Sciencewomen

Dear Sciencewoman:

So, I’m pregnant for the first time. My husband’s family is on
the whole really great and loving people. They rarely leave
their “red state world”, however. My husband’s immediate family
Gets It, they understand that neither I (nor my husband for that
matter, who is also a scientist, same flavor as me) will be
quitting science when we become parents. The extended clan,
however, I am less confident about.

The clan wants to throw me a baby shower, for which I have to
travel across the country and be there by myself. Don’t get me
wrong, they want to do this as a nice, loving gesture. And they
really are all great people, as long as we don’t talk about
politics. But I’ll have to face the group without the buffering
influence of my husband.

I greatly fear that the “redder” of the red state relatives will
ask me point blank, or worse, just assume, that I will now be
giving up this silly science stuff, we’ll be moving “back
home” (my husband’s from there, I’m not), I’ll be finally taking
my husband’s last name, and getting down to the serious real
life calling of making babies.

To be honest, I am already stressed enough about how I really
will, in practice, be both a scientist and a mom.
Fortunately, I am surrounded by great role models, in a great
job. I know I’ll find a way to make it work.

But back to the party. I fear, if asked a leading question, I
will burst into tears and run from the room. Or, worse, I will
do something that creates a family rift, such as standing up in
front of these ~25 stay-at-home moms, screaming “I am more than
my uterus”, bursting into tears, and running from the room.

So I need something pithy. Polite but firm. A sound bite, if
you will. Something respectful of their life choices, and of
mine. Something to convey that I will not be stopping “this
silly scientist stuff” anytime soon. And that I will be both a
good scientist and a good mother.

Any suggestions?

Sincerely,
Serious Scientist


Dear Serious,
Asking a pregnant you to fly cross-country so that they can throw you a shower seems pretty demanding. Asking you to make the trip without the support of your husband (their family member) seems down right unreasonable. If you do decide to accept their offer for a shower, I would insist that it be a couples shower so that you can have your husband present. That should take some of the pressure off you.

As for a pithy response to the question of whether you’ll be “giving up this silly science stuff,” I don’t have a particularly good one. When I visit my red-state in-laws I have to work very hard to resist the impulse to explain to them that I make twice as much as their son and that really I’ve supported him for the past five years. Of course, financially, that may not be true. You might try to explain that there are lots of women who are successful mothers and scientists and that you work with some of them. You can also say that for now you’ve decided to keep working but that you’re open to other possibilities later if you change your mind. Of course, that could just allow them to ask you the question every time you see them for the next twenty years. None of these responses are particularly empowered, but hopefully they shouldn’t cause a family rift. If you really want to make a statement, I’d channel Zuska and puke on their shoes.

Readers, do you have any suggestions?

Comments

  1. #1 paul
    January 16, 2008

    Prepare a lot of nebulous answers like “we’ll see” or “maybe” or “we’ll see how things go first.” To the red-staters it might appear that their position is under consideration.

    How many kids are you going to have? “We’ll see how this one goes first.”

    Are you going to give up your job and stay home with the kid? “Maybe. My husband and I will need to talk about it and decide what’s best for the child.”

    When are you moving back home? “We’re really just concentrating on having a baby right now. We haven’ really talked about it.”

    When in doubt, invoke your husband’s name… after all, the man is the master of the house (in their minds). If you make it sound like *he* hasn’t decided, it takes the pressure off of you.

    In any case, having some prepared answers will help you deal with the situation. A little role-playing (even if it’s by yourself) before hand will help you keep calm and in control.

  2. #2 anonymous
    January 16, 2008

    I second ScienceWoman…don’t go to this party without the support of your spouse. After all, it is his family.

    As for how to deal with their queries…it seems to be that you could give vague answers that won’t offend anyone, or you could be honest but polite (…My partner and I will both be staying home part-time to take care of the baby…No, I will not be changing my name…etc.). It really depends on what you are comfortable with. I too have conservative in-laws (and a 7 month old and am half of a dual-career, tenure-track scientist couple), and I give the honest but polite answer when they are daft enough to ask me a personal question. My husband, on the other hand, goes for the vague, they’ll-interpret-it-as they-wish, answer. Both tacks work.

    Good luck!

  3. #3 Tom
    January 16, 2008

    Check out Adventures in Ethics and Science for a perspective on how another one-armed-paper-hanger managed academic career and family.

    http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2006/07/having_a_family_and_an_academi.php

  4. #4 Bing McGhandi
    January 16, 2008

    I encourage you to keep it Serious Scientist! I think that it is a great for a child to have a successful working scientist in the family to look up to. Yay! Science!

