempting to find an equal balance with their partners. It is depressing because 22% of the men rely on the wives to do the majority of the work around the house, even if those wives are also working. Often, the wives have "downshifted" their careers to make that possible.

Athene Donald has a good response to this article. Much has been made in the blogosphere and twitterverse of the quote from one male physicist that ends the summary:

'Asked, “Do you think that having children then is difficult to manage with being a scientist?” one physicist said, “No, absolutely not. That’s why you have a wife.”'

And I agree, that attitude of casual sexism is pretty stunning. But in some ways, I'm more bothered by the men who realize that their arrangement could be seen to be unfair, and emphasize that their wives have "chosen" this arrangement. Now, I don't doubt that they believe this was a free and unforced choice of their wives. In fact, their wives may also truly believe that. And I don't for an instant want to argue that it is not a good and valid choice, regardless of the circumstances that went into making it.

But I want us to all be honest about why those choices happen. Some women probably do make that choice because they want to spend as much time as possible with their children, and would make the same choice regardless of the way society organized itself. Hooray for them- really. It is awesome that they can make the choice that they really want.

My decidedly unscientific survey of my friends and acquaintances who have chosen to downshift or leave the workforce altogether, though, reveals that for at least some women, the choice is not exactly unforced. Here are some things that go into it:
  • Exhaustion from fighting the steady drip of run-of-the-mill sexism that many women still face in their jobs. It wears you down, makes you doubt your own skills and intelligence, and makes the idea of turning your focus elsewhere more attractive. Studies show that there is anti-mother discrimination in addition to "standard" sexism, which doesn't help matters at all.
  • Exhaustion from trying to stay focused on career with a partner who assumes that the work around the home is not his responsibility, and therefore must be directed in any chores, if he'll do them at all. For these women the "mental load" of managing the home inevitably falls entirely on them, and my own experience (with a partner who is actually trying to shoulder his share of that load) indicates that too much mental load at home can flow into problems at work, and vice versa.
  • Exhaustion from dealing with the logistical hurdles our society puts in the way of dual career parents. School hours can be difficult to manage, there are random mid-day requirements, etc.
  • Internalizing the judgment of mothers in the workforce that is prevalent in our culture right now. Internalizing of the subtler forms of judgment (it is OK to work, but not if you do X, Y, and Z) doesn't help, either. This, incidentally, is why I'm relatively anti-judgment. Judgment is what humans use to enforce social norms, and is a powerful force. I think we should use it carefully.
I'm sure I'm missing some other points, too, but it is Saturday morning and time to get started on the fun we have planned for today!

I will make one final note about this, though. I know that a lot of women worry that the fact that so many of their male colleagues get a "pass" at home will mean that these men are more productive than the women can be. I don't actually think that is likely to be true, at least not in a macro sense. I'm sure there are some men who manage to be hyperproductive, but when I look at the men and women I know, I can't think of any men- even those with stay at home wives- who are hugely more productive than me and my female friends.

I think the reason for this is hinted at in the study on housework that I reference in an old post- the men who don't do much housework/child care aren't working more hours- they are getting more leisure time. That is indeed unfair, but is mostly between them and their wives. And the ones that are in the lab/office at all hours- well, I'm not convinced that is actually making them more productive.  I think those men are missing out on something real and wonderful, too. Sure, they may not have to deal with the sleep deprivation of the early years, and they may not change many diapers, but they probably also don't know the quiet pleasure of cuddling a sick  (but not too sick) child all day or the irrational joy and pride you get after watching a child finally manage to climb up to the slide, after many, many attempts. They may have more leisure time than me, but I do not necessarily think they have a better life. Except, you know, that they don't have to deal with the impediments of sexism and mother-blaming.


  1. While I agree many women who don't have a "wife" are as productive as men with wives, I also can't help thinking that this disparity might have some part to play in the small number of women in the upper ranks of academia and more generally. Because even if the men are playing golf while their female colleagues cook dinner, I would argue that's actually helping the men's careers, even if they're not in the lab or in their offices. Leisure time is important for germinating new ideas, and planning stuff out subconsciously. Plus the possible social benefits of leisure time that might feedback to your career, like having a beer after work with your colleagues.

