These Are the Times That Bind


Binding Your Way Back Home

People spend too much time finding other people to blame,
too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being,
and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.

- J Michael Straczynski

The Time Bind is the title of a book by Arlie Russell Hochschild (Metropolitan Books, 1997, US$22.50), a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley.  She spent three years interviewing hundreds of employees at a Fortune 500 company renowned for its family-friendly policies, from top managers to shop-floor workers, to see how they reconciled their work and their home life.  Just reading the book is enough to make anyone feel exhausted.

Where both parents worked (which other than for the company's most senior executives was the norm), a typical day would start before dawn to get the children ready and drop them at the company's (handsomely subsidised) day-care centre.  The parents would then spend a long day at work before collecting the children from a 10-hour stint in day-care, doing some shopping on the way home, feeding everybody, putting the laundry in the washing machine, cleaning up the mess, reading the children a bedtime story and heading for bed themselves, utterly worn out.  And these were the days when nothing went wrong.

Ms Hochschild found that these employees rarely took parental leave, worked flexible hours or availed themselves of any of the other family-friendly policies on offer.  Instead they spent ever longer hours at work, often putting in a lot of overtime on top of their standard hours.  Sometime they really needed their overtime earnings.  But more often, confronted with a choice between stress at work and stress at home, both men and women chose work, where at least they enjoyed the contact with colleagues, were taken seriously, and got paid for their pains, whereas at home they felt isolated, taken for granted and ground down with neverending demands.  Work had become home, and home had become hard work.  It may sound perverse, but the book clearly struck a chord: it became an instant bestseller.

Source: The Economist 18-24 July "Women and Work Survey" section "At the Double"

The Day Care Van Is Late Again

Time goes, you say?  Ah, no!  Alas, Time stays, we go.

- Henry Austin Dobson

Source: Funny Times

Parents Bid Goodnight to Bedtime Stories

Children from the age of 5 to 10 should watch more television.
Television depicts adults as rotten SOB's, given to fistfights, gunplay, and other mayhem.
Kids who believe this about grownups aren't likely to argue about bedtime.

- P J O'Rourke

by Alexandra Frean

Busy mums and dads are no longer taking the time to read to their children at night

More than half of all parents say they do not have enough time to read or tell bedtime stories to their children every night, despite strong evidence that it can provide a valuable form of quality family time.

A study into children's bedtime storytelling in Britain has found a massive decline in the habit.  Fewer than 1/3 of children aged between 2 and 8 have a bedtime story on 5 or more nights a week, compared with 3/4 of their parents' generation at the same age.

Aric Sigman a psychologist and author who did the survey, says the decline in bedtime storytelling could have deeply negative effects on a generation of children, as the practice fosters emotional security, aids relaxation, and acts as a vital means of transmitting shared values from one generation to the next.  "Parents need to re-learn about the importance of the bedtime story.  The last 10 minutes before a child goes to sleep - bedtime story time - is probably the most critical form of 'quality time' a parent can spend with their child, as it occurs at a prime comforting time from the child's perspective," he says.

Dr Sigman says listening to a bedtime story is conducive to sleep as it provides closure to the day.  "Sleep is an important health issue for the child."  The immune system, as well as levels of growth hormone, are affected by the amount of sleep they get, he says.

Bedtime stories told from memory, particularly those based on the child's own family history, could teach children vital listening skills, help to build up their attention spans, and aid in developing their imagination, he says.  Children who do not get regular bedtime stories often fill the gap between suppertime and sleep by watching television or playing computer games - often alone in their own rooms, the survey found.  This is potentially harmful, as it can over-stimulate the brain and delay sleep.

Dr Sigman questioned 84 parents with 150 children aged between 2 and 8 for the study, which was sponsored by a British power company, Powergen.

