Sciencewomen

Seen and unseen parenting responsbilities

I should say up front that I work in a fairly family-friendly department. They were fantastic when I interviewed (Minnow was just 1 month old) and my colleagues have occasionally asked after her development. I brought her to class once last semester and nobody said anything negative.

And there’s a couple of really committed Dads in the department.

Generally, that’s great. I’d love see all dads actively involved in their kids lives, and I’d prefer to work with colleagues who understand that there is life outside of science.

But what’s not so great is when I see those colleagues getting cut slack explicitly because they are Dads, yet I am not cut any slack because I am a Mom.

This was brought home in vivid relief for me the other day.

There’s a massive professional Service Task that is being undertaken by the members of our department. As the newbie, I wasn’t here when the plum assignments were handed out, yet I was implicitly and explicitly expected to become quite involved with the Service Task. I’m still trying to figure out what I can get away with saying “no” to, so I got stuck with a mountain of logistical work related to the project.

Fine, whatever, it’s not really the sort of service I wanted to do and I’m really feeling like I’ve got more than enough on my plate right now, but I’ll be a good sport and pitch in. (I’ve probably been acculturated to be a good woman and accept that its my place to do what the men hand to me, but that’s not the point of this post.)

So I am in a Service Task related meeting with the childless male colleague Chair of Service Task and childless male colleague Also Untenured and we are trying to figure out how to divide up responsibilities. Chair of Service Task asks me to handle part of a sub-task, related to but in addition to that which I had already agreed to do.

At this point, I say “I thought that Active Dad was in chart of that sub-task.”

And Chair of Service Task says: “He is, but I didn’t want to burden him with anything since he’s got a little one at home.”

I’m sure I flushed. I remember being at a loss for words.

Fortunately, Also Untenured came to my defense: “So does she.”

So Active Dad gets cut slack because he’s got a 3 year old, and ScienceWoman is supposed to pick up after him? No way. If I were Zuska, I would have puked on his shoes.

Since I am not Zuska, I merely told Chair of Service Task that as chair, it was really his responsibility to make sure that everyone was doing what they had agreed to do. And I silently thanked Also Untenured for stepping up for me. I probably should have thanked him audibly.

Older male colleagues (there are no older female colleagues) are so accommodating to the Active Dads. They praise the guys’ involvement with their children’s lives. Yet these same older male colleagues don’t understand why myself and the one other mom don’t want to do things like have all-weekend retreats or 5 pm meetings. Women’s parenting responsibilities are completely unseen by our senior colleagues.

I hope that as the older male colleagues slowly retire that the younger generation will be more equitable and empathetic. At the very least, I hope that 5 pm meetings will go out the window as people like Active Dad take the reins of leadership. After all, at least they’ll understand that daycare closes at 6 and bedtime’s at 7:30.

Comments

  1. #1 Ron Schott
    February 7, 2008

    Maybe Chair of Service Task needs to spend a little more quality time with Minnow…

  2. #2 ScienceMama
    February 8, 2008

    It’s /possible/ that the younger generation will be more sympathetic. It’s also possible that young male colleagues, both childless and childful, will also continue to see Dads as having “extra” responsibilities, but won’t be able to see the same applies to Moms.

    And as to child friendly schedules? I haven’t been able to attend a single seminar this year because they go from 4:00 to 5:00 (Bean’s daycare closes at 5:00)…

  3. #3 Mark
    February 8, 2008

    Perhaps they are just assuming that your spouse is as involved in the child rearing as Active Dads and that allows you the extra time to attend to your work.

  4. #4 anonymous
    February 8, 2008

    Grrrr….wtf. What is implicit in the ‘optimistic scenario’ is that it is impossible that you or any other woman would have some say in the ‘next generation.’ That since the men outnumber the women so much, women MUST rely on sympathetic men like ActiveDad to ‘realize’ that he was cut a break at your expense, so now he should do right by you.

    In my world–he, not only, MUST do right by you, but you should actually be the one determining his fate, rather than him deciding yours. You did the extra work–despite having a child–while, he did not.

    And, I know all of us reading your blog probably see this greater truth, but unfortunately, know that it is 99.9% outside the realm of possibility. Grrrrr. Double grrrr.

