Idiotic Comments

Yesterday evening I was watching the kids getting covered from head to toe in mud from the sand pile across the street  (something all kids should do once in a while), and chatting with a friend in my front yard. This friend works in academia- and has recently been asked to take on additional responsibilities.  This offer essentially amounts to a promotion for her (Yay!), and she’s excited about that. Whilst pitching the promotion to my friend, her boss asked her if she thought she could handle the responsibilities of the new job. My friend was a bit taken aback, surely she was performing her current job well (otherwise why?? the offer of a promotion)?  My friend said that the new responsibilities weren’t anything extraordinarily different than what she was dealing with at other points in her career, and she wondered aloud WHY her capabilities should be in question at this point… and her boss said…

Well, are you going to be able to handle this, you have two kids!

Am I the only one letting out a loud gasp right now? I hate these kinds of comments. They catch me off guard when they happen to me (as happened with my friend), and I never have a ready comeback. On the day-to-day I want to believe that we’ve moved past this- so I’m unprepared when some jerk comes up with something like this.  Maybe it would be useful for me to make the point right now that said boss, is a man, my friend is a woman, and they BOTH have two children in thier immediate families. Hmmmm. I bet no one ever expressed doubt that he could handle his job… you know… because he has two kids. I’m awaiting all your snappy comeback lines to such comments so next time this happens to me (or to you), WE’LL BE READY.

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19 thoughts on “Idiotic Comments

  1. “Oh, did you find it really hard to handle responsibilities like these after you had two kids, too? Thanks for the heads-up/being concerned! I think I’ll try my hand at it, though.”

    Raise awareness, get them backpedaling a little, act cheery about it – that is what has worked best for me when this kind of crap happens. And the little jab is at least a little bit satisfying. (Not that blazing anger isn’t totally appropriate, and it’s a problem that women are required to be pleasantly assertive to maintain respect when insulted to their faces.)

  2. “I can think of no better training for handling extra responsibilities, multitasking and just plain getting things done right than being a mother. Perhaps you should try it sometime.”

    Actually you should just tell the jerk what you really think.

  3. It’s incredible how deeply rooted such ideas are in the heads of people. Women take care of the kids, no matter whether they have a career or not.

    Quite the opposite of your example, my (male) partner gets very disappointed when I, but not he is asked how I manage the two kids and the career. Because, we share all duties 50/50, – that means he’s got the same double work load that I have, but he gets no mercy. Unfair!

  4. fia- You clearly have a marvelous parenting arrangement!

    C PP- That’s not what I thought you were going to say.

  5. I’m dumbfounded. I’m sure I would not have thought of anything clever, insightful or enlightening in the moment either.

    But, I like volcanista’s approach. There’s an unlikely possibility that he did, or has noticed several other parents who have a hard time managing children and career. In any case, most people are more likely than not to be embarrassed and regretful the moment they realize what they’ve said.

  6. I don’t understand why some people insist on thinking that having kids means you can’t do your job. For example, I don’t have kids, but I do spend a lot of my free time laying around, playing video games, shopping and what have you. I am pretty damn sure that if and when I do have children it’s going to cut into my video game and couch lounging time, not my work.
    CE – that is exactly what I was thinking.

  7. this reminds me of FSP’s post about “who takes care of the kids when she travels?” The snarky replies involved answers like “the cat watches the kids AND husband!”

  8. Perhaps this boss has heard the “I would have gotten that done but my kids….” line too many times before

  9. The only situation in which this is remotely excusable (still wrong, but at least vaguely understandable) is if her new responsibilities will include a lot of unexpected and unplannable hours, such as sudden “too bad it’s saturday, drop everything and get into work at 2pm” things. AND if her previous job had been a solid 9-5. Otherwise…Odyssey’s approach is my favorite.

  10. I would go with Volcanista approach. Boss may have been genuinely concerned and not realizing the assine nature of his comment.

    Oh microXX how I miss lounging on the couch and shopping without a toddler. You mean I can actually look at my purchase AND think about. Enjoy these times!

  11. Dr Jekyll,

    I disagree. In such a case, there is still the father. If it would be a male employee, nobody would ever think of him being unable to work unplanned hours just because he has kids.
    The only case where such would be excusable would be if its a single parent.

  12. ScientistMother- Re: shopping without the kids- even though my kids are no longer toddlers, I REALLY REALLY do not like to take them shopping…. esp. together. My solution is to go shopping when I’m on my own …sometimes I have to take my car in for service in nearby city …. so, everyone goes to school, I take the car in, and stay in nearby city until its fixed… shopping until I get the call that its done. I otherwise don’t like shopping very much, but find once or twice a year I really a couple hours in the Mall by myself are necessary…

  13. Wow. It struck me that the comment is not very far from what I have said to my colleagues. I have made a comment like, ‘you have two toddlers, it must be hard to keep up with [a job or a career the person has]!’ in the past. Some of the colleagues were women. Some others were not. I didn’t think of nor mean the proverbial ‘women take care of kids’, really. Because I have a toddler and take 50% or more of the responsibility (as a father by the way), I just simply thought that it must be hard to keep up with the work they have, with two toddlers!! I spend a lot of time with my son, and I can only imagine if I have one more…… Must be tough! I guess I should be really careful next time though……

  14. “If it would be a male employee, nobody would ever think of him being unable to work unplanned hours just because he has kids.”

    There is surely still a general trend in that direction because the progression away from old gender roles is slow, but child responsibilities have figured into the approach to the working day for a number of my male colleagues of late (including myself) in the academic setting, but also for friends working in the private sector. Interestingly, a friend of mine hypothesized that the developing trend in the private sector was largely because the generations that still hold to the Old Ways are now several tiers above the level of seniority responsible for hiring and other personnel decisions, which are now dominated by the first(-ish) generation that have families with shared responsibilities and where the gender roles are no longer clearly defined. Thus, it is becoming less taboo for a guy to negotiate overtime based on parent responsibilities, as it is less of an issue for a superior to openly inquire about, and take into account, a male colleague’s out-of-work responsibilities in personnel decisions. I think that’s a positive development of sorts.

    For me, the legitimacy of the remark,

    “Well, are you going to be able to handle this, you have two kids!”

    depends entirely on whether this is something he would also have asked a male employee. If not, then the taking of offense on grounds of retaliating against old gender biases is fully justified. But what if he did ask, or has previously asked, this question of male colleagues? Context is important in determining whether this is a condescending inquiry or a sensible and pragmatic one.

    Ultimately, the aim is to cultivate a working environment that acknowledges the existence – and perhaps more importantly the fairly obvious value! – of children and the effort required to care for them. Right now, academia is about ten, perhaps twenty years, behind the private sector; which is a little embarrassing when you consider that academia is supposed to be disproportionately populated by progressives. (But then, besides paying themselves obscene bonuses, CEOs have rarely been caught in recent years making blase remarks about the gene-dependent intellectual inferiority of Africans, or about women simply not having the motivation and enthusiasm that men have to make it at Harvard, so maybe we’ve been living under that self-delusion of liberalism for too long?)

  15. Hm. Maybe at one point I would have been insulted/ offended/ p***ed off at such a comment but now, reading it, it doesn’t bother me. I think it just reflects the reality that anyone with two kids (such as myself) has an awful lot to juggle, and at some point, they will get to that last straw. It may not be legal or pc, but those kids do affect your work. Maybe he was not trying to be idiotic or discriminatory… maybe he was trying to be more aware.

    However, such a comment does beg a response; my own comeback would be something like: “It is because I have two kids that I know I am qualified and prepared for the extra responsibility.”

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