    (I’m sorry I can’t be more specific in my encomium, but I don’t know what field you are in.)

    HJ

  5. #5 anon
    January 16, 2008

    I’m fond of the “that’s an interesting point” or “I haven’t thought about it like that” to opinions/advice offered. Vague, you’re not putting them down, etc. Best to avoid any working mom vs. stay at home mom tension as much as possible. Good Luck!!

  6. #6 Disgruntled Julie
    January 16, 2008

    I’ve used the “I’m more than just a uterus” tearful rant before. Promptly upon getting engaged, my fiance’s mother WOULD NOT stop carrying on and on and on about grandchildren. Mind you, this was a year ago, and I’m now only 24, working towards a Ph.D. in science, and have no urge to have children until I’m at least 30. When she heard this, she smothered me in guilt — all she wants is grandchildren, what if she’s not alive in 6 years when we do have children, we OWE it to her to provide her with grandchildren (nevermind the fact that we’ll get married and be living several hundred miles apart for the first 3 years while I finish my degree — getting a Ph.D. AND basically being a single mother — perfect!). My fiance, who defends his mother in all situations, was even appalled. I promptly informed her that I am more than just a uterus, and if that is all she is looking for in a daughter-in-law, then I will call off the engagement and let her son try to find someone else who wants nothing more than to produce children right away (this shut her up immediately).
    His grandmother also seems to believe that once we get married, I will be dropping out of graduate school to move wherever he goes for residency, because why do I need to play with my little chemistry set if I’m married?
    I really have no advice because I haven’t figured out how to deal with his family myself, but I do wish you the best of luck.

  7. #7 Anonymous
    January 16, 2008

    Serious Scientist, I’m not in your pregnant position, but the “going home” thing… Over Christmas, I was in my husband’s country (which is different than mine, where we currently live), visiting family ,and some distant relation asked me “how great it was to be back home”…

    Anyway, good luck with this, it can be tricky, but I’m sure you’ll handle it!

  8. #8 Bright Star (B*)
    January 16, 2008

    Sometimes imagining what will happen is worse than what will actually happen… Some of them have got to be as hesitant about you as you are about them. Perhaps there is some way to establish common ground so you and the others feel less distant? Talk about parenting ideas, perhaps?

    Alternatively, I love the idea of vague responses such as “we’ll see.”

    Why would you attend this without your spouse? Because it’s not a “couples” shower? At least he can go to the town with you so that you can decompress afterward with him, maybe?

  9. #9 DMnk
    January 16, 2008

    2 words:”anthropology hat”

    Treat it like a fascinating cultural survey…

  10. #10 Amelie
    January 16, 2008

    I also vote for going with your husband. I would not want to do this alone. As for the conservative questions (interestingly, in German politics, red is socialist and black is conservative) I would prepare some polite and respectful yet firm answers, and have him in on your plan to support you just in case.
    - move back “home”: well, you have to live where there are good jobs for you, and you’re actually pretty happy with the current situation (or so I hope!)
    - give up “that silly scientist stuff”: we simply couldn’t afford it, don’t know if this could be a point for you. I’d also state that you want to keep working “for now” — that means they’ll probably ask again, but maybe they do it anyway, and in case you decided to stay at home for whatever reason at some point in the future you won’t have all the “we told you so” comments.
    Good luck!

  11. #11 Dave Briggs
    January 16, 2008

    Prepare a lot of nebulous answers like “we’ll see” or “maybe” or “we’ll see how things go first.” To the red-staters it might appear that their position is under consideration.

    I agree with Paul here. Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity! Prepare the nebulous, with plenty of plan A, B, C, etc., and you will go in confident, which should cut out the begin blindsided.
    Dave Briggs :~)

  12. #12 Jennie
    January 16, 2008

    This is such an interesting post with very interesting suggestions. I don’t favor the maybe’s and we will see. I love to be direct and not beat around the bush.
    I doubt the red staters will go for a couples party but at least having your husband near will help. Is there any reason between now and the birth of your child to visit red-state? then you could just add the shower as part of a planned trip.
    Although I love the I’m more than a uterus statement I think it’s good to focus on the I don’t judge you for your choices please don’t judge me.
    I’ve had so many mom’s tell me that you may think you’ll not want to stay home but once you have a child your whole life changes and all you will want to do is be with your baby 24-7. So I asked my friend who has a 8-mo boy what her take was and she said, among other things, I want my child to see that I’m more than a mommy. I loved this statement.
    Anyway, stand your ground and be direct with these red-staters, don’t let them control your emotions.

