Laura Tropp's blog

The Play’s the Thing


I came home from a long day at the office, and my children told me I should come into living room for a play performance that they had been working on all day (they were on February break which always falls just when my semester ramps up). I managed to get a front row seat (I had to battle a stuffed pig for it), and after a day of boring meetings, I was excited to sit for a minute and bathe in the sunshine of my progeny’s creativity. But then the play began….

The plot was quite disturbing for me (there definitely needed to be a working mom trigger warning). It was about a girl who was celebrating her birthday. A fairy came to grant her wishes, and all she wanted was her mother to not have to work on her birthday. Ouch.

The play concluded when the wish was granted and the mother returned just in time to celebrate with her child. I applauded heartily on the outside, but inside I was horrified. My husband (seated in the back row) didn’t hide his amusement. 

Now, I don’t believe I’ve ever actually missed any of my children’s birthdays, but sure, there are a lot of activities I can’t engage in because I’m not at home. Despite my daughter’s constant requests, I can’t be a class mom. I know this because of not only my time crunch, but also the fact that I’m not particularly good at those things. I can’t make a clementine look like a pumpkin. I just can’t.  

I volunteer at the school library loyally one hour every other week; just last week I found a misshelved and wrongly catalogued graphic novel! But, let’s face it, despite my library commitment (which sadly goes unrecognized except by a couple of librarians and a stack of books), I’m a PTA lurker and always am first to volunteer to bring a food item when a list is provided to parents so I can choose the item that requires the least effort (my first choice is popcorn and my second is pretzels. I made the mistake of choosing mini water bottles once, but then realized that my daughter wouldn’t be able to carry the item into school herself).

This children’s play coincides with Melinda Gates’ latest initiative to battle Time Poverty.  Melinda Gates announced her new initiative (complete with this adorable video) that examines how women have less free time than men because of the additional household care they perform. Her critique recalls The Second Shift, but Gates frames the issue as moving beyond a first-world problem. In developing nations, a woman’s search for clean water can consume much of her daily activity. Without access to modern conveniences like washing machines, many women spend hours engaged in cleaning work.

While I fully acknowledge that my time poverty is a first-world problem, I think a related and under-examined issue involves the psychology of gender and time. Many studies have shown that students often place an undue burden of time on female faculty members and evaluate their performance as inferior to male faculty. While men are now more often recognized for participating in the daily lives of their children, it’s still treated as a spectacle as opposed to normative behavior. I watched a whole ad campaign before the Superbowl suggesting I’m supposed to be impressed that athletes can pay attention to styling their daughters’ hair. They called this a Dad-Do.

Maybe I need a cool, branded catch phrase like that, one that will reframe how time spent by men and women is perceived. Too often, when a dad is not home, people assume he’s just busy, but when a mom is not home, she’s abandoning her children. Do others have this feeling as well? Do fathers reading this feel that assumptions are being made about them as well?


Show on Jobs site: 

The New F Word


A few months ago, my daughter was having a bad week. She had tried out for a couple of different extra-curricular activities, but she did not get into any of them. She was disappointed. I was disappointed for her. But I tried not to focus on my disappointment and instead comforted her by telling her that failure is a part of life.

Yes, I said the word: failure. It seems to me that too much of parenting is trying to prevent our children from the harsh realities of failing.

Granted, we have a lot of help. The Helicopter approach to parenting encourages environments where more children can succeed. Everybody gets a trophy, children’s sports games often are not scored, everyone gets to be a teacher’s “special” helper, and favoritism is deeply discouraged. Yet, are we not preparing them for the harshness of the real world?

I am starting to see more and more my college students not prepared for failure. In college, not everyone gets a trophy, the A, or even the degree. And, let’s face it: favoritism is all over the place. It’s human nature. Some people are going to be able to get more than others just because of their charm, or their connections, or maybe because they have a fluke thing in common with someone else. Rather than shaping a pre-collegiate world for children in which we struggle to shelter them from failure or shield them from favoritism, maybe we need to just let them know that’s how life is. In other words, we should provide them with the tools to cope.

