Work Life Balance

The Obnoxious Fearmongering Parent Utopias In Family Workplace Policy Have To Stop

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workplace policyCollege professor Adrienne Pine garnered more attention than she would like when she breastfed during a class lecture. In a particularly spiteful alignment of trials that many parents can attest to, the American University professor discovered that she had a sick baby on the first day of her “Sex, Gender and Culture” class. Her decision to nurse during a lecture has caused a predictable amount of head exploding and criticism. But tell me, why is that whenever we talk about parents needing flexibility in the workplace, we always have to envision obnoxious parenting extremes?

Lela Davidson added her two cents to the lactastic hoopla, particularly taking issue with Pine’s breastfeeding “while she was performing a public function of her job.” While the old grimaces regarding breastfeeding in public did surface in her TODAY piece, she proposes that the public aspect of Pine’s job lumps breastfeeding in with a slew of other unprofessional activities:

We do a lot of things on public transportation that we wouldn’t do on the job. I, for example, like to read my Kindle and write the occasional bad poem. Other people talk to themselves and clip their toenails. Maybe this should not be the standard.

But somewhere between empathizing with Pine’s tight circumstances (i.e. the first day of work, a new TA, a sick baby, no child care), Davidson’s imagination runs with further excesses. As is common when we discuss accommodating breastfeeding in the office or throwing mothers and fathers some flexible scheduling, Davidson feels compelled to turn one instance of classroom breastfeeding into a rampant “what if” scenario play — complete with ordering pizza and singing “Rockabye Baby” to her students:

It was no more appropriate to breast-feed her child than it would have been to change the baby’s diaper (or potty train her) in front of the class. What if the breast-feeding hadn’t soothed the child? Would she have delivered her lecture to the tune of “Rockabye Baby”? What if the baby were a sick, hungry 5-year-old? Would Pine have brought the contagious little cherub to work and had a pizza delivered?

This is not about breast-feeding. It’s a matter of professionalism. And, yes, sometimes we all have to make very difficult choices between our families and our jobs. The truth is Pine’s daughter could have waited until after class to eat. Had she not been ill, she would have been in childcare during class, presumably either being bottle-fed or not eating.

Call me a bare bones babysitter if you like, but I wouldn’t equate feeding your sick infant in a classroom — one time — with calling up Dominos and asking one of your students to tip the delivery man. Don’t mind if I add a couple of outlandish scenarios of my own, such as If the kid had wanted to play ring around the rosie, would she have asked all the other students to join in? Would students be obligated to share their iPad with the screaming brat?

I grow so weary of family workplace dialogues being highjacked by scary, mythical parenting utopias. Where an inch of time flexibility for a new mother means that she’s off somewhere getting a mani/pedi, sipping Starbucks, and cackling to herself about those poor childless folks back at work. Where an inch of progress regarding mandated breaks for pumping women means new mothers are “taking advantage” of other employees.

Parents, for the most part, would never feel so entitled in the often hostile and archaic space that is their place of employment to kickstart such fantasies into reality. Mothers and fathers are generally more concerned with the little things like making sure their kid is safe and fed than to bother drumming up scenarios in which they can get their colleagues to sing lullabies. Assuming that mothers really feel so indulgent connotes a profound lack of comprehension for the current state of many “family friendly” workplaces in this country, and the many women who often get scolded without them.

So while Pine’s story may spin many a worrisome panic over new mothers asking their colleagues to cover for them while they frolic in the park for a few hours, I assure you, we’re not there yet.

(photo: Aleksandr Markin/ Shutterstock)