Friday, November 30, 2012

My Dual Part-Time Parent Plan

My brother and sister-in-law were in town for the week to see us and the kids and my sister (who lives near us) and to see NYC, all decked out in Christmas lights. NYC really is beautiful at Christmastime, and I'm really glad they were here to share it with us. I was a little sad that Chad has been working even crazier hours than normal, so he was only able to join us for a NY pizza one night. It did make me stop and think about Chad's schedule, though, as a father and a working man. I think we get certain messages from society and, speaking as a Christian, from the Church about how we are to be as mom-parents and dad-parents that strike me as a bit off. I realize I may be setting up straw men here, so feel free to call me out, if you disagree.

Message #1: Dad should be the bread-winner, no matter how hard he has to work, to provide for stay-at-home mom and kids.
This message means well, insisting that kids need a stable parent (Mom) to raise them and care for them while the other (Dad) is working. What bothers me is the unintended consequences: Dad ends up taking a job he hates to pay the bills, or a job that has him working 50-60-70-80 hours a week, or even two jobs. This message insinuates that the only thing children really need Dad for is his money/provision and a little guidance on the weekends. I emphatically disagree with this. Children need their fathers and need them more than just bath-time some evenings and weekend afternoons.

Message #1A (Church-version of above): Men are created by God to provide, which means they must be the bread-winners, and women are created by God to nurture, which means they must stay at home to raise children.
Pretty darn similar to Message #1, except justified by God's differential design of men and women. Now, I'm totally on board with the idea that God created men and women differently for some specific plan, but I am just not convinced that He created men to work at a job away from home most of the time while women struggle by themselves to raise children. God created both men and women as parents. Plus, He must think pretty highly of the importance of fatherhood, since He calls Himself Father. If, as Christians, we're doing God's work by insisting that men bear the burden of full-time work while women raise the children, I don't think we're fully appreciating the importance of fathers. Also, I don't think this view really appreciates the fact that God may have given women gifts that are being ignored, even repressed, in this scenario.

Message #2: It's the new millenium, both parents should work, and children can be raised by daycares/schools. Independence is good for you!
This message also intends well, since it's the natural outgrowth of the feminist movement. Women should become exactly like men, as men currently exist. Since men currently work 50+ hours a week, if women want to be equal, then they too should work 50+ hours a week. This is clearly just stressing everyone out. And we are completely devaluing parenting in general. We're saying that daycares and schools do just as good a job as parents? We are paying $20,000 a year for someone else to teach our children? Now, I'm not totally qualified to speak to this, since my oldest is not quite 3, but it rubs me wrong that we expect others to care for and teach our children as well as we could. Reminds me of Plato's Republic, the disturbing part of the book.

Message #2A (Church counter-position to the above): Men are created by God to provide, so they can keep doing whatever they're doing, but women are created by God to nurture - AND secular schools are trying to destroy our children - so good mothers will stay home to raise their children, but the BEST mothers will homeschool their children. Bonus points for every child you homeschool. Extra bonus points for having them memorize Scripture.
Okay, I'm poking a little fun here. In all seriousness, I do think parents should be much more involved in their children's schooling than they generally are. Memorizing Scripture is also probably good for all of us. But, again, this insists that Dads should still spend the majority of their time and guilts Moms into homeschooling. Well, heck, what if it's Dads who should homeschool and Moms who should provide? Well, that just screws up the whole created by God for specific tasks argument.

Message #3: It's the new millenium, so Dads can stay home, if they want, and Moms can go to work, if they want.
This message has interesting intentions, freeing individuals up to work or parent as they see fit or feel called to do. A couple of issues, still. Again, we're saying one parent is more important than the other, one is disposable for 50+ hours a week. Also, we're beginning to say that "good" Dads want to stay home. Let's just put everyone on various guilt trips, right? If you're a good Dad, you'll stay home, if you're the typical, emotionally-distant, non-nurturing kind of Dad, it's okay for you to go to work.