  5. #5 Bardiac
    February 8, 2008

    The “active” dads in my department talk about “babysitting” their kids. Seriously. And they get (and give each other) all sorts of special consideration for it. And whine if their working wife isn’t waiting with dinner when they get home.

    Alas, I don’t think this generation is nearly what it should be, so far as gender roles, at least!

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    February 8, 2008

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  7. #7 Kate
    February 8, 2008

    I honestly don’t think a change of the guard is what’s going to change things. I think you (and the other mom) continuing to speak up, maybe even have some private meetings with higher ups, and gather the dads and nondads around you as allies, is what’s going to make a difference.

    And this sounds like exactly what you are already doing.

  8. #8 writerdd
    February 8, 2008

    I’m assuming you are pretty young. Maybe as you get older you will learn to speak up for yourself more. You don’t need to wait for a guy like Also Untenured to speak for you. Young people take too much crap at work. You have to learn how to say “no” fearlessly.

  9. #9 Schlupp
    February 8, 2008

    Hm, exactly the impression I had in Germany and MyCountry. With the important difference that the active Dads who got cut slack had stay-at-home wives and that the women with children in academia are extremely rare. But the idea seemed to be that a man with kids deserves consideration, while a woman with kids is a problem.

    Oh, and you should explicitly thank Also Untenured.

  10. #10 Becca
    February 8, 2008

    I don’t think a changing of the ranks will bring about abrupt change- this is an area that is doomed to small incremental (often bitterly fought) advances.

    That said, there’s always the possibility that I’m not alone- and that there are a boatload of bright, passionate scientists coming up behind you *that were raised by stay-at-home-DADS* who will intuitively see things differently.

  11. #11 catswym
    February 8, 2008

    i think it is ridiculous that the chair of the committee said and did what he did.

    and i do think that the coming up generation is/will be slightly more concerned with things like this.

    that said, i also think it does you personally, and women in general, a disservice to not speak up for yourself. i don’t mean to be harsh and obviously the chair is ultimately responsible for not acknowledging your position but, i think, that in the meantime (till women are generally acknowledged in every regard) we, the women, need to be speaking up for ourselves at every opportunity.

  12. #12 Kim
    February 8, 2008

    I tend to be loud and explicit about my parenting needs, but I’m in a more powerful position: I had been teaching for ten years before I had a child. (Yes, I started teaching when I was very young. I was both lucky and unlucky in that respect.) Unfortunately, it doesn’t help much – I haven’t learned how to be loud without also seeming angry and bitter.

    If you privately thank Also Untenured, you might be able to gain a longterm ally. And knowing how important it is to you might also help him stand up for other young women scientists in the future, when you and he are trading off the department chair job.

  13. #13 flygrrl
    February 8, 2008

    I wonder if this sometimes happens exactly because higher-ups are afraid of being charged with sexism (i.e. assuming a mom might not want extra responsibilities because of children). I’m certainly not defending Chair of Service Task. I am blessed with a partner who is very involved in child rearing, and it sets me wild when my girlfriends talk about their hubbies “babysitting” so that we can go get coffee together once a month or something. So yes, we’ve still got a long way to go, baby. Thanks for the post (found you via Skepchick).

  14. #14 j
    February 8, 2008

    There is a lot of data out there showing that men with children really do get more respect than women with children – in business and in academia. I’m sure that translates to preferential treatment.

    I agree this was ridiculous, but I’d also be upset since I don’t think parents should be given special slack for the sake of the kids (even small kids) – at least not all the time. Everyone has things in their personal life they’d like to attend to, and I figure we should all share the burden, and make sure that at least over time things even out. So maybe I get a break on one service task because I can’t really do one element of it due to daycare/whatever child related thing, but I’d hope I would remember the colleague who picked up the slack that time so I could repay them in the appropriate circumstances.

    I do wish chairs (male and female – my female chair has this problem too) would assign jobs and keep a running tally of who does what (unofficial, just to keep a written record), instead of just asking for volunteers. It is so much easier to say no when tenured, when older, when not trying to manage one’s impressions so much. And the ones who pick up the slack (at least in my dept) tend to be the young, untenured women, since someone has to get the job done. Bleh.

  15. #15 mxracer652
    February 8, 2008

    Since work & children was brought up, why no discussion of how working parent (male or female) gets cut a ridiculous amount of slack because they have kids?

    It’s just another form of preferential treatment toward one group.

