Thursday, June 17, 2010

Work-life Balance

A topical storm has been raging through my corner of the blogosphere on men, women, and work-life balance (see posts by Jim Austen, Dr. Isis, Janet D. Stemwedel, PLS, and unbalanced reaction) culminating in a interesting discussion over at Scientist Mother's blog, with a response by DM at his place. I saw this interesting article at Slate on how much time fathers spend with their kids, and how what they say about it has changed with time, and had the urge to add to the fray. Maybe we are in a generational shift--that would be awesome for my kids. But what does that say about now?

There is lots of talk about "lucky" people with equal partners, and on choosing the "right" partner, but I submit that this is not actually possible. NO ONE knows how they will behave in the long term for real. I know lots of people who thought they would do more housework, who meant to do their share at home, but then when they had to make a choice, they chose something else. "I need to work an extra hour a few nights this week, so can you cook dinner for me" becomes the status quo. Or "your job is more flexible than mine is, so you pick up the sick kid" becomes true for doctors, lawyers, professors, teachers, etc. Or "just until I make partner/get tenure/find a permanent position" becomes forever. So choosing an equal partner at age 25 or 30 doesn't mean that they partnership stays equal at 35 or 40. And once your life is intertwined with someone else's, and there are kids or pets or a house or shared sacrifices or whatever else, it is hard to walk away over the laundry.

My own two cents on the "calling out" kerfuffle--I agree with Scientist Mother that more men need to contribute to the discussion so that work-life balance moves off of the Style pages in the NYT and into the main section. At the same time, I think DM can and should blog about whatever he wants to. But if not the popular male science bloggers, who will take up the challenge? I personally have declined to be the pioneer woman on the TT at one of the places I received an offer, so I am not throwing any stones here. It is just something I think about--when should I step up and do something uncomfortable to make things easier for people that follow after me, and when can I let others do their share?

3 comments:

GMP said...

And once your life is intertwined with someone else's, and there are kids or pets or a house or shared sacrifices or whatever else, it is hard to walk away over the laundry.

Ah, truer words have never been spoken, Prodigal! Thank you!

I have been blogging and following much of the scientific blogosphere for over a month now, and I feel exhausted and largely disappointed. It's amazing how many people feel entitled to an opinion of how everyone else should run their lives (present blog excluded, of course). ("Duh," someone will say, "it's blogging, what did you expect? Everyone's got an opinion.") Apparently, my husband does not love me or our family because he is not a pioneer on the battlefield for equal chore distribution between sexes! I think I must go divorce him right now!

when should I step up and do something uncomfortable to make things easier for people that follow after me, and when can I let others do their share?

People step up and do uncomfortable things when they feel the benefit outweighs the discomfort, usually when they are directly involved. People should never be coerced or bullied into other people's crusades. If you have learned to live with a bad or suboptimal situation and are not ready for an uproar, then you should be left alone to live your life; you are not automatically an enabler for the oppressor or whatever the term is.

So the answer to your question is: you will feel when it's right to step up. If you don't feel it, it's fine to sit things out, no matter what anyone else says. There are only so many hours in the day and so many years in your life and so many fires to put out. Once you have a family, crusading priorities change dramatically; the needs and wants of your family come first and that is how it should be.

Thanks for the nice and balanced post, as always!

Dr.Girlfriend said...

I could not image living with another academic or professional. I am the ditzy intellectual, and I need a working class anchor the keep me stable. I need real people in my life to remind me that my education does not render me above pulling my weight domestically. I refuse to cook, and my SO is horrified that I used to live of cereal and would happily return to this diet. I do kind of enjoy cleaning and I do my share. I might bring more money home, but I also have a job I mostly enjoy - so that does not count when it comes to getting out of laundry.

prodigal academic said...

Thanks for the comments. FWIW, I find that work-life balance is FAR easier as an academic than it was at a National Lab. I no longer need to do so much face time, nor do I have to be physically present for core hours.

My personal balance with my spouse has varied with time. Now, he does the laundry and non-food shopping, while I handle everything pertaining to food and more of the non-work hours childcare. We split kid sick days.

Until recently, we did our own cleaning, but now that we have 2 kids, we have someone come in every 2 weeks. My best friend in high school worked her way though undergrad cleaning houses (and really liked the flexibility and pay per hour), so I have no guilt at providing someone else a flexible job with decent pay.