June weekend, plus a bit of a rant

Buckle in, because this is going to be a long blog post!

Various end of year things are still going strong here, which made this a fairly full (but mostly good) weekend.

On Friday my husband and I went to a fundraiser at a local nature preserve. The weather was absolutely beautiful for being outside, so that was a nice way to start the evening — and then we came home to try out our own hot tub! Fixing the heater this summer has been a complex and somewhat frustrating process, but the good news is that we can now heat the (attached) hot tub, which then heats the pool a bit too (and the other pool heaters should get fixed this week). The 4-year-old was spending the night at his weekend sitter’s place, so we only had big kids, and the 9-year-old decided to go in after a bit, so my husband and I wound up hanging out and chatting with the 17-year-old and the 12-year-old for quite a while. This was pleasant and relaxing!

On Saturday I managed to run 5+ miles for the first time since my back injury. It mostly felt fine, though by the end of the day my back was feeling bad again — but that is sort of par for the course. My husband took the 14-year-old and 9-year-old to the Air Show in Reading and they had a great time (I believe some target practice was involved…in addition to watching a re-enacted battle and seeing old planes). I took the 12-year-old to Costco and we wound up with a very full cart, including a 24-inch Squishmallow that I agreed to split the cost on (there need to be some benefits to accompanying mom on an otherwise boring errand). At least I left with only one — I passed a dad with two kids who of course had 2 giant Squishmallows in his cart and no room for anything else!

I cooked pork tacos and home-made guacamole for dinner and then we went back in the pool but this time with the 4-year-old and 9-year-old it was…a lot more chaotic. It ended with a bit of naughtiness so that was significantly less pleasant. Hoping to establish a few more pool norms over the next few weeks…

Sunday was…a lot. My husband really, really wanted to go fly on one of those historic planes at the air show. He had thought the air show was last weekend (when we were in NYC for his brother’s birthday) so he hadn’t looked into tickets. Once he realized it was this weekend, the tickets were sold out for Saturday. So he asked me if it was OK for him to go Sunday morning. We agreed that he could do 8 a.m. since he’d be back for the rest of the day. So he was up and out the door at 6:30 a.m. to go fly in Reading and then come back.

I left at 8:45 for church, leaving the little kids with the older kids (there are fewer summer Sunday school options so it helps to have another adult to sit with the little ones and I didn’t have that…also the 17-year-old had a recital practice in the morning he had to get to as well…fortunately he can drive). I sang in the first half of the service, then left before the sermon to come home and get ready for the church choir picnic.

This is my second year hosting this and we now have a system down…I had the 9-year-old direct parking, and had the 14-year-old manning the grill while my husband (who returned from Reading shortly after I got back) went to pick up the fried chicken at a local place. (I hired a sitter to take care of the 4-year-old while we were running the party.) It had rained while I was driving home from church, so this was a bit concerning, but the weather cleared and it was beautiful. People hung out eating chicken and the various dishes people contributed until about 2 p.m.

At this point I started cleaning up, as my daughter left for a friend’s birthday party (the sitter had also driven the 14-year-old to go meet friends). I managed to sit for 30 minutes before I needed to go pick up the 12-year-old early from that party, and my husband took off to get the 14-year-old from his adventure, and we met at a recital location in Wayne for a 4:30 show.

The 12-year-old had been quite nervous about performing her trumpet piece (A Whole New World). There are some high notes, which are always harder but she’d practiced a lot and I’m happy to report that she nailed it (OK, there was one misplaced note which she immediately noted to me afterwards, but it wasn’t much). The 14-year-old played a Duke Ellington piece on his alto sax with his music teacher on piano and another music teacher on percussion and it sounded great. Yay!

Of course, I was watching the time because…this was only recital #1 for the day. While we were in Wayne, the 17-year-old had driven himself to his recital location in Newtown Square. As soon as recital #1 was over (5:44 p.m.) I got in the car and zipped over there, arriving at 5:52 p.m. for the 6:00 show.

