Take Kids To Work?

Tomorrow is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, a recent tradition I’m decidedly ambivalent about. I respect the spirit of the day, which is to provide healthy role models for our children and show them possible opportunities; but I also feel that the day solves a problem that has already evolved into a more complex one. Today I did a Marketplace commentary about this. Also, here is a longer piece I’ve written on the topic.

Last year Take Your Daughter To Work Day caught me by surprise. While driving my daughters to school, I pulled up to the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru and was handed a bag of munchkins by Lindsay, a five-year-old whose Mom had outfitted her with a name tag, headset, and Dunkin Donuts cap.

Oh, I realized. Either they’re having real troubles finding good help, or, It’s Take Your Daughter to Work Day.

I observed the day by taking my two daughters to work—other people’s work, that is. I took them to the vet. And to the checkout clerks at the supermarket. And then to see how proficiently the Staples people sell loose-leaf binders and toner.

As a freelancer working out of the house, every day is take your daughter to work day for me. Not to mention that every day is take your work to your daughter day as well. Some people look at my life and suggest that I should get an office out of the house. Frankly, I think that a better idea would be for my family to spend more time out of the house. Whatever.

This year the organizers of the event have changed the day to include sons. This feels to me like the wrong response. My work life makes the notion of Take Your Daughter to Work day feel quaint, an anachronistic solution to problems that have evolved beyond the proposed cure. In theory, I’m in favor of a day that helps bridge the work-family chasm. In practice, however, it seems to me that the rules of the game have shifted much faster than the terms of the argument—much like Amazon.com’s explosive rise making moot the debate about whether superstores are killing independent booksellers.

The "holiday" rests on the premise that there is a huge discrepancy between work and family; a gulf between the two worlds that is bridged for a day when you introduce your child, like a tourist in a foreign land, to the place that they have heard so much about. Yet for the many of us who fly below the radar of the 1950’s split between work and family, this contrived day feels like overkill. We’re struggling with dilemmas that are gray-er and more complex than this day suggests.

Take, for the example, the continued use of the phrase "Mr. Mom," a joking form of shorthand that folks have often called me when they realize that I do laundry and dishes, pick kids up from school, and even end up at the mall some mornings at 11 am. This seeming oxymoron runs on the premise that when a man takes on a fair share of the parenting duties, he becomes…a mom. For anything else is uncomfortable and kinda funny—a joke solid enough to sustain one crappy film (and source, I believe, of the phrase,) and one I hear as often from—if not more than—women as men.

Today I feel that we’ve undergone one more social strategic inflection point around parenting and gender roles than people like to acknowledge—and that Take Your Daughters To Work has already become dated, a 90’s solution to a 70’s crisis. The intention—of showing young girls positive role models in the world of work—is good, but, in some ways, loves "not wisely but too well."

In this world of blended workfamily, the word Blackberry is no longer the punch line to a beautiful Robert Hass poem, let alone a yogurt flavor for your child; rather it’s a reminder of our constant conduit to work work work. Why should we take another day to remind our children of that continually encroaching terrain? For most of us, the problem is not that our children don’t know what we do for work, but that they know far too well.

Here’s my counter-offer. Next year, on this day in April let’s celebrate something new: The Least Present Parent Leaves Work Behind Day. Whichever of the parents, for whatever reason, is more frequently (constantly) absent from the family because of work, must devote a day of presence to their children. Not a minute, or hour, but a day, for as any fulltime parent knows, quality time only happens as a function of quantity time. Scheduling quality time with young children into a set hour is like planning for perfect weather in a week. Sure, this suggestion might be a bit a of stretch. But hey, for some people it just might become a habit.

Posted by tom at April 23, 2003 08:47 PM

A few years ago, I started working out of my home office. The first few months were a struggle. On the one hand, I resented how work encroached on my home life. On the other hand, my home life was constantly impinging upon my work.

The problem, I came to understand, was that I was trying to create a clean demarkation between my work life and my home life. As soon as I surrendered to the inevitable assimilation of work and home -- something that used to be called life -- I was instantly happier.

I honestly don't know how much I work any more. It is quite a bit, even by the standards of my former life in the private equity business. The load doesn't feel so heavy, though. Work is done when it needs to be done. Consequently, I don't have to create an excuse for play.

Of course, it's not as neat as the preceding might imply. There are liabilities associated with a home office that are harder to overcome. Nevertheless, it's an arrangement I've really come to enjoy, and, on balance, I think I'm more productive.

Posted by: Dave Bayless on May 4, 2003 09:07 PM
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