Monday, July 02, 2012

On Balance And Cats

There was a recent much-discussed article about work-life balance and having kids and so on.  I read a particularly inflammatory comment on you-know-where (hi, Sara!) about how everyone has commitments that are JUST as important and time-sensitive to them as having kids and so it shouldn't be about people with kids, but work-life balance.

Well, the person was half right.

When I was working, I got a free pass to leave at 5:30 without question*, which was deeply unfair, since childless co-workers were asked to work late.  (I wouldn't have done without kids, either.)  If someone else really, really wanted to take a yoga class, and their work was getting done, why should it matter when they left?  Personal time is personal time; people should be able to do their work and then leave it at home.

At the same time, a child is a dependent.  The cat can use the litterbox and the auto-cat-feeder; the child cannot.  It is just like being responsible for the care of an elderly person, or an adult who is ill or not able to take care of him- or her- self.  If the nurse leaves at 5, someone has to be home at 5; it is not negotiable.  It is not, in fact, necessary to be home precisely when one's competent, adult partner arrives home from work.  Dependents are just that: needy, not at all independent, large or small people who require your assistance to meet their basic needs.  My spouse can make his own damn dinner if he needs to.

This person on FB claimed that it was as important to this person to be at home with possessions, pets, and partner as it was for another person to be home with her children.  This is quite possibly true.  However, the possessions do not NEED this person, and the children DO need someone, and the nanny has to go home. 

What I'm trying to say is, I think parents get a free pass because it is implied that their 'time with kids' is part of the essential dependency of the children, which is true for some things (daycare pickup!) and not true for others (sports games!).  People without kids may have time-sensitive commitments (picking up kitty from the vet!  doctor appointment!) that cannot be done by others, and these should also be respected, as should people's desires to not work all the bloody time.  But there are practical differences between having dependents and... not.  They don't make automatic baby-feeders.

*The daycare was required by law to call the cops and social services at 6:15, for kids not picked up.  I did tell my boss this.


  1. Yeah.
    In fairness, there is some context that most (all?) of the people who were commenting are people I know from a job where traveling 4 days a week, every week, and working 70hr per week is totally normal. So one could argue that dependents or not, it's hard to have balance with that kind of schedule.

    But even so, I loved the work, so it was balanced enough for me, but the addition of kids threw that all off, because I can be gone from my spouse for a few days but not my infants (logistics, quality of interaction over the phone. Etc etc).

  2. Good point, and well expressed! Though, it makes me think about automatic baby-feeders and just how that might work... Except, of course, the little darlings need human interaction during feeding to develop their brains, etc.
    I think work-life balance is way out of whack for most of the country. DH was pointing out yesterday, that most well-paying jobs require more (sometimes much more) than 40 hours per week. Doctors, lawyers, academics all work 60 hours plus regularly. Dentists and radiologists are rare exceptions. Hunter-gatherers are supposed to work 4 hours per day to get their food and shelter needs met, then have the rest of the day to pursue unnecessary interests. I'm not saying we should all return to that life, but it is interesting to look at where we come from and where we currently are.

  3. Great post! I've seen in my own life that it's much easier to brush aside things like yoga and cats than my child. You just CAN'T (and hopefully don't want to) do it.


    Thanks for including the other kinds of dependents--I think that's a very real and oft overlooked factor. I admit to being a lot less sympathetic to the needs of working parents before I was a working parent. Perhaps that's part of it. (Not to be all you just don't understand if you don't have babies, because lord does that sentiment piss me off...)

    I'm grateful I have a job where I am responsible for my own time management. I can't imagine being on someone's clock. I wish more people had this luxury.

  5. I keep trying to be on both sides of this. That is, I agree that children and other dependents are non-negotiable commitments. That is, any time management that is done needs to be done around the drop offs and pickups and home health care aid schedules. But I also want to say that one's choice or lack of choice (I mean infertility) in the area of procreation shouldn't be what determines whether one is compelled to work more for the same rewards. And similarly, the fact that one has dependents should not, ideally, jeopardize one's career trajectory. If one wants to work part-time or take a few years off, that's fine, that's one's own choice. But if one wants to keep working full time, but one's work situation defines full time as 90+ hours (hello, bench science insanity), and therefore pushes one out, that shit's not right. In case of science, I think we need more money in the system, so that competition is not as crazy and institutions can afford to expect less time and less productivity from PIs, who can then expect less from the people in their labs. I have no idea how to fix that in other areas. I know that my European friends find our paltry vacation days untenable, and our work hours insane. But I think our culture is steeped in a false sense of sleep deprivation as a valid yard stick for one's worth. And I have very little hope that this will shift significantly in the near future.

    1. Oh, I agree entirely: it's completely unfair that kids are a free pass for working less, and they shouldn't be, but... Everyone should work sane hours, and science needs more money and FEWER people and some better funding allocation and... who knows what.

  6. I can tell you how I handle this as a manager- I take everyone at their word for how important/non-negotiable a non-work commitment is. I have a developer who would stop working for us if we tried to require him to work during Comic-Con. I myself once considered my yoga class non-negotiable, because it was what kept my repetitive strain injury from flaring up and sending me out of work on worker's comp... And on the flip side, while I greatly prefer to leave work on time due to day care pick up, my husband can cover for me in a pinch. So I will occasionally agree to stay for a late meeting. It is easier to get me to do that on a Wednesday than a Thursday, though, because swim lessons are on Thursdays and I know it sucks to try to do that with the toddler in tow.

    I've ranted about this on my blog a couple of times. I think we do ourselves a big disservice when we expect special treatment for parents. But that doesn't mean that I think parents should work ridiculous hours. I think no one should. It is actually counterproductive as long term long hours have been shown to be ineffective (also a favorite ranting subject of mine).


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