He was so good! He sang Cindy, the traditional folk song, and he totally hammed it up. People laughed and he’s just developed this rich baritone that I really enjoy hearing.

I agreed to stop at Starbucks just as it was closing and we met at home, at which point I ate picnic leftovers for dinner and did my laundry (my husband had come home with the middle schoolers from recital #1, sent the babysitter home, and fed them all dinner).

So…kind of a long day, but I was so proud of my musicians. I’ve also been impressed with how my older three have done academically this year. I aim not to get too involved with specifics of assignments or anything — I stress that academics are important, but my kids are in charge of managing their own learning. There have been some hiccups along the way as they have been learning self-management, but this will be a fantastic quarter for all three of them, and it is completely self-motivated.

Now as for the promised rant…Folks who read my blog last week know that I have a shiny new iPhone and that none of my old apps carried over. So I’ve been deciding what to include. So far, I haven’t put any of my social media apps back on. Given that I often still have to sit with the 4-year-old in his room while he goes to sleep, this left some time where I had to figure out what I could do on my phone in the dark. So I put the Kindle app back on and started reading Tim Carney’s Family Unfriendly, which I’d bought when it came out, but hadn’t read.

I had high hopes. I know Tim a bit from writer circles and I usually enjoy his writing. The book was billed as being about how America makes it much harder to raise kids than it should be. (Agreed!) He quotes Emily Oster extensively about the silliness of a lot of pressure put on pregnant women, and he criticizes unwalkable suburbs that force parents (and again, women in particular) to spend hours daily in the car. He criticizes young male behavior in the age of dating apps, and urges men in the workplace to use their power to show when they are prioritizing family. Don’t let people think you’re going to see a client when you leave at 5 p.m. Tell folks you’re going home to your family. Doing so will make life easier for working moms and other men who wish to be involved in family life. Heck, he even quotes me! (From a NY Times piece I wrote a few years ago).

So far all good, but then in the middle it kind of veered more into an argument that most women really want to be home with their kids so we should change the culture to celebrate that more (I’m curious what culture he thinks we live in where this isn’t the message a lot of women already get, but OK…). Tim’s wife stays home with their six kids, and he says it’s best for families and communities when someone stays home, and that’s generally going to be mom.

At this point, I’m just reading from a perspective of disagreement. One of the major points of feedback I got on the recent BOBW “Myths of Working Parenthood” episode is that it’s a very human tendency to make choices that we personally want and then generalize them to everyone else.

The question of what women, in general, want is complicated and often depends on how one asks the question. I have cited the Pew Research Center frequently with their polls on what women say would be best for them at their current stage of life. This one from 2019, for instance, found that among mothers who currently work full-time, 84 percent say that is best for them right now. Only 14 percent say part-time would be best, and 2 percent say they’d like to not be working for pay at all. Among moms employed part-time, 33 percent say full-time would be ideal, 54 percent say part-time is ideal, and 14 percent would prefer to not be working for pay. Among those currently not employed, 25 percent say they’d like to be working full time, 35 percent say they’d like to be working part-time, and 39 percent say they prefer being out of the workforce. These numbers have varied a bit over the years (I know people preferring not to work for pay rose in the early days of the pandemic) — I’ve been trying to find a 2023/2024 poll and will post anything more recent when I find it. But these numbers do seem to show that most women who are working full time say they prefer that situation, and most women who are home with their kids would actually prefer to work in some capacity. Can you probably find polls saying most women want to stay home? I would imagine you can based on how the question is asked — but you can also find other ones.

So, anyway, just general disagreement. But then we got to this sentence about the benefits of the Carney household arrangement: “On top of my column writing and blogging, I could not write books and give speeches were I also 50 percent responsible for cooking, picking up kids from school, cracking the whip on homework, and keeping the house in order.”

