Final Words

All this week, we’ve been wrestling with the issues of life and work on this blog. I’ve been throwing out rapid fire posts and questions, which suited me quite well. I’m always more comfortable asking questions than providing answers. The discussion has been great. Thanks to everyone for participating.

I was thinking about how to conclude things, but we’ve discussed too much to wrap it all up in a neat little package right now.

One commonality that underlay the discussions was the struggle to improve one’s quality of life. For most, it did seem to involve some combination of family and work. Others needed more solitude and hobbies.

Disagreement centered around how to concoct this elixir of happiness. Should government and society intervene to lessen the obstacles for parents to work? Or did responsibility lie with the individual to keep it all together? Should men and feminists step up to table or were they doing their share? Should society be more child-friendly or were the kids all too visible already?

These issues must be talked about with some delicacy, because they’re open wounds. The guilt about the kids and the regret about the career are painful for many. Sometimes my posts were balanced; others weren’t. I hope I didn’t step on anyone’s toes. I was experimenting with the best way to get debate going.

After a week hiatus, I’ll be back to give some advice to other bloggers about how to replicate this blog conference model. I found it very rewarding and think others could organize debates around other topics.

Thanks again. Laura.

4 thoughts on “Final Words

  1. Laura, I’ll say it again: this was one of the very best things I’ve ever seen come out of the blogosphere. What a wonderful week. Thanks so much for pulling this together; please do it again sometime!

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  2. Laura, thanks for doing this. My life got crazy on Monday (sick/injured kids–two trips to the doctor) plus work pressures, so it was kind of typical of the kind of tensions you were highlighting. However, I consider myself pretty lucky that I have support at both work and home.

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  3. I’ve been following this discussion all week in fits and starts, but — like many readers, I suspect — have been too overwhelmed by teaching and parenting duties to contribute in the ways that I had hoped. I haven’t had time to look at all the contributions, but I’ve enjoyed the ones that I read, and I found the discussions thought-provoking and interesting. Thanks so much to Laura for putting this together!
    I don’t have time for more than a quick comment — apologies if this just repeats something that someone else has already said. I should note that the following concerns personal rather than institutional issues – what I say below concerns a kind of internal tension that I feel. In discussing this, I don’t mean to deny that there are also all sorts of unchosen institutional pressures that conspire to make things even more complicated.
    It occurred to me several times while reading the blog that many of the problems that bother me most in my daily balancing-act are just special instances of the more general difficulties that attach to living one’s life in multiple spheres simultaneously. I am less present and productive in the sphere of work than my colleagues for whom work is their main focus — but I am also less present and contributory at my children’s schools than my counterparts for whom parenting is their main focus. Likewise in the other spheres which I occupy peripherally — our synagogue, my very limited political involvement, etc: in each of these, I am far less present than those for whom it is a sole (or singularly focal) activity.
    Given that, I started thinking about what makes the tension I feel between parenting and academia seem so powerful (where the particular case I am considering is one where I am mother to two young children (ages 2 and 7), working in a full-time post at a demanding research university, and married to another academic with a similar full-time job). The remarks below offer one stab at an answer.
    When I compare myself to my single-focus counterparts in any given realm, I implicitly assume that the standards for appropriate contribution are those of the single-focus participant. In many of the cases, I am able to override that feeling rather readily, and accept that there is nothing wrong with participating in the realm in a circumscribed way. But I find this much more difficult in the case of either parenting or academic work – in both of those cases, I find myself reflectively endorsing my initial assessment that it is legitimate to adopt the stance of the single-focus participant. Indeed, both of these life-choices strike me as sufficiently absorbing that – at least as a regulative ideal – I would like to be able to engage in them in roughly the way that my full-focus counterparts do. But, of course, I cannot: time just doesn’t work that way.
    In part because of my instinctive dislike of traditional gender roles, I have tended to find it easier to come to terms with my non-full-time parenting role. Both of our children were home with a combination of parents and babysitters until 18 months, and then started at truly wonderful daycare program at 18 months. We are lucky that the daycare we found – a small child-centered program on the campus of a local retirement community – has been so outstanding: without that, things would have been much more difficult. But now that our older son is in elementary school, I find myself frustrated that I do not have time to do the sort of school-supporting activities that are available to those who are more time-focused on parenting. And I find myself having difficulty explaining my reluctance to do what seems to be “my share” (chaperoning skating, organizing the book sale) – in a way that seems like something other than excuse-giving.
    I suspect the reason I am finding things more difficult now than I did during the daycare years is that I am in direct regular contact with people who parent as their focal activity whose lives superficially resemble mine. (This is not true during the daycare years, where one of the consequences of being a “daycare parent” is that one’s primary social circle tends to be other daycare parents, and where the daily lives of non-daycare-parents so differs radically from one’s own.)
    Part of what makes things so much harder in the academic case is that there’s no equivalent of the “daycare years.” All along, the relevant comparison-class has felt like: plain old full-time academics. And in my case, at least, I have found it very hard not to feel frustrated by this.
    [Real world intrusion: I need to leave now to pick up my children from childcare. So the conclusion of the analysis is left to the reader. Such are the hazards of the dual-focus life…]

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