    About a month ago there was a major meeting in my (and my husband's) field in our home town. Only one of us was going to the conference dinner, since we're really lame and haven't found a babysitter. Anyway, we played 'no, you go, no, you go' for a while, and eventually he said he'd go. But then I thought, no, even though I actually don't feel like going, I really need to go to this, because he travels more than I do and goes to these things out of town way more than I do. So I went, and had at least 5 really important conversations. Now I'm not sure if conference dinners count as work or leisure, but I definitely wasn't cranking data at the dinner.

    1. I agree about the value of leisure time. I think it is essential to have time when you aren't actively trying to solve work problems. I find that to really help me make breakthroughs, and there is research that supports this. But for me, my child care and housework time can serve that function, even if it isn't anywhere near as much fun as- say- going to the pub or going for a rollerblade by the bay. I get a lot of thinking done while doing the less brain-intensive child care and housework. The only problem is that if I have a brilliant idea while I am getting Petunia to sleep, I sometimes forget it before I can get out to write it down! In that respect, doing the dishes is actually better.

      I might have even more insights if I had more true leisure time- I don't know. But for me, the part of my home life that interferes with work isn't so much the fact that I can't go for long kayaks in the bay or whatnot and have deep thinking time. It is that sometimes the combination of what I need to remember for work and what I need to remember for home overloads my circuits. I have yet to get my lists set up to keep that from happening- all I've been able to do is minimize it.

      From a career perspective, I think there are three categories of time: direct work time, career improvement time, and everything else. Your conference dinner falls in the middle category. I struggle to spend sufficient time on this, too. I'm hoping this will get better as Petunia gets older and her bedtimes get easier.

    2. Interesting about thinking while doing home things. I have a really hard time thinking about anything else when I'm with my kids, and in our set-up, I do most of the kid stuff and he does most of the other stuff. Lately I've actually taken over some of the grocery shopping to give me some 'leisure' time, or at least some breathing space to think!

  2. I am sure that it IS easier for my spouse to have a stay-at-home wife. And if society were organized the way I wanted, I could work part-time while my children were small and not travel. When I rule the world...

    Our breaking point was exhaustion from sick kids and no family nearby and not knowing anyone. My former work was remarkably non-sexist and accommodating about parenthood. I was also remarkably hard-nosed about it.

    1. But do you think it is giving him an advantage at work? Or just giving him a less stressful life with more leisure time than he'd have otherwise? I am asking an honest question- I'm curious what people who have made this choice think. My boss (who has a stay at home wife) thinks it gave him an advantage when his kids were little, but I'm not sure. He didn't have to worry about child care, etc. But with only one salary, he had to buy a house far from work. His commute is over an hour each way. My commute and my husband's commute are both about 20 minutes. So in that one respect, we gained an advantage from both working. It is hard to know how it all balances out.

      The sick kids problem is a hard one. We solved it in a very expensive way, by flying my mother over to help when a kid got sick and needed to miss day care. But, as you say, even being able to do that was lucky, because we happened to settle some place within an hour flight of where my parents live. We looked into an "emergency nanny" service, but that would actually have been MORE expensive than flying my mom in. Which is pretty amazing.

    2. Oh, no, I wasn't talking about that at all. I was thinking about the exhaustion part on both our ends: we were a LOT more exhausted when we were both working.

      I think overall Dr. S is a lot more efficient than most of his colleagues, male or female, married, single, children or no children- he works 40-45 hours a week and gets about twice as much done as most of them. But that is unrelated to me staying home. The only advantage I see is it lowers his stress level about household things, while raising it about only-wage-earner-must-find-better-job. (I could also find a job, which I remind him frequently.) Also fewer sick days; we split the sick kid duty when we were both working.