Oh dear. As someone who does very, very similar work (blogging! book writing! speeches! I’m not writing a column for anywhere right now but I do host a daily podcast and write a daily newsletter…) and who probably does (at least) 50 percent of the parenting, I’d have to say yes! Yes you can! You may need to work a bit on your time management but I can recommend some great books on that topic!

It’s just…fascinating. I’ve never tried to convince myself or anyone else that I can’t do my work if my husband is working. Why have I never tried? I don’t know — probably because I’m a woman. I doubt anyone would buy the argument — again, because I’m a woman.

Anyway, I’ve learned over the years that when something fills me with a sense of, let’s call it “righteous anger,” it’s probably because we’re getting close to some fundamental belief of mine. I certainly want to help all sorts of people figure out how to use their hours to build the lives they want. I want all of us to make the most of whatever time God gives us on this planet. But in particular, it’s my calling to encourage women who want to have big families and big careers that this is not only doable, but will probably be awesome. People may tell you otherwise, but you don’t need to listen to them.

41 thoughts on “June weekend, plus a bit of a rant

  1. Good post Laura. Every family is different and I am always perplexed when others make broad statements about what is “ best for families and communities “ – the decision about what is best for your family is individual and we need to respect other’s choices. Happy productive people benefit communities regardless of whether they choose to work full time, part time or stay home .

    1. THIS!! Makes me wonder if the purpose of the writing is to incite “righteous anger” in the first place. Glad that there are voices of reason (like you) out there.

  2. Amen! I have a fulltime job and write a weekly newsletter on the side and volunteer in my community and I have 4 kids at home. It can be done!

  3. I can feel your righteous anger and want to just tell you I am angry right there with you. You were one of the few voices I found that gave me confidence to GO BIG on the career and be a mom. I almost thought it was too much or not the best choice for the kiddo but I am so happy I found you (and later Sarah) before I read one more Family Unfriendly -ish article or book. I am happy and proud of my work and my work raising a daughter inside a very loving marriage. I do plan more but I am here for the little adventures and the big ones. Best of Both Worlds people!

    1. @Nicole – thanks…perhaps my righteous anger is really that I thought this book was one I was going to be philosophically aligned with. Oh well…

  4. No interest in having a big family for me, but it is obviously completely doable for some people, and something people should do if they want to! Maybe his wife just isn’t good enough at or interested enough in anything else to make it worth it for her? That’s probably too snarky…

    1. @omdg – I’m sure she is lovely and has many interests outside the professional world. But I do think that if they’d decided to structure their home life differently he’d find he could still do his work. Those of us in two career families do tend to figure it out…

  5. Yesss love it Laura. You do you and that’s it right? I love that you and SHU embrace everyone’ personal choices and also provide resources for working moms like you two. You never push your values on other people–why do these authors continue to do so????

  6. Oh, that would make me rage. I never assumed I’d want to stay home or even work part-time (which in academia basically means a bit more control over your teaching, but you can’t write 60% of an article…). I’ve worked really hard for this PhD, I’d like to use it. I do think my upbringing played a role in my thinking – my dad got laid off right when my mom’s mat leave ended so he took 9 months off and then started his own business when I was in school. So he was the rare 80s dad at every honor roll assembly and chaperoning the field trips. My dad moved over and nannied until my son was old enough for daycare as it’s really difficult to find care for under 12 months in the UK, and I needed to go back to a postdoc at 6 months.

    We only have 1 kid, but two full-time jobs and heavy involvement with our kids is totally doable. My husband and I spent the morning helping run the uniform exchange at sports day, and he’s off to Scouts tonight with my son. We split dropoffs and pickups according to our schedule, offer a lot of favours to friends and ask for favours in return, and use wraparound care at the school. My son seems to benefit from his activities – he has lots of grown-ups who he’s connected with – nursery teachers still ask for updates and he’s 7, aftercare staff, Beavers leads, camp leaders, the neighbours – and we still get plenty of quality timeas a duo or trio.

