02 October 2009

Speaking of Unhappiness

Folks at The Nation seem to be a bit preoccupied with "happiness" lately. Walter Mosely reminds us that the pursuit, at least, is an inalienable right, one that our public institutions hardly respect or encourage. Katha Pollitt, I think rightly, scoffs at claims that feminism is to blame for allegedly rampant rates of unhappiness among American women.

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Blogger Karen McCally said...

Hi Jim,
I have to admit I walked around for 2 weeks dwelling on this happiness news, in particular for a portion of it Pollitt doesn't mention: the (apparent) finding that the single greatest determinant of whether women are happy is whether they have kids--and that women with children are noticeably less happy.
This rang very true to me, but to you of all people, I should stress that having both of my kids, healthy and themselves happy, is really a great gift and this paradox is where the word "happy" might be problematic in the survey.

Nonetheless... I'm on to the work-family balance here. I'm always amused when the University's "Wellness" office advertises another seminar on how to manage the stress that arises from the work-family balance. This is principally because, although I could do my job competently and thoroughly regardless of my location, and according to whatever hours it required to complete my job, I must be here, on campus, from the magic hour of 8:30 am to 5 pm with 1 hour for lunch, preferably taken somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 am to 1 pm. (Can we adopt caregiver friendly policies rather than have people tell us how better to manage the fallout?)

On most days, and during most weeks, this is not a problem; but when it is, it creates somewhat of a bureaucratic hassle at worst (how to categorize this absence from desk?!), or at best some measurable anxiety on the part of someone, who worries someone else might worry, about whether I would actually be working if not here on campus, at my desk, or somewhere in the vicinity.

There are days, in short, where there is just too much laundry for me to be here. And the great thing about laundry, as I've been teaching Ben, who I'm teaching to do the laundry (having given up on Dan), is that it's a task that can be done in spurts of 5 minutes while you're doing something more interesting or important--as long as you're in the house.

A lot of the stress, of course, comes from other sources than the workplace, namely, the school districts, however grateful I am to the truly exceptional classroom teachers both of my kids have had all the way through so far. But the proliferation of instructions to "help my child" do this, that, and the other thing, as well as HW that seems to involve Dan and me in some way, and the constant instructions from the District about how we should be spending our time together, etc.....!!

Which leads me to my real feminist point. I think the encouragement (and reality) of overnurturance and overinvolvement of parents is the reflection of a backlash against women working. When I was a kid in the 1970s, it was assumed that if your mother worked, as mine did, you would have more responsibilities. And you were kind of proud of it. Mothers can, of course, mandate these (thus, the laundry, for example), but the cultural and peer pressures, which I admit being susceptible to, are all about assuring ourselves that we are properly engaged with our children at all times. Unlike those 1970s working women whose kids had to make their own lunches, and have the house neat by the time mom got home. Horror!

Thanks for indulging my very long diatribe...and by the way, another pet theory of mine is that work culture will change dramatically over the next several decades, because the issue will no longer be balancing childcare, but balancing eldercare. The stats about eldercare needs in the future are alarming, and while not all of us have kids, many more have aging parents.

OK really done this time.


02 October, 2009 10:29  

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