  16. #16 ScienceMama
    February 8, 2008

    I disagree with MXRacer652′s assertion that working parents are asking for preferential treatment.

    The reality on the ground is that parents have more responsibilities outside of the workplace than non-parents. And it’s in EVERYONES best interest that parents be given the space and time to effectively raise the next generation. Parents are doing a lot of REAL work to raise their children. If you want them to raise productive members of society, give them the opportunity to do so.

    Biology (i.e. having offspring) should not be considered some sort of abnormal part of human life. Children are a part of our society, and everyone benefits when parents are able to raise their children well.

    When you make it so that parenting and worklife are incompatible, you will preferentially exclude primary caretakers (in our society this is almost always the mother) from the workplace. And that’s probably the biggest factor keeping women from achieving true equality.

  17. #17 flygrrl
    February 8, 2008

    Thanks ScienceMama, for putting that so much more eloquently than I could have. I think when I was younger/childless, I didn’t quite get that. But, maturity helped me recognize the dynamics, and having my own child really brought it home. I’d ask mxracer652 exactly what he/she means by “slack” too… do you feel people without children are working harder during the same hours? Are they working more hours? The reality is that the tradeoff for that “slack” is usually lower pay, less advancement opportunity, or delayed career track. Our lives and careers go in phases; in some you are contributing more to work life, in others more to home life, and hopefully it all balances out.

  18. #18 carol jefferson
    February 8, 2008

    Wall Street journal ran an article recently (I think in the Work and Life column) on the special considerations for Dads but NOT moms in the “new, family-friendly workplace.”

  19. #19 Spaulding
    February 8, 2008

    Seems like the end of the story is missing. How did Chair of Service Task respond? It makes a big difference.

    Was it: “I’m aware that you’re also a parent, and while I’m making some reasonable efforts to accommodate all parents’ schedules, I can’t promise that anyone will always get their preferred assignments and schedule.”

    Or maybe: “Oh, I wasn’t aware that you were a parent. How old is your child? I try to be aware of this stuff when I assign schedules and duties.”

    Or was it: “Yeah, but he’s a DAD, see. That means he gets it easy and you don’t.”

    Or did he just ignore the information?

    The response makes a difference, don’t you think?

  20. #20 Writer Chica
    February 8, 2008

    I sense this type of response to moms and dads in general. Seems to come back to expectations. If a dad puts in a little extra effort for childrearing his is looked at with awe, because fathers weren’t like that years ago and wow, isn’t he a great dad! But a mother’s effort seems to be largely ignored because that is just what they are supposed to do.
    I’ll be the first to give my husband credit for being a supportive, involved father. It just bums me out when he gets praised by others, but people somehow don’t see my contributions as worthy.

  21. #21 ScienceWoman
    February 8, 2008

    Lots of great comments here. A few tidbits that did not get included in the original post but that have been brought up in comments.

    I did intend to defend myself, but as I was gathering my words, Also Untenured jumped in. I would have said something, but I didn’t have to.

    As for Chair of Service Task’s response. “Oh, right.”
    And then we moved on.

    The attitude that dads are “babysitting” does drive me nuts though. When a child is half your genetic material, it’s not babysitting, it’s doing your job to parent them.

  22. #22 David Harmon
    February 8, 2008

    What ScienceMama said, Amen!

  23. #23 Mike
    February 8, 2008

    I have no problem if working parents are given some slack as long as the workers without children are given the exact same amount of slack. It is far better that some things go undone than it is for one group of workers to be forced to do more than others without receiving additional compensation.

  24. #24 flygrrl
    February 8, 2008

    I have no problem if working parents are given some slack as long as the workers without children are given the exact same amount of slack. It is far better that some things go undone than it is for one group of workers to be forced to do more than others without receiving additional compensation.

    So you don’t feel that higher pay, bigger bonuses, and faster advancement count as “additional compensation”?

  25. #25 Mike
    February 8, 2008

    Higher Pay? I have not seen a job announcement that states that workers without children will be paid more.

    Where I work in academia, I have seen no slack given and no higher pay given for family reasons.