    And the community argument is bunk – my son goes to a school of 800, and the main volunteers are 10 moms, most of whom who work full-time or part-time, and my husband, who loves nothing more than being useful… none of the SAHM ever seem to end up volunteering for stuff? And some of that might be caring responsibilities, disabilities, younger children etc, but I do think the “need something done, ask a busy woman” trope is a valid one.

  7. Also is it not a little bit ironic that he wrote a book on how we should better parent our children and then admits that he is not doing nearly as much parenting as his wife?

    There is often this notion that seems very male-centric that people need to be able to completely focus on work. But none of us live or work in a vacuum and I think my work life is richer for my perspective as a parent. (And I am able to focus while I’m at work because I have excellent childcare.)

    1. @Caitlin – to be fair, part of the book argues that almost everyone should downgrade the role of work in their lives…but I guess for women that means not working and for men it means leaving at 5 p.m. I would argue that all of us, men and women, can do a lot in reasonable hours and enjoy our families in the many many hours that a full time job still doesn’t fill. As a wise woman once said, there are 168 hours in a week…

  8. Hot tubs are SO nice when someone else maintains them. I am about to give mine away for free after a series of expensive repairs. We are not mechanically inclined people and we do not do DIY on ours. If the kids didn’t love it I would have gotten rid of it years ago…

    1. @Sk – my experience with pools/hot tubs is that they are great but every summer there is ALWAYS something that has broken and needs to be fixed. We’ve tried to pre-emptively open in April so we can fix whatever is wrong before the Memorial Day crush, but this year the thing ran fine and then broke in late May. Sigh.

  9. Good morning – I am new to reading your blog, or anyone’s blog for that matter. I am a listener of your podcasts and a reader of your books (which I love). I am up at 5am in New Zealand and needed something pleasant to read over my lemon and ginger, before turning my mind to a report for work. It was just that. Thank you for sharing, and for your content. I will be back!
    Ngahuia, New Zealand (32, newish mum working in infrastructure).
    Ps. My right eyebrow arched very high towards the back end of the post!

    1. @Ngahuia – welcome! So glad you found me. Thanks for listening to my podcasts and reading my work. I hope you’ll stick around and read some more posts over your morning lemon and ginger 🙂

  10. Oh goodness. Is the simple answer that he just doesn’t know how to manage his time well? I say that half jokingly and half seriously. You are a wonderful case study Laura. Everyone gets 24 hours a day, everyone chooses how to use their time. Some people use their time wisely, some don’t. He certainly could work and coparent, but he chooses to outsource that to his wife. Perhaps snarky but I’m annoyed.

    1. @Lori – I did have it suggested to me that the alternate story is not that this is some deeply patriarchal thing, but him just admitting that he’s bad at time management…

  11. I feel like it’s not about the percentage of the household/parenting work that he is doing (or not doing), but rather about the percentage of his own time that he spends doing it. Clearly he would rather (and he is able to) spend a larger percentage of his time on the paid work rather than the unpaid work in his life. I don’t know what kind of narratives *he* is internalizing about being a primary breadwinner, but I think perhaps if he looked outside of that narrative a little (as you, Laura, encourage your readers to do), he would find that he *can* spend more time on the unpaid labor that keeps his life running. But it’s unpaid labour so perhaps he doesn’t think it should fall in his court? I do think men are victims to the narrative the way women are. Only the narrative that men fall victims to tends to pay better. I think “doing it all” isn’t really about the amount of things one crams into one’s day, but rather how one allocates and prioritizes tasks and time.

    1. @Diane – I am sure we all have our narratives. And yes, I’m guessing a lot of male primary breadwinners do have a story in their heads that unpaid work should not be on their plates.

  12. Thank you! My husband (got married 8 days ago!!) and I are both in academia-he’s a prof and I’m aiming to be a physician scientist (starting fellowship). Both of us love our jobs, we’re not sure about having children just yet, and as a resident, I definitely got less positive feedback from classmates about having children in this field. I suspect a lot of the response was due to residency training.

