Friday, July 31, 2015

Letters Extra: No outsourcing of quality time

Sheryl Sandberg's laser-like focus at the expense of time with children, parents, friends, and community activities is fundamentally flawed.

Letters Extra: No outsourcing of quality time

Sheryl Sandberg (right), of Facebook, appearing in Philadelphia. At left is moderator Tamala Edwards from 6ABC.
Sheryl Sandberg (right), of Facebook, appearing in Philadelphia. At left is moderator Tamala Edwards from 6ABC. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

I feel sorry for Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, who says that, even with all her wealth and fame, she and her husband cannot get away from work for dinner with their two young children ("Women urged to push for equality at work," April 5). The same applies to all of us trapped in our hurried, crazy American culture. Rather than heed Sandberg's prescription to "lean in" to our ambition, we should be home for dinner.

Women do deserve equal pay and greater access to leadership opportunities, and more support at home. However, the idea that both men and women ought to emulate Sandberg's laser-like focus at the expense of time with children, parents, friends, and community activities is fundamentally flawed. The best research on raising healthy, well-adjusted kids tells us that parents need to spend time, and dinnertime appears to be especially critical. In the face of rising rates of obesity and a fragmented, consumptive, and economically ambitious culture, family dinners are an important antidote.

Taking time to eat good food in community with the people I love most will not catapult me in my career. It will, however, help my kids develop resilience and a sense of community and teach them to honor our commitment to one another as a family. So even though dinners are not always harmonious with two teenaged daughters, I consider it non-negotiable not only to eat with them but prepare food together.

Like most American workers my husband and I face the seemingly never satisfied workplace demanding that we produce more and be ever-available. I am also, like everyone else, bombarded by images like that of the well-coiffed and tended Ms. Sandberg that tell me I am not a success if my salary is not in the six figures. Cooking a meal from scratch and sitting together to eat it may seem like an anachronistic folly in the face of the ever expanding pre-prepared dinner options and societal cues that privilege fame over family and talent over time. However, following Michael Pollan's advice, we do actually try to "eat food, mostly plants" and we do it together, at a table with no TV in sight and, on most nights, with candles lit at the start of the meal to signal our time together has begun.

Nor would I trade the 40 minutes we spend dragging information out of our girls on their day. After they warm up, we hear about their teenage triumphs and tragedies. In the space created by the meal, sometimes we are even asked for advice and support. We tell jokes, laugh and, some nights, no one wants to leave.

If you can afford a good nanny, perhaps you can outsource dinner and stay at work until late. But that's not for me.

Erin Horvat, associate professor, urban education, Temple University, Philadelphia

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