Clearing through the clutter

Have you read some of the articles and books blooming in the online space lately? If so, tell me what you think below. If not, here are summaries so we can discuss.

In Defense of Single Motherhood,” Katie Roiphe, New York Times. Roiphe argues that Americans live in a fantasy world that trumpets heteronormative two-parent families despite the statistical reality that two-parent families are increasingly rare and that they often produce screwed up kids. She suggests we focus on social policies that help families raise good citizens instead of worrying so much about the logistics of their household.

I feel her argument that happy kids come from happy households are a welcome reminder that each person has to find the right household for them and that we, as a society, owe our fellow humans more than empty aphorisms and entreaties. We need public policy that makes sure workers are paid a liveable wage, child care is safer and more affordable for all parents, and so-called “different” family structures (including the child-free, whom Roiphe doesn’t mention) are honored just as highly as conventional households.

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Anne Marie Slaughter, The Atlantic. She explains how hard it is for even highly educated, financially blessed families to raise children and how women are forced to make untenable choices in the face of a mythology that says we can have it all. She flatly refutes this outdated and harmful claim. She offers helpful perspective on phases in which we focus more on career or children and helps readers rethink the career arc (a later peak for women who raise children at any point in their career) and children’s needs (teenagers need as much time and energy as infants even though the parenting focus is different).

Her article rocked my world because it allowed me to reframe the career-family balance I seek, cheer for the recent honesty of third-wave feminism, and hope we can frame new basic work policies that allow all people to do their best work on their terms whenever possible.

Raising Successful Children,” Margaret Levine, The New York Times (based on her book of the same title). Levine argues that raising people means letting them be people. They need the respect and space to make mistakes and learn. They need support to learn good habits and character. But other than that we need to do for our children less, listen to our children more, and praise our children rarely, and then only for effort not results or innate talents. I found her reminders about building children’s confidence by standing back more and about modeling¬† by doing more in for ourselves in our own, adult world welcome entreaties to keep doing better for my kids and myself. They learn about themselves by doing and they learn about adults by watching. So choose your activities and values well, then let them do the same.

So. Have you read any or all of these? What do you think?

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16 thoughts on “Clearing through the clutter

  1. Trying this from my blackberry and we both know how that often goes. So if you get some weird half comment, that’s why..

    I haven’t read these articles and tried my best to do that today, but my children had other plans for my afternoon. So, I appreciate the recap! The second one about women having it all struck a chord with me. My agent said to me (when I was pregnant with my first)

    “Emily. You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at the same time”

    At the time, I smugly brushed the comment off thinking he was just forgetting who he was talking to!

    Two children later…I get it. And I am not convinced that he shouldn’t have taken it further. I don’t believe that we can have it all. Many successful colleges of mine either don’t have children and although they are Tony nominees or winners, are utterly sad to have missed that boat, or they have their precious children, wouldn’t change that for the world, but have had to make sacrifices within their career. This may be more specific to performers, but I’m venturing, No. It affects us all. The problem is that the myth of “Women can have it all” exisist and makes most of us feel shitty and wonder where we went wrong when we don’t feel that we do.

    Just blogged on your blog. Sorry, nap.

    • Part of Slaughter’s article is that the compromise is not industry-specific. That some careers, where you make your own hours and work from home can be better suited to being the kind of parent you want. She points out that all parents who successfully have any sort of career have an amazing coparent. Not all child-free people are upset about being child-free. Not all people with children are thrilled that they have children. But the women I know with kids have either taken a big hit to their career trajectory (and a lot have taken the motherhood-initiated retirement as a reason to change careers entirely when they go back to work outside the home) or have missed a lot of their children’s lives. An hour in the morning, an hour at night, and weekends makes for very intense and sometimes frustrating snapshots of parenting.
      I loved Slaughter’s article because she’s telling college students who ask that, No, you can’t have it all. You will make sacrifices no matter what, and anyone who says differently is lying. You can have a career and kids. But you won’t reach the same place in your career or in your parenting depending on your choices. It’s a fact.
      Theater is a “gone at bedtime every night, gone after school every day, and way groggy in the morning” career. Not any more conducive to parenting than any other. Right?

  2. Absolutely, 100 percent right. In our industry, it isn’t just the loss of bedtimes and groggy mornings to take into account (although those are huge factors) It is the amount of travelling most actors must do with most broadway shows starting out of town somewhere before they come in. I recently got a call from my agent for an audition for a job that would bring me to CA starting in September and then tour for another 7 months. When I explained that there was no way I was going to leave my family for this amount of time, he said

    “it’s a huge role in a show that is going to Broadway after those nine months. This is what actor’s do.”

    Not this actor. So I sit here. unemployed. Writing a blog with my children sleeping peacefully upstairs. And I know this because I put them there.

    There is no easy answer. Nothing is perfect. Accepting that is the answer, I guess?