  26. #26 flygrrl
    February 8, 2008

    I am not saying that higher pay is given as a condition of employment, and it may very well be that academia is a separate case. But in the private sector, one must quite often accept jobs that on average pay less if one wants flexibility around a family, and those who do “get slack” for a few years generally don’t advance (and therefore are not compensated as highly) as rapidly as their childless peers who can put in 70 hour weeks. Even in academia, I would guess that the ability to publish prolifically, do research, etc. would be impacted by by whether or not you have a family, therefore resulting in slower advancement towards tenure, and in places where pay is merit-based, getting smaller raises. The effects over the lifetime of a career in terms of total earnings and retirement savings are HUGE.

  27. #27 kevin z
    February 8, 2008

    Wow, interesting post and great discussion. I’m a dad, my wife is stay at home for now and freelance photographer. I guess I “babysit” when she needs to go on a shoot or do something, I never really thought of it as that though. She has made alot of sacrifices so I can pursue my PhD. Even stopped going to college so I move out to where I’m doing my PhD and then we decided to have kids while we are on good health insurance and she wasn’t in school. When I told my advisor we were having our first kid 2 1/2 yrs. ago he said something to the effect of “I guess I should say congratulations.” When I said we were having our second kid a little over a year ago, I’ll never forget his exact words “Hmm. I guess you have a lot more time on your hands than me”. I was so excited for my daughter and he really crushed me. He doesn’t have to be excited as I am but he doesn’t have to be asshole. I’m definitely not the “sensitive-pony-tail” type of guy too (although my 2 gorgeous kids have softened me a bit). Whats more is he at least took a passing interest in my outside-of-lab life before #2, now he takes no interest, for better or worse. After #1, he would half-jokingly give me “tips” of things to tell my wife to get out of “daddy-duty” as called it. After a couple of his “tips” I told him we weren’t that kind of family.

    I’m not saying I want him involved in my life, I don’t. But I didn’t like being treated differently after I had kids. My wife has always hated him. She’s a very strong-willed and no-bullshit kind of girl and doesn’t know how to small talk with non-scientists. When we have lab get togethers, she usually abstains.

  28. #28 mxracer652
    February 8, 2008

    ScienceMama:
    Please explain to me why YOUR responsibilities are more important than what I do with the free time in my life? After all, your “responsibility” is a choice of which I have no voice in.

    flygrrl:
    It is simple economics. People who work longer and produce more are worth more money, therefore they get paid more. People with kids can’t work as long, therefore they get paid less. This is not some nefarious conspiracy.

  29. #29 elyssa
    February 9, 2008

    why no discussion of how working parent (male or female) gets cut a ridiculous amount of slack because they have kids?

    Every consulting firm I’ve worked for has had this issue. People with kids have to leave because of day care. Everyone else therefore has to stay late. People with kids aren’t asked to work weekends. Everyone else is required to.

    On the plus side, these are men and women who are involved in their kids’ schedules. On the minus side, there’s a systematic unfairness to everyone who doesn’t have kids. (If you think having kids is how we should contribute to society, you need to give us some free time to find mates.)

    ScienceMama’s argument is framed in a way that seems awfully hostile toward those without kids:
    The reality on the ground is that parents have more responsibilities outside of the workplace than non-parents. And it’s in EVERYONES best interest that parents be given the space and time to effectively raise the next generation. Parents are doing a lot of REAL work to raise their children. If you want them to raise productive members of society, give them the opportunity to do so.

    What I hear in this is that parents are more important than other people. That parents and non-parents are in competition. That it’s a zero-sum game in which for parents not to be penalized, someone else has to be.

    Here’s an idea. Just because parents aren’t treated well, don’t wish ill-treatment on everyone else. The problem isn’t that your non-parent co-workers are selfish. The problem is that your boss/company/industry is unrealistic.

  30. #30 ScienceMama
    February 9, 2008

    Elyssa, I think you misunderstand my point. My point is not that parents are more important than non-parents. I don’t wish for someone to have to “pick up the slack” for parents, but rather that parents be given the opportunity to both participate in the workforce and raise their children. I absolutely agree that the problem stems from unrealistic work expectations for everyone (parents and non-parents alike).

  31. #31 Schlupp
    February 9, 2008

    mxracer652:

    On your answer to fygrrl: The point is that you can’t (a) accept more money and (b) complain about higher workloead. Because you get PAID for it.

    On your answer to ScienceMama: Why are children more important than other hobbies (say, video games)? Um, maybe, because children are people, and video games are not? Jut my weird idea.

