Saturday, March 25, 2006

Parenting in the workplace

Lately, I've noticed that I bring up my juggling act in meetings quite often. It's as if I'm forcing the issue on people, reminding them that it's sometimes a struggle to parent and work at the same time. And reminding them that even in our flexible workplace, parents are often asked "just to deal with it."

Recently, while at a search committee meeting, we were trying to schedule the next meeting. I suddenly realized that the meeting we were trying to arrange landed smack in the middle of my kids' spring break.

"Uh oh," I said. "That's spring break. I'm not sure what's going on that week."

"Well," said one person, "Can you give us an idea?"

"Not really," I said. "I don't have my husband's schedule in front of me. That's what this will depend on."

She looked at me and frowned. Now we'd spent the last 10 minutes planning interviews to coincide with her schedule around conferences, festivals, meetings and whatnot, but now that we were dealing with *gasp* the care of children, she didn't want to be accomodating in return. I ended up saying that I'd work something out, not to worry. What was interesting to me about the interchange was that I brought it up at all. Usually parents are asked to be silent about such matters. After the schedule is made, we rush to our phones, call spouses and babysitters and "work something out." For whatever reason, I wanted to remind the people at the table that the raising of and caring for children was important, worthy of noting on my calendar and worthy of accomodating, just like any other obligation.

Another time, we were discussing the possibility of leaves for staff, for a year of research or a few months or something.

I asked, "What about those of us with children? It's pretty complicated, with two working parents, to make these arrangements."

"Faculty do it all the time."

I squirmed in my seat. Yes, faculty with stay at home spouses. I know all about those arrangements. Faculty with children not yet in school.

"Yes, but, let's use me as an example. I'd have to coordinate it with [Mr. Geeky]. If he just took a leave, then he can't just take another one. And I'd have to arrange school for the kids. Or I'd just have to go alone. I don't know if I could do that--for a year anyway."

"Well, not everyone has those issues."

"Well, I just want to make you aware of the practical considerations that some people might have to make. You don't want to exclude people because of that."

And that's the issue. Many parents opt out of more work or different kinds of arrangements, i.e. going on a leave for a year, because the accomodations that would have to be made are so complicated. What if Mr. Geeky were not a faculty member, but instead the CEO of a large corporation? I can't imagine he'd be able to leave his job for a year. And what about school for that year? It's hard to transfer schools. You have to get shot records and school records and all kinds of stuff. And the kids have to leave their friends behind for a year. And, that's not a huge deal, but still something to consider. The risks are not just about you anymore. And that's something some nonparents don't quite get.