Wednesday, June 9, 2010

DCMM: Powering Down: Why Being a Part-Time Worker and Parent Can Be So Hard

The choice to become a parent brings necessary trade-offs. Time does not expand, after all. For me, it meant essentially giving up pottery as a hobby and working part-time, rather than full-time. I don’t regret the choices for a minute. And if you could see the way my son solves problems daily or the way my daughter laughs, you’d know why in an instant. Absent my children, I never would’ve gotten to see the world anew in a totally different light.

A few years ago, my husband and I made the choice that we’d send our son to a Waldorf pre-school, and that meant giving up a few more things. No more NPR in the car with the kids; no more television news before dinner; trying really, really hard to be present for my kids and do tasks that they would find meaningful, rather than sitting behind a keyboard. I do it willingly. While some folks might consider it to simply be replicating the ostrich approach to parenting—my head firmly planted in the sand while the world and all its technology swirls around me—the philosophy agrees with me. I’m one of those people who, when call waiting came out, would hang up if someone switched over to answer another call. The person I was talking to would either decide we were done talking, or call back and ask me why I’d hung up on them. I’d always answer “I didn’t hang up on you, you hung up on me. You chose to answer another call rather than finish our conversation”. And that’s a fine choice to make, but it seemed to me that I shouldn’t have to wait on hold while they took another call. They could call me back when they had the time to talk.

A recent article in the New York Times struck a chord with me. The story points out that we are pulled constantly by technology. Be it a Twitter alert coming in, a Facebook status update received through our Iphones, Blackberries, and other hand held devices, or a phone call from our offices. That last one happens to the part-time workers amongst us. I have a love hate relationship with my cell phone. I love that I can work part-time and give my office the comfort to call me whenever they want on my days off. I hate the rare occasion when they actually take me up on that offer. I get the feeling I'm not the only DC mom who feels this way.

I get the upsides of communication and technology. And were I to go toe-to-toe with someone in a debate about whether technology is—on net— good or bad, I bet I would be on the losing side of the debate every time as I argued how bad it is, despite the fact that I am a former college debater and coach. But I can’t help it. It makes me really sad every day when I am at the park and I see parents paying more attention to their electronic devices than their children. I see parents wandering around with an Ipod in one ear, giving their children probably less than half their attention. I’m sad not just for the kids who sometimes seem to be getting short shrift. I’m sad for the parents too, who because of tremendous advances in the ability to carry technology out of the house probably feel compelled to do so, and that just adds the to the number of ways we’re pulled every day.

So…who’s up for joining me at the park this Friday with no technology? No need to call if you’ll be late. My cell phone will be at home. But shhh...don't tell my office!

Photo Credit: Samantha Fein

This is an original DC MetroMoms post. If you want to see Elaine’s daughter’s adorable smile or read about what her kids are up to, you can do so at her personal website.

Posted by ElaineMM on June 09, 2010 at 05:00 AM


Sue @ Laundry for Six said...
I was at a park earlier this week populated by several nannies and their charges. Every single one spent the whole time talking on a cell phone and barely paying attention to the kids. Even one poor toddler who was sitting in a baby swing that had stopped swinging. I have to be honest, I was feeling a little judgy about the whole thing. But then later the same day, I went to my neighborhood park and saw a couple of moms that I know doing the same thing.

I think if people could see themselves they would realize what an opportunity they are missing out on. I'm not necessarily the mom who is running around the playground with my kids, but I am sitting on a bench enjoying watching them play.

Great post! (And I will remember never to try and debate with you!!)

Reply June 09, 2010 at 05:55 AM ElaineMM said...
Sue, I have had to implement a no cell phone policy for my caregiver, unless it's me or my husband calling, or one of a very short list of playdates. I pay for the cell phone, so it's easy for me to do. I see the same thing, and it's even more unacceptable in my eyes for a paid caregiver to be rattling on. Few jobs would consider talking on the phone all day professional behavior.

Reply June 09, 2010 at 06:27 AM Betsy said...
Seeing parents out at the park with their kids, ignoring them while they talk or play on their cell phones is a pet peeve for me as well. Why leave your house and attempt to do something kid oriented when you really just want to talk on the phone or be online? I'm an IT person and even I find it to be too much at times. I admit I do my share of email checking, texting and FB at times to but if I'm doing something with my kids, I try to be with them physically and mentally. Those moments at the park with them won't last forever but technology and the relationships you maintain with it will march on even if you check out for a bit.

Reply June 09, 2010 at 07:35 AM Thrift Store Mama said...
I started writing a really long comment, but I think I'm just going to do a post on it instead !

Reply June 09, 2010 at 01:14 PM ElaineMM said in reply to Thrift Store Mama...
I look forward to it!

Reply June 10, 2010 at 06:18 AM Helen said...
Oh boy. The playground is my outdoor office -- when I have a work call on one of my days off I always try to go to the playground with the kids. Yes, you can hear the background noise of the playground, but if we're there it's much less likely one of my kids will scream directly into the phone, like he or she would if we were at home.

You know I agree with you on technology generally, especially for kids. But the only way it works for me to be part-time is if I am available, and sometimes that means being available, via technology, when I'm alone with the kids.

There have also been recent studies showing that parents, and especially mothers, are much more involved with their children than our parents were with us -- even if our mothers were single parents. So I guess I feel like I'm doing plenty with my kids, even though I need to be available to work.

Another great post, Elaine. Gotta go -- I'm supposed to be working! :)

Reply June 09, 2010 at 04:49 PM Helen said in reply to Helen...
Not SINGLE parents. I meant stay-at-home-moms.

Geez Louise I better get back to work.

-- H.

Reply June 09, 2010 at 04:51 PM ElaineMM said in reply to Helen...
I don't believe the studies, but I'd have to look back at them to remember why. Which is really not a response, I realize.

I understand why we talk on the phone with our kids at the park. I think it's just another thing that makes part-time work really hard. I was in Key West recently, preparing to board a tourist train with my kids while I was on a very important conference call that could not happen at any other time. It was ridiculous.

The middle ground is doing our jobs when we have to, but not turning to the phone just to swap stories with a friend, I suppose. But like I said in the post, I'll lose this debate every time.

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