  32. #32 Twice
    February 9, 2008

    I agree that whatever one decided to do with their non-work time is up to them. Yes I choose to have kids. That means I don’t get to play video games much. This is fine, this is my choice. I ran the positive pregnancy test while playing SSX, so the trade-off is perhaps very salient in my mind. (And, yes, I let my husband finish his virtual snowboarding run before I told him.)

    What is doesn’t mean is that I do less work. It does mean that for quite a while my chair assumed I was doing less work because I had to leave at a certain time. He didn’t see that as soon as the kids got into bed, I pulled out my laptop. This has been resolved by being more vocal about what I’m accomplishing and by having a faculty member in the department who isn’t really getting his stuff done and is on campus about the same amount of time.

    And yes, of course people without children work at home too, but the number of hours I spend working at home is much greater now than before I had children. For me, anyway, the sum total of campus time + home work time is about the same as it was prior to having children.

  33. #33 Barn Owl
    February 9, 2008

    ScienceMama wrote-

    The reality on the ground is that parents have more responsibilities outside of the workplace than non-parents. And it’s in EVERYONES best interest that parents be given the space and time to effectively raise the next generation. Parents are doing a lot of REAL work to raise their children. If you want them to raise productive members of society, give them the opportunity to do so.
    Biology (i.e. having offspring) should not be considered some sort of abnormal part of human life. Children are a part of our society, and everyone benefits when parents are able to raise their children well.

    I had pretty much the same interpretation of this post as did elyssa, i.e. the only responsibilities that matter outside the workplace are those that involve raising children…one’s own biological children, given the second paragraph I quoted. What about parents and caretakers of adopted or foster children? Shouldn’t they be given the same considerations in the workplace? If I’m ever in a position to be a parent, my children will be adopted, and I would hope that my colleagues in academia would give me the same considerations and fill in for me when necessary, as I have (happily and without complaining) done for them over the years.

    I’d like to think that we as humans can transcend the biological imperatives of basic reproduction, enough to realize that there are many varieties of parenting and caretaking responsibilities in society; however, given the tone and content of the main post and many of the comments, I’m not so sure. Perhaps the tone and content simply reflect the middle-American, heteronormative, nuclear family, gender dichotomy paradigm that seems to dominate ScienceBlogs. If one of the goals is to represent the diversity present in science and academia, it certainly does not reflect what I see in my academic position on a daily basis.

    Schlupp wrote-

    On your answer to ScienceMama: Why are children more important than other hobbies (say, video games)? Um, maybe, because children are people, and video games are not? Jut my weird idea.

    You know, most of the time I’m a very open-minded and helpful “it takes a village” type of childless person, but when I read something like the above, I have to shrug and say “Yes, it *is* just your weird idea”. Even the local public television station has the sense to realize that there are many, many Not The Parent caretakers of young children, and to offer free classes in child education and behavior for aunts, uncles, grandparents, and non-relatives who share parenting responsibilities. There’s also the issue, largely if not completely ignored by the other commenters, that there are many types of caretaking responsibilities-for elderly or disabled relatives and friends, for neighbors, and in community service projects.

    The assumption that “video games” fill the free time of childless individuals is so inane and judgmental that it doesn’t even warrant a snarky reply.

    *rolls eyes*

  34. #34 Luna_the_cat
    February 9, 2008

    Given that the next generation has to come from somewhere, I’m perfectly happy for as much of it as possible to come from professionals with good expectations for education and attainment, and I’m also perfectly happy for them to spend enough time with their families to raise well-adjusted human beings and not isolated and poorly-socialised neurotics. Who the heck do you think is going to be supporting the services you use when you’re 80?

    I do not see the parents I work with “slacking”; on the contrary, they have a job beyond just what we do in the office, and they don’t get paid for that one. Anyone who seriously compares parenting with purely leisure-oriented activities like video games need smacked –hard– with a clue-by-four. And the parents pull their weight in the office, too, a lot more than some of the single-no-kids-but-quite-likely-to-come-in-hungover young men.

  35. #35 Luna_the_cat
    February 9, 2008

    Barn Owl — wait, are you seriously trying to argue that children are not more important than video games? Because that’s the “weird idea” that you are criticising there. Did you not really read the Why are children more important than other hobbies (say, video games)? part?