The main reason given by parents for not telling bedtime stories was lack of time, particularly in families with more than one child and households headed by a single, working parent.  Working mothers in two-parent households, however, were the most likely of all those questioned to make an effort to tell regular bedtime stories.  Many said they made an effort to do it to make up for time spent apart from their child during the day.

Dr Sigman says the high level of organisational skills demanded of working mothers was also probably a contributory factor.  Overall, mothers were far more likely than fathers to read or tell bedtime stories.  Many fathers confessed to falling asleep next to their child while reading a story - something no woman in the survey did. - The Times

Source: The Dominion Wednesday 15 November 2000

Off to Work We Go - and Go - Never Sure Why We Bother

by James Buchan

The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work by Joanne B Ciulla (Times Books)

For something that most of us do, or want to do, work is not easy to write sense about.  Work is our chief connection to the world around us.  Work tells us what to do each day, converts our thoughts into objects or acts and our energy into sustenance, gives us our social personality, company, respectability, distinction.  Work is also a tyranny to which we submit out of witless conformity and which obscures reality as completely as it obscures its own purposes.

The question posed by Joanne Ciulla's intriguing new book is this: In affluent societies, where most people work not for their needs but for their wants, why do we work so hard and so unhappily?  Entering the 3rd millennium, humanity should be loosening up, spending more time on the historical golf course.  As Ms Ciulla writes, with liberal wistfulness: "I am perplexed at the domination oflife by paid employment at a time when life itself should be getting easier."

Her book, which deals with paid work to the exclusion of house and schoolwork, falls into 3 parts.  The first is a canter through social attitudes to work from the time of the creation.  For Adam and Eve, work was a curse, symbol of their expulsion from paradise.  Aristotle thought work an obstacle to both a contemplative leisure and an active citizenship.  As always, he distinguished between need and want.  A human being can only consume so much food and so many pairs of shoes - necessities - but can never satisfy his wishes.  Work, as he saw it, becomes a treadmill of self-reproducing desires.

In the Middle Ages, work was constrained within a timeless and hierarchical society, and subordinate to the health of the soul.  It was with the Protestant reformers of the 16th century, notably Calvin, that work was detached from good works and became a sacrament in itself, a token of grace and symbol of salvation.  It is this so-called work ethic, partly but not wholly stripped of its religious content, that gives texture to life in the United States and, because of the prestige of the US economy, more and more societies abroad.  Americans, even if they work on product placement in children's television, tend to be convinced of the righteousness of their job - they're curing cancer.  Hard work is a symbol not of the soul's salvation but of election to the only paradise on offer in this fallen world, the American Dream.

In her second section, which is devoted to the American corporation, Ms Ciulla makes a point that often strikes visitors to the United States like an epiphany: There is something inexcusably un-American about the US corporation!  Time stamping, beer busts, random drug-testing, pink slips, walking the talk - what could be more unfree?

The downsizing movement of the 1990's left a great impression on Ms Ciulla.  For her, the various corporate philosophies - Taylorism, scientific management, the organisation man, the pursuit of excellence, continuous improvement, empowerment - are irredeemably sentimental and phony, for they ignore the imbalance of power between employer and employee.

To give an example from my own country, for about 70 years the chain store Marks & Spencer was worshiped in Britain as the perfect union of profit and social virtue.  Last year, its markets fell to bits, and it started beating up on its suppliers like the best of them.  I suspect that US and British corporations and the societies that depend on them are too unstable for any but the most temporary judgments.

The third, and most philosophical section of the book, deals with the rewards of work.  To my taste, Ms Ciulla is excessively cautious.  She does not like to think about the old division of labor between the sexes.  Yet when a man could return at sundown to be greeted by his lovely wife at the picket fence, and supper on the table, even working for Albert J Dunlap (known as "Chainsaw Al" or "the Shredder" for his unsentimental approach to the payroll at Scott Paper Company) must have been tolerable.