  13. #13 Punditus Maximus
    January 16, 2008

    I have two pieces of advice:

    1) Consider not going. The purpose of the baby shower is to bring you into the clan of childrearing women and offer you support for your work of raising children. The problem is, you want neither — your philosophy of childrearing is massively different from theirs, and they aren’t going to offer you support for raising kids the way you see as appropriate. So plan your excuses (or how to gently tell the truth) with your partner and opt out.

    2) If you do go, you don’t have to answer their questions. One of the things I’ve had to come to terms with is that not every question needs an answer, and not every person needs to be persuaded. It’s your life. If they ask if you’re going to give up this “silly science stuff,” reply, “That’s an interesting question.” Or, simply, “No, not really.” If they press you, just say, “I’ve really made my decision on this, so I appreciate your advice, but I’m comfortable with what I’m doing.”

  14. #14 ScienceWoman
    January 16, 2008

    Punditus: I really like your point #1. And there are infinte excuses that a pregnant woman can give for not making a cross-country trip.

  15. #15 hypoglycemiagirl
    January 16, 2008

    As I started reading, I thought this was a joke. Cultural differences I guess. Serious Scientist probably have more important things to do before the baby comes (like getting a paper or two submitted) instead of travelling for hours to attend a baby shower.

  16. #16 anonymous
    January 16, 2008

    I would also support Punditus’ #1. I turned down the offer of a shower from someone who I didn’t know very well and who has a very different childrearing philosophy than me. It was a great decision. Because I live far away from my family and friends–who I would have let throw me a shower if they had wanted–I just went without. It was fine–we still were given tons of baby stuff. In fact, my daughter is a clothes horse.

    Good luck!

  17. #17 Mike
    January 16, 2008

    The way many liberals talk about going into “red” states reminds me of the way that racists talk about going into areas with minorities.

  18. #18 mdiehl
    January 16, 2008

    I’m a fan of responding with, “Why do you ask?” After all, what you and your spouse do really is none of anyone else’s business, even if they are family.

  19. #19 Propter Doc
    January 16, 2008

    I think going to the babyshower without your husband will reinforce their viewpoint that the woman raises the kids. I would not attend at all if your husband could not be there, as an equal in the child rearing process. If people ask, I would firmly state your philosophy that raising a child is both parents responsibility and that you plan on both having careers as well. Never say ‘I plan on continuing my career’. Use ‘we will raise our child together, and continue on with our careers as well’. Make it really clear that you view raising this child as a joint effort.
    Lets just hope they are big enough people to accept different ideas as different, not criticisms.

  20. #20 Propter Doc
    January 16, 2008

    PS – And perhaps giving the family the benefit of the doubt before you go in with the uber-defensive uterus type comments. They could well be more open minded on this issue and/or responsive to new ideas than you are currently giving them credit for.

  21. #21 The Ridger
    January 16, 2008

    You know, Mike, it reminds me more of the way minorities talk about going into insular, monolithic communities.

  22. #22 PhysioProf
    January 16, 2008

    Life is all about picking battles. This is not one to pick. Just go along with whatever has been planned in whatever way it has been planned–it’s not like they’re sending you into armed combat. If you get questions or comments about your plans once the baby is born, just remain as non-committal as possible.

    If people keep pushing you for definite answers, you can finally say something like, “What I really want to talk about is what I have in store with the new baby. So many of you have kids and I really want to benefit from all your wisdom and experience about the nuts of bolts of caring for a new born.”

    I’ve never been at a baby shower, but I know human nature. If you put people in the position of experts, and ask them to share their expertise, they are putty in your hands.

  23. #23 Heidi
    January 16, 2008

    My in-laws are similar – all house-wives and well-fed husbands, all good people, but sheltered, unaccustomed to academia or women having professional jobs.

    One thing that really helped open up dialogue with them was to tell them about life in the lab from a social perspective – the people I work with, the interactions with co-workers and students, my role as a mentor to students and my “parenting” of their research projects, as well as the big picture goals of my field (ie – not the unpronounceable name of my subdiscipline, but are you working on a cure for cancer? improving agricultural techniques? any spin that shows how your field (even if not you in particular) is a crusade for humanity goes a really long way.

    Talking to them about how much I cared, how my work was meaningful and important to specific people I work with and to humanity in general went a long way towards having them support my decision to continue working. My husband and I discussed that this might have assuaged their fears that I wasn’t “maternal” or “warm” enough – that their son was marrying some cold robot who preferred beakers and computers to their little boy.

