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Parenting thoughts

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Parenting thoughts

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I haven't written in a long time, but I wanted to get some thoughts out into the aether about the fact that we're about to have our first child. Since there seems to be a general consensus that parents, particularly mothers, lose their rational minds when they have kids, I'm very curious how this will go and I'd like to try and document the process.

I'm a female scientist and engineer, and I'd really like to be a professor in a few years. My research is going very well, and I've been putting a lot of thought into the best way to keep my career on track. My husband, being the best husband in the world is immensely cooperative about this. When we were talking about having kids, he told me that he definitely didn't want to have kids at all unless I could stay on the professorship track, since that's meant so much to me for so many years. As he put it, "If everyone's living for the future, no one's living." (Though I should point out that he's thinking about staying home once we have two.) I want to put out there that I have zero temptation to quit working, since it really should start being okay for women who have heavily invested in their education and careers to say that.

I've been doing a lot of reading parenting books, and with the exception of two truly excellent well referenced books ("Solve your child's sleep problems" by Richard Ferber, and "What's Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life" by Lise Eliot), I've been appalled at the amount of unsupported dogma that goes into parenting advice. The way my labmate (who has kids) put it, it's something very important that it's hard to get good information about and so the only solution is to have deep convictions about whatever you adopt. This is rough since convictions make it very difficult to be adaptable, and parenting involves a lot of things outside your control. For example, you might not get to have a magical childbirth experience, or be able to breast feed.

I've been most offended by the gender roles put forward in these books. For example, many books advise women not to decide whether to come back to work until during maternity leave. The unstated assumption is that the woman is not a doctor, lawyer, or business owner. You also can't be an engineer who works on a team as part of a large technical project. Some people are very difficult to replace, and it really bothers me that society tends to push women into careers where they are more replaceable. One woman wrote, "The magazine could hire another writer, but my kids only had one mother." In an overstuffed humanities field with tons of competition for each position, that may be true. But for example, a doctor can actually be enough better at their job than the next person on the list that people will live or die depending on whether they quit. Beyond the obvious hard-to-replace careers, it seems like a matter of basic self-esteem to believe that you're not that replaceable. I personally have a very solid idea of how I want to affect the world through my career, and I really believe it'll be better off. Beyond that, it's pretty obvious that every time a woman quits without notice on account of a baby that it strengthens stereotypes in everyone's mind that lead to women not being put in positions of responsibility.

Another common issue is the assumption that men are useless in parenting. Despite my efforts at trying to be useless at doing the dishes, my husband is not fooled and continues to expect me to do my share. It's hard for me to see why that trick seems to work in parenting. I read another very interesting book on gender roles in modern marriages in which gender segregation is inversely correlated with income. I.e., more income, more segregated gender roles. Less income, everyone has to do their fair share. Interestingly, this also relates to gender roles in modern fundamentalist Islam. (I'm getting this from Ayaan Hirsi's Ali's book, which was awesome.) Only an affluent culture (like Saudi Arabia) can afford to say women can't go to the grocery store without men. Another related point from the book was that (she argues) fundamentalist Islam caught on primarily with women in Somalia, who liked the ideas that their husbands should be responsible for taking care of everything, and women should be in the home. It's hard to think of anything more dangerous yet seductive than the desire to give over your responsibilities to someone else.

Anyway, more thoughts as they come up.
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