Now that Mr 9-to-5 must come back to an overgrown garden and an empty house, bare cupboard and wife slaving away at the telemarketing center, he must think again about what they both gain from work.  The old leftist idea that women, in emancipating themselves, would also emancipate men, is beginning to look sentimental, to put it mildly.

Ms Ciulla does not go deeply enough into the rewards of work.  She observes that Americans are "willing to trade freedom in the workplace for freedom in the marketplace."  She recognises that liberty in America once meant something more than retail credit - did Patrick Henry shop? - and that shopping merely forces us back to work, while television helps us stomach it.

Anyway, leisure in America, with its competitive passion, has the smell of work about it.  I was delighted to note in The Working Life the faint influence of those old merchants of philosophic gloom, the Frankfurt School.  Like the Frankfurters, Ms Ciulla seems to me insufficiently interested in the capital reward for work in the world today, which is money.  It is as hard to write sense about money as about work - dear reader, I've tried - but two things can be quickly said.

First, money provides a currency for work so that while we think we are working for ourselves we are actually working for others.

Second, it interposes itself between the laboring act and its consequence, and so comprehensively obscures that consequence from view, that we crash about the office or factory or shop without having the faintest clue what we are up to.  A person makes munitions to make money, not to kill a particular child; but the child is killed, and not by accident.  When people talk about their work they generally talk rubbish.

Finally, Ms Ciulla overlooks the extent to which industrialised work atomises our view of the world.  This is an important theme in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, a theme economists tend to overlook.  Anybody who has sat beside a trader in mortgage-backed securities at a charity dinner will know from that person's conversation that he or she is incapable of forming a larger view of society and its purposes; cannot fulfill the duties of American citizenship or enjoy its rights even in the ultra-representative form of modern politics; in short, can do little except trade mortgage-backed securities.

The truth is that we work because others work, and the reward of work is sometimes merely the warmth of other bodies.  Those who do not work for pay fall into loneliness and often lose any confidence in their own capacities.  At the very least it can be said that work keeps people out of mischief.

I have a more optimistic view of human nature.  My guess is that we all have something magnificent in us; and work has been devised to prevent us from achieving it.

Source: 28 February 2000 edition of The New York Observer © 2000

Also see:

bulletHigh Stakes (further on in this section) - Men in their 50s who have worked their way to the top of their professions can attract a young bride and start a family then, when they can afford to - usually without having a significant impact on their careers.  Women don't really have the same option.  To stop and raise children may have a huge immediate emotional reward, but has a life-long cost in terms of a woman's career advancement.  A woman's cumulative happiness doesn't seem to be significantly affected no matter which route she chooses.  Can the same be said for the lives of her spouse and children?

There are no perfect answers.  Staying home has problems, too...

At-Home Moms Risk Later Impoverishment

by Caryl Rivers

Are we seeing a new trend in motherhood, in which the most educated mothers are in the work force and those least educated are at home?

That seems to be the pattern emerging from the latest census data announced in October, showing that families with two parents in the work force are now officially the typical American family - more than 51% of families.  Even woman with babies are in the work force: 59% of mothers with infants under a year are employed, as are 73% of mothers with older children.

The numbers of women working is a familiar story, but the real surprise is who's at home.  Education is playing a significant role in which mothers work and which don't.  Among college-educated women, 68% of those who had a baby within the past year were employed, compared with only 38% of those who had not graduated from high school.

This picture is almost exactly the opposite of the idea that has been popular in the media for years: that women wanted to stay home, and if they had the resources to do so, they would.  The women who stayed in the work force were supposed be those with the least economic resources, who had to work.

As someone who tracks the way the media portray working women, I've noted several waves of stories during the past decade that proclaimed that women were at last returning home.  Headlines like these made the case:

bullet"Number of Stay-at-Home Moms on the Rise" - Louisville Courier-Journal,
bullet"Mothers Jilt Jobs for Homes, Families" - Gannett News Service,
bullet"The Return of the Single (Male) Breadwinner" - Chicago Sun Times.