    It worked so well that one aunt even fussed at my husband for having the gall to suggest maybe one day we’d move “home” (to his home) when I was doing such important work in FarAwayState, where they “needed me”. *laugh*

    Good luck! As they say, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

  24. #24 "serious scientist"
    January 16, 2008

    Hi folks -

    Thanks for all the good suggestions. FWIW, yes, as several of you suggested, I am trying to prepare ready-made phrases for a “worst case scenario”. I’ll have these thoughts (and good wishes!) in my back pocket just in case, so that I can pull them out RATHER than bursting into tears. I do hope that I will never have to use them. It’s quite possible that, IF one of the older clan members should say something, that ALL the women of my age will jump to my defense. I’m just trying to be prepared. :)

    I do like the idea of finishing off papers rather than going at all. I’ll see how that flies with “Mr serious scientist” first before suggesting it to his family.

    thanks again!

  25. #25 RG
    January 16, 2008

    I’m viewing this situation from 30 years down the road and my advice is to attend your baby shower with bells on!

    It would be nice if hubby goes with you, but you’re a big girl.

    Why? Thirty years ago I also married into a very tradtional family. I too, wanted people to see me as more than a wife and mother. Strangely enough, it took me a lot of years to realize my in-laws were more than just wives and mothers too.

    They may love you, but they will never walk in your shoes. They can’t “get” how important publication or tenure is. They can see it’s important to you, but they will never see the hard work, worry and struggle.

    The one common experience you will have with them is motherhood. It changed their lives profoundly and it will change yours too. They live far enough away that the time you spend annually talking babies with them can be measured in hours.

    A shower is not a ” you are a uterus” statement. It is a “welcome to a new family member” party and they will be very hurt if you refuse. This is the family that created your husband and it is half the cultural background of your own child. Someday your child will be thrilled to see pictures of you surronded by tissue paper and booties. (And he/she will need those pictures for an elementary school project …. )

    Ask yourself why a smart woman like you feels she is going to be made into a Conversational Victim. Why are you unable to lead a conversation?

    Take charge – ask about your husband. When did he sleep throught the night, walk, talk, read, ride a bike? Any allergies or childhood illnesses? How many broken bones or stitches? Where are his baby pictures? What’s the most embarassing thing he ever did?

    Then there are the quirky events we women collect in common over a lifetime.

    What’s the rudeast thing a doctor or nurse ever said to you? ( Apologies to health workers, but honestly, complaing to a woman in labour that you didn’t get a lunch break is going to be funny story at someone’s baby shower in the future)

    What’s the most embarassing thing your child ever did or said in public?

    What’s the best baby advice anyone ever gave you? ( Most important baby equipment is rocking chair for parents!)

    If anyone tries to suggest that you give up that scientist stuff, ask them about their life when the children were small. You will find that very few women are “only” mothers. If you talk to the older generation about the amount of physical labour they did before washing machines they will see that your baby will receive just as much Mommy time as their children did.

    And if you actually have a hormonal meltdown – welcome to the sisterhood.

  26. #26 Candice
    January 16, 2008

    I think the most pithy, polite and firm answer to the question of whether you will be “giving up this silly science stuff” after the birth of your child is the truth: “No. I will be returning to work after my 3 months of maternity leave.” Delivered with a smile, and without apologies or excuses. If you don’t treat the questions as attacks, they will quickly fizzle. My in-laws tried that approach with me when I was pregnant with our second (I’m in grad school now) and though my brain was screaming with replies like, “WTF! Do you think I spent the last 8 years working my @#$ off to quit now”, over 10 years of experience dealing with the onslaught had taught me to keep my cool. They haven’t asked me about that since.
    With regards to the shower, not going will not keep people from asking you uncomfortable questions. So go if you want to – the gifts and the attention will probably be very nice. But if you don’t want to do it, don’t.

  27. #27 KJ
    January 17, 2008

    RG summed it up for me. Take that advice! There will be so much else to talk about. And if you can take the time off to go, you will have fun. How many times in your life will you be celebrated simply for being you? You are a brilliant scientist and you will be a brilliant mother. Take the opportunity to celebrate the maternal with people that will appreciate it.

  28. #28 Female Engineering Professor
    January 18, 2008

    Such good advice here…I’ll just add a few thoughts.
    1. Being a mother has very little do do with your uterus.
    2. Your husband’s relatives are people too … don’t be guilty of the thing you complain of: putting people in a box.
    3. It’s easy to draw strong stands on thing when the babe is in utero. Give yourself permission to take one day at a time as see what works for you and your family. Remember that there are all kinds of good mommys and good scientists. There are a long list of controversial topics out there (nursing, pacifiers, Barbies, circumcision, going back to work, co-sleeping, diapers). Don’t get caught up in them all and become an angry person who is no fun to be with at parties. Just relax and be yourself.

