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How to be condescending when you’re trying not to be February 9, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, family, societal commentary.
Tags: , , , ,

There are few topics more fraught with angst than the mommy wars. A friend recently posted a link to a defensive volley from the stay-at-home mom court.  Supposedly, this response was amazing.

I thought it undermined its own point.

Let’s start with the first paragraph:

It’s happened twice in a week, and they were both women. Anyone ought to have more class than this, but women — especially women — should damn well know better.

The opener disgusted me immediately, and I almost quit reading.  Let’s start with the fact that I agree with his main point: that women who choose one path over another (in this case, motherhood or career) are not necessarily superior to one other.  However, the whole tone of the post was condescending toward women (and men!) and did ultimately end up being judgemental of working women.

But the opener set the tone, and the tone was that women are held to a higher standard than men.  It’s okay for men to say stupid things about stay-at-home mothers (but not parents?), but women somehow have this innate, caring response that ought to be the first thing out of their mouths.

Sorry.  It doesn’t work that way.  I’ve been a SAHM and a working mom.  People’s response to this is always one that comes from their perspective and takes no account of whether you’re doing what you want to or why.  When I wanted to be a SAHM mom, people told me I needed to be supporting my family.  When I didn’t want to be but was, people told me they were so jealous that I got to be at home.  When I was working, people told me I was selfish and needed to pay more attention to my kids.

At all of these points, I was also told by other people that I had made the right choice.  It’s funny how few people ever asked me what I wanted to do or if I was doing it.  The reality is that, in each of these situations, I was doing what needed to be done for the good of my family, and each response had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the perspective of the person speaking those words.

When I find out someone is staying home or working, my response is, “How do you feel about that?”  If they’re enjoying their current situation, a good response is, “Glad it’s working out for you.”  If they’re not, I wish them luck in getting things sorted out so they can be more comfortable.  It’s really not my place to say what’s best for them.

The post that started all this, however, didn’t.  It came down firmly on the side of women needing to be stay at home moms.

Of course not all women can be at home full time. It’s one thing to acknowledge that; it’s quite another to paint it as the ideal. To call it the ideal, is to claim that children IDEALLY would spend LESS time around their mothers. This is madness. Pure madness. It isn’t ideal, and it isn’t neutral. The more time a mother can spend raising her kids, the better. The better for them, the better for their souls, the better for the community, the better for humanity. Period.

No.  It’s not as cut and dried as that.  Some moms really don’t want to be home.  Some moms are better being around other adults: being the sole caretaker for children with no adult interaction makes them depressed or anxious.  (I believe this was covered in the 60s in Friedan’s Feminine Mystique.)  I wouldn’t doubt that having mom home all the time may be advantageous for some kids, but I don’t know that it’s always the best choice for the whole family.

If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

If mom is going nuts staying home with the kids, I seriously doubt that’s the best situation for the kids, either.  Having a depressed or anxious mom who views you as a toddling, diapered impediment to her happiness isn’t good for anything.  What do we tell people to do if they’re unhappy with their job?  Quit and find another because it’s not good to be in a stressful situation.  Obviously, quitting being a parent isn’t an option, but finding time away from parenting certainly is.

The other thing that irritated me about this post was this:

Yes, my wife is JUST a mother. JUST. She JUST brings forth life into the universe, and she JUST shapes and molds and raises those lives. She JUST manages, directs and maintains the workings of the household, while caring for children who JUST rely on her for everything. She JUST teaches our twins how to be human beings, and, as they grow, she will JUST train them in all things, from morals, to manners, to the ABC’s, to hygiene, etc. She is JUST my spiritual foundation and the rock on which our family is built. She is JUST everything to everyone. And society would JUST fall apart at the seams if she, and her fellow moms, failed in any of the tasks I outlined.

Moms don’t need to be SAHMs to do this.  In fact, what’s most irritating about this that you don’t need to be a mom at all: dads do this, too.  This paragraph basically went back on the whole “I respect the choices that other parents make comment” and went ahead and tried to put those SAHMs up on a pedestal…doing exactly the thing to working moms (and ALL dads) that the writer was originally complaining about.  In fact, he even says so.

