Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Parenting older children

Another rant about work-life balance. When people talk about trying to balance parenthood and career, I find that they almost always refer to the baby stage. Yes, parental leave is really important when you have a newborn. Yes, sleep deprivation is a major issue when your kids don't sleep though the night. Yes, adequate access to daycare is a major problem. But parenting doesn't end when the children reach school age, and yet the challenges of raising older children while excelling in a a challenging career are not often discussed.

There was this article in The Atlantic back in 2012 by Anne-Marie Slaughter in which she discusses her decision to quit a high powered job to spend more time with her family. At the time, the article kicked off lots of discussion, mostly about whether women could "have it all" and not so much about the child raising parts.

The truth is, kids remain a huge time sink up until they move out of the house. Until the kids reach at least 11 or 12, someone has to be home with them in the mornings before school starts (not so much a problem for our family, since school starts pretty early) and after school (which ends in the middle of the afternoon). We are lucky to have quality after school programs for the Prodigal Kids, but not everyone is so fortunate. Even so, someone still has to do drop off and pick up on time every day. This makes work-related travel very difficult for the home parent, especially if there is more than one kid in more than one place. It also makes things like late meetings/late classes a problem at a time when the workplace is lot less sympathetic then it was for the baby stage.

It is true that older kids require less physical labor and are more self-sufficient, but they still don't buy food (or anything else!) for themselves, meal plan, cook, or do their laundry (at least ours don't--I know some people have their kids start helping out with the laundry at 10 or so). As they age, they need more stuff, and that stuff needs to be in the right place at the right time. Scheduling becomes another thing to do. The schools don't help, because sometimes they need a photo for tomorrow (which sucks for us, since we don't usually print ours), or a last minute school supply, or a trip to the library when the weekend is already full.

Worse, the problems they have now are more difficult to solve. It used to be they were hungry, thirsty, wet, or tired. As a parent, there was something we could do to help them. Now they have social circles to navigate (or not) and schoolwork to master (or not). They make decisions on their own that have long term consequences, and have to deal with the fallout. As a parent, we can offer advice, but they must do the work. It is really hard to watch your child struggle with a frenemy or have difficulty learning something, or be completely unable to organize themselves. And it isn't like power struggles go away--instead of fighting about wearing proper clothing with a toddler, now we are fighting about finishing homework with a tween.

I love my kids, and I am happy with the life choices I made. But I have to say that it really annoys me when people (especially men who have stay at home wives to deal with all of this) assume that because my kids are no longer babies, I can behave as if I don't have kids at home anymore, and that not doing so makes me lazy/uncommitted/less serious/not a real scientist.


xykademiqz said...

I agree with everything you've written. And with older kids, there are afterschool activities that are always "conveniently" scheduled with a stay-at-home parent in mind to chauffeur the kids to practices at 4 pm.

We bough Eldest (now a high-school senior) a car this summer. I cannot explain how much easier our life has become, just not having to drive him everywhere any more.

Sometimes I think our male colleagues with stay-at-home wives are willfully obtuse. It's not hard to imagine how my life is -- I do exactly what the colleague does at work plus all that his wife does at home. They simply don't want to think about it or, often, think we are aberrations who are reaching way above our god-given place, so why should they encourage or help us?

The weirdest interactions are with the colleagues' stay-at-home wives at department gatherings. They usually don't like me (often get weird when they realize I am one of the husband's colleagues and not a colleague's wife). I admit I usually don't find them particularly interesting, which perhaps makes me a douche.

But back to topic -- older kids are definitely tough in their own ways, and we don't acknowledge that, as you said, they remain tough and demanding for as long as they live in your home.

Anonymous said...

Have standards really changed so much in 25 years, or was my family an outlier? My sister and I got ourselves to and from school (<2 miles) from kindergarten through sixth grade. (In kindergarten, another five-year-old and I walked together.) In seventh grade, I started at a private school that was an inconvenient route over three miles away, so we carpooled. I did all my own laundry starting at age eight. I got myself to most medical and orthodontist appointments by bike by middle school. Also shopped for friends' birthday presents on own by middle school using my babysitting money and allowance. We lived in a very affluent part of California, so it was "safe"... as much as cycling in traffic can be safe. My parents were total helicopter parents when it came to ensuring my sister and I were assigned the good teachers' classes, but the last I can remember either helping with homework was when I was nine. They had a strong belief we should pull our own weight, and we were definitely anomalies in the extent to which we used biking to actually get things done (v. weekend riding like most of Silicon Valley)... but is this no longer an acceptable way to parent?

prodigal academic said...

Anon, standards have changed. I don't remember having to bring in so much stuff from home for projects after the initial school supply purchase. When I was a kid, I spent most of my time with other kids (friends, siblings, or both) without an adult around when I was not in school. Now, kids are expected to be with an adult 24/7 until they are at least 11 or 12 years old. Even if I wanted to send my kids the the local park alone, there is a chance someone would call CPS on us. Also, my kids don't expect to be outside of adult supervision--they are not (yet) interested in staying home alone by themselves when I run errands. No one they know stays home alone yet.

The laundry is on us. We could probably train them to do it. The ProdigalKids do some chores around the house (which is helpful), but they don't cook, shop, or do heavy cleaning yet. And kids now are involved in a host of activities that require shuttling to someplace, which takes a lot of time. We live in a city, which is not great for allowing independence, since the drivers here are really reckless, making biking and crossing major roads a problem, especially for kids who are small or easily distracted.

My kids are still young (in elementary school), but we plan to have them traveling locally by themselves when they are a bit older. Around here, this transition usually occurs (at least for getting to/from school) post-elementary school.