Sunday, June 10, 2012

There Is No Such Thing As 'Quality Time'

I have always considered myself a feminist, and think you should be one too.

But articles like this make me doubt my feminist credentials. If you don't feel like clicking, basically the article is about women running start-ups with small children at home. The spin is that women can have both: work at a big, important job and be parents. The truth is, though, that there's no way to be a decent parent unless you put in the time. Women cannot actually "have it all": and trying to means their children suffer.

Children don't necessarily need both parents to be fully available (see: all the men who have intense jobs and wives who do the childcare, single parents, etc.). But they need the focused, reliable, personalized care of at least one. Since I became a parent I have realized that parenting isn't about the 'big moments' (the first birthday or a special family trip), but the day-to-day routine and the general tone of life.

It's a lot like your eating habits. A few days of total indulgence, or a week of starving yourself, have almost no influence on your weight or general health. What matters is what you do every day, with every bite. No single moment matters that much, but over time your choices mean the difference between morbid obesity and slimness. This is why diets are stupid, because they are only temporary (and thus so are the effects).

I don't really harbor any doubts that the women as described in the article can be good at their work. It is certainly possible to successfully juggle multiple, competing responsibilities given sufficient organization, support, and money. But there is no way they can be good parents.

It's hard to define good parenting (because so much depends on individual circumstances). It comes down to this: being present and attuned. (Numerous studies will attest to the fact that the main determinant of a child's psychological health and general life success is the "sensitivity" of its main caregiver.) Parents don't necessarily need to do anything in particular: in fact, a lot of the time they shouldn't do anything (how else will the child develop its own skills?). They just need to be there, carefully observing the child's every nuance, so that they can step in as necessary. This is the very thing that these hyper-scheduled, constantly distracted, chronically exhausted women cannot provide.

Does this mean that women shouldn't work? Of course not. Most jobs are time-limited: once you go home, you're done with work, and can focus on other things (your children, for instance). Since the job only consumes 40 or 50 hours of the 168 in a week, the children of working women still receive plenty of attention. But running a start-up isn't like going to an office job: the work comes with you, your hours are much longer and more irregular, and there's a lot of associated stress.

People need to be realistic. If you have a child, someone needs to constantly be there, watching over them, worrying about them, considering their happiness at all times. If you want a big career and children, then your spouse will have to do this (a househusband might be the solution: but none of the women in the article had one); otherwise, your children will be shortchanged and will suffer.

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree. I think the research shows that continuity of care is super important - no matter who it is - but then, if you have a nanny, you have to reconcile that the nanny IS raising your child. It's like hiring an architect and contractor to remodel your kitchen - using your ideas OR doing it yourself.

    I AM a working mom so I say this all realizing that my family isn't in the perfect situation. I would love to stay home (as challenging as that would be), but at the moment, it isn't possible.

    I know that when my children are ready to have children I WONT give the advice that "there is never a perfect time" because I think that if you have kids, you should have the money for only one parent to work (even if you both choose to work), but you should have the option.