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Parenting as a resume builder

Last night Chicago Dads had our (now) annual trip to volunteer at Feed My Starving Children. I had such a great experience there last time around that I was more than happy to sign up again. Thanks to enthusiastic college students taking up the majority of the over 100 person group, our 1.5 hour shift actually set the record for the most boxes packed at one time. It ended up being 29,952 meals--of vitamins, vegetables, soy, and rice that are weighed and sealed inside plastic--which is enough to feed 81 children for an entire year. The meals we packed last night are headed to Haiti. And their journey puts life into perspective.

Once they arrive, they're loaded onto trucks that have to be covered with blankets to prevent anyone seeing the contents--food is money and theft is prevalent. In this particular area of Haiti, the meals are taken to be distributed by a school. It's sometimes the only food these children will see is what is cooked for them during the school day. Outside, under a tree, a group of hungry children who are not enrolled wait to see if there will be any extra. On the day our leader went along it was lucky--there was.

It goes without saying but I'll state the obvious...while I feel good about helping, my goal in talking about starving children isn't to fill you with negative emotions of helplessness. Sure, the fact that the world is filled with kids waiting under a tree hoping for a meal is heart-breaking. What can we possibly do to fix it? Well, we can send them food for a start. Please help.

Anyway, that's not what this post is really about. I want to write about the conversation I listened to on public radio on the way home. It was a California-based interview with Anne-Marie Slaughter. Who some of you may already have strong feelings towards. For those of you who don't know, she is most famous lately for her 2012 article in The Atlantic titled, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." It tackled work-life balance, gender roles, feminism, and family time. It's been talked about to death so I'm not going to cover old ground here.

Slaughter answered some of those critics during the interview. She addressed class and wealth criticism. She addressed criticism from feminists. But it was her thoughts on fatherhood that I took some issue with. Now, Slaughter is speaking primarily at women and, personally, I forgive some of the way she comes off because of it. Dads speaking to dads sometimes have a similar tone and in-group mentality. I do, however, think she does fathers--and parents generally--a disservice to portray us as ignorant about raising children from that start.

Her implication about the value of paid family leave--which we both support--seems to be that the early period of bonding is do or die. If you don't take time off at the beginning, the working parent will forever be at a disadvantage over the parent who stays home. That may be partially true. Working parents often have guilt and feel inferior. But I take a brighter view that humans aren't all bumbling non-parents who need to a break-in period to learn how to change a diaper. You'd be surprised how natural some of us are at it...even, yes, men.

Slaughter went to great lengths to discuss different family structures...two dads, hetero couples, single parents...but I feel like she tipped her hand somewhat when it came to how men and women split housework and parenting. True, statistically, women are still doing more work in the home and more of the primary care responsibilities for the children. But that's changing. And I think she did dive into why men are behind in those categories a bit. Just not far enough. Yes, it's policies in the workplace (which I'll get to in a moment), but it's also areas of concern where men are behind and we need to be less woman-centered and take a more gender-equal approach. For instance, men are behind in education. Men have a harder time finding employment. We're more likely to be in jail and, thus, absent. We're more likely to be the victim of violence. In other words, it's unfair to portray the gap in housework and parenting as purely a gender-based inequality when there are underlying reasons for men struggling. Just as there are reasons why women struggle in the areas where they're behind.

The idea that really struck me as dead-on during the interview, however, was caregiving as a job skill. I'm totally with Slaughter on the need for more time off from employers. The need for daycare to be provided. (I had no idea that Congress passed national daycare legislation in 1972 only to have it vetoed by President Nixon. Bastard.) Slaughter had a long discussion about how she actively seeks primary caregivers for leadership positions because the skill set overlaps. Essentially, being a parent and nurturing a child puts you in a great spot to be able to lead a team of people. She says the words may be different--we don't "empower" children like you do a workplace team--but the idea is the same. If you can successfully raise a child then you can successfully manage a group of employees.

It really got me thinking about the parenting penalty. And we often talk about women being the main victims of punishment for time off to raise kids. But the rising generation of at-home dads is going to face this problem as well. I know my job search is influenced by it. While my peers continued on a career track, that time with family is counted against me when it comes to getting back in the workplace. Employers want to see you making continuing progress towards management and executive style positions, but you're now back in the lower-pay pool of candidates for lesser positions because of the hole in your resume.

My strategy thus far has been to always be honest and forthcoming about being an at-home dad considering a return to the workplace. Perhaps we need to put our time as a SAHD more front-and-center though. Really demonstrate the range of experiences and skills we have and not let the time away from career hold us back when it comes time to rejoin the world of employment. Still, it's a decision each dad returning will have to make on his own...do we fight discrimination against us for being fathers? Or do we quietly return to lower pay, benefits, and status in the work world proud that we put in our time with our kids?

It's one area that women and men face the same challenge.


Comments

  1. Great observations, especially that last paragraph. It's something I have personally struggled with in my attempt to transition from at-home dad back to full-time employment.

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