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Professions and child-rearing
As I watch the women in my life grow up, I thought I'd raise a crucial question:

Do you think that certain professions are inherently incompatible with being the primary caretaker of a child?

For instance, being a writer, an artist, an actor, or other professions which can't really be "left at the office" and require a lot of solitude and time to create. There are many other examples.  I'm not suggesting that one can't e.g. write while caring for young children, but that one can't necessarily do one's best work at that time, or for a long time afterwards -- and possibly never.

"Inherently incompatible" is a key part of the question. Some might argue that these professions, as they are currently practiced, require solitude, but maybe that's just a vestige of the fact that they were mostly done by men who mostly had access to solitude, and that worked well. Could there be a radically different path to getting to the same high level of output, one which was much more compatible with family/community life? Or is creation somehow inherently selfish, independent of the particular society and its baggage?

What do you think? Again, this isn't exactly a question about children per se. Nor is it, exactly, gendered (though society and history tend to make it so). It's a question of what demands our professions make on us and whether, and how, it is possible to live one's life while being true to one's calling.
Hi Solveig,

Crucial question.  That's important in responding.  It has a personal caste, so stated.

I'll try starting with a general principle.  I believe that no profession or calling, no matter how compelling or demanding, is incompatible with raising a child well. Not perfectly, whatever that could mean.  But well enough.  When asking myself where that view came from, I'm immediately thrown into both Platonic and Aristotelian modes.  (If this makes sense, great.  If not, it's in honor of one of my buddies, who was my boss and co-teacher for 14 years, and now, at 80, still pours cement all day long and has become one of my dearest friends.  He loved the P/A distinction, and taught it to me decades ago, along with countless freshmen.  The first has to do with comparisons to the ideal, the second, with comparisons to the "real," i.e., the everyday world of experience.)

I'm now in Platonic mode.  I can conceive that one could have sufficient love and attention and discipline that one could hold both one's work and one's child wisely and well.  It depends so much on how one views oneself as one plays this out.  If one is aware of the inherent difficulties (not impossibilities), but inherent strains in achieving such a difficult goal, one can make room for such difficulty, and make sure that one's work and one's child are honored.  Not always simultaneously.  In fact, simultaneity is impossible.  It seems to have to do with moving one's attention around, over time, so that one is giving each what each wants or needs more or less sufficiently at a given moment. Please note that "failure" is inevitable.  There are moments when the child or the work demand the same kind of devotion.  But forget perfection. Failure is inherent in the story.  Ideally (!), one shows one's child how devoted one can be to one's work, without costing the child too much.  In fact, this lesson may be one of the valuable principles passed along from parent to child.  Along with the notion that "failure" can be lived through, learned from, not a cause for remaining forlorn.

No doubt a lot of this will revolve around the nature of a given child, as well as the parent.  The more resilient the child, the more likely he or she is to be able to live through the occasional deprivations of parenting that dog him.  We are born with a genetic set of proclivities, and in Aristotle's world, these are among the most important to take into account.

Let's remain Aristotelian.  That means looking around, and seeing how rare the above ideal actually is.  So many well known practioners of various arts, from politics to fine art, seem to have been  lousy parents.  Usually it's the kids that suffer for the work. But the opposite is also well known, given the many people who have given up their callings in the service of families. Almost entirely women.  (Though as childrearing grows in importance to modern fathers, the strain they're under begin to resemble women's.)  It's so rare to find my ideal as stated above, that I seem in danger of positing an idea that won't hold up against the real.  And yet. There are countless devotees of one sort or another who have raised decent kids.  Even extraordinary kids.

And yet.  First, it's all a matter of degree.  There's no perfection here.  And relatively speaking, I think it's my conception of human nature I must finally rest my case upon.  While I can't claim to know anyone who exemplifies the ideal I've posited, I do have the usual experience that 68 year olds have in relation to human nature.  Even if the ideal I'm positing is a very rare event, that doesn't mean it can't happen.  So the question begins to delve into one's conception of what humans are capable of.  Their human nature.  And I can conceive, without too much trouble, the parent who both loves a child to bits, and loves her/his work to bits, and manages a balance such that neither suffers too much.  Note I said, "suffers."  This is part of the real.   Suffering is part of growing up: perfection, even if one could conceive it, doesn't exist.   Of course, the most common "real" course is that the child or the work comes out first.  Such a balance is very rare.  But that doesn't make it impossible.