    I spoke with a fellow who is in the career path I want and she was the first to say “both parents can work busy careers and have children and it will work.” Her point was that I’ve done much harder things as a resident. I’d heard the same thing from my PhD mentors (married couple with multiple kids), but it just felt better hearing it from someone closer to me on the training pipeline.

    That being said, not right now-despite how much my mother hopes 🙂

    1. @DVResident – congratulations! On the wedding and on finishing residency and starting fellowship. When you’re ready, if you want to have kids you will absolutely be a great mom and a great physician scientist. Can’t wait to see your next chapter!

  13. I agree with you too, although I can see how even if his wife worked, it would be difficult to afford a full-time nanny unless she had a higher paying job than him. It’s funny how what I most picked up on in this book is the idea that some people don’t want many children because of pessimism (children are too stressful, our society is doomed in the near future, etc.)

    1. @CLM – the pessimism factor is interesting…maybe I’m just a very sunny person? I got the sense from reading the book that they have a lot of extended family nearby, so my guess is they could have had an au pair or something when they had a few young kids, and then once the older ones were in school do daycare for the littlest 1-2 and lots of family help. I’m just guessing here because I don’t really know details!

    2. Yes, although that may be your generalization about childcare for people that earn less money. Middle income earners may have different preferences (such as, I would work more if I didn’t have to coordinate an au pair, daycare, afterschool care, extended family help, etc).

  14. I love your “rants” but think of them more as data backed arguments for a bigger life and a voice of reason in a polarizing world.

  15. BSD
    I have so many thoughts about this, but I won’t bore everyone with them. I will share something I saw a few years ago that I think is really important, especially for those who are concerned about kids or claim to be concerned about kids. I think I saw it from Meghan Daum. She noted that a lot of helicopter parenting practices came into vogue at a time when women were starting to really make it professionally in the workforce. It comes across as a way of assuaging the guilt that women have due to having lives outside of their kids, though for many it is subconscious. Daum notes this as a negative trend, an anti-feminist one, and one that potentially harms kids just as much as it harms women’s careers. I am afraid that these books can make the subconscious guilt even stronger, pushing parents to do even more in the name of being there for their kids, but that is in name only.
    We aren’t doing kids any favors when we demand that women stay home because that is best for kids.

    1. @Mushky- so this is an interesting counter point to his argument, and possibly a logical flaw with the book. He starts by positing that helicopter parenting is bad, and it’s ridiculous what standards modern parents hold for themselves. Parenting should be easier — which is great. But then he wants women to quit their jobs — what does he think they’re going to do with themselves then? Most families aren’t going to have 6 kids (I admit, it is quite hard to helicopter 5 or more kids, no matter what mom is doing). They are going to have 2-3 in a more “pro-natal” modern world — which seems like it might invite some more helicoptering.
      I guess I was just frustrated with this, because he was making a very sound argument — and then he just couldn’t help himself. There is a very strong distaste for working mothers among certain folks and it comes out even when that’s not the logical conclusion.

      1. BSD
        From the little I have seen of Tim Carney and his work, he comes across as a person with solid ideas and insights. I also am not the type to see misogyny in everything. But I am very sympathetic to those who conclude that this is essentially misogyny. The distaste for women working often goes hand in hand with some of the other issues mentioned, such as relationship balance or imbalances. It harms women and the potential harm to children is high, as well. This whole thing is depressing.
        I write and express this as a woman who is very traditionalist in some domains, and I definitely don’t fit into any sort of feminist box, even though I had feminist leanings since being a child.

  16. Laura- thank you for being a voice of reason and common/counter sense in this space. I worked part-time for years in (large?) part because many of my friends stayed home and I believed the prevalent narrative that more time with mom was better. I’m not sure I regret that choice exactly, but if there had been more voices like yours and Sarah’s at that time, I may well have made a different choice. Relatedly, now that I am on the other side (two grown kids), I wonder: how are stay at home parents planning to fund retirement?