Those are the main messages that I feel like I hear, and I feel uncomfortable with all of them. Hence, my frustrated post last time. What's the answer? Some might suggest retreating to a family farm or something, but, as a Christian, I think we need to learn to live in such a way as to impact culture, to be in but not of.

At this moment in time, I would love to see some crazy system, where Moms and Dads both work something like 25-ish hours a week, so we might call it the "Dual Part-Time Parent Plan," and it might work out something like this:
Monday - Mom works 6 hours, Dad stays home with kids.
Tuesday - Mom works 6 hours, Dad stays home with kids.
Wednesday - Mom and Dad each work 6 hours, babysitter or family or tutor with kids.
Thursday - Mom and Dad each work 6 hours, babysitter or family or tutor with kids.
Friday - Mom stays home with kids, Dad works 6 hours.
Saturday - Mom stays home with kids, Dad works 6 hours.
Sunday - Everyone's at home together.

This model would not be easily adopted because Americans love weekends. Honestly, though, we spend half of our weekends just trying to rest from the stressful week. Or we travel and exhaust ourselves more. This kind of model would work better if people lived close to family and friends and didn't travel as much. Now, I know, Chad and I are traveling fools, but we would probably prefer to see family more regularly for something like Saturday night dinner and just take a week off to travel somewhere cool. That's totally doable with my "Dual Part-Time Parent Plan."

Does anyone else feel these messages in our culture? Do you think the arguments I set up are too simplistic or don't adequately represent the true message? Are there any messages that I missed? I churn through these thoughts actually quite often, and my sister is probably sick of hearing them, so I need new insight from other people! Comment below! :)

Added 12/2/12:
I would like to note that I know parents who are amazing parents, in spite of difficult work circumstances. In some cases, just the father works, and both parents are extremely involved. Or both parents work and work hard, and they're very in tune with their kids' lives. I hear tell of fathers who stay at home and working mothers who are still present for the kids' lives. I don't want to sound like I'm saying that these situations make it impossible to parent and parent well, but I do think these messages are pervasive in our culture and make parenting, arguably a phenomenally important job, even more difficult than it already is. And, yet, think, when you hear a woman lamenting that working is difficult and then say that parenting is phenomenally important, what's your first thought? I'll bet it's, "Well, then, lady, stay home with your kids." And I just want you to think about that immediate mental jump.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gender roles on my mind

Lately, my teaching days have been increasingly stressful. As I type this sentence, I say to myself, "duh." Really, though, as with all things in life, I feel like I start out fairly organized. At the beginning of the semester, my syllabi were all neat and tidy. I would make these very detailed lecture notes and review them several times before class, marking when I would need to write something on the board. Even when I was getting to class early and staying late in order to pump milk to bring home for Ewan, I was more ready.

Today, I woke up and really, really didn't want to get out of bed. Ewan's first bottle was at 4:00 am. Thank goodness Chad was rested enough that he didn't mind giving him that one! Usually that's my duty. Ewan was up again at 5:30am, so I got up then, and Cora was right after him. The morning rushed along, Laura came, and before I knew it, I was walking very quickly to catch my train and trying to piece together my Social Psych lecture in my head.

Commuting, class, another class, more commuting, and I get home just in time for Ewan to be asking for his second-to-last bottle while Cora's asking for dinner.

Oh no, what's for dinner. Gosh, don't all the moms out there hate that question. Sometimes, I am so on my game. I have this cute little printable that I made, and I order groceries days ahead of time and plan out all our little meals. Heck, sometimes I even have a meal in the crock pot.

But more times than I'd like to admit, I come home and my little orange printable is of no help at all. Kids crying, my head is in the fridge, and I'm wondering what I can piece together. For instance, tonight was: black beans from a can, heated up with leftover chicken in a pineapple salsa, poured over minute rice, served with a side of eat-the-spinach-before-it-goes-bad. Actually, I thought it was kind of tasty.