    Incidentally, the US has a ways to go before it catches up to the rest of the world; here in the UK family leave is extended for foster and adopted children as well.

  36. #36 Schlupp
    February 9, 2008

    Luna, I do not think that Barn Owl argues that video games are as important as children, although I read it that way at first, too. I think (s)he thought that I thought people without kids just play video games. Which was not my idea at all. Although I do not think this interpretation of my comment very obvious, it would have been my responsibility to be clearer.

    Barn Owl, please note that my comment was written as a reply to another comment by mxracer652 that heavily emphasized the “choice” involved in what everyone does in their “free time.” That comment had “responsibility” for children in quotes, which does suggest mxracer652 proposes not to take this obligation seriously. So, I had got the impression – and I may have been as wrong as you were about my comment – that mxracer652 WOULD suggest that having kids is a choice like playing video games. Add to that the fact that a colleague recently did argue that the choice to have children was equivalent to the choice to play video games…

    May I add that I do not see where anyone here said that other responsibilities are not important? Sure, the post – and consequently the comments – are about parenting, but if this is enough to suggest that elder care is considered unimportant, we might as well go on to complain about its not treating a gazillion of other topics.

  37. #37 Confused
    February 9, 2008

    Interesting debate on a matter close to my heart.

    My bloke and I are childless by choice – for very many reasons.

    We’ve always wondered what on earth possesses people to reproduce these days, when no logical analysis of the decision has yielded more benefits than disadvantages (in our opinion). We struggle to perceive any benefits, in fact.

    So given it seems that many of the contributors to this discussion appear to have a scientific background, I’d love to know: why did you ever decide to have children?

  38. #38 acmegirl
    February 10, 2008

    It’s just ridiculous to say that anyone is trying to make a case that parents are more important than non-parents. Personally, when I hear these kinds of comments suggesting that flexible scheduling for people with children is somehow hurting those without, first of all, I feel like punching someone. No-one without children can possibly understand the amount of added work involved, and if parents don’t do it, who else do you expect to step up to the plate? Really, I think the hidden message is that women who choose to have children should “pay the price” and give up their careers. Since nobody has the guts to say that anymore in the new PC world, we get this whiny nonsense.

  39. #39 ScienceMama
    February 10, 2008

    To Barn Owl:

    I apologize if my language seemed exclusionary. I certainly include adoptive and foster parents as being on equal footing as biological parents.

    To Confused:

    I can no more explain why I wanted to have a child so badly than I can explain any other innate human desire. Some people have this desire, some don’t.

    Yes, it’s a lot of work, and there are things that you give up, but the payoff comes in the form of earthshaking joy.

    To Acmegirl:

    Your comment on women paying the price is right on. If men had babies and breastfed and were the majority primary caretakers, you wouldn’t have to make a “choice” between having a career and having a family.

  40. #40 Filo05
    February 11, 2008

    We’ve always wondered what on earth possesses people to reproduce these days, when no logical analysis of the decision has yielded more benefits than disadvantages (in our opinion). We struggle to perceive any benefits, in fact.

    Dear confused, I’m so sorry you feel this way! By perceived ‘disadvantages’ of having children, I assume you mean things like changing dirty diapers, lack of sleep, hectic schedule, no more free time…every single ‘disadvantage’ is totally outweighed by the unbelieveable amount of love I feel every single time I look at my beautiful boy. That joy is absolutely irreplaceable. There’s nothing logical about the love I feel for him. Its not an equation where you can say 1 + 1 = 2. Its more like 1 + 1 = 1 million. I would totally regret looking back on my life without him in it.

    I respect anyone’s decision not to have children. But please consider more than the superficial ‘disadvantages’ before making such a decision. Think about how you will feel at age 70.

  41. #41 L
    February 11, 2008

    I’m not really sure how this relates to this post, but based on the comments I’d like to discuss it here with you – but please recognize I am horrified I have felt this way, and please don’t jump down my throat for it!!

    I am a ‘newby’ (been here for 1.5 years) in a Research Job at a Big Biotech Company which has many examples in my department of family choices not influencing career advancement – i.e. women with young children or fathers with family issues are given adequate time off and ways to work around their home lives. Example: One director has a young son and she works part time.