Do you remember John Gunther's Death Be Not Proud?  It's a memoir that used to be well known, about the death by brain tumor of a brilliant, and immensely kind, young man of about 16.  There are innumerable instances in which young Johnny (the son) is deeply involved in his father's work, as playmate, as editor, as one who is involved.  These are not perfect examples, but sufficient to help make the point.

I'm beginning to run out of response.  Why does it feel as though I've said practically nothing.  Uncanny.  Maybe because it's too wordy.  The whole Plato/Aristotle reference may be extra.  I'll guess another part of the trouble is that a simple and clear "answer" isn't possible.  We are reduced to speculation and wish, no matter how well informed we may be.  There are hidden, or not so hidden, value judgments inherent in this subject, and I've tried to steer around them.  I mean a response, not a book.

So that's my first glance at this  "crucial question."  I wonder if I had taken the reverse course.  What would I have written then?  Thanks for the ride, Solveig.  I like these issues, upon which one can cut one's teeth.
I appreciate the previous poster's faith in the human spirit, which is clearly given with joy. Still, in the spirit of discussion, I would respectfully ask whether he has ever been "the primary caretaker of a child."  It is all well and good to encourage someone to choose "and" rather than "either/or." But it is not always appropriate. If someone asks "I've just become pregnant, is this the time to begin training for my Olympic swimming competition," the truest response would not be to say "You can do whatever you want, as long as you have a sense of humor and are willing to sacrifice a bit." Yes, sacrificing your Olympic swimming for instance. Enormous bellies create drag. If gold is a matter of split seconds, etc. 

(I am not now replying to the previous post specifically, but speaking in general.)
I understand the disinclination among well-meaning people to speak honestly of such things, given a history of using motherhood to confine women. "Medical opinions" or facts about what is or is not a suitable companion practice to motherhood have been remarkably shortsighted.
That said, I think that it does a disservice to children (and to the women and men who ask honest questions about what it is like to parent) to suggest, however beautifully, that anything can be done and that it will all work out. Perhaps the new radicals are those who will say that our lives --- everyone's lives -- are finite and our resources are finite. There is no problem with choice, as long as all choices are validated.

If one is irked by the word "incompatible," choose another with less color. I didn't read a tone in the original post which in any way called forth the need for strong encouragement. I didn't sense hopefulness or ambivalence. I simply saw it as a thoughtful question. I find the penultimate paragraph particularly interesting, but I don't have an answer.

Society's suggestion to have it all is underlined, I think, by a deep feeling that there are certain parts of life one cannot give up and still be wholly human. "You can have it all" (again, I don't say this about the previous poster but about society in general) is too often code for "It's not too late." If we really felt that all choices were equally fulfilling and equally valid, would we respond the same way?

This is an interesting discussion, and I look forward to seeing how it continues.
I'll try to be brief.  Not my strong suit.

In answer to the question "respectfully asked" about whether I have ever been the primary caretaker of a child, the answer is yes. But left that way, I'm not clear what the answer does for the conversation. Neither am I tempted to write personally on the issue.  As for the remainder of the post, I must admit that while I had moments of understanding, there were other places where I had trouble following your line of reasoning.  So I find it hard to reply.

I wonder what led you to ask your question.  Are you comfortable responding?  It's easy to read meaning into how you phrased it, but I've learned to  try to avoid such temptations.

Finally--I seem to like finally's--there's always a sense in which I'm chewing over an issue, and enjoy the exercise as exploration as much, if not more, than being invested in some "answer."  In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I like the perennials, the chestnuts that have been around forever.  Forever because they are endlessly fascinating and without definitive answers. They call us forth: our responses say as much about ourselves as they do about the subjects. 

As noted, I could have gone the other way, and believe could have made equally cogent, or not cogent, points.  There's no "answer" that I can conceive to this issue, but only a series of exploratory thoughts, opinions, questions of value or practicality.  That it matters a lot to Solveig, and to many others, I don't doubt. For a span of time, long ago, it mattered a lot to me.   In the real world, I agree with Solveig that it's one of the ultimately practical--and, yes, crucial--questions.
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