Well, Cora took one bite and said, "It's spicy!" It was mild pineapple salsa, so I really didn't think it was spicy, but who am I to force a toddler to eat mild peppers? Sooo, she ate PB&J. Happily, I suppose that's the important point. Then, it was clean up time. How does a mom handle cleaning up dinner with a toddler and a baby?

The toddler helps,

and the baby either takes his evening cat nap or cries.

Then, it's bath, books, and bed for Cora - don't forget to call Dada to say goodnight. Then, get Ewan for his last bottle, and let him play on the high pile rug while I edit a research proposal. He finally goes to bed and mama needs a beer and some major decompression time. But not too much decompression time because 4:30am comes early. (Short rhetorical vent of frustration: WHY the heck can't I break this 4:30am thing?! Cora never had these sleeping problems. We do a controlled cry it out, we make sure the evening catnap the night before is short, we give him a bottle as late as possible in the evening before. *sigh*)

Does anyone out there want to guess what one of my class discussions was on today?

Gender roles and women in the work place.

Now, I've got a beer in my hand, and I'm thinking I really want to read a leisure book for a few minutes and just conk out in bed, so this is going to be a to-be-continued post. But, being a modern mother is hard. I'm not saying it's not hard for the men. I mean, I know Chad doesn't want to work until all hours of the night. But it's not easy on the women either, that's for sure.

I will say that I am so, so glad that Ewan hit the six-month mark and we transitioned successfully onto formula. Because nursing is freaking hard.

A teaser thought, so you can anticipate the next post: Why do women tend to not get the high-power, high-pay, high-prestige jobs in the way that men do? Do women just lack aggression, leadership skills, and the get it done attitude or mental acuity? Do women choose lower-paying jobs so they can have part-time or flexible work hours? Are men and women so steeped in their gender roles of men should make the money and women should take care of the house that women go literally crazy when they attempt to work and take care of the house so one has to go?

Is it worth it? I would love for my kids to grow up with a father who doesn't have to work all.the.time and a mother who is successful and competent and contributing to society somehow. Is this rigamarole worth it, though?

Oh, I'm rambling. If you have thoughts, do share. I need to go let mine ferment.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Post-election thoughts

The days just after the general election always bother me. It's like we've decided that the single, most important act we can do as citizens of this country is to vote. We say, "You're a good American, as long as you vote. We don't care what you do for the rest of the four years, but if you vote, you are an amazing person."

So, we wait in line for a few hours, vote, get a sticker, and post on Facebook, "See? I voted!" And we think our civic duty has just been completed.

If our guy loses, we lean back in our chairs, smack our hands together, and say, "I wash my hands of this mess. The next four years isn't my fault or my problem." In fact, when our guy loses, we secretly want things to go badly so we can say, "See, I told you so" and get our guy in office next go-round.

If our guy wins, we lean back in our chairs, breathe a sigh of relief, and say, "Whew, my job here is done. I elected the right guy, and he'll take care of the rest for us."

But voting is not the most important thing we can do as Americans. Honestly, if we don't live in Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, or Florida, our vote probably was meaningless. But if we're searching for a way to truly impact lives around us, perhaps we should take a moment to actually look around us.

If we cared as much about local politics as we do about the general election, imagine the good we could do for our neighbors.

But I know local politics is difficult for us in our 20s and 30s to get excited about. Our generation is on the move. My husband and I have lived in Texas, Colorado, Tennessee, New Jersey, and New York. I'm not even sure I knew the mayors of more than half of the cities in which I've lived. (And I'm not even counting study abroad or working abroad experiences.)

In fact, let me fess up to how my moving lifestyle has affected my own political actions. I wasn't even registered to vote in NY. I still had my NJ license. I remembered checking the box when getting my NJ license to automatically register me to vote, but I guess it didn't go through because NJ didn't have me on the books as a registered voter. So, I didn't even vote this election. The pressure to vote in the general election is so great that I haven't even admitted this to most of my friends. But, the rational side of me knows that my vote wouldn't have even mattered in NJ or NY.

If I don't stay in one city or state long enough to ensure that I'm licensed to drive there and registered to vote there, how can I possibly say that I'm going to get involved with local politics?