    All that said, Thank God for women like Slaughter who are poking holes through this unhealthy belief.

    *I feel totally lame writing this as if it’s a ploy to get you to read my blog, which you already do, but if you have a second, read “how was home” on the Emily’s favorites on my site. It was one of my first posts (before I found your blog, I believe) and I’ve had to rediscover my peace with being home 335 times since then (and will again tomorrow) but it is about this very thing.

    • A swift kick in the face to the agent who doesn’t get that you might be up for a longer away gig when the kids are old enough to bring their schoolwork in their own luggage and come with you.

  3. I read the Raising Successful Children article when it first appeared and I agree with her comment that we shouldn’t hover, checking and re-checking our children’s homework. But what about the school’s role in this hovering and undermining our children’s abilities? Today, the second day of school, was a nightmare in this house. I can’t remember a tougher “homework day.” My sons are both bright individuals. They score well on their standardized tests. But one son struggled with ambiguous instructions (to an 8 yr. old, anyway) and the other had a math sheet and a grammar sheet that parents had to sign and date, showing that they had checked over their child’s work. I used to teach. And if I was still teaching, I’d really resent having to spend another 2 hours doing the teaching and required hovering, cutting into my precious family time. Homework should be additional practice, work that a typical 3rd and 4th grader should be able to complete with minimal parental intrusion. Looks like a couple teachers might receive a copy of the aforementioned article.

    (Sorry about the rant. You caught me on a particularly difficult day.)

    • Jane, you’re always welcome to rant here.

      I don’t believe in homework before middle school. I don’t ask my son to do it, I won’t check it. I will help if asked because he chooses to try the homework. But teaching is for classrooms and family, play, and self directed activities. The school day is too long to expect more work at home.

  4. I thought Anne Marie Slaughter’s article was right on, and I thought, “Thank God someone is finally telling the truth.” If she can’t make it work with all her advantages and resources, how the heck do we expect anyone else to do it? And if we don’t get more women like her in leadership positions, how in the world is the system ever going to change for the better so we don’t have to write articles like these? Katie Roiphe frequently ticks me off, but I agreed with her on this one. Families come in all shapes and sizes, and we need to get past this antiquated idea that Daddy brings home the paycheck while Mommy takes care of the house and kids. That is not economic reality in many areas and makes absolutely no sense given the number of women with advanced degrees. I think Margaret Levine has some good insights and lovely ideas, but I have a hard time seeing them work in the real world in many places. My daughter had homework 4x a week in kindergarten. Yes, kindergarten. And sure, some of it was coloring a picture, and some of it was math, and some of it was writing a story, but really–kindergarten? And what sort of message am I sending if I say, “Honey, you don’t need to do your homework. Ever. All year.” Yes, that sounds like really setting her up for success and teaching her to respect her teachers and value school. And I don’t doubt that standardized tests, etc., are a major reason for such daily work, but still–kindergarten?

    • thankfully, our school knows that kindergarden homework is just for the parents. the parents demand it, so to the school gives it. But the teachers don’t want to, borne in part by the 20 years of research that says it does no good . so the kids are not told about it unless the parents choose to. I chose not too, and the teacher was fine with that. but my son does not know that he did not do homework. He just thought there was none. I have no problem teaching critical thinking a 5 year olds though, so that they know they are things they do have to do and things they should question.

  5. I guess I’m not surprised that we have the same reading list. But right now, in my current state of self-absorption and wallowing at my family’s challenges this summer, I just can’t get all worked up about these articles as I normally would. I’m glad you’re handling it, though. This is important stuff, mama!

    • I contemplated long post for each, then laughed and laughed and laughed. Summary paragraphs and a sentence response is what they get this year. Slaughter’s piece gets a lot of calculations about what’s lost and what’s left…but no reason to blog those.

      Hope your summer finishes with a whimper and a conflict-free barbeque.

  6. I have been trying to finish Slaughter’s article for weeks. SO long. I’m gonna die when they start giving my kids homework. I will either find it too hard or do it myself. IT won’t be pretty.

    • Slaughter’s article has a couple of second (and third) winds that ramp it up with new ideas. It was a slog, but I was lucky enough to find it right after bedtime, so I had enough brain to make it through in the first try.

      Hang with it.

      I refuse…REFUSE…to do my kids’ homework. I will take them to museums. I will brainstorm art and science projects. I will play math games during our daily lives because math is fun. I will introduce them to the world around them. I will read to them and gladly have them read to me. I will not do fathermucking worksheets. And neither will my kids.

  7. Without having read the articles yet, just your descriptions, I have to say I like the sound of them. Too many thoughts swirling on these topics in my mind right now to make a cogent response beyond general agreement. :-)

    • Matt, as always, you’re welcome to come back and comment if the thoughts slow down a bit, or to consider your general agreement noted, appreciated, and sufficient so that you can calm the swirling thoughts and move onto other issues in your life. :)

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