There's a very cool new blog up called WoLFi TaLEs. AztecRose is a PhD student who is using this blog as a resource for her dissertation work on work/life family balance. She calls this "interconnectivity", and she has some fascinating ideas.
I've been holding onto her recent post full of questions, waiting for time to answer it fully - which says something in itself about balance. Tonight I have no charts to write and no baseball game to listen to, and my daughter is playing Webkinz for her precious half-hour while Sam makes our dinner, so I'll get started.
What choices have you made in your life to work towards work, life, family balance? Do you feel you have been able to make ‘real’ or ‘genuine’ choices?
Eight months after my daughter was born, I left a job that I hated. This year - eight years later - I am making about 80% of what I was earning the year before she was born. The story I tell is that I left that job because of my daughter, but the truth is that her birth gave me permission to do what I wanted and needed to do. I couldn't leave a prestigious, high-paying position because I didn't like it, but I could leave because it didn't work for my family. What really didn't work for my family was that I was miserable.
Since then, I have mostly worked part-time, a real choice that I have the privilege to make because I work in a profession that pays very well, even for part-time work, and because I have a partner who is also employed at a well-paying job, and because I have family who have helped us with unforeseen expenses. So yes, these are real choices, but I am well aware that they are not available to most people.
What constraints have made it difficult for you to reconcile work, life, & family responsibilities?
I remain the primary earner in our family. I'm currently working full-time, with half my time in primary care and half in hospice. The primary care work pays about 75% of my salary. I'd like to work part-time but it is the hospice work that I find most appealing, and I can't cut back any further on my primary care practice without reducing my income.
On a smaller scale, there are the daily irritants that make everything much harder. I want my daughter to feel that I am available to her and interested in her life. That's a challenge when her school schedules family programs in the middle of the workday with only a week's notice. And I want to be part of her growing interactions with popular culture, so I'd like to spend more time with her than I can in my current work situation. I blame the patriarchy - really. Popular culture is sexist and misogynist and sexualized and I don't want to leave her alone with other, less feminist, adults any more than I have to.
What support structures (govt, workplace, family etc) do you think are important in achieving balance or interconnectivity?
Flexible work schedules. Being allowed to use sick time when a child or family member is sick (not allowed at my previous job, allowed with a wink at my current position). Valuing, supporting, licensing and appreciating good day care. Universal health care. You know, the usual.
What conflicting feelings, values or attitudes have you experienced in regards to childrearing from the workplace vs the home?
From me or from other people? I work in an office where 99% of the support staff is female and 50% of the physicians are male. The women on our staff are constantly dealing with child care or family care issues: who's picking up the kids? who's doing their homework? what will happen if I have to work late? how will I manage if my mother-in-law is sick and can't watch the baby? The male physicians both have stay-at-home wives. They don't have any child-care issues of their own, and are unsympathetic to the staff's concerns. I don't have the same level of stress about child care, because I can afford full-time care and I have a partner who has flexible hours and works close to home. I feel caught in the middle - neither fish nor fowl. And, as I've said before, I also hear my husband being extravagantly praised for doing essentially the same thing I do.
In what way is work life family balance a gender equality issue for you?
In every way. Family work isn't valued because women do it. Women do the majority of family work because it isn't valued. Men are socialized to feel more responsible to their bosses than to their families. Women hold on to control in the home to make up for lack of control and power outside the home. Family life itself has become feminized and thus devalued, and work life has remained masculinized at the same time that masculinity has been bulked up like Stallone on steroids. I'm a woman in a traditionally male profession with a husband who defies many social expectations of masculinity, and we've managed to do a better job than most with the balancing act, but we were trangressive before our daughter was born.
Research by Galtry & Callister (2005) suggest shorter leaves are better for gender equality while longer leaves are better for child health and development. How do you feel about this?
It reminds me of the studies on physician work hours. Bear with me here - this will make sense. (This is entirely US-centric, for which I apologize in advance, but it's the story I know.)
When my father was an intern, he worked 48 hours on, 12 off. For a full year. He had one week of vacation and my mother says she finally woke him up after three days. It was brutal, inhumane, dehumanizing - and Dad always said it was the best educational experience of his life. That kind of work went on for years. Eventually the trainees began to complain, and finally someone noticed that exhausted doctors weren't very good doctors. A woman named Libby Zion died because an overworked, undersupervised resident made a mistake. So a number of states started regulating physician work hours. This meant that instead of having one doctor see a patient for most of the patient's hospital stay, there could be four or five in shifts, with handoffs every 8 to 12 hours. With each handoff, the docs try to transmit important information, but inevitably something is lost in translation.
Turns out that working in shifts like that is better for doctors, but not necessarily good for patients. Continuity counts for hospital care. The more often a patient is handed off, the longer they stay in the hospital and the more likely they are to have duplicate procedures or other unnecessary tests. It's very difficult to strike a balance between physician health and wellbeing and patient wellbeing. We're still trying to get it right.
So it makes sense to me that having one person be the primary parent would be good for the child: more stability, more continuity, fewer handoffs. It also makes sense that having one parent - most often the mother - stop out of work for long stretches will work against gender equity. I wonder about third paths, especially about supporting families to help their children grow and develop in health. If we had better education about child development, better support for learning to parent, better health care, maybe it wouldn't matter so much who the primary caretaker was. Yes, I know that's heresy - the primacy of the mother! The bonding! Parents know best! The family is all! Feh. I think kids can thrive in any number of settings with any number of people as long as they know what to expect and they're safe and loved.
Thanks to AztecRose for the very interesting questions! Lots to chew on. I know it's a long post and I'm grateful to those of you who made it through. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, or reading your own posts.