    1. @AM – thank you for your kind comment! I’m not sure how they plan to fund retirement. Hopefully the income-earning partner is putting enough away for both of them. I do believe people can open spousal 401ks to get some tax benefits on retirement savings. And I would imagine that many people do wind up back in the workforce at some point when their kids are older – I’m not sure how many women never work for pay at all post kids. That said, I’m sure to some folks the idea of women being financially dependent on men is a plus, not a concern.

  17. I wonder if you could forward the author an electronic copy of “I Know How She Does It” but change the narratives to be from men’s perspectives instead, as an example of just how involved high-earning parents can still be with their kids’ lives… (but I’m from MN where passive-agressiveness is a dialect, ha!)

    I appreciate your stories about how you and your husband make life work with your crew- splitting duties and outings with different kids, leveraging other childcare options, and also making time for each other amidst your professional and parenting endeavors (it can be done!)

    Please keep the balanced and accepting views of work and family coming!

  18. I’ve been mulling this over for a while – I wonder if you might discuss the power dynamics of adult relationships here. Based up on my (very informal) observations of stay-at-home mothers, there often seems to be a clear power imbalance (ie, women not wanting to make decisions about how to spend “his” money, hiding spending, or not asking their spouse for assistance on weekends or evenings because the husband “is tired from his job.”). Some of my friends who left the workforce in the past few years (due to having young kids during Covid years) openly admit that it is now harder to return to work because they don’t want to ask their spouses to do more household labor.

    Obviously this is not always the case but, overall, I have concerns about women who lack financial independence because they are at risk in case something goes wrong (if the husband is suddenly ill or dies, they would face additional hardships and, of course, if the relationship is abusive, they might be more prone to stay). Curious to hear your thoughts.

  19. I’m not sure if this will come out right, but: he’s right – he couldn’t do it. Many like him are just not… capable. They lean on this system geared to support them in their deficiencies. Whether communication, high levels of resilience and executive function, planning, empathy, quick thinking, or the will to make the necessary choices – they do not have what it takes. Well… we can do it, its good for all, and that must be very unnerving for those who espouse this stuff. It might seem more complex on any given day or week – easier to judge from the outside if one is seeking to – but over the long term it is simply brilliant.

  20. Hi! This was a good post. I appreciate all of the comments. I agree with everything.
    It makes me think of this time, though, when I was at the very beginning of the second leg of my career and my husband was working out of the home and my son was little and I didn’t have enough child care and because my job was “flexible,” I was the one doing the childcare, and there was this moment where I really thought I couldn’t do it. I think many people hit a wall in their lives that make them wonder if they can handle something – in STEM education, we see this in young women and then they sometimes switch majors. I have a disposition that makes me lean into seemingly impossible things, but not everyone is like that (and it’s not necessarily a great way to be), and these narratives I think can do a lot of harm, the “There’s no way we could.” It makes it so that people interpret these hard times as proof that something is impossible. Instead of looking for a solution. Because there is a solution for most things. Though, it can be really hard to give yourself space to find the solution when it feels as though it’s all too much. It’s okay to say “we don’t want to,” or “we’d rather not.” That’s different from “there’s no way we could.”

    Also, it just feels like there’s this ick factor, too. “There’s no way we could,” – it feels like a back-handed compliment, like “you’re so good at it.” I think there’s a term, like weaponized incompetence or something? I also hate the phrase, “I could never.” It seems like it’s about the person speaking, but it’s usually said in a way to judge other people. As in, “I could never leave my kids at a day care.” Honestly, people don’t know what they “could never” do until they have to.

    1. @LauraK – I’m sure we all have low moments. The trouble is with thinking those low moments must define the narrative. In many cases there are other solutions. So, for instance, you mentioned not having enough childcare — it’s possible to ramp that up! Of course, then we deal with the other narratives I hear all the time, like that childcare is bad so it’s ergo a virtue to use as little as possible, even if it makes everyone insane as a result. Anyway… yep, I hate the “I could never…” phrase too – it’s usually meant to be judgmental…

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