Thoughts on Hopes and Gender Roles

The last few weeks have presented serious challenges in terms of balancing child care and work. Teaching a night class threw a monkey wrench into our fairly fine-tuned evening routine – a change made even worse by the fact that my husband’s work schedule conflicts with mine on that day, and daycare closes before he’d be able to get there. We hired a sitter – daughter of another faculty member in my department – to watch the baby from 4:30 until my husband gets home from work. It was great…until it wasn’t. The sitter is in class til 4:00, so when I have to be on campus before 3:00 (as has happened the last 3 weeks!), we don’t have child care. Each of the three weeks this has happened we’ve dealt with it in a different way. Yesterday my guilt over not seeing my baby won out and I decided that rather than scrambling for someone else to watch her, she would come to campus with me for a few hours. When the sitter got out of class, she came to my office and took the baby to the park then hung out with her in the building until I was free again.

Earlier in the day, I was venting my frustrations to friends and telling them that I’d decided to bring the baby to work. Their responses were very interesting:

My daddy’s office had that green and white stripe printer paper and highlighters. I loved those Saturdays.

My dad’s office had dry erase boards.  Then, when I got older, I did my science fair in his lab, using helium and graduated cylinders and his scale that weighs to some ridiculously exact number!

My dad’s office had powdered creamer for coffee and those sugar cubes that came in a box.  As a kid that was the height of decadence.

My dad’s office had chalk boards!

My dad’s office had classrooms, powdered soap in the bathroom, and smelled like books. My brothers and I would draw on the boards, pretend to be teachers….and use ridiculously large amounts of that soap.

But what stood out to me most about all those responses? “My dad’s office…” Now, based on the ages of these women, these anecdotes would have happened over a pretty extensive time-period – probably early-70s to mid-90s. Most of us probably did have stay at home moms (I know at least 3 of the 4 quotes provided did) but plenty of women were in the work force at that time. One response had to do with “mom’s office” – her own:

Nothing my little one loves more than coming to mommy’s office where the analysts fuss over her, she has a coffee machine that makes hot-chocolate, a super-fast computer to play her games on, and an unlimited supply of post-it notes and highlighters.

I thought about the women I was speaking with – we are professors, attorneys, insurance executives, and financial analysts. Where did we learn that these options were open to us? My parents always supported me in anything I tried and always made it clear how many opportunities I had. But the first time I remember wanting to be anything other than a stay at home mom was college. I only went to college because it was the next logical step, not because I particularly wanted to be a professional woman.

All of this made me wonder – how will my daughter look back on this? Will visiting mommy’s office help her to know she can be whatever she wants to be? My husband stays home with her 2 days per week and we divide the household work pretty evenly, most of the time. We hope this will teach her that there aren’t “mommy jobs” and “daddy jobs” – there are parent jobs.

I hope she knows she can be whomever she wants to be. Do I hope she’ll be a scientist? A little. If she wants to be a stay at home mom, and can make it work, I will be immensely proud of her. How will I teach her these things?