I’ve been fascinated by…

I've been fascinated by the ongoing discussion on Kathryn Cramer's board (which has since spilled onto at least three other boards, and now I bring it here) about trying to balance being a working professional, whose job requires you to go to at least the major cons as well as some minor ones, with the fact that childcare at those cons is utterly inadequate.

There's been an amazing amount of reactionary rhetoric flung around -- if I were Kathryn I'd be furious, and hell, I'm somewhat furious even as me.

What a lot of people don't seem to get, when they say bringing your kids to cons is unprofessional, is that sf cons are, by their nature, unprofessional. They're a bizarre phenomenon that's grown up organically, originally as a fannish activity (and entirely optional for its participants) that has become an arguably essential and certainly highly significant aspect of a professional genre writing/editing/publishing career.

Because conventions grew up out of fan activities, they're designed for fans' convenience. Activities at all hours of the day and night, social events in smoky bars, hours-long ceremonies in the evening. And if you're a fan attending a con, well, you're there for fun, so a) it's not unreasonable to tell you that if you can't find adequate child-care in some other fashion, maybe you should sit the con out this year and the next. And b) the activities you participate in at the con are optional ones, year after year. If you miss the Masquerade this year, you can see it next year. If you have small kids at the moment, well, you probably shouldn't volunteer to be in charge of highly-stressful convention activities that would require a lot of your time. You can do that volunteering later.

But that's all for fans (the people sf cons were designed for). The situation for professionals working in the field is entirely different.

If your professional responsibilites require that you go to WorldCon, to World Fantasy, and to a host of smaller conventions, then it is to the benefit of all the con-goers that you be assisted with your childcare so that you can participate in a sane and productive manner. Odds are that as a professional, you've been courted by the convention -- they may well have offered you money in some form to come to their convention, presumably because they believe that your participation will be of benefit to all the con-goers (who are mostly fans). If you work for a large corporation (like Tor), then they should certainly put some money into the child-care costs for your convention attendance. But the convention is also a business (albeit a small, non-profit one run by volunteers), and a business benefiting from your participation, and it behooves them to make sure you can participate well. And unless we want to go back to the days when "professional" meant "dad who effectively doesn't have children when it comes to the workplace", we need to redefine "professional" to mean "will at any given point include a significant (and changing) population of valuable people who should be ably assisted with their childcare needs, regardless of gender."

If that means adding $10 or $20 on to *my* non-childcare-needing membership, and spreading the bulk of the costs over the entire convention-attending population (which, presumably are the ones benefiting from the attendance of people like Kathryn), in order to hire a sufficient number of skilled and licensed child-care professionals, then I think that's certainly and obviously the correct way to go. I'm angry that there's even a question about it. This should be the default, people. Child-care at cons should be a priority item, and the default standards should be high, so that even small, volunteer-run cons realize way in advance that finding out their participants' child-care needs and budgeting accordingly is utterly essential. And there's no way they'll ever realize that if the bulk of us don't make an issue of it, don't shout about it, don't point to WisCon and say "There! There is the standard you should be aspiring to!"

Because whether you personally have young children or not, and whether you personally, if you were a working professional in the field, would choose to bring children to the convention or not (assuming in the first place that you had such a choice) -- whatever your personal situation and beliefs regarding parenting -- you have a vested interest in making sure that the professionals at the convention are aided and abetted in their efforts to give you the full benefit of their skills and experience. That the agents are free to be on panels and be available to young writers afterwards. That the editors can do the same, and attend the awards, and hell yes, schmooze in the bar, where writers can have a chance to talk to them and maybe sell them a story or two. That established writers can be available to talk to their fans, and that up-and-coming writers can have the opportunity to talk to and learn from each other, and to talk to the editors, and to talk to the agents.

All of that is good for the convention, and good for the field, and we should all make it a priority to give them the support they need so that they can do their jobs.

And hell -- if you're paying for the child-care anyway, then you might as well let all the fans use it too. They're an integral part of the convention as well, and their full participation will make it better for everyone.

Kathryn, I'm personally sorry for all the bullshit you've had to put up with. And I adore kids, and have many small cousins whom I've spent quite a lot of time baby-sitting. I'm not a professional, but if you're ever in a childcare jam at a convention I'm at, please feel free to call on me to assist. I've seen you in difficult situations at cons before, trying to manage your kids without adequate help, and I wish now that I'd just gone up to you and asked if you could use a hand. I guess I didn't want to intrude, since I don't know you all that well. I'll know better next time. And that offer extends to any of y'all who might need the help. If I'm not actually on a panel or in the midst of running a tea party, I can probably spare at least an hour to keep an eye on a kid and give you a break.

7 thoughts on “I’ve been fascinated by…”

  1. One of the things that’s just making me growl at some of the discussion is that some people seem to be assuming that “professional” is a standard that doesn’t change with time. Women in pants wouldn’t have seemed professional in some fields in some parts of the last century; people in khakis wouldn’t have seemed professional. Now people in khakis are overdressed in some professional situations. Social rules are clearly mutable, but some people in these discussions are behaving like those particular standards that pertain to childcare have been set in stone by an angry deity. If they want to claim that they have a list of reasons why it should continue to be viewed as unprofessional to bring your kids with, I’d be willing to look at the reasons. But just repeating it as Holy Writ is not acceptable.

