This article originally appeared in The New York Times on May 16, 2013.
By Charlotte Crane
You never would have heard me ask that question when I most needed to ask it. Take my daughters to a public-speaking event? Have them in the reception area during a radio interview? Put them in front-row seats in a classroom? Let the clients I would be meeting with see them — even with the nanny firmly in control — before the meeting? Or after?
No, I never asked, during the early 1980s, when I needed to ask. No way did I want to dilute my professional image by reminding anyone that I was a mother. I still wince when I remember a colleague who could never extend a conversation beyond initial questions asking how my children were. No, not the usual pleasantries that require only the most cursory responses before moving to the substance at hand, but an in-depth inquiry that I always took to be intentionally guilt-provoking. And this even when I was consciously trying to hide the fact there were kids at home. For almost 20 years, from the time my first was born until the younger was old enough to pass as a niece or perhaps a friend’s child, the goal was to play down the other claims on my energy.
Now that I no longer have kids whose care requires me to make compromises with my professional life every day, I have promised myself that I will ask the question every time I can. Because if I do, maybe those who do need to ask will be that much more likely to ask. And those who are asked will be more frequently reminded of the obstacles that we all face in trying to meet our personal and professional commitments.
Or, better yet, maybe some day soon no one will have to ask, because the assumption will be that the kids might come. No doubt, there are plenty of workplaces and business gatherings in which kids should not be welcome. There are legitimate safety concerns. There are often better things for the kids to be doing. Even when great child care could be provided, there are situations in which the group and its business will be better served without the distractions of family responsibilities. But why not shift the presumption to one in which bringing kids will be acceptable unless they are specifically uninvited?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world in which it was just as common to be told — without having to ask — what the child-care arrangements are as to be told where to park?
- Charlotte Crane is a professor of law at Northwestern University.