The people who completely immerse themselves in the tiring, thankless, profoundly important job of raising children ought to be put on a pedestal.

No, I disagree.  Parenting is a tiring, thankless, profoundly important job.  And a lot of people have tiring, thankless, and profoundly important careers, too, although they at least usually get monetary compensation.  Also, many people have jobs where they are greatly appreciated and are not easily replaceable.  Okay, maybe someone who is only looking at your payroll may think so, but chances are that many of your coworkers don’t think that…even if you do get on their nerves.

We get a lot of things wrong in our culture. But, when all is said and done, and our civilization crumbles into ashes, we are going to most regret the way we treated mothers and children.

No, I don’t think that mothers and children will be the only victims.  I think the problem is simply how we treat other people in general.  In general, we tend to be caught up in the “grass is always greener” syndrome without a realistic view of what other people are dealing with.  Most people are really just trying to get through their day and don’t realize that they may be simultaneously in worse and better situations than the next person.

I once was very jealous of a friend because of all the academic honors he had achieved.  He was so accomplished, and I felt like a failure next to him.  One day he told me he felt the same because I had a happy marriage and a wonderful family.  That was the day I realized that we all picked our own paths and had our own priorities.  We always have to give up something to get what we want because no one has infinite time and resources.  We almost always find the path of our lives takes unexpected twists and turns.  And if people could respect and understand that, we’d all be in a better place.  We’re not going to get there, though, by saying we respect all those paths and then telling someone they chose the wrong one.


She loves me more… November 22, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in older son, pets.
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Tonight, the older son jumped over Gigadog.  I asked him to please step over her carefully.  If he jumps over her, he could slip and miss her, and he’d fall on her.  Having someone fall on her would likely freak her out, and she would bite him.  This would leave me in a dilemma: I have an injured dog and an injured child.  Who do I bring for medical care first?

I told the older son that I would likely bring Gigadog because she loves me more.  He looked stunned.

“It’s not that I love her more, but she loves me more.  She sits and pants and wags her tail when I get home.  You do none of those things,” I told him.

“It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s that I just express it differently,” he responded.

“I don’t recognize the way you express it.  It would be much better if you panted.”

I’m not sure *anyone* recognizes the way teenagers express affection toward their parents.  Dogs are so much easier to read.

Scientist, with kids February 19, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, education, engineering, family, feminism, grad school, homeschooling, older son, personal, physics, research, science, societal commentary.
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FSP has a post asking about the Local Mom Effect.  That is, she wonders if being in a department with more women professors who have kids affects the outlook of younger women in the field.  I find this post interesting…but also, I hate to say it, irrelevant.

Let’s put it this way: what women?!

When I started school at Caltech, I knew of two women professors out of all of math, physics, and astronomy.  I only ever met one of them, knew she had no kids. I knew nothing about the other professor.  When I decided to go back to school a few years later, I ended up in a physics dept. where the professors were all men.  Later, I ended up in an electrical engineering department where the professors were all men.

I guess that, in my mind, the notion of being one of the few women in the department was no different than being one of the few women with kids in the department.  When I went back to school, I had a kid already, so it wasn’t like I really had a choice about whether or not to be a childless woman in physics or engineering.

I will say that when I originally got pregnant as an undergrad at Caltech, I was told by my advisor that women couldn’t do calculus while pregnant and that I should drop out.  Of course, he was a guy, so I seriously doubted he understood how women’s brains work while pregnant.  (And it turns out that I can do calculus great while pregnant…I just can’t speak a full sentence coherently.)  However, I guess I never took it as a message that women with kids don’t belong in science…I inferred that he meant it more personally, and that I myself was not a good fit for science.  (Fortunately, major hopping got boring after a while, I ended up back in physics.)

When I went back to school, however, I felt that being the only woman or one of a few was very advantageous for several reasons.  First, if I was the only woman or one of a very small number, I was already an oddity.  A woman with kids is probably not much more odd than a woman without, and there was really no one to compare myself to (or say that I was doing it wrong).  Second, I went back to school in North Dakota, and it really seems like people here more or less expect you to have kids no matter what you’re doing.  I know that grates on some people, but for me, it was a blessing: having kids is just another part of life, and most people here learn to do their jobs while having them.  (Also, I can’t recall anyone having a fit if I said I couldn’t make it to something because of kid-related issues.)  Third, I was older than the average undergraduate or even grad student, so I think people assumed that it was pretty normal for someone my age to have kids.  The fact that the younger students didn’t have kids was simply a function of age and never made me feel self-conscious that I did have kids.  Finally, when I started my MS, my advisor was fine with the fact that I was homeschooling the older boy and would only be doing my degree part-time.  He said this was really no different than other students in the department who were working full-time and pursing their degree part-time, as well.