Just this week, my daughter was preparing for a school debate. She told me that she had been thinking about it, and the kids that managed to win the extra-curricular activities she had been competing for in the past all had done “something extra” in their presentation. She suggested that maybe she should do something extra. She learned. Failing had not doomed her to a life of feeling that she wouldn’t be successful, but inspired her to strive further.

Recently, Adam Grant argued that if children are to be raised to be creative, they need the opportunity to be original, which is difficult to achieve within many school systems and in an age of the over-structured childhood. I would add that having a safe place to fail is probably just as important. So, this semester, for my own children at home and for the students that I teach, I’m not going to be afraid of the F word. In fact, I’m going to give them chances to fail at something so that they can then learn how to find creative solutions to improve. Whether it’s building in more low-stakes challenging assignments at the beginning of the semester or not overly comforting my children when they didn’t achieve what they wanted, this is my gift to the next generation.

Show on Jobs site: 

New Semester Resolutions


I’ve read a chapter of The Cricket in Times Square to my daughter, used a list of my son’s vocabulary words in our morning conversation (he was quite boisterous this morning, which might make us acutely aware of the need to be resolute about our rule for not partaking in food outside our kitchen in order to protect our abode), arranged for my youngest to wear a completely brown outfit in honor of Groundhog Day, made three lunches and two snacks within the guidelines of each school’s wellness policy, communicated with the teacher regarding my misspelled email address in the class list,  explained the purpose of caucuses from a neutral political viewpoint, cleaned up Legos, built a pretend trough for Wilbur (it’s the end of Charlotte’s Web month at one of the schools), helped four students with registration problems, answered questions from administration, problem solved Blackboard issues so students could see the online portion of my class, and put the final touches on my syllabus. All this before 7:30 am! This isn’t the second shift; it’s the early shift. The latest semester has begun.

In an effort to achieve a better work-life balance, I’ve taken some advise from a few recent studies made a few changes this semester for both home and work.

First, I’m going to try not to take on the emotional energy that women are more likely to endure both at home and at work, as this op-ed illustrates. Though it won’t be easy, I am not going to listen to the stories students tell me about all of their problems. I will send them to appropriate people for help, but I can’t always be the one that they come to for their problems. At home, I will listen to the emotional problems of my children, but I’m not going to try to solve them. It’s ridiculous to think that I can help my child with her lunchroom seating issues from home. She’s going to have to figure it out.

I will attempt to “flip the classroom” more. For my new hybrid class, the online portion will replace my lectures, and in-person sessions will be purely discussion-based. Within my home classroom (homework time), I will allow my children to do more of their homework without my hovering, as apparently parents’ helping with homework doesn’t help students in the long term anyway.

I’m going to try to be more present wherever I am, so I am going to avoid checking email from places where I’m not in a position to respond to the requests. Doing so merely ends up only with me soaking up the emotional energy of the email. I’m going to encourage my students to be present during class time as well.

I’m going to say no. I will say no to committees I’m not interested in, to things I don’t really want to “volunteer” (or be volunteered) to do. I will apply this to both work and home. I’m not going to enroll my daughters in a sport to make them more well-rounded human beings when they don’t care about it much and I don’t enjoy watching children engaged in sporting activities (there, I admitted it). I will not help a student with her resume unless I really, really want to because I don’t enjoy writing cover letters for other people.

I will try to achieve more balance between desire and obligation, things I can control and those I can’t, and resist the temptation of being technologically connected so that I don’t miss real moments.

What are your new semester resolutions?

Show on Jobs site: 

Am I a Bad Feminist Mom?


I thought I would be the best feminist mom.

Here I am, an academic who studies feminism, motherhood, and families. I know about the glass ceiling, the maternal wall, and the second shift. I’ve read the studies on girls and self-esteem. I banished Disney princesses from my home when my children were small (to no avail, because they somehow figured out who they were anyway). I bought all the Goldie Blox toys, and there’s a Project Mc2 sitting on a shelf. I’ve introduced them to coding. Yet, I can’t even keep up with the do’s and don’ts of raising strong female leaders these days.

