An end to the Mommy Wars?

[I]t appears the sheer amount of time parents spend with their kids between the ages of 3 and 11 has virtually no relationship to how children turn out, and a minimal effect on adolescents, according to the first large-scale longitudinal study of parent time to be published in April in the Journal of Marriage and Family. The finding includes children’s academic achievement, behavior and emotional well-being…

the study found one key instance when parent time can be particularly harmful to children. That’s when parents, mothers in particular, are stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious.

“Mothers’ stress, especially when mothers are stressed because of the juggling with work and trying to find time with kids, that may actually be affecting their kids poorly…”

Now if I understand this study correctly (big news in The Washington Post today), it means that there is never any point to questioning the choice you make as a parent, or judging the choice of another parent. Whatever you or another parent does, it’s all in how it’s done.

“Stress, sleep-deprived, guilty or anxious.”

That kind of stress can come to a mother whether she’s working outside the home or in it.

So be good to yourselves. And as your kids get older, just as they may become a bit surlier with puberty, have dinner with them and talk with them. Together with a partner, if you’ve got one:

…[W]here the quantity of time parents spend does indeed matter is during adolescence: The more time a teen spends engaged with their mother, the fewer instances of delinquent behavior. And the more time teens spend with both their parents together in family time, such as during meals, the less likely they are to abuse drugs and alcohol and engage in other risky or illegal behavior. They also achieve higher math scores. The study found positive associations for teens who spent an average of six hours a week engaged in family time with the parents.

The study reminds me to focus on myself. Focus on my marriage. Model the resulting health and contentment for my kids.

Happy to.

on looking “down on young women with husbands and children…”

My mother-in-law had been in town so I missed this post when it first went up: “I Look Down on Young Women with Husbands and Children and I’m Not Sorry.” Many have responded, viscerally, thoughtfully, angrily, nonchalantly… All of that. The blogosphere is a rich, vibrant thing. Terrifying, too, as the author is receiving death threats. What the what?

My reaction? The author asks pretty early on, “Do people really think that a stay at home mom is really on equal footing with a woman who works and takes care of herself?”

Well, I don’t at all, really.

In no way, shape or form would I request or expect equal footing with say, my best friend. She has the same education as me, but has worked steadily since we both got our graduate degrees 20 years ago. She advanced in her field is now directing governmental affairs for a very large energy company. We’re not on equal footing financially or professionally. She is a powerhouse in her industry. She is amazing. Me? I’m a writer and editor, I managed public affairs at nonprofit organizations. Even if I had continued to work steadily after having children, I still wouldn’t earn what she does. She’s in a more lucrative field.

We each made different choices. I don’t expect mine to have the same payoff.

As for this: “…women secretly like to talk about how hard managing a household is so they don’t have to explain their lack of real accomplishments.” Ouch. It hurts because she struck a nerve.

I openly discuss how hard I work to manage a household. I do consider it an accomplishment. It’s not at all equal to anything other than perhaps what my mother did when she was my age (as that’s my only real point of comparison). But I will also openly discuss all my other accomplishments, as a volunteer, as a writer, as an athlete, as a singer, as a friend, blah blah blah. I have an ego. Who doesn’t?

But I’ve written before how a break from the world of paid work can affect one’s confidence, since there’s less pressure to perform. Since that post nearly two years ago, I took on more as a volunteer, I revved up my writing consultancy… I put myself under some pressure. Pressure’s a good thing. It inspires change.

And I appreciate Ms. Glass’ post. I do. But she used a bit of a straw man in her opening salvo: “equal footing.” I’m not certain that’s what any stay-at-home parent really wants. Nor am I certain that stay-at-home parents need applause.

I’m pretty sure they just expect acknowledgement. If children are to continue to be born, households will continue to need to be managed so that children will be able to grow. It’s not rocket science, or neurosurgery, or international diplomacy. It’s just a factor in our economy.

You know the one, that thing that allows some of us to work hard and earn lots, and others to earn nothing and give lots… and allows all the others to do everything in between… Until we choose or are able to do something differently.

Choices reflect points in time. Nobody is one thing forever. Looking down on young women with husbands and children may not make Ms. Glass feel sorry, but if done too long… her neck will get sore.

Chin up, everybody.

On heroes and narratives

Thank you for this, Mr. Peter Mountford:

Life as a stay-at-home dad: Everyone I meet calls me a hero for taking care of my kids. – Slate Magazine.

Yes, taking care of kids is difficult and it is underappreciated work, especially if you’re also nurturing a career. But it’s not heroic. Because, if it’s heroic to forgo working so that you can take care of kids, then what if you have to work to provide for those kids? Is my wife un-heroic—maybe even a coward—for passing the kids to me so that she can return to work full time? What about me? Was I lacking in heroism before, when I was working long hours and she was with the kids?…

[N]o matter what I do, I can’t seem to get this thing wrong. Meanwhile, Jen is always wrong. At home with the kids, she’s an anachronistic housewife; at work, she’s ditching her kids to nurture selfish professional ambitions. Somewhere, lurking at the root of this all, is the tenacious idea that men should have a career, whereas women must choose between a career and being at home.

Perfect. Exactly. Nailed it.

Work is work is work is work. Whether you’re male or female, working outside the home or working inside the home, whether you’re parenting, whether you’re homemaking, you are contributing. The market sets different prices on all those types of work (and their subsets), but we, as individuals, should not implicitly over-value any type.

But I wonder whether Mr. Mountford is being a little too hard on those who call him a hero, who are so admiring and appreciative of what he’s doing.

This person is cultivating a narrative about my child and me, and she wants me to participate.

If that person — the one who called him a hero as she lurked by the dried pasta — is cultivating a narrative and wants you to participate, wouldn’t that mean you can alter it?

Someone recently described a man my age who is now essentially in charge of his children, as his wife’s work hours were more demanding than his (he can work from home and has a great deal of general flexibility). She seemed to convey the information wistfully. (I suspect she’d prefer him to simply be able to work while his wife remains home with the children.) She has a narrative in her mind, based on her experiences.

I added to it, saying “That’s great — he’s so lucky to have a job that allows him to do that. Everybody’s job should be like that.”

She agreed, of course. Maybe now she’s thinking less wistfully.

I’d like to suggest a rewrite of Mr. Mountford’s scene with the woman lurking by the dried pasta:

“You’re a hero,” she says.

I muster a halfhearted smile and say, “Not really. I’m no more a hero than you are for noticing my run-of-the-mill daily parenting.”

I smiled at her and walked away.

Maybe the woman’s narrative would have shifted. Maybe the next dad she sees at the store would surprise her less, but still make her smile appreciatively. She would continue to notice.

The noticing, the admiration, the, dare I say, ultimately, preference — don’t those things drive markets? Don’t those things ultimately change (improve) the price of, and therefore normalize the value of, all kinds of work?

Maybe hero worship is all part of the process. Maybe?