I have been told, especially when doing my PhD classes, that it was “really cool to see a woman in science with kids”, especially by some fellow grad students.  Until I started my PhD, I really hadn’t expected it to be a big deal.  It had never occurred to me that I might be a “role model”…but I keep hearing it more than I ever expected to. I also suspect it’s because I often had kids with me or family issues that were more apparent to fellow grad students.  Many professors try to maintain a more professional relationship with their students, and it doesn’t surprise me that many grad students don’t see how having kids affects the lives of the professors or that they don’t realize some professors have kids at all.

Realistically, I only got here because I didn’t really know that what I was doing was unusual in any way.  If I had been surrounded by women who had kids but never let it on or didn’t have kids, I might have felt self-conscious about being a mom already.  With no one to compare to, however, I just assumed that it wasn’t any more abnormal than a woman without kids.

The pink plate January 10, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, gifted, older son, younger son.
Tags: , , , , ,

Yesterday, I reposted a link to the article about the teenage boy who stuck up for his younger brother.  The younger brother apparently wanted a video game with a girl character and a purple game controller.  When his dad saw what he had, he flipped out, and the teenager told his dad off.

While I don’t think his dad reacted at all appropriately, I also know that this is a very difficult thing to deal with as a parent.  I know that gifted kids tend to be more androgynous, and as luck would have it, I have two emotionally sensitive boys.  The older boy never really seemed to be into ‘girl things’ as a kid, but it was easy to tell that he operated a lot more on feeling than logic.  Society expects males to be stoic, even at a young age.  There’s been research on how this negatively impacts boys in school because of interactions with teachers who expect otherwise.

My younger son has always seemed somewhat interested in ‘girly’ things, starting at about 3 or 4 when he was in love with anything having to do with Dora the Explorer.  He wanted to paint his room pink and decorate it with Dora and Boots.  I never did it…but that was more because I didn’t have time.  But when he asked me to get a Dora the Explorer backpack, I declined.  However, I have painted his toenails.

I have had concerns in the past because at his previous school, there were some boys there that were obviously being bullies.  While this stuff doesn’t bother me, the younger son has always been extremely emotive, and I didn’t want to bring on any additional bullying when he wasn’t able to emotionally handle it.  Putting him in a bad situation is asking for a meltdown, which would make the bullying worse.  Painting toenails was okay because I didn’t think too many people at his gymnastics class would freak out.  Painting fingernails would have been visible at school, and I’m sure a lot of emotional trauma would have ensued, and, probably worse, I don’t know that the teachers would have done anything to prevent it given the problems we were already seeing.

At his new school, he has requested to wear a bracelet to school.  He happens to love animals, and this one had cats.  I was okay with it, but I was fairly sure the dress code at the school doesn’t allow jewelry, so I said to ask the teacher.  The teacher said he shouldn’t wear it, but I don’t honestly know if it’s because it’s a ‘girl’ thing or the dress code.  However, given I’d already said the dress code was likely to forbid it, at least he’ll feel like it’s a rule for everyone and not that he’s being singled out as a boy who wants to wear jewelry.  I don’t get the feeling that they would let other kids pick on him if he chose to wear nail polish or something at this school, as well, so I would probably let him do it there if he asked.  (Although this would require another good look at the dress code, first.)

He also, very shortly after the Dora obsession, started making the connection between girls and pink.  For a while, this turned into, “I don’t want to have anything to do with pink because I’m a boy and pink is a girl’s color.”  After all the stuff before, I somewhat feel like this was my fault.  He used to love pink, but now it’s a girl’s color, and I go back and forth wondering if I caused it because of all the Dora stuff.