  2. Right on, Mary Anne! As one who also loves children at cons, I could not agree more strongly that childcare should be high quality and readily available at cons. Cons vary in their degree of child-friendliness, but that is something that could fairly easily change for both pros and fen. I for one would probably put in more volunteer hours at cons if childcare were one of the available jobs.

  3. Hear, hear, Mary Anne!

    Sadly, I think one of the underlying issues can be antipathy toward children in the first place. If there’s a sufficient presence of people on the concom who think that children shouldn’t be seen in restaurants, much less fannish conclaves, then it takes a real champion to overcome that resistance to make the convention more parent-friendly.

    That said, smaller cons trying to establish themselves need to keep their membership prices as low as possible and may not be able to afford liability insurance — it may be economically impossible to do better than volunteer-run kids’ rooms that are “drop in, not drop off.” But I think that making the con inviting to parents, not just “non-hostile,” should be part of any con’s planning regardless of budget.

  4. Thanks, Mary Anne, for saying exactly what I’ve wanted to say about SF cons since this discussion started. I keep wondering if most of the people who are grumbling about it being “unprofessional” to bring your child to an SF convention haven’t ever been to one. I mean, we’re talking about a place where all kinds of rather odd behavior is commonplace, but bringing your kids is unprofessional? Huh?

    I think a lot of people have really odd ideas about children. I hear people all the time declaring, in tones of outrage, that of course you wouldn’t bring an infant or a toddler to all kinds of places where I know darn well my parents brought me at that age. (Not being fen, my parents never took me to an SF con, but they did take me to MIT faculty cocktail parties.) Of course, my parents also left me at home with a sitter plenty of times, too. But they had a choice, and sometimes the best choice was bringing the 18 month old along.

  5. Thanks for the support, guys — now go post about it on Kathryn’s board if you haven’t already — the poor woman sounds beleagured (sp?).

    I pretty much stand by what I said, but after thinking it over and reading Kathryn’s new post on the subject, I think I want to emphasize that while I was focusing on the whole ‘professional’ question that was raised (perhaps a red herring in the end), that in actual fact, volunteering fans do a hell of a lot to contribute to the con too, and similar arguments apply to why we as con-goers should value and facilitate their participation. I still don’t know that it would be wise for someone with an infant to take on running programming — but that’s an extreme case. And in any case, I don’t see any reason why that should be my call to make. Provide the child-care, and let the parents decide how best they can use it to participate in/contribute to the convention.

    I do want to acknowledge that smaller, newer cons may not be able to raise membership prices enough to afford full-time licensed child-care. But if the big cons do it as a default, then a) the small cons will have a standard to aim for, and b) they can still contact the parenting attendees and work out the best solution they (the con, not just the parents) can afford.

    In the end, the biggest problems are not with the practicalities of how you address the situation, but with the underlying assumptions about what a reasonable/appropriate attitude towards convention childcare should be.

    My views on all this are undoubtedly shaped by growing up in the Sri Lankan community, where, whenver possible, everyone watches the kids. You go to monthly gatherings, and the parents all hang out together and the kids all hang out together — the big kids watch the small kids and every big kid knows that if there’s a problem requiring adult assistance, you can go to *any* adult attending, call them “Aunty” or “Uncle” and get the help you need. Most problems any adult can handle, and if they can’t, they’ll go find your parents. That’s *my* ideal default for child-rearing; it’s the village model, and it’s frankly easier on parents and kids alike.

    I’m not saying this is in itself a viable model for a convention — conventions are large and full of strangers, and you can’t, sadly, just assume that they’re all trustworthy with your kids. But convention-participants should have the same attitude that those Sri Lankan adults did — that the party will be better for everyone if all the adults are available to help with parenting in some way — at the con, the best way is financial rather than direct, but it’s the same principle at play.

    There’s a terrible modern trend in America to isolate parents and their kids from social activities; it drives me crazy, and I refuse to contribute to it. Maybe it’s part of America’s cult of the young, beautiful individual, whose body must be pursued above all else, and whose needs trump those of all others. This is not the way to build a healthy society, people.

  6. A slight digression, but not much: The other day I was reading some comments by a friend of mine who has just had her first child. She mentioned something along the lines of (I paraphrase) “Now that I have the baby, a lot of my childless friends don’t want to do things with us, even though she really is at the stage where we can bring her to all our normal activities and it really doesn’t interfere with them … on the other hand, all the couples who had kids and suddenly vanished from our lives have now mysteriously begun to reappear and reconnect – it’s as if we’ve changed communities or something …”

    I found that incredibly sad. True, I don’t have kids, don’t plan to have kids, and I don’t DO well around kids, but I really don’t think that’s an excuse to ostracize someone. (And we saw them, with kid, during the Canada trip and had a very lovely lunch, for the record.)

    I don’t know if it’s rudeness OR the cult of the young and beautiful. It may be simpler than that: Either an assumption that the baby will cramp the parents’ style to an untenable degree (which has a fair amount of truth to it) or an assumption that now that the parents are in “baby mode” they won’t want to do that sort of social contact anymore (which has very little truth to it).

    I was raised in a big family that adopted the village system out of self-defense. I’m with Mary Anne on this. It works. Even when cranky people like myself abstain (I don’t do diapers), it works. I agree that you can’t really do that with total strangers. On the other hand, con people are a very clannish bunch, usually inclined to believe in community solutions. I’m surprised there seems to be such a blind spot here.

    By the by, I thought there was childcare and a fairly complete track of children’s programming at Torcon 3?

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