Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Is Raising a Child Like Playing the Cello?

I'm not speaking in metaphors. I'm referring to this Huffington Post article that discusses many Gen X women's decision not to have children. The article discusses how many women in the 33-46 year old range (Gen Xers) do not have or plan to have children by age 40, and the reality of fertility means that many have essentially made the choice not to have them at all. Sylvia Anne Hewlett, president of the Center for Work Life Policy weighs in with the observation that "many individuals decide they want to do two things well, and not three things badly. Those two things are their relationship and their career."

What interests me the most about this article is Hewlett's assertion about women's perceptions on how their choice to remain childless affects them in the workplace:
Many companies have a bunch of benefits and support policies around working parents. There's flextime, paid parenting leave, telecommuting options, these things are not unusual these days. Often times, non-parents feel that all the best benefits are going to one demographic: those who are married with small kids. If you've got a two-year-old, you luck out. If you want to run a marathon or play the cello or volunteer, you have a really hard time getting any legitimacy around those things.
First of all, I feel the need to point out that those benefits and support policies aren't in place for all (or even most) working parents. The work/life balance is far from a priority in many workplaces, particularly lower wage hourly positions.

But, for the sake of argument, let's say that there is more workplace flexibility for a working parent. I don't have anything against running marathons or playing cellos. I like to volunteer. I have a lot of hobbies (writing this blog among them). I fit these things into the spaces (however big or small they may be at that particular moment) of my life. I write on my lunch break. I volunteer on Saturdays, and I seek out opportunities where I can bring my daughter so that I don't have to lose valuable time with her. I read books while I'm waiting in lines.

I cannot parent on the breaks. I cannot tell my daughter that her diaper can only be changed when I finish grading a stack of papers. I cannot put her on a shelf in the closet while I run errands. My role as a parent is not the same as my role as a volunteer because it is not a hobby and, once the decision is made to become a parent in the first place, it is not optional. It is not a crime to leave your cello in the basement for a week, and no one is going to die if you do so.

I see how this line of discussion can get ugly in a hurry. I understand how those who have chosen not to have children can ask why their choice isn't equally supported in the workplace, and I think that's a valid argument.

I just don't think that trying to compare parenting to a hobby is the way to make that argument. My child is not a cello.


  1. Totally agree.

    Sidebar: isn't it confusing how "lucking out" can be a good thing and a bad thing?

  2. Try telling the cello player that she/he must wake up every two hours for the first few months to play, pay 1500$/month for someone else to play while she is working, and they have to devote many hours per week for the next two decades-quitting is a criminal offense.

    Though I do think flextime should be available to everyone, with today's technology 8-5 is antiquated. Also parents and non parents should be able to access the benefits for caring of others, family and non family.