He took the ‘pink is a girl’s color’ to mean that all girls must like pink.  Just a couple weeks ago, he was asking me what color to make a character on a Lego website, apologizing that pink was not an option.  I told him that I didn’t like pink all that much.  He seemed surprised when I told him my favorite colors are actually purple and blue.  (Growing up, my favorite color was always blue, and I never really got any shrek for it.  It makes me very mad that society puts this double standard on boys and girls.)

We have a set of multicolored plastic plates that we sometimes use for lunch, and at some point, the younger boy started to refuse any food that was on the pink one.  The older boy tried to set a good example in these situations.

I’ll take the pink plate because it doesn’t threaten my masculinity.

I doubt the younger boy understood exactly what he meant, but he got the gist of it: it’s okay for boys to eat off pink plates.  Still, it’s taken a while for him to come to terms with this.  I have been intentionally giving him the pink plate, but it was only last week when he finally took it.  At first, I thought he didn’t notice, but as he finished up his lunch, he said that he’s okay with using the pink plate now.

This has actually been a very difficult thing to deal with.  My younger boy seems far more aware of what people think than the older one was, but at the same time, he’s obviously interested in things intended for a female audience.  He likes pretty things, and he really loves animals.  Trying to find stuff on cats and dogs for boys is tough: most of the age appropriate animal-related stuff that isn’t covered in garish pink is about sharks and dinosaurs.  This is the same kid who has talked about wanting to be a vet and will get very upset at me if I go to the pet store without him because he HAS to see the kitties up for adoption.  But liking cats and dogs doesn’t seem to be gender neutral in our society.  This is completely ridiculous.

As a parent, I find this hard to navigate.  I don’t think it should matter if he likes pink things, and I don’t want anyone making him feel bad for his interests.  I’ve had to deal with enough of that myself (A girl who likes physics and math and engineering?!) that I don’t want him to have to deal with it.  On the other hand, I don’t want him to walk into a situation where someone might make fun of him and not be prepared to deal with it.  I guess, because of that, I have been erring on the side of caution when making these decisions…but also fear that even those decisions may be giving him the message that there are girl things and boy things, and that it’s not okay for him to like girl things.  I’m not sure how to avoid both problems simultaneously, so for now, I try to look at which is the bigger problem for each individual situation.

Long work hours February 16, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, family, societal commentary.
Tags: disabilities, , part-time,

I’m not going to spend a ton of time belaboring this point, but there is something that gets me about the notion that one must spend around 60 hours/wk (or more!) to succeed in academia and even some industry jobs.

I know tons of women and a few men who would love to have part-time job when their kids are small and/or in school. And honestly, it makes me insane to see people who are working enough for two people when it would benefit everyone to break the work load down and give some of that to someone who would like to work part-time.

However, it’s not just parents who would like to work part-time…or even have jobs that really are full-time, not full-time and a half.

My husband gets to be my unfortunate example for this one. He has rheumatoid arthritis, and one of the side-effects of this is chronic fatigue. Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid doesn’t just attack joints, it causes the immune system to go after the whole body with a focus on joints. This is exhausting for the whole body, and within a decade of diagnosis, about 2/3 of RA patients end up on permanent disability. While my husband has been very fortunate because his condition isn’t that severe, he has spent a lot of the last decade exhausted.

At one point, he was working 60-80 hour weeks shortly after our son was born. This was so wearing on him that when we all got a stomach bug (which was gone in a few hours for the rest of us), he ended up in the hospital.

It was completely unnecessary. One month in delivering the product was probably going to make little or no difference except that the company could post just slightly higher profits for that year rather than the next.

People who have medical issues or disabilities are perfectly capable of making a contribution, yet it seems like they need to be given special dispensation to work “normal” hours. It makes no sense to force people into these situations to begin with, but honestly, people with need not be singled out. No one should really have to work that hard to prove themselves or keep their jobs. All that does is push people to burn out. In some cases, I’ve seen healthy people end up very sick with all the stress and time they put into their job.

I know I’m dreaming, but it would be really nice if people could have a healthy work life balance and that the workplace was able to understand that the balance point may be different for everyone. It seems like there is no getting away from the notion that a “good, serious” worker is one who puts in more hours than everyone else, while anyone who can’t do that is slacking.


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