The other day, I called my daughter “bossy” and my husband reminded me that, according to Sheryl Sandberg, people shouldn’t use that word around girls anymore. It might teach them to be less assertive later in life. The next week I was attempting to help my daughter with her math homework, and I finally had to admit that I just wasn’t any good at math. Well, I now have to worry that my “parental math anxiety” may hurt my children’s math ability as well because they can sense and internalize my fear. This might be especially important for girls, who we know are already more likely to be ignored in science and math fields and even dismissed sometimes by math teachers (as this study finds). 

Of course, I’ve put my daughters in sports because I’ve read the studies about girls and the benefits of sports, but the other day I was watching my daughter’s basketball practice game and witnessed one girl apologize to another girl for stealing the ball. Am I wrong because I thought that moment was sweet rather than an instance of a girl apologizing for engaging in a more masculine-defined role? 

I noticed recently that my daughter helps me more with chores than my son. Is this my fault? Have I unfairly burdened her with the second shift even as a 9-year old? In an effort to reduce screen time, I hardly let my daughter play on the computer, and she loves to play dolls with her sister. Am I encouraging the girls to see themselves as potential moms first and potential computer programmers second? Is my son, who doesn’t play sports but is on the computer for what I think is far too much time, the one who is will be advantaged in adulthood?

One of my girls asked me recently why I shaved under my arms. I explained that it was an aspect of the beauty myth that I have chosen to follow. How can I teach her to reject beauty myths if I embrace some of them myself? I wonder whether these small moments will inform their world more than my general philosophy.

I can’t help but feel that I’m a better feminist teacher than I am a feminist mother. It’s must easier to avoid hypocrisy as a teacher than as a mom. I can talk about beauty myths without revealing whether or not I choose to adhere to them. I can discuss the burden of the second shift without students witnessing my own struggles with it. How do you apply (or not) feminism, or other theories, while being a mom and teacher? Do you struggle with living the theories that you teach?

Show on Jobs site: 

New Fatherhood for a New Year


Mark Zuckerberg’s introduction to fatherhood is being widely covered by the popular press, and throughout Facebook. Zuckerberg has been sending out photos of himself enjoying fatherhood, including pics of him changing a diaper and reading to his baby

Stories like these promote the notion of a newer, more involved father. Fathers certainly are being encouraged to become involved parents at earlier stages than ever before – even before birth. Last April, men were the recipients of their own fertility app, illustrating not just a desire of men to become more actively involved in understanding their fertility, but also a new potential market for companies to sell to.

From the time men are first aware that they are to become dads, they become part of a fatherhood-industrial complex. The last Superbowl included a series of ads that appealed to fathers, showing them caring for and nurturing children at different stages. Fathers now also can’t escape the fear mongering that had been reserved for moms in the past. A recent study warns men that fatherhood may make them fat: researchers offer that fathers may be devoting more time to their children at the expense of exercising and taking care of themselves. Welcome to the club, dads.

With that, here’s a shameless plug: I’m proud to announce Deconstructing Dads: Changing Images of Fathers in Popular Culture, a collection of essays that Dr. Janice Kelly and I have edited together. The authors in this collection argue that, despite the popular myth of a new age of fatherhood, much of society, and popular culture in particular, promotes the idea of fatherhood as an ambiguously defined role that continues to play second fiddle to mothers. Fathers have to push back against the expectation that they should primarily serve the provider role and be absent from the home in order to earn money for the family, rather than care for the children.

In the United States, some companies are beginning to encourage fathers to spend time with their newborns, but many fathers still feel the pressure to work at the expense of family time. Take, for example, the case of Daniel Murphy, the Mets baseball player who was publicly criticized for taking time off during the season to be with his wife during the birth of their child. Men are consistently subjected to reports about the unequal division of work at home. While this may be true, stories like these do little to help find the roots of the inequity.

Zuckerberg is changing diapers, which projects a positive cultural sign for fathers seeking a larger caretaking role, but most fathers (as well as mothers in the U.S.) do not have the resources that would allow them to have this kind of quality time with their newborns. Images of participatory fathers need to be matched with critical discussion about how we assign fatherly roles and what structures in society still make parental participation (both fathers and mothers) challenging

Show on Jobs site: 

Hanukkah, Menstruation, Facebook, and Commoditization


It’s not often that Hanukah and menstruation are able to share the title of a blog post, so I’m glad to add to the possible answers for those playing Google Feud.

