Thursday, January 27, 2011

Starting Solids (AKA Weaning in the UK)

When and how to start babies on solid food, a topic recently in the news giving me an excuse to clean up my letter to friends.  Books mentioned are American titles.  Perhaps M&M knows of comparable British titles?  After the jump...

Thoughts on Domestic Work

The China and the iPhone article I linked to in my Tiger Mothers post, has reminded me of a related point.  The bit about China having lots of low skill labor got me thinking that this Tiger Mother stuff was a luxury of families who didn't have to worry about things like food or shelter.  If you are a poor Chinese family, you teach your child what to do to survive in China.  I see this often in the Mommy Wars, too.  These heated discussions about modern motherhood ignore, or even use, poor mothers.  Caitlin Flanagan made this point a few years back, but it bears rereading.

As Flanagan puts it, the feminist movement's success is really about success of upper middle class plus women who had to turn to lower class women to do their "shit work" for them.  Read the whole thing, but she concludes:
It's easy enough to dismiss the dilemma of the professional-class working mother as the whining of the elite. But people are entitled to their lives, and within the context of privilege there are certainly hard choices, disappointments, sorrows. Upper-middle-class working mothers may never have calm hearts regarding their choices about work and motherhood, but there are certain things they can all do. They can acknowledge that many of the gains of professional-class working women have been leveraged on the backs of poor women. They can legitimize those women's work and compensate it fairly, which means—at the very least—paying Social Security taxes on it. They can demand that feminists abandon their current fixation on "work-life balance" and on "ending the mommy wars" and instead devote themselves entirely to the real and heartrending struggle of poor women and children in this country. And they can stop using the hardships of the poor as justification for their own choices. About this much, at least, there ought to be agreement.
This all sounds good to me, and I'd like to add another: it is time that we stop thinking of domestic work as "shit work."   Granted, I don't love cleaning toilets, but it is necessary work.  One should neither make a big deal out of it nor neglect it.  My concern is that when people think of some sorts of work as "shit work," they often think of the people who have to do it as beneath them.

Topics tend to run in streaks in my life, and today was no different.  On the scoot to school, Christopher Robin asked me something about leadership.  This led to a discussion about the battle scene in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and how as they are running together King Peter is the point of his line, out in front of all those fighting for him while the White Witch hangs back and doesn't join the battle until later.

The connection?  A good leader never asks others to do something they would not do.   Cheryl Mendelson made a similar point when discussing cleaning floors.  While describing the proper way to hand polish floors, she admonished the reader not to ask housekeepers to clean floors on their hands and knees because it was demeaning.  I think it is only demeaning if it is something you would never consider doing yourself.  Fact is, sometimes the floor needs hand, knees, and bucket cleaning.  (Swiffering Isn't Sweeping. Heh.) Having a housekeeper do it because it needs to be done and you pay her to do the cleaning is one thing.  Having a housekeeper do it because you think you are too precious to do it, that is another.  

Flanagan had another excellent, related article, How to Treat the Help.  I might comment on it later, but for now it is just good reading.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tiger Mothers, Sometimes They Lose the Gamble

Last week this WSJ article about the superiority of Tiger Mothers made the rounds.  Read the article before proceeding.

Having not read the entire book, of which the article is an excerpt, I will have to take the author at her word that the WSJ lifted the worst bits and made the book sound more like a claim of superiority than the parental journey she claims.   (H/T Instapundit)  Since the question of the superiority of eastern or western mothering was posited, however, I'll address that, specifically Tiger mothering v. American mothering, which is what I know best.

First, as to the asserted superiority of Tiger Mothers, many have commented on this, see this why piano? post (also via Instapundit), for an example.  One blogger, however, aimed mercilessly.   As she noted, sometimes the parenting style pays off, but:
But sometimes you lose this gamble, and when you lose, you lose big. Because you've gone all-in. Left the kid no room to make friends, no identity outside of your ambitions, no tools or skills with which to make his or her own decisions in life without you -- and no margin of error.
That author tried to jump off a bridge a few years back.  Asian Week had an article on the rising suicide rates among Asian-Americans last year.  Apparently, the suicide trend affects women more.  More here.

Suicide and depression aren't the only dark sides to Tiger mothering either.  Think about creativity.  As the author above notes, Tiger mothering does not leave the child with skills to think for himself.  Nor does the education system, it seems.  Take a peek at this article What the iPhone Tells Us About Trade with China.  Note the bits about China employing low wage low skill labor and about intellectual property carrying the value of the iPhone and accruing to US companies.  How often do you think such a dynamic, Americans create something new and hire someone else to put it together, comes into play?

So what does this mean, practically speaking?

One of my favorite moments in movies is a scene from Apollo 13 that is so elementally American: the engineers have precious little time to make a square CO2 filter fit into a round hole using only the random items, duct tape (of course), flashlights, urine bags, vacuum suit etc. that the astronauts have on board.  Without grumbling they start organizing the stuff on the table, and someone says, "Better get some coffee going."

Perhaps Tiger Mother raised engineers could calculate the proper trajectory to the moon, and sling shot a dead rocket back to earth, but if they can't make a square peg fit into a round hole, the men die and the ship drifts off or incinerates.  No proper calculations will fix that.

Somebody had already written the counterweight book.

PJTV weighs in with some good commentary.