Friday, August 30, 2013


Recently I read this little gem on the Internet. It was an article reviewing a study that had been conducted by a German social science group on a sampling of approximately 1,400 children in Western Australia over a number of years, asking for parent-directed feedback on their behavior at ages 5,8, and 10. Of this sampling, there was a significant correlation between increased negative and/or aggressive behavior among boys who have fathers working on average more than 55 hours per week. Similar statistical patterns did not follow among fathers who on average worked less hours, and among the girls in the same statistical group.[1]

This of course made me think of that tasty little Pew study that came out not too many months ago equally skewering female breadwinners. In Pew’s survey on the increasing role of female breadwinners, they offered up an awesome little public opinion component where they sampled approximately 1,000 people who indicated that women’s increased presence in the workforce makes it harder to raise children.[2] So you see if you’ve got a hardworking father figure in your family or a smart ambitious mom, you can bet you’ll have a hell of a time raising those rowdy, aggressive kids.
Of course if you are a woman who chooses to circumvent these problems by “opting out” of your career, you and your family might also be in trouble as this widely circulated article suggests.[3] You ladies are truncating your career trajectories just as you start to step on the most important rungs of the ladder. You’ll never get back what you were professionally. You will never be able to command what you once did in salary. And of course going from a two income household to one income might just strain your marriage enough that you just might end up penniless and divorced with little or no future income prospects. Imagine just how aggressive your kids are going to feel then.
So let me just sum this up for you. If you live in a home where your husband works long hours, this seems to be bad. If you live in a house where the woman is the breadwinner, this too is bad. And if you choose to stay home with your children and not work, this also can be very bad. In summary, all of us, regardless of what we choose, are doing a horrible job!

And frankly, this national non-discussion where we berate ourselves and our families and our neighbors for things which we may or may not have within our control is really becoming quite tiresome. Work! Don’t work! Work sort of – but not too much. Lean! But don’t fall over. We aren’t raising a generation of aggressive kids. We are raising a generation of passive aggressive and thoroughly confused adults.
We are all doing the best we can do, for ourselves, and for our kids. To argue that any of these studies and articles which are being conducted and widely disseminated and then exhaustively dissected over social media ultimately benefit working (or not working as it may be) parents by creating a discussion about work alternatives is a complete fallacy. There are no substantive policy discussions being generated here about how to create more flexible work options for families. There is just a lot of judging and making people feel bad about stuff that they probably can’t choose anyway.

Many hardworking people I know who work long hours are doing it because they have to.  It s a first world problem to think we all have the luxury of choosing by design how and when and for how long we do or don’t want to work. The majority of us are driven by some combination of financial incentives and needs as well as (and equally important) some combination of personal ambition and drive. That doesn’t negate the fact that we love the crap out of our kids. And making people feel badly about stuff they have to do or choose to do (even under the guise of social science and public opinion) doesn’t necessarily make it more useful.
I do not know what it will take to advance the national dialogue beyond this loop, putting an end to the painful circular process of punishing everyone I possibly know for everything they do or don’t do when all they’ve ever really wanted to is to be productive members of society who love their kids a whole hell of a lot. But when we finally do it will perhaps be because we have finally recognized that happy kids and happy companies need the same things: parents who have the support they need to get up every day knowing they will once again try to be everything to everyone and probably fail, but in the struggle find enough opportunity and joy to make it all worthwhile.


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