I bought each of my daughters a Hanukkah shirt this week, but I was torn over the purchase. On the one hand, I thought they would be thrilled. They’ve been asking for Christmas items for the last month. Though they identify as Jewish, they have been seeing Christmas sales advertised for the past month and want to participate in the hubbub. Recently, they asked me for a Santa outfit for their dolls. When I reminded them that they are Jewish, they replied that they are, but their dolls are not. Touché.

They also have been bugging me for cute shirts with reindeer or Santa on them, chocolate-covered Santa candy, and all the other exciting holiday products that they see now on display. So, when I saw the Hanukkah shirt that was a little over-the-top but in the same style as the many Santa shirts, I thought: why not.

However, once again my scholarly voice competed with my mom voice about the purchase. This shirt is more than just a “shirt,” I thought. It’s a symbol. It’s a chance for them to fit in. They can wear it and proudly “own” their holiday. And, they get to do it as Jews, as opposed to them taking a picture on Santa’s lap at the school holiday fair (which they insisted on doing last year).

On the other hand, I recognized that their “fitting in” was now possible only because the store has now commercialized yet another holiday. Why do my children need to have a consumer experience to feel a part of their culture?

I observe similar dilemmas in other places. Just last week, commenters debated whether Mark Zuckerberg was really giving away his wealth because of the way he structured an LLC. Then, I argued that the end justified the means. Who cares how he does it, as long as needy causes end up being helped?

Is the same true here? Who cares how I share Hanukkah with my children, as long as the end result is my children experiencing their holiday in a happy, healthy way? 

Another example popped up in an unexpected place: an online ad for a menstrual gift box. Designed for girls who get their first periods, the box celebrates their experience with an assortment of products. While I like the idea of this stage in a girl’s life being moved from a private, secret, and sometimes almost shameful and embarrassing time to a celebratory experience, should this moment be commoditized and converted into a consumer experience?

These examples raise a chicken-and-egg question for me: how often do people motivate on their own true changes in their attitudes and behaviors, as opposed to companies leading that change for them? And, if it is the latter, is that problematic, or does it matter?

Show on Jobs site: 
Smart Title: 
Hanukkah, Menstruation, <br>Facebook and Commoditization

An Academic Thanksgiving


As a professor in the States focused on analyzing gender and family issues within a critical media studies framework, Thanksgiving poses some interesting challenges for me. On the one hand, I absolutely adore this holiday. I love the days off (my College even throws in Wednesday), being with family, and cooking a traditional meal while catching up with everyone.

At the same time, on a practical level, Thanksgiving is not the ideal time for an academic. It’s our crunch time. We are preparing to wrap up the semester and often are faced with an inevitable tough choice. Either we assign papers to be due right before Thanksgiving and have to spend the entire holiday grading (albeit with a few extra days for the task), or we make the papers due immediately after Thanksgiving break, forcing students to spend their entire holiday writing and leaving us only a short time to grade them after the break. Add to this the constant stream of emails from students working on these papers. Stealing away a few moments to catch up on grading and beginning the preparation of final exams, I often find myself hiding in another room while festivities play out elsewhere. Non- academics really don’t understand why you can’t really take a few extra days off from your job.

Another aspect of Thanksgiving that presents a challenge is watching my children absorb cultural myths while attempting so assess how much critical perspective a 7-year old should be offered. Where do I interfere with discussions on representation of Native Americans? How much should I reframe different schools’ narratives of the holiday? For example, Rethinking Schools has offered one way to explain the complicated nature of Thanksgiving to children, but where is the line between wanting to provide alternate interpretations of the holiday for my child without causing conflicts with her teachers?

Then, of course, the entire Black Friday spectacle follows. While most people debate the morality of stores opening on Thanksgiving Day, I’m forced to wrestle with the conflict of my personal desire to save money on a new washing machine with my professional and scholarly critique of rampant consumerism. I want to support Buy Nothing Day, but I can’t pretend I’m not tempted as much as anyone else by the excellent deals to be had.

Finally, I can’t ignore the gendered components of the holiday, in which too many families conform to a structure where women serve as the domestic laborers during the day, while men comprise the takers of the meal (although I must acknowledge that my husband and I do not follow this norm).  The Ohio University Women’s Center has organized tips to avoid the gendered cycle, but will relatives rooted in the dominant culture appreciate my using the holiday to attempt to break some cracks into our gendered society?

