Tag: parenting

Having it All? A Male Academic’s Perspective

With Thanksgiving behind us and the winter holidays and family time approaching, the season encourages some stock-taking and reflection. We at the Duck have been having a bit of behind the scenes emailing about the challenges of finding child care, and I wanted to recount a happier story from my own experience here at the University of Texas.

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s essay in The Atlantic last year prompted considerable debate about family unfriendly workplaces and the difficulties for career women of the work-life balance. Of course, as many people pointed out at the time, the problem is not unique to women if you live in a household with non-traditional gender norms when it comes to child rearing or duties around the house.

My wife and I are both political scientists, and we were fortunate to resolve the two body problem with both of us having tenure track positions at both a quality institution and a great city. On so many levels, we recognize our good fortune. When we decided to have a child, we knew that the University of Texas had a great daycare program, but the waitlist was long, upwards on 18 months so we put in an application as soon as my wife found out she was pregnant. While we waited for daycare, the issue for us was whether we would get some time away from teaching when our son was born. Continue reading


An Open Letter to Someone Contemplating a PhD and Parenting

Dear PhD Prospective (with kids or thinking about kids),

Thanks for contacting me.  It sounds like you missed Steve Saideman’s sage advice and are actually going to be trying to get a PhD in political science.  Many top people in the discipline will keep working to discourage you from attending – with your best interest at heart – but it sounds like you aren’t going to take their advice to avoid a PhD altogether.[1]   So, welcome aboard!  It’s a fun profession and you’re just at the starting line.

It also appears that you are either (a) a parent already or (b) thinking about becoming a parent sometime during your PhD.  This isn’t surprising – a typical PhD path overlaps with a good chunk of a person’s child-bearing years. There has already been a lot written on how difficult it is to be on the tenure-track or in a policy position with kids.  For those interested in policy work, Anne-Marie Slaughter recommended the option (mainly for women) of avoiding the profession until after your kids are grown.  This might work for you and you are contacting me with kids in college.  If so, congrats!  You avoided this issue and just have to hope that your family commitments stay limited while you work on your PhD.  For all us other sorry souls without a trust fund/wealthy spouse that can support us while we sit on the sidelines for 20 years, please keep reading – this (faux) email is for you.

Continue reading


Applied Signaling: Pajamas and 3-year olds

Every night, about 15 minutes or so after we’ve put my 3-year old daughter to bed, we inevitably hear a knock at the door.  She’s typically knocking because she needs to go the bathroom.  She’s also knocking because she wants to scope out what we are doing, find out if she is missing anything.  One thing that bothers her is if me or my wife leaves the house after she goes to bed.  In order to go to sleep she needs some kind of guarantee that we aren’t leaving and are getting read to go to bed just like her.  It appears she’s found one–whether me or my wife have gotten changed into our pajamas.

If we come to her door in our pajamas–or at least different clothes (e.g. sweatpants, etc) than when she last saw us–she takes it as a signal that we are in for the night.  If we were going out or not going to bed soon we would still be in our regular clothes that we wore earlier.  If we haven’t changed, she probes–“why aren’t you in your jammies?”  This let’s us know that she suspects we aren’t in for the night.  It also means that she will likely spend a fair amount of time looking out her window to see if our cars stay in the driveway before she will settle in and go to sleep.  Now, putting on pajamas isn’t that costly of signal–there is nothing stopping us from putting them on and then changing back into regular clothes to leave the house or host guests.  (However, in all honestly this isn’t likely to happen.)

The lesson here is that a) the idea of seeking out signals is intuitive for people and we start at a very early age, and b) rather than fight with our daughter about going to bed we might be better served just changing into our pajamas out the outset to demonstrate to her that we aren’t leaving the house, no one is coming over, and we are also getting ready for bed.  She may not believe our words, but she seems to believe the signal that she’s identified.  Leveraging that signal can lead to better communication and the outcome that we want.

[Cross-posted at Signal/Noise]



Sesame Street really has changed the way we think about our ABC’s. My 2-year old is quite the fan, he’s particularly into Ernie and Bert (though in our house, his Ernie has a special relationship with the teddy bear for some reason, not sure how Bert feels about that). Thanks to YouTube, we can spend a good half hour learning the ABC’s. For your own entertainment, my current playlist:

Elmo and India Arie do the alphabet

Sesame Street ABC’s Ray Charles and celebrities

Tilly and the Wall sing the ABCs

A very young Billy Joel does ABC’s

Kermit the Frog and Ladysmith Black Mambazo Alphabet

Lena Horne does the ABC

A classic animated Alphabet

Lou Rawls sings the alphabet

Richard Pryor’s Alphabet

Bill Cosby’s alphabet

Susan does the ABC’s—very classic

Patti Labelle sings the alphabet

Kermit sings the alphabet

Diva sings the alphabet

James Earl Jones reads the Alphabet

This post has been brought to you by the letters O and M and the number 2.


Mother In Chief? Not Exactly Your Typical Feminism, But…

Michelle Obama is doing something very interesting. She is taking back family values from the right.

According to Reuters:

Michelle Obama brings the skills of a corporate lawyer to the White House as first lady to President-elect Barack Obama, but she says her priority will be her role as ‘mom-in-chief’ to the couple’s two daughters. Michelle Obama, 44, was a passionate advocate for her husband’s candidacy, but she says she would not want a direct policy role in an Obama administration.

