Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The Single/Parent Wars

I was planning a post for tonight about blogging, about the various categories of blogs, and a long discussion of domestic blogs. It will have to wait until next week, because I have been distracted and disturbed by another topic. (Ah, too much information out there.) In the meantime, check out this post by Mom & Pop Culture, because I'll come back to it next week.

The Chronicle recently had two contradictory articles dealing with the pressures in academia on those with kids and those without.

The first article, Singular Mistreatment by Robin Wilson, was on the predicament of single professors in academia. The childless feel oustracized and neglected. They can't join in on discussions in the faculty lounge about babystrollers (just as I can't join in on discussions about movies still in the movie theaters.) The article mentions Bella DePaulo, whom I had poked fun at before. Please read Tim Burke's post, Cry Me a River. I can't possibly top his witty and fair reply to the Wilson article.

Here's another Chronicle article that bemoans the fate of a single professor.

The second article takes up the cause of graduate students with children. (Thanks, MC) In Singing the Grad-School Baby Blues, Joan Williams refers to the Mason study on the low tenure rate for women with kids and then talks more about the problems that graduate student parents face, including the problem with health insurance. Many graduate students are forced to go on WIC after they have kids, because their school does not provide them with proper medical insurance. (Been there.)

Williams writes, Universities increasingly have accepted nontraditional students, including women and older students, into their graduate programs. But many institutions simply aren't prepared to deal with the fact that those students have families. And those families need affordable health insurance, preference in family housing, the flexibility to take time off for childbirth, and access to part-time schedules.

They also need an end to negative comments that some see as harassment and discrimination. Now that work/family issues are on the radar screen for faculty members, graduate students with families should not be left singing the baby blues.

What's going on? Is the Chronicle trying to stir up a war between the singles and the parents? Do the editors ever have meetings where they discuss future pieces and develop a common message? What's the truth?

I think the truth is that there is a single/parent war going on. It's much more real than any highly publicized "mommy war."

I first became aware of that underlining tension last fall after I wrote a post about the supposed choice of becoming a parent (links here, here, and here.) Harry at Crooked Timber picked it up, and some of the comments were very heated. Many single people didn't think that they should have to make any sacrifices to support another person's kids. Kids are their own reward, they said. I believe one guy compared having a kid to chosing to have a puppy.

Is this war new? I think so. With the pressures of the new economy, workers are turning on each other. Everybody else's life looks better than their own. The parent workers are jealous of their single counterparts who can work uninterrupted, who get a full night's sleep and a weekend off. The singles feel that they don't have the excuse of a soccer game to get them out of a departmental meeting.

Since the decision to have kids has been framed in terms of choice, then that means that the chooser has to accept all the consequences. Of course, you could make the converse argument that the childless choose not to have children, and thus have to accept the consequences.

With the increased mobility of individuals, especially in academic circles, single people don't have life-long friends or extended family to keep them amused. At least the academic families travel around together (well, not always).

Men rarely have stay at home moms to do everything for them. With both parents working, with men taking more of interest in parenting, and with women less interested in shouldering 100% of the domestic work, the work arena has to make adjustments. Change is coming slow and meeting some resistance.

This war reveals some real problems. Loneliness, alienation, hyper-individualism, and work exhaustion to name a few. These issues might be bubbling up in the pages of the academic paper, but they must be certainly affecting everyone. Solutions anyone?

Other Stuff
A larger problem weighs on me tonight. Angel will soon be over. Damn. I am just getting used to the new, blue Fred.

Here's another problem. My children will only eat meat containing large quantities of nitrates. Will they eat a nice lean piece of grilled chicken? Nooo. Just bacon, sausage, and hot dogs.

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