Monday, October 11, 2004

Work and Family

I've been spending time the last week or so at 11D, where the proprietor Laura has been hosting a blog conference on work and family. The gender politics of housework. The competing wants/needs of parents and non-parents in the workplace. What government should or shouldn't do for "nucular" families. Good stuff like that.

My bride and I, we're just hanging on, I feel. Trying to keep all the balls in the air, with a lot of drops or bobbles. We don't feel like we're doing a stellar job at home OR at the office. But neither of us wants to step completely out of work life for a substantial chunk of time, and I suppose we like the standard of living that our combined incomes afford us. In other words, we have a good-sized house in an attractive city with pretty good public schools. So things could be a lot worse. Money feels tight, however, and it's hard to see a time when it won't feel tight. The youngest gets out of day care in two years; the oldest enters college probably five years after that. Time is even tighter; we're harried and tired a lot.

Don't know if anybody saw "60 Minutes" last night -- a feature on professional women taking a hiatus in their careers to be full-time parents. It was a fairly thoughtful piece, but one undercurrent, to me anyway, was that Lesley Stahl was a little bit miffed that after all the crap she (and other women of her generation) took to carve out a place for women in the workplace, that the younger generation was "opting out" of that struggle.

One woman interviewed had been top of her class at Stanford Law School (I think it was Stanford; someplace high-falutin' like that), and she left her job to be with the kids while her husband, a surgeon-in-residency, brought home the bacon. The implication (or at least the proposition that she had to rebut) was that she was squandering her Stanford education.

I'm not quite doing justice to the 60 Minutes story. They discussed the problem of part-time work, namely how difficult it often is for part-timers to get satisfying assignments rather than busy work. They did interview a Harvard Business prof talking about innovative ways for companies to deal with the dynamic: perhaps maintaining an extended-leave relationship with an employee, with some peer contact and continuing education, for the 5-10 year period that he/she was a fulltime parent. But the story clearly viewed the dynamic as a problem, and its interviewees as economic assets, and education as a financial investment. (Three years of law school ain't a broadening experience like a semester in Paris, I realize, but I would have appreciated some lip service paid to the idea that a liberal education is a good in itself.) It sure would have been nice if stay-at-home dads with graduate educations and lofty career prospects could have been interviewed as well.

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