But none of these stories turned out to be true.  Analysts at the Census Bureau report that there is no sign that the movement of women into the work force has peaked, and they expect it to continue.

It's disturbing to note, however, that the women with the least education are those most likely to be out of the job market.

These are the women on whom the current demographic and economic trends will have the greatest negative impact.

Demographic projections show that women are living very long lives and will continue to do so.  A 65-year-old woman today can expect to live, on average, an additional 19 years.  An 85-year-old woman can, on average, expect to live more than 6 more years.  Some estimate that a white baby girl born today has a 1 in 3 chance of living for 100 years.

The shape of the population is changing dramatically.  The familiar pyramid shape, in which most people are young, will change to that of a stack, where the number of people over 65 will outnumber those under 15.

All this raises the very real specter of a legion of older women facing dwindling resources.  Those least educated and out of the work force for a significant period of time will be the most vulnerable.  They will probably outlive their husbands - and their husbands' pension benefits.  And even if they do have some retirement benefits of their own, those may be meagre.  The Heinz Foundation notes that women retirees receive only half the average pension benefits that men receive and that women's earnings average 74¢ for every $1 earned by men - a lifetime loss of more than $250,000.

If these at-home women get divorced, their problems may increase.  The Heinz Foundation notes that most women reasonably assume that their lawyers know all about the federal and state laws in this area.  Too often they don't, and many divorced women lose some or all of the retirement benefits that should have rightfully been theirs.

Women now outnumber men on most college campuses, and perhaps for college women, the idea that they can't use the skills they have spent years acquiring because they have children simply doesn't resonate.  Plus, if they have good jobs, they aren't so eager to leave.  Women stuck in dead-end jobs may see staying at home a relief from a high-pressure, low-reward workplace.  But they are extremely vulnerable to economic forces.

What this all means is that we have to tell young girls, especially those in poor and working-class families, that staying in school is crucial to their future well-being.  The idea that the typical at-home mom was the contented spouse of a high-earning male has been punctured by the latest data.  The true picture may be of a woman very much at risk.

Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University

Source: Los Angeles Times Wednesday 8 November 2000

All benefits have a cost.  This is true whether the benefit Mother receives is from doing a good job at work or doing a good job at home.  No one can do it all.  The benefit Father receives if Mother stays home isn't as obvious, but it's there.  The benefit Father receives if Mother goes to work is mostly (though not entirely) monetary.  The costs, however, vary widely from family to family with a disproportionate share often paid by the children.  Some parents may not be aware of some of these costs to be paid until the children move out on their own - then seldom, if ever, return to visit.

Also see:

bulletTurn Out the Lights - an article about drugging foster children, but the technique probably works with anyone's children, even your own.
bulletWorking at It - a section on working which includes a sub-section on problems covering Time, Focus, Trends, and Gender.

Sorry, but My Children Bore Me to Death!

by Helen Kirwan-Taylour

It's the start of the summer holidays, when millions of mothers despair at how to entertain their children for the next six weeks.  What none of them dare say is that they would rather their children were still at school or, frankly, anywhere else.  Helen Kirwan-Taylor, a 42-year-old writer, lives in Notting Hill, West London, with her businessman husband Charles and their sons Constantin, 12, and Ivan, 10.  Here, she argues provocatively that modern women must not be enslaved by their children.

Helen with her sons Ivan (L) and Constantin (R)

The lies started when my eldest son was less than 10 months old.  Invitations to attend a child's birthday party or, worse, a singalong session were met with the same refrain: "I would love to but I just can't spare the time."  The nanny was dispatched in my place, and almost always returned complaining that my son had been singled out for pitiful stares by the other mothers.

I confess that I was probably ogling the merchandise at Harvey Nichols or having my highlights done instead.  Of course I love my children as much as any mother, but the truth is I found such events so boring that I made up any excuse.  I can't say which activity I dreaded more: playing Pass The Parcel at parties with a child who permanently crawled away from the action towards the priceless knick-knacks, or listening to the other mothers go on about such excitements as teething and potty-training.  Mind-numbing!

