Spending more time with the family

"I wanted to spend more time with my family" is the standard cliche of the day for explaining why you quit a high powered job when the real reason is that you were going to be fired if you didn’t get your behind in gear.  Occasionally, it’s actually true.

Matthew Yglesias doesn’t believe that Patti Solis Doyle really quit because of family obligations.  I agree that it would be incredibly unprofessional for her to quit at this stage of the race, and the idea that she’d do it because her six year old said he wanted Daddy is pretty ludicrous.  (Just in case it is true, here’s some unsolicited parenting advice: get over it.  Kids are good at yanking chains, and it doesn’t mean a thing.  T’s been the at-home parent since D was 4 months old, and there are times when the boys demand him and there are times when he might as well be chopped liver.)

The comment thread over there raises some interesting questions.  Is it anti-feminist for her to use this excuse?  Does it make it harder for other woman professionals with small children to be hired into positions of responsibility?  Is it an attempt to play for sympathy with working mothers?  Why go into this level of detail when no one is going to believe you anyway?

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Today’s poem on The Writer’s Almanac is "Sestina for the Working Mother" by Deborah Garrison.

Sestina for the Working Mother

No time for a sestina for the working mother.
Who has so much to do, from first thing in the morning
When she has to get herself dressed and the children
Too, when they tumble in the pillow pile rather than listening
To her exhortations about brushing teeth, making ready for the day;
They clamor with "up" hugs when she struggles out the door.

Every time, as if shot from a cannon when she shuts the door.
She stomps down the street in her city boots, slipping from mother
Mode into commuter trance, trees swaying at the corner of a new day
Nearly turned, her familiar bus stop cool and welcoming in the morning.
She hears her own heart here, though no one else is listening,
And if the bus is late she hears down the block the voices of her children

Bobbing under their oversized backpacks to greet other children
At their own bus stop. They too have come flying from the door,
Brave for the journey, and everyone is talking and no one is listening
As they head off to school. The noisy children of the working mother,
Waiting with their sitter for the bus, are healthy and happy this morning.
And that’s the best way, the mother knows, for a day

To begin. The apprehension of what kind of day
It will be in the world of work, blissful without children,
Trembles in the anxious and pleasurable pulse of the morning;
It has tamped her down tight and lit her out the door
And away from what she might have been as a mother
At home, perhaps drinking coffee and listening

To NPR, what rapt and intelligent listening
She’d do at home. And volunteering, she thinks, for part of the day
At their school-she’d be a playground monitor, a PTA mother!
She’d see them straggle into the sunshine, her children
Bright in the slipstream, and she a gracious shadow at the school door;
She would not be separated from them for long by the morning.

But she has chosen her flight from them, on this and every morning.
She’s now so far away she trusts someone else is listening
To their raised voices, applying a Band-Aid, opening the door
For them when the sunshine calls them out into the day.
At certain moments, head bent at her desk, she can see her children,
And feels a quick stab. She hasn’t forgotten that she is their mother.

Every weekday morning, every working day,
She listens to her heart and the voices of her children.
Goodbye! they shout, and the door closes behind the working mother.

4 Responses to “Spending more time with the family”

  1. Christine Says:

    If a Gen-Y said I want to work less because I want more time for myself, people might think it is lazy, but alas it is accepted. I think it is difficult for some to believe that not everyone values work over family or personal time in general. Sometimes, work is not that fulfilling and whether it be reading, surfing or spending time with kids, there is more to life than just a career. I don’t find it anti-feminist since we need to value both the woman that wants to stay at home and the woman that wants to work.

  2. landismom Says:

    Great poem, thanks for posting it.

  3. Elizabeth Says:

    I posted this over at Jackie’s blog, and then realized I should say it here too:
    I don’t have any feminist issues with people (women or men) choosing to prioritize family over work. But I would have issues with someone quitting because they missed their family in the peak of the campaign, just like I’d have issues with a teacher quitting in the middle of the term. Obviously, it’s a different story if there’s something serious and unpredictable going on — such as a ill child or spouse.
    But if you just realize that you miss your family and it was a mistake to overcommit, you finish up your commitments and THEN you go spend more time with your family. You don’t leave people depending on you, who have put a lot of trust in you, in the lurch.

  4. bj Says:

    I’d agree that leaving in the middle of a commitment for something one should expect to know before hand (i.e. six-year-old children miss their parents when they’re away for long periods of time) is unprofessional. I mean, I’d imagine we’d all go nuts, if Obama announced tomorrow that he’d decided to withdraw from the presidential election because his six-year-old cried on the phone ’cause he didn’t read her a bed-time story.
    But, of course, it wasn’t true — she didn’t really leave the campaign in the lurch because her six-year-old missed her. Then, though, the real story is why one would say that? Did she think it would make people think less of her? of the campaign (and the aura of collapse)? or mollify the Hispanic community?

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