    My co-worker, who has the same education level as me and got her Higher Degree after I did but has been working at The Company for years longer than me, recently had a beautiful baby boy and was able to take maternity leave for four months (c-section, close to holidays, and had saved up vacation time). While she was away I was in charge of most of the work she had been doing, which was transitioned to me over a month and a half before she left. The rest of her work was taken over by another co-worker in our group. The dynamic of our group changed as one project didn’t work out (as happens in research) and personnel were shifted around for this year. She came back to work after being gone for four months and suddenly whatever I was closely involved in with our projects, I had no knowledge of anymore. I no longer all knew the background for the project, it was just her and our manager who discussed it and I was just delegated tasks.

    Now, I understand I am the Pond Scum of the group in terms of seniority and I understand that she has been working there for much longer, has gotten a product chartered, and obviously has more experience than me. However, I still reacted unfavorably to her seeming favoritism treatment by our manager. I have made negative comments to friends about her (and I generally really enjoy working with her) now that she is a mom, works part time, and gets to do all the ‘fun’ stuff with our project while I am stuck doing the mindless tasks associated with our project. She sets up the meetings and continuously did not include me, she started micromanaging me, and my objectives now fall under her objectives. She is not a senior member of our group, but is being treated like one and I am uncomfortable with our new dynamic since I really feel we are both on similar levels within the company. Our group dynamic went from me always knowing what was going on to me never knowing what was going on, until recently since our manager has started including me in the entire process again. I had a general negative attitude about how much responsibility she has when she doesn?t really know the project well anymore and she only works half days now.

    I am really horrified that I took such a reaction to her situation when I have generally really appreciated that our Company respects life choices women make and R&D especially show that they are doing this. Now, I’m not sure about pay etc but based on seniority and job responsibility, it seems fair among men/women/parents. I was really disturbed by my reaction especially since I hope to be treated with respect and understanding if/when I find myself in a similar situation. I was just wondering if anyone else had ever found themselves reacting troll-like when they had come across similar situations. Am I really a horrible mean single female or is this something that may be common? I don’t want to react like elyssa, mxracer652, and others, but honestly can sort of see their point. Maybe this just comes with age and maturity? It’s not like I want less responsibility at work, or feel like I am doing more of the work, in fact, I would like more, and I feel like we should be more of a team rather than me being excluding from this fun part of getting the technology into a product.

  42. #42 Zuska
    February 12, 2008

    L, if you were the new mama, would you really want to be penalized for taking maternity leave by having your project taken away from you? It seems to me that part of the company’s (very enlightened) way of acknowledging that somebody (parents) has to take responsibility for reproducing the next generation, is to incorporate planning for that very thing. Hence planning the temporary transition of New Mama’s responsibilities to another co-worker (you) during the time she would be off. Maybe you came to think of it as your project, maybe it wasn’t made clear to you that it was a temporary situation. Allowing New Mama to work part time and still keep her project is very, very progressive, and the sort of thing more companies need to do.

    You say that you are the least senior in the group. What you need to be doing now is proving your worth to the company. One opportunity to do that was to successfully carry out the duties of the project during the time they were transitioned to you. Going around now and saying bad things about New Mama behind her back is not going to earn you any points for your career; it will, however, establish you as a complainer. If you must vent, do it to people outside work. Otherwise you are poisoning your own nest.

    Look around for ways to make your reputation at work. New Mama is not standing in between you and a shot at success. She’s just coming back to work and doing her work, and it’s a good thing the way the company is treating her. Classifying progressive company policy as “favoritism” is not right, nor is it helpful to you.

    Ask you boss for a meeting. Ask for feedback on your performance to date in the company. Ask what opportunities exist for you to take on more work and more responsibility. If you/your boss do not have a development plan for your career at the company, now would be a good time to talk about making one. Spend your time actively managing your career rather than resenting someone else.

  43. #43 Zuska
    February 12, 2008

    Sorry for the mixed metaphor there…poisoning your own well, fouling your own nest….but you knew what I meant, right?!?

  44. #44 L
    February 13, 2008

    Zuska – Thank you for your comments. Again, I said I was horrified by my reaction and was upset WITH MYSELF for the way I was feeling. I did not expect any project to be taken away from her, but I also did not expect her to suddenly be managing me when we had always worked together ON THE SAME LEVEL before. I had a feeling you would take my comments as all negative, which is fine, that’s your opinion.