This struggle between asserting my scholarly critical self and allowing others to relax and enjoy the culturally normative experience of Thanksgiving in the U.S. is an experience that I’m sure is not limited to only myself. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there in similar (gravy) boats!

Show on Jobs site: 

Then What?


There are so many stories in the news about how helicopter parenting hurts kids. Comics make fun of it. Stories constantly warn about the dangers of it.  It may cause a “psychological blowback” in College. It may cause depression in kids

Here’s the thing: what about the helicopter parents themselves? All of these stories make it seem like these parents all could behave differently but instead have chosen to hover over their children and turn them into incapable adults. I think we are blaming the victim because as a mother who, despite trying not to, definitely hovers, it’s not good for me either and not entirely my fault.

The world of parenting and school is now set up for an expectation of some type of hovering. Blame, in part, technology. Now that new technology is available and widely marketed, it’s hard to avoid hovering. I have a friend who has been watching a video camera of her infant at day care from the time she began attending. Preschools provide daily reports and pictures via social media of what your child is doing all day long. Elementary schools require parents to sign homework daily to prove they have reviewed the work. Middle schools offer online computer accounts detailing your child’s progress so you can see that they didn’t do the last two homework assignments before the quarterly report card is posted. When I was a kid, the report card grade was generally a surprise for the parent (and oftentimes the child).

Many would say these are fine developments. Parents don’t have to be at work all day worrying about their baby; they conveniently can watch her.  Parents can follow the daily progress of their child. However, we as a society haven’t decided what to do about the “then what.” What happens when you are watching the daycare cam and you see another child steal away your child’s rice cake right from her hands, but no one else noticed. Then what?  Should you just ignore the crime, or should you sound like the “crazy parent” at pick-up? It’s one thing for daycares to have cameras; it’s entirely another to admit you watch them.

Regarding the parental portals that allow parents to watch a child’s progress online, it’s almost impossible not to log on to see how your kid did on a test before they get home from school. I’ve talked to many a mom or dad who has told me (s)he has to feign surprise at the child’s test score because it was posted hours earlier online. But what about when you discover your child is missing too many homework assignments? Then what? Do you allow your child to fail the class in a high-stakes environment, where one bad grade may determine your child’s future? Or do you hover and make sure your child gets their homework done?

These days, parents are encouraged to talk to their children more. When I was a kid, my mom never read an article advising how to get your child talking about what happened at school. Generally, unless there was a disaster, what happened at school stayed at school. But now that I’m talking to my kids, nobody tells you what to do once you’ve opened that Pandora’s Box of knowledge. I know a mother (and quite frankly, it is usually the mother and not the dad who is blamed as the hovering parent) who gets involved in her daughter’s social life and is seen as horrible overly invested and perhaps even psychologically dysfunctional. I’m telling you, though, there’s a slippery slope once you have opened the door of conversation. Once you know about the mean girl making your daughter feel left out, you can’t unknow this information. Then what?

Helicopter parenting is a result of many different cultural shifts happening at the same time. I don’t think it’s productive to blame the parent completely. Helicopter parents don’t need your anger; they need your pity. So, as a fellow reluctant helicopter parent, let me just say to all of you: I feel your pain (Really, I do: this last project of turning a pumpkin into a globe caused a cut on my finger). 

Show on Jobs site: 

Adult-Child’s Play


I was in a bookstore the other day and was surprised to see adult coloring books. Apparently, they are becoming more and more popular. I am told that coloring eases stress for adults. A bookstore in my area even sold out.

This reminds me of one of my favorite books, The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman, who was a mentor to me. In this book, he argues that the electronic age, and television in particular, blurred lines between adulthood and childhood. He provided a great many examples in the book, and for the next few decades I was easily able to spot more.

I think we are moving into yet another phase now. Before, I focused more on how children were tackling adult issues earlier in their lives. Now, I see adults reverting to child’s play. In addition to the crayon example above, I’m thinking about the kickball and dodge ball teams adult friends of mine have joined. Games that were once the domain of playgrounds and neighborhood streets are now formal adult playtimes. In some workplaces, the décor and philosophy that rules is one that embraces play.