To be honest, I spent much of the early years of my children's lives in a workaholic frenzy because the thought of spending time with them was more stressful than any journalistic assignment I could imagine.  Kids are supposed to be fulfilling, life-changing, life-enhancing fun: why was my attitude towards them so different?  While all my girlfriends were dropping important careers and occupying their afternoons with cake baking, I was begging the nanny to stay on, at least until she had read my two a bedtime story.  What kind of mother hates reading bedtime stories?  A bad mother, that's who, and a mother who is bored rigid by her children.

I know this is one of the last taboos of modern society.  To admit that you, a mother of the new millennium, don't find your offspring thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable at all times is a state of affairs very few women are prepared to admit.  We feel ashamed, and unfit to be mothers.  It's as though motherhood is an exclusive private club and everybody is a member except for us few.  But then, kids have become careers, often the Last Career, for millions of women who have previously trained for years to enter professional fields of business.  Consequently, few of those women will admit that they made a bad, or - worse - a boring career move to motherhood.

My children have got used to my disappearing to the gym when they're doing their prep (how boring to learn something you never wanted to learn in the first place).  They know better than to expect me to sit through a cricket match, and they've completely given up on expecting me to spend school holidays taking them to museums or enjoying the latest cinema block-boster alongside them.  (I spent 2 hours texting friends throughout a screening of Pirates Of The Caribbean the other day).  Am I a lazy, superficial person because I don't enjoy packing up their sports kit, or making their lunch, or sitting through coffee mornings with other mothers discussing how Mr Science (I can't remember most of the teachers' names) said such and such to Little Johnny and should we all complain to the headmaster.  At this point in the conversation, my mind drifts to thoughts of my own lunch and which shoes I plan to wear with what skirt.  The other mothers tease me for my inability to know anything about school life.  But since when did masterminding 20 school runs a week become an accomplishment?  Getting a First at college was an accomplishment.

The trouble for a mother like me is that not being completely and utterly enthralled with, dedicated to and obsessed with one's children is a secret guarded, if not until death, then until someone else confesses first.  When I mentioned this article to my friend Catherine Fairweather, travel editor of Harpers & Queen, the relief on her face was instant.  For years she's listened to her friends proselytising on the sublime act of mothering.  "But no one ever told me how boring it is," she moaned.  When I brought it up at lunch yesterday, my friend June, a stay-at-home mother of 3 young children, admitted that "children are mind-numbingly boring" and the act of being with them all day and night is responsible for many mental breakdowns.  "Looking after children makes women depressed," she concluded.

All those glossy magazine spreads showing celebrity mothers looking serene at home with their children serve only to make women feel inadequate.  What the pictures don't show is the monotony, loneliness and relentless domesticity that goes with child-rearing.  They don't show the tantrums, the food spills and the 10 aborted attempts at putting on shoes.  They don't show the husband legging it to the pub so he doesn't have to change a nappy, either.

Research tells us that mothers drink the most when they have young children.  Is that because talking to anyone under the age of 10 requires some sort of lobotomy?  Arabella Cant, an art director with two young children, admits that she considered jumping off a bridge in the early stages of her career in motherhood.  "Bringing up children is among the most boring and exhausting things you can do," she says.  Her solution was to avoid subjugating her own life to that of her children's.  "I'm certainly not traipsing around museums or sitting on the floor doing Lego if that's what you mean by being at home," she explains.  "I'm loving it, but my children fit into my life and not the other way around.  I have friends who spend their lives driving their children to and from activities, but I don't want to spend my life on the North Circular."