    I suspect on another aspect, I was not clear in the dynamic of the group before she left. The project was not exclusively hers – it was ours – I was just asked to do all of her parts in addition to my own. She was mainly on another project at that point anyway which was more adaptable (and safer) for her as a pregnant woman. I respect that. However, when the new year started a projected was dropped from our group’s responsibilities and all members got shuffled around. This is the point I felt that I got bumped from my role in our project and suddenly we were not as much of a team.

    Again, I am not a complete idiot – of course I did not vent to my co-workers rather friends outside of the Company. I believe it was only venting and I do not feel there is anything wrong with that. I am trying to figure out why I am feeling this way because I am not excited or happy about it (as I stated in my long-winded comment a number of times).

    Thanks for the post on your blog about this. It gives another more complete perspective of work/outside of work life.

  45. #45 Helen
    February 13, 2008

    “The reality on the ground is that parents have more responsibilities outside of the workplace than non-parents.”

    No they don’t. What a bizarre thing to say.

  46. #46 Helen
    February 13, 2008

    I’m about halfway through the comments, and I can’t decide which flavor of screaming bigotry is more horrifying.

    If anyone wants to talk about keeping expectations for any one-person job to what one person with a full adult set of responsibilities can handle, because otherwise we all lose out, I’m in and cheering. The whole notion of noticing and praising fathers more than mothers, which I’ve seen a fair bit of, is just plain creepy.

    But just as creepy and dripping in bigotry are statements like, “The reality on the ground is that parents have more responsibilities outside of the workplace than non-parents,”

    and this exchange:

    “ScienceMama: Please explain to me why YOUR responsibilities are more important than what I do with the free time in my life? After all, your “responsibility” is a choice of which I have no voice in.” replied to by “On your answer to ScienceMama: Why are children more important than other hobbies (say, video games)? Um, maybe, because children are people, and video games are not? Jut my weird idea.”

    That’s just plain vile — any responsibility not devoted to childraising is as subhuman and unimportant as videogames? That’s sick. Just because people pass age 18 doesn’t mean they don’t count as real people and real responsibilities when they need care and help.

  47. #47 habeas
    February 20, 2008

    Parenting is a responsibility that cannot be outsourced or handed off once the decision is made to have a child. (Unless a biological parent chooses adoption…point well taken by earlier poster that many parents are not biological.)

    The childless argument that “children are a choice” falls apart when they can demonstrate no similar life-committing responsibility (with the possible exception of eldercare) that comes with the same legal consequences. If I neglect my child, I go to jail. If you neglect your next novel or your video games or your personal pursuit of whatever noble goal, there are no legal consequences.

    Depending on the age children may be left alone in your state, parenting is a minimum 12-year commitment where one parent, other adult, or paid caretaker must be with your child 24 hours a day. There is no equivalent personal responsibility like that, which is why businesses, governments, and societies should (and sometimes do) recognize the burdens that parents face as unique.

  48. #48 Katya
    February 21, 2008

    I agree with the first few commentators that a change will occur with the Generation Y and Millennial Generation taking up positions in the workforce. This is mostly because we don’t have any illusions of job security – “security” in general has never existed for those of us whose parents lost jobs in massive economic restructuring and lost homes in divorces – and thus whatever we *do* happen to get in the career world, we don’t make it our life. Why? It won’t last.

    I have noticed, even within my position in academia, that young people aren’t sharing the workaholic ethics of their elder colleagues (much to the elders dismay). We say “no,” we take time for ourselves, we do what *we* want to. Most of the students that I work with do not expect to ever earn a true pension or gain tenure; Social Security forty or fifty years from now? A joke. One thing that I have noticed amongst my quarter-century comrades is that building the family has become a huge issue. It means taking time off, moving to a smaller domicile (but in a better school district), sharing childcare with one’s partner, relying on friend networks to help with tasks and time-trading, and telling point-blank whatever administration we face that the job is not as important as the family. This doesn’t mean it’s not difficult, especially as young families are dealing with student-loans, huge amounts of extra debt, stagnant wages, and rising inflation.

    I agree with one of the previous contributors, you have got to stand up for yourself. What happens the next time, when the untenured fellow isn’t around to back you up? You are a mother AND a scientist, and you’ve earned both titles! Stand up against anybody who says otherwise.

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