• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


The Play’s the Thing

Responsibilities and gender.


March 2, 2016

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?



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