To those for whom breaking the gendered glass ceiling would have felt as or more transformative than seeing a US President of color, this “Mother-in-Chief” approach could seem like a regressive subordination of women’s political equality to racial equality. By this standard, Palin, with all her flaws, would have been a better feminist role model – to say nothing of Hillary Clinton, who would have combined a gender-egalitarian agenda with her trail-blazing role as the first female Commander-in-Chief. By comparison, Michelle Obama may seem at first glance to be defining her role no differently than Laura Bush, a help-meet rather than political partner. Perhaps this is a throwback to an earlier age. Perhaps feminism has been traded for racial equality in this election.

Think again. The fact that people have assumed that Michelle would take on a formal political role as first lady only underscores how normative women’s political participation is today. Her unwillingness to prioritize that over her duties to her children is not a step backward but a step forward for the feminist movement: what Michelle is modeling is not indifference to politics, but policy attention to work-life balance, the missing element in the first feminist revolution. As the same news-article relates:

She also says she hopes to focus ways women maintain a work-family balance and the needs of military families, and she could act as an informal adviser to her husband as she has been during the campaign.

This is the future, not the past. In the race to promote women as full citizens, too little attention has been spent by liberals considering how to support those same women in their dual roles as mothers – to say nothing of providing incentives for their male partners and spouses to do their share of child-rearing and eldercare while participating fully in civic and economic life. Many barriers persist. Today, for example, while women overall are approaching pay equity with men, the wage gap in the US between mothers and non-mothers is greater than between women and men—and it’s actually getting bigger.

So says Moms Rising.org, a growing movement of progressives aiming to prioritize children and families in the new America. Besides fair wages and an end to discrimination against mothers in hiring decisions, Moms Rising calls (among other things) for paid sick days and family leave for parents, for family-friendly work environments, for the right to breastfeed in public spaces, affordable healthcare and childcare, and a rating system for afterschool TV shows. In short, the goal is to build a culture that treats child-rearing as a form of service to the nation rather than an expensive hobby.

Perhaps ironically, the discourse of strengthening and prioritizing family has been largely associated with the right, where this very noble goal has been shackled at times to a gender discourse that emphasizes the role of fathers as breadwinner and mothers as homemakers. But creating the conditions for work/family balance for both men and women achieves the same goal without retrenching old gender inequalities. Part of Sarah Palin’s appeal was her seemingly flawless balance between being a power player in public and at home. Combine this imagery with a policy agenda to make it easier for less privileged women – and men – to do the same, and you begin dismantling the kinds of institutional barriers that have kept women out of the highest office.

This is what Michelle Obama will be bringing to US political culture as a First Lady.


Child: Labor

Perspectives on Politics just published a depressing assessment of the prospects for women in the academy, placing much of the blame for the glass ceiling on the “intractable tension between professional success and family duties.” The section of the article concludes:

“Virtually every woman with children [interviewed] noted the difficulties in balancing career and family. Mary and Gale remind us that family versus career is a human problem, not just one with which women wrestle.”

Hear, hear. While the authors conclude that there is little evidence that society or political science as a profession is taking it seriously as such, one might make the same argument about the study itself, which looks at women in the profession, rather than parents in the profession, including fathers, for whom – at least for that small but growing percentage who takes on half the work at home – may be even more disadvantaged career-wise. (It would have been great to see the sex-disaggregated statistics.)

The authors aren’t alone: a new Caucus within the ISA that is seeking to address family issues within the profession calls itself “Mothers in IR,” reifying the idea that parenting is primarily a women’s issue; at my insitution, the Child Care SubCommittee lobbying for more family-friendly policies is subsumed under the Gender Equity Committee rather than mainstreamed into the Benefits and Welfare process. No wonder the issue isn’t taken very seriously.

In my mind, all this is a huge part of the problem. That’s why, on Father’s Day this week, I was happy to see the New York Times report in-depth on families, mostly working professionals, who have come up with creative arrangements for splitting child-care 50/50 in order to support one another’s careers. The article presents a balanced view of the impacts of equal parenting on the career choices of both men and women, as well as many examples of how it can work and what employers can do to make it easier for fathers and mothers.

But. Even here, it matters quite a lot how you define “work” versus “fun” in child rearing. Dr. Sampson Lee Blair, a sociologist who studies work/family dynamics at University of Buffalo is quoted in the NYT article:

“The social scientist’s definition of child care “is attending to the physical needs of a child — dressing a child, cooking for a child, feeding and cleaning them,” Blair says. It doesn’t include the fun stuff, like playing and reading and kissing good night.”

Hello: I say, reading at night is work, too, for three reasons.

A) It is of value to the kid; it doesn’t matter whether it’s fun or not – I also love my job as a teacher, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get paid.

B) Sometimes, it’s not fun, lying in bed with a book at 8pm when you’re exhausted but know you need to get back up to troll around on blogs watch the Daily Show prep for class and have to struggle to stay awake while you do it – that can be work.

Part of the problem is that society wants to exclude from the definition of “work” anything that society thinks we’re supposed to want to do unconditionally out of love, regardless of how hard it is or what its actual economic value. This assumption needs to be challenged of caring work done by both sexes. My husband may love to garden and fix things, but that doesn’t mean I should discount these contributions to our household as “hobbies.”

In her (once again, inaptly titled) book The Price of Motherhood, Ann Crittenden offers a better definition of the the economic value of the labor it takes to raise children well: the price you would have to pay someone else to do the work for you.

What if we calculated the cost of this labor of child rearing as a percentage of GDP?


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