And all I can think about is how badly I want to move back to Texas.

So, how can our generation, so open to moving, so transitory, how can we focus more on local politics, which is where we can make the most difference?

I don't know, and I'm trying to figure this out for myself. How do you get involved with your local politics or communities or churches? How do you plug in with your neighborhood? This migratory girl is looking for some feedback/suggestions and hoping to inspire you to plug in locally too.

P.S. Like the new color scheme? Hoping to make more changes soon.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Part-time Mama

I want to take a moment to talk about life as a part-time working mom.

Working moms and stay-at-home moms often seem to propose that working part-time is the end all, be all perfect solution to life. I'm not so sure, though. I often wonder about going to work full-time or quitting my part-time gigs to focus on the kids full-time. Right now, I'm in the part-time limbo. Honestly, I'm trying to decide if I'm happy, and maybe writing through things will help.

I'm an adjunct faculty member at Molloy College, where I teach two classes. I'm teaching Intro Sociology again. This third time around, and I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it. Actually, I'm probably overly confident, since there have been several classes where I walk in with only a vague idea of what we're supposed to cover for the day and the notes I prepared last year. I'm also teaching an upper-level class, Social Psychology. I love the material that we're covering in that class - identity, group interaction, attraction and relationships, anger and prejudice - all super fascinating. But it is hard to keep up with the planning! Flying by the seat of my pants hardly even covers it. I'm scrambling, constantly. The only thing on my side is that I feel much more confident in the classroom, so even if I'm panicking on the inside ("How am I going to make this discussion stretch another 20 minutes?!"), I think I'm better about appearing calm. I get pretty good vibes from both my Intro and Social Psych class.

But I'm not just a teacher. I'm a teaching mom, and that's what makes life hard. On teaching days, I get myself and the kids ready, pack my lunch, and head out the door at the same time as Chad. (We have a really fantastic part-time nanny who stays with the kids all day.) I commute an hour and a half, via train, then shuttle, and the shuttle gets to the campus just in time for me to eat lunch while pumping. I then have 15 minutes to make copies and get to class. My classes are back-to-back, then I rush back to pump before I need to catch the shuttle to catch the train. Then, I go home, make dinner, give baths, read books, and tuck kiddos into bed - whew! Makes me tired to think about it.

A teacher's tasks are only half (or a third) classroom time, especially when teaching a class the first time around. Prepping for class, writing exams, and grading are done at home, during nap time or TV time.

My other part-time job is editing, also done at home, often after the kiddos go to sleep. This is the time of the year when I get the most freelance editing requests for academic journal articles, grant proposals, personal statements, all sorts of stuff. I like the editing, though, so I don't want to say no!

Oh, yeah, and because I'm a home-maker, I have to squeeze housework, finances, cooking, etc in there. One advantage of being a NYC mom is that we have a wash-and-fold laundromat downstairs, and I often order groceries to be delivered. So, really, I'm quite luckily in that regard.

But life has gotten a bit easier in the last couple of weeks because I decided to transition Ewan onto formula. It's always a wrestle with guilt no matter when you wean, but I decided that breastfeeding for 6 months was pretty good. I forget how much easier it is to bottle feed rather than breastfeed! I lay him on the couch, hand him his bottle, and he holds it himself while I work next to him or read a book to Cora.

So, such is the life of a part-time working mom. Is this the best combination? If I worked full-time, I'd have the nanny do things like clean the house and make dinner. If I stayed at home, I wouldn't have to do class prep or edit during nap time or after bed. Being part-time means I don't have the benefit of either, but I have the responsibilities of all the above. Is this the best way of life?

I'm not sure.

But I know that what I do want to work on is worrying less about all the tasks, getting done what I can, but making time to pause an enjoy little moments with my kids - playing legos and teaching letters to Cora, making silly "bababababa" noises with Ewan. Those moments are important, and I don't want to miss them. But I also love having a job of some sort. Oh, modern motherhood!