For Postman, the media age of television had ushered in the blurring of life stages, but I wonder if something new is accelerating this merging. Are the stages of childhood and adulthood becoming even harder to discern?

Perhaps the over-regimented childhood that some of these adults experienced as children has played a part. I’m thinking of the over-scheduled children who never had an opportunity to sit and color on their own, without it being part of an assignment (read: work). Maybe the shift to scheduled play dates has supplanted the possibility of a spontaneous kickball game. Are these adults craving the elements of play that they never had experienced?

Another explanation could be the change in our scientific notion of when adulthood emerges. New studies reinforce that the brain isn’t fully functioning until much later than previously assumed. Parents no longer sever ties at clear stages, such as the college drop-off. And, after college, it’s more common for kids to move back into their parents’ home.

At the same time that adults’ leisure time has begun to mimic child’s play, children’s leisure time is also starting to take on more adult features. In fact, one of the things I don’t like about all these organized sports and games that my children are encouraged to participate in is that it starts to feel too much like work. My children have to get up early to attend a scheduled activity, and sometimes practice in advance of the next scheduled one. I recently read a note about a volunteer activity we are a part of, and by the time my daughter and I were done reading, we both felt the stress that I usually associate with my own work. I began to question whether we are setting up children at a very young age to ignore spontaneous downtime and fun?

These new types of adult play may be a reminder that our sense of work-life balance is off, and we need to think of ways to restore that balance. Maybe coloring books are the short-term answer, but I think we need some longer-term solutions as well.

Show on Jobs site: 

Hiding from Kids and Colleagues


The other day I was hiding on the floor behind the night stand in my parent’s bedroom (I live intergenerationally). It brought back flashbacks to years-ago games of hide-and-seek. In this iteration, however, I was hoping that no one would seek me or, if they did, they wouldn’t find me. I was trying to work from home and had to abandon my home/office to find a hiding place to take a conference call with people on the line, all of whom would not want to hear a child in the background demanding juice or Doritos (two items they know they can get from me when I need to bribe them to be quiet). 

Later, my friend told me about her “hiding” experience. She had to take an important conference call with some business folk, so she left her kids inside with the babysitter and went to sit in her backyard to take the call in hope that her children would not interrupt her. Yet, in the middle of the call, she lost her wi-fi. She then had to keep inching herself and her laptop closer to the house but without the children seeing her because they would immediately insist on her attention. She ended up hiding in a bush outside the kitchen window to finish her call.

Is this the new face of work-life balance?

In an article preceding her new book, Anne Marie Slaughter talks about toxic work environments. She raises important questions about the flexibility of work schedules, advocating for more flexible schedules, changing family structural expectations, and having the ability to work at home. In my own experience, though, while working at home brings me great flexibility in some ways, in other ways, I think I just create a different type of “toxic” home-work environment. When I’m away at the office, I can simply imagine the wonderful experience my children are having at home, but when I’m home, I can hear every little detail (and sometimes it’s not pretty). When I’m away, my children miss me, but when I’m there but not accessible, I sometimes fear that I’m creating an even greater feeling of rejection for them. During the last winter weather season, I worked in my office during the snow days for several hours, telling the children that I couldn’t be interrupted during this time. My youngest began leaving me “mail” under the door. Letters of her love and her wish that I would write her a letter. Of course, I had to stop writing my report and begin writing that love letter to her.

On the other hand, when the children are at school, working from home is lovely. Last week, I had to work from home because of an unexpected medical crisis in our house. I honestly got more done from home than I ever would have in the office, where my work time is constantly interrupted. However, I couldn’t help but to feel concerned every time I received an email from someone saying they were going to stop by my office to see me. Of course, had I been there, all these visits would have prevented me from getting all the work done. In fact, on several occasions I have had to “hide” in the office. I’ve discovered other faculty doing the same thing.

How much of our lives are spent in hiding to finish what has been assigned to us or we have assigned to ourselves at work?  Do you hide from your family or your colleagues? I’m curious about how others experience and find success in the work-from-home life.

Show on Jobs site: 


Subscribe to RSS - Laura Tropp's blog
Back to Top