Those of us who are not thoroughly "child-centric", meaning we don't put our children's guitar practice before our own ambitions, are made to feel guilty.  We're not meant to have an adult life - at least, not one that doesn't include them.  Many of my friends - 40-something, university-educated professionals who swore that they would be normal parents - make it a policy now that "our kids go where we go."  They drag their 3-year-olds to dinner parties where the youngsters end up in front of a video all night.  (I have seen children having tantrums in front of guests, and rather than send the children to their rooms, the parents send their guests home.)

So how have we reached this point where so many intelligent women are subverting their own needs and desires to that of their children?  Much of our current obsession with parenting has to do with the cult of child sychology.  "Parents in the '50s were led to believe that if they weren't with their children, the children would be disadvantaged," says psychologist Eva Lloyd.  "It started this ridiculous 'kids first' culture. We live in an age when parenting is all about martyrdom."

Psychiatrist Dr Alvin Rosenfeld, author of The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding The Hyper-Parenting Trap, adds: "To be a good parent today, you have to sacrifice a lot.  When the current generation of mothers was young, children were simply appendages.  Our parents would never cancel an adult activity to get us to a soccer game.  They would often not show up for our games or school plays, and, as a consequence, they never witnessed our great triumphs or were there to comfort us in our humiliations.  As a result, our generation said we would do it differently."

So it is drummed into mothers that if we find our children stressful or dull, it's because there's something wrong with us (but not dads, of course, who have a ready-made excuse for being out of the house all day because they "have to go to work").  And yet many women have spent years studying and then working so that we would not have to do a job as menial as full-time motherhood.  I consider spending up to 30 hours a week sitting behind the wheel of a 4x4, dropping children off at play centres or school, to be a less-than-satisfactory reward for all those years of sweat.  Besides, in my view, making a child your career is a dangerous move because your marriage and sense of self can be sacrificed in the process.

Psychotherapist Kati St Clair has listened to the frustrations of scores of mothers.  "Women now feel great pressure to enjoy their children at all times," she says.  "The truth is, a lot of it is plain tedium.  It's very unlikely that a mother doesn't love her child, but it can be very dull.  Still, it takes a brave woman to admit that."

All us bored mothers can take comfort from the fact that our children may yet turn out to be more balanced than those who are love-bombed from the day they are born.  Research increasingly shows that child-centred parenting is creating a generation of narcissistic children who cannot function independently.  "Their demand for external support is enormous," says Kati St Clair.  "They enter the real world totally ill-prepared.  You damage a child just as much by giving them extreme attention as you do by ignoring them altogether.  Both are forms of abuse."  Child experts are increasingly begging parents to let their kids be.

"Parents think they can design their children by feeding them a diet of Mozart - well they can't," says Dr Rosenfeld.  Sometimes, apparently, the best thing parents can do for their children is to let them be bored.  This, of course, makes mothers like me - who love their children but refuse to cater to their every whim - feel vindicated.  By sticking to our guns, we have unwittingly created children who can do things like make up stories (very few kids can any more).  Because I have categorically said: "I am not a waitress, a driver or a cleaner," my children have learned to put away their plates and tidy up their rooms.  They've become brilliant planners, often inviting their friends to come for the weekend (because I've forgotten to bother).

Frankly, as long as you've fed them, sheltered them and told them they are loved, children will be fine.  Mine are - at the risk of sounding smug - well-adjusted, creative children who respect the concept of work.  They also accept my limitations.  They stopped asking me to take them to the park (how tedious) years ago.  But now when I try to entertain them and say: "Why don't we get out the Monopoly board?" they simply look at me woefully and sigh: "Don't bother, Mum, you'll just get bored."

How right they are.

Source: 26 July 2006

So she got a first at college (and really needed to tell us that)!  No wonder her kids bore her - she's really special!  I wonder if she realises that her kids get their IQ from their Mum - is is their basic personality that comes from Dad.  My guess is that Dad might bore her as well.  ("...the husband legging it to the pub..." says a lot.)  But that should remain her business.  Personally, I find her boring...

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