    3. Thanks, @Jenny! That is interesting. I agree that my husband and I would probably have a lot less stress on the home front if one of us stayed home. But we'd have a lot more stress about money (or we'd be forced to essentially double our buffer, but on half the income). I think people often overlook the trade offs that people with stay at home spouses make.

      And YES on the sick days. This is slowly getting better now, though. Pumpkin almost never gets sick, and even Petunia stays fever-free more often these days.

    4. Our breaking point was exhaustion from sick kids and no family nearby and not knowing anyone.

      You are totally freaking me out. This is where we are at right now -- I have missed so much work this month on account of vacation plus sick kids plus well-kid checkups plus all sorts of little crap, that it's not even funny. I make twice what my husband does but I am a prof (read: have no boss, flexible work hours) so I do all the sick-kid childcare. It's really wearing me down.

      And travel while breastfeeding is absolutely brutal. I don't know if I hate more extra pumping to make a stash in the freezer, or the pump-and-dump while I am away. 14 months and counting...

      I know exactly how you feel with no help around. The mom of my kid's friend (she and the boy's dad are divorced, they share custody of kids; she remarried) actually told me today that in some respects the fact that she is divorced works out great because that way both her ex and she get 50% of the time for themselves and 50% of time with the kids, so they are better, more involved parents when they have the kids. I don't know how the kids feel. I sure know that hub and I are pretty exhausted all the freakin' time and we get no break, so we are certainly not our best, most involved parents all the time.

      Anyway, just rambling here... I don't have anything smart to say, just say "Puff! Pant! Tiiiired..."

    5. Oh, @GMP! Hugs. It does get better- you remember that, right? I thought we'd lose our minds when Petunia was in the peak of her frequent fevers. Even with my Mom flying over, one of us was taking at least a half day off every other week. And then there were all the doctor's appointments. But now it is a lot better. Hang in there. And look into hiring some help! One of the benefits I imagine comes with being a prof is having access to a campus full of conscientious young people who need to make money to help pay for the education... maybe you can hire one? (Of course, I've never actually been a prof or tried to hire help like this... but it seems like even if you hire someone to help out when you are also at home, it would take the edge off. No?)

      But yes, I was absolutely exhausted for most of Petunias second year (1 year old to 2 year old). It has only been in the last 6 months or so that I've felt things easing up.

      And it is not my place to say, but if you don't mind a little outside advice: even if your husband's job is less flexible, have him take a day off with the sick kid now and then. He gets sick days. He can use them, right? Consider them a down-payment on your mental health.

    6. Hang in there @GMP!! I second all of @Cloud's suggestions, especially the ideas about having your hubby use his sick time, too, as well as hiring some paid in-home care on a temporary basis until everyone is healthy again.

    7. @GMP - you have all my sympathy. I'm thrilled that the kids are starting school again and then I was like, holy crap now we have to start the round of everybody getting continually sick all fall and winter! Awesome! (Husband is 300 miles away, I do all the sick care also.)

      I *hate* traveling while pumping. Hate hate hate hate hate it. I so feel you there. I don't mind pumping so much at home, but on the go is awful, even when I bring the baby with me, as I have often done. I have pumped in strangers' offices (at a job interview!) and airport bathrooms and squeezed in pumping sessions between meetings while being horribly engorged, and once *on a bus*. I quit pumping the second my babes turned 12 months. Once they were on cow's milk, I let them drink down the supply of frozen and just let go of pumping. We still bf, but my trips were short enough that I never lost my milk w/o pumping (3-4 days). The LO is almost 2.5 and he's still nursing away.

    8. GMP: But for some people it's okay! (I also made twice what my spouse did.) And your spouse can do some sick kid care too. Really. Or, as Cloud says, you can probably find someone to watch your has-a-cold, not-that-sick kiddo and make your life easier.

      The other breaking point was my son's hospitalization for pneumonia. Sick sad 10-month-old = not doing THAT again. For us. Not for everyone.

      If I had it to do again we would probably hire a nanny (lots of reasons why we didn't) and use more of our second income to hire more help. Anyhow. It will get easier! Hang in there!

