The Negativity Games

I have recently been scared out of my wits about any prospects I thought I might have had regarding having a career. (Sorry about that, but I’m pretty sure I’m not breaking any grammar rules. Then again, English is not my first language; so if that was not a sentence, please correct me in the comments :)). I read this post about why women run away from academia (it’s too hard), which led me to this post about how mothers have a real disadvantage when it comes to careers. Also, there was this article that argued how hard it is to even prepare for a job application in academia, let alone get an interview. To top it all off, I read this article written by a guy who just gave up the prospect of having a faculty job. Apparently it’s a trend (#altac), and it makes having two or three years of “field” experience sort of a requirement. As an (almost) fourth year, not 27 anymore, mother of two, PhD student I really felt like curling up in a ball and cry.

This linked up in my head to a point I made in a previous post. Briefly, it feels to me like some of the mom blogs out there are really just a stage for bitching. Also posting cute kids pictures, but mainly bitching. I’m all for bitching: it lets you blow off steam and sometimes it’s really cathartic. However, I really have a problem with this negative trend.

It’s not that I don’t think there’s no room for complaining. On the contrary, I think the glory of blogs is that they expose the good and the bad of whatever they are written about. Having a bad time is part of the human experience, and it should be talked about and recognized just like having a good time. As a psychologist (and as someone who had been to therapy quite a lot) I know that facing the problems is much better than ignoring them. And I bitch too. A lot.

But something irks me about having a negative-quality general feeling after reading blogs. And I thought about why is that. At this point, I’d like to tell you a story about my 2.5-year-old son. We have a back yard, with a few stairs going from the back door down. We were in the yard last weekend and he climbed onto the third step, and then stood there, looking out at the yard. Then he jumped down to the ground. I nearly had a heart attack, of course, but that’s not my point. My point is that if I had thought he was going to jump, I would have told him that he couldn’t. I would have told him it was dangerous, and that he’s likely to fall on his head and get rushed to the ER (yes, we’re saving for therapy). I would have told him all the negative stuff. But since it didn’t occur to me that he’s going to jump three steps, I didn’t tell him any of these things. And he jumped. And he landed on both feet, steadied himself, looked at me (in shock) and said: “wow, what a big jump!”

The moral of the story, I guess, is that if you don’t think about the negative stuff, and you just jump, you might even land right. I’m fully aware that I sound like a life-coach, and I apologize. But I’ve been thinking in the last few days, since the infamous jump, that maybe I tell him he can’t do stuff too many times. He’s not 3 yet; he should be trying out gravity and testing heights and examining mommy’s reactions to his crazy stunts. And I read this great post that talked about saying yes to kids’ crazy ideas (although I’m not sure having a picnic under the table counts as crazy at our house – that’s pretty much standard lunch). My point is that everyone will agree that we should tell our kids yes more, and stop putting them down by telling them about gravity and other depressing forces of nature.

So, I wondered: why do we tell ourselves no all the time? Why do we lavish in the negative aspects of academia (or our jobs) and parenting? Why not just take the leap, and see if maybe we could land on our feet?

What do you think? Do you hate how I sound like a yoga instructor or do you also feel you’ve had enough of the negativity?

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4 thoughts on “The Negativity Games

  1. Nice essay, and thanks for linking to my piece in the Guardian and the ‘motherhood penalty’ piece on my blog.
    It is of course important to keep in mind that generalizations over large groups don’t necessarily apply to individuals. So, while the motherhood penalty has a robust basis in research, that doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily experience it. You don’t have to take research-based conclusions about large groups to mean that you as an individual might still hope to have a different experience. In the case of academia, if you want an academic career, that’s terrific, and you should go for it!
    The thing that I’m trying to do with my writing and thinking and working on these problems is to identify where there are structural problems, to articulate why they’re important, and then to think about how to fix them. The problems I see are pretty deep cultural things. I don’t think discrimination is about men explicitly disliking women colleagues or explicitly trying to preserve workplace dominance for themselves. I think discrimination is rather the result of pretty fundamental subconscious ways of being, like preferring others like ourselves, etc. Changing that is going to be very difficult, but from my perspective the first step is increasing awareness. So, that’s my program.
    I remember myself having a 3-year-old who loved to jump, or find ways to test gravity. It pretty much went well, although the tricycle down the stairs attempt wasn’t quite as graceful as he’d anticipated. You should try things out. But I think you’ll get further and have better working conditions if you’re able to help your colleagues understand what kind of special challenges women face. In the workplace as it now exists, men and women are subject to different gravitational effects. I’m hoping to help change that.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I’m excited you liked my thoughts… 🙂
      I’m fully aware of the statistical/individual discrepancy, but the fact that mothers have to be more qualified than their non-mothers peers in order to get the job must have some implications on the individual level. As to it being med disliking women – I find that it’s often other women, and even mothers, who have harsher standards for mothers. I guess many women think, “if I can do it, so can you”. But I agree that it’s a deep-rooted cultural issue rather than an individual preference for men. On the flip side, for instance, there is the stay-at-home-dads movement – men find that they are sometimes held to harsher standards on the playground with their kids. I guess the world changes faster than people, and not everyone has caught up yet 🙂

  2. Hi!
    I’ve been having a look around your blog and the others you suggested, and they’re great. Thank you! This post really jumped out at me though. I’m not an academic, so the details about finding work in academia as a mother don’t really apply to me, but the overall context of this post is something I can very much relate too.

    Too much negativity in parenting blogs? Quite possibly. Although I’ve found many use humour to diffuse that. Having just started a blog discussing parenting and depression, being overly negative was something I really worried about before starting. My key concern was that others reading my story would be disheartened, and they would leave my blog feeling negative. And that’s not something I want.

    But I decided to go ahead because I know first hand how isolating depression can feel, particularly when you have a young child, and there is an expectation that while it’s hard work, you should also be having the time of your life in your new role as a parent. Those that aren’t feeling great about it can often feel like there is something bad or wrong about them. I wanted to put my hand up and say, “Hey, I feel depressed as a parent- that means you aren’t alone”

    In saying that, I think if you are going to put your words out there for the public eye, you have a level of responsibility for the impact your words have on your audience. Hence, my deciding factor in whether to go ahead with my blog or not, was whether I felt I could show in my writing a responsible approach to my personal health management (I.E, I couldn’t just blog about how miserable I was without actually following clinician’s advise and doing the things that will help me to get well – exercise, taking my pills, cognitive behavioural therapy, etc), and whether I felt I was in a place that I could question the factuality of some of my more negative thoughts.

    I want to show others the reality of depression- so yes that can make for a pretty negative blog. But I also want to help people to see they CAN get through to the otherside, and my journey in doing it. So I think that’s pretty positive.

    TL;DR Unchecked negativity in blogs is not helpful.

    1. Hey Maya, thanks for sharing, and I’m glad you found some blogs that you can relate to. I agree that the online community and sharing the experiences, even when they are negative, is a very helpful thing – I would say it’s one of the great opportunities that the internet had brought us. Looking forward to reading more of your blog! 🙂

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