  29. #29 Academic vixen
    January 18, 2008

    Lots of great stuff here. Two more thoughts. Remeember sometimes people are asking because they want to know what your deciding not because they think you should be making a particular decision. (not always but sometimes) I mean – you coul dbe deciding not to contiue working. You not – but it’s a cioce your making and they just wonder what it’s going to be. And another possible response to the question is the puzzled “What? What do you mean? Quit my job? What?” (Delivered polite and confused, trying to understand a quesiton that just makes no sense.) “Uh…nooo but thanks for asking.” (big smile)

  30. #30 ecogeofemme
    January 18, 2008

    I think RG makes good points. You may need the help of these people in the future so you don’t want to alienate them too much. And now you will have something in common with them so it might be easier to deal with them now than in the past when they really couldn’t understand you.

  31. #31 woman
    January 20, 2008

    A woman’s place is in the home, accept that if you want to have kids. If you disagree, don’t have kids!

  32. #32 ScienceWoman
    January 20, 2008

    Alas, “woman”, your mode of thinking is very outdated and sexist. I could explain so many reasons why you are wrong, but probably the easiest thing to say is that if we relegated all of the mothers of the world to the kitchen, we would be losing out on a tremendous amount of intelligence and energy and passion. Mothers are contributing tremendously to advancing science, medicine, and engineering and helping make the world a better place for all people, including you.

  33. #33 Jenny F. Scientist
    January 21, 2008

    I’m a big fan of smiling politely, saying “Never”, and changing the subject.

    It’s entirely possible the in-laws will be offended if you don’t want to come to the shower, but I’m sure it remains deeply inconvenient. It reminds me rather of my in-laws: it feels like a chore to go there because I don’t WANT TO. I’d go see my family for [inconvenient family event here] any time.

    Besides, they want to give you stuff. Can’t lose!

  34. #34 Chris Rowan
    January 22, 2008

    I’m currently reading a book which makes the rather interesting point that prior to the mechanisation that accompanied the Industrial Revolution (and hence for most of recorded history), a woman’s place was not in the home but in the fields, along with everyone else…

  35. #35 April
    January 22, 2008

    Why not just say the truth and explain your passion to them? Something like, “I love my job and can’t imagine giving it up! I know it will be a lot of work, but (partner’s name) and I are committed to working together to find a happy balance between our jobs and our family.” No need to make excuses or be vague. Share your confident, scientist-self with them. :)

  36. #36 Indrani Roy
    May 29, 2009

    I did give up science 25 years ago when I had my baby but I came back when he went to college and many relatives are doubly appalled that a middle aged mom still wants to play with her chemistry set!! But I did come back and have had to work very very hard to make up for the lost decades.And I live in and belong to a thirld world country where the most enlightened people are twice as red as your reds.
    So take heart and be really vague in your answers and do not take anything personally.Stereotyping exists and so do mavericks! All the best and if you have already had your baby,happy mothering!!!

  37. #37 mother of purdue freshman
    June 19, 2009

    I don’t think “red state blue state” is the ultimate problem. If you are not doing something evil—merely different…then graciously go your own way.

    But don’t buy into all the feminist hype which overreaches and denigrates child rearing either.

    The movie “Baby Boom” is slightly fake—but still a reminder that childrearing is a key part of being human..Our peasant female ancestors had to both help run the farm AND raise the kids (usually several) So we do essentially the same thing!

  38. #38 Katherine
    June 29, 2009

    Serious Scientist, I hope you return and let us know how things went :)

  39. #39 Lyr
    November 14, 2009

    After reading some of the comments above, I still can’t understand how anyone might be against you continuing your education or research — anything that’s important to you, really — no matter what gender you are.

    Don’t go to the shower. It probably won’t turn out well.

  40. #40 YellowE
    September 16, 2010

    Dear Sciencewoman,

    After doing my long postdoctoral training which was six years, I realized that I no longer have the passion that I used to have for science. It would not be suprising after years of tolerance and frustrating times, that this would happen. I would like to take time off just to sort out what I really want to do with the rest of my life. However, I am worried that taking time off will make it difficult for me to go back to working. It may look strange on the CV. Any advice will be appreciated.

    Sincerely,
    Troubled

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