  3. Years ago, I got completely bent out of shape at one of my husband's work retreats when I met a wife of one of his colleagues. She mentioned that she'd just quit her job because he was working so much that it had caused her to deal with everything at home, which meant she was putting in a shoddy performance at work. It was like everything I found wrong with the men-women-work issue wrapped up into one little anecdote. It's not that her job was less important, it was that he was more aggressive about taking whatever time he needed for his work, and letting her pick up the pieces. But anyway, as you've pointed out, it's not any less exhausting to stay home with little kids than to work when you have little kids. Indeed, in some ways, working may be less exhausting because you can maybe catch 10 minutes to breathe in a conference room quietly. Which the kids don't necessarily allow.

    1. or go to the bathroom by oneself :)

    2. @Anandi- yes! I always go to the bathroom before I leave work, because it is my last chance to do so unaccompanied for many hours.

      And yes, @Laura, I personally do not see how me staying home would make things better for us as a family at all. I am temperamentally unsuited to it and I make more money than my husband. If anyone was going to stay at home, it would have been him, and he didn't want to. And somehow, when I explain that to nosy Nellies asking about this, that stops the conversation. Which I think says a lot. This ISN'T about what's best for the kids.

    3. Well I was happy to lean back when I had my first child seeing I had already been working a good 15 years. My pregnancy coincided with the beginning of the economic crisis in Italy and so my hours were starting to be cut back anyway, so it wasn't a hard decision to make ( I was teaching ESL in the telecom sector). Hubby had always been the main bread winner in our family, so yet another reason to cut back. Finally, although I did have my MIL available to help out with child care, she was dealing with depression and couldn't be counted on completely. All these factors together colluded to our making the decision to take it easy work-wise for a while.

      My kids are both in Primary School now and i am in different country, far from family, with a healthier economy. The kids are literally on holidays every 6 weeks for either a week or two, not to mention the summer hols which are 7 weeks this year. My boss where I work part time has been more than patient with my taking time off during these times. childcare like anywhere in the world is impossibly expensive and frankly can not be justified for the number of hours I work..

      My husband works a 10 hour day; I work afternoons, tend to the kids and their extra-curricular activities and most, but not all of the house-hold duties. This arrangement suits everyone for the moment. There is less stress on all concerned and time off is actually spent relaxing or doing something fun.

      If it stops working for us, we'll look at ways to change it but it is working for the present

    4. Anonymous3:50 PM

      I apparently do not take on the mental load for housekeeping in my family.

      Mother's helper: What would you like cleaned while the baby is nursing?
      me: I just care about the kitchen...ask DH when he gets home

      And then DH gets home and they don't ask
      and then he leaves again and they ask me again

      me: I just care about the kitchen...ask DH when he gets home

      Same when they're looking for an obscure cleaning product... like, uh, the vacuum. I know where we used to keep it but apparently it has been several years since it was in that closet. DH knows where it is. (Very difficult for a teenage Southern girl to believe that DH would know this things but DW does not. Also not used to being called Mrs. DH instead of Dr. Myname. And while I'm complaining, do you know how long it took to convince the preschool to call DH first on MW when I was teaching? Society just won't let me be a leech on my spouse.)

      But hey, I do the bills and financial planning, mostly.

  4. Anonymous6:31 AM

    I'm just glad our paid help starts today. We didn't quite hire a wife, but maybe the equivalent of three aunties. And now I leave the house to get a cavity filled.

    1. Yay for finding good paid help!

    2. Anonymous10:17 AM

      I just got a referee report done and now I'm taking a short lunch break while DC2 sleeps peacefully on someone else's lap. Yay. Finished my quesadilla, now back to work!

  5. Your "unscientific survey" of why women downsize very interesting, and also true from my observations. Many women I know get tired of the mental workload of managing work and home life. It seems even the most equality-minded husbands don't manage the household schedule as well. Our society is still very much set up for having one stay-at-home spouse, although of course having good childcare or family nearby can help.

    And thanks for the shout-out!


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