A woman’s place in the space station

When is the last time you heard a male astronaut asked how he could leave his children home to spend time aboard the International Space Station?

The Houston Chronicle goes there in a profile of an astronaut family — Doug Hurley and Karen Nyberg, the Minnesota native who returned from the space station a week ago.

“She struggled with it every day. But how is that different from any woman or man that has a career and has children?” Hurley tells the Chronicle. “I think it sometimes bothers her that she is somehow singled out. Every other man up on the space station has children, too. Why is it different for her?”

Hurley took care of their son during her time away, the newspaper describing him as”Mr. Mom.” In 2013, some people would refer to that as “dad.”

  • Dave

    It will be impossible to measure, but that mother’s absence in her son’s life WILL have an effect on him. And whilst gender equality is a virtue, I think our society has difficulty acknowledging that mothers and fathers have different roles. They are not the same parent; they are not interchangeable.

    Child psychology research has demonstrated that children go to their mothers for comfort and their dads for “fun.” (I’m simplifying it here, but that’s the basic idea.) What does that mean for Jack? No one knows. All I can tell you is that my daughter often appears happier and is better behaved when both her parents are present.

    We have had a similar battle in my house, though nothing to this extent. My wife and I are not always present simultaneously. My wife is pursuing lofty career goals. Sometimes I wonder what goes thru people’s minds, since I’m not really that way. You shouldn’t have children simply because it’s in your bucket list. They aren’t just a checkbox on your list of life goals.

    Maybe I would ask Karen and Doug the same thing: precisely who are you putting first? Karen was gone for six months after Jack turned three. That is approximately 1/6th of his life; that’s an eternity for a child.

    “It’s been a whirlwind,” Hurley said. Would Jack describe it as a mere “whirlwind?” Think about it.

    Astronaut Chris Hadfield …”said he believes that Jack will be stronger for the experience.” Uh-huh. He’ll certainly learn to be without one of his parents for an extended time. What exactly does that gain him? 20, 30, 40 years down the road, Jack’s parents might be scratching their heads, wondering why Jack isn’t as close to them as they figured he would be.

    • Jackie

      Would you feel the same way if Karen had gone for that period of time taking care of a terminally ill relative?
      So much more I could say but let’s leave it at that.

      • Dave

        I don’t know, Jackie. Presumably we could come up with all sorts of theoretical situations. I addressed the real situation in the article.

    • JenN

      I suspect that a child goes tothe parent they associate w caretaking for comfort and the parent they associate w fun for fun. It is our culture that determines that a mother or father is more likely to have one of those roles.

  • Rachel Popham

    Starquest, I think the point of the article is that much fewer people place emphasis on “both parents should be present” when the astronaut in question is a man. People aren’t saying that no one should ask whether the extended absence of a parent might negatively impact a child. They’re saying that these questions should be asked of both male and female parents with similar emphasis.

    Both parents certainly have identified roles with children, but how much are those roles reinforced by a society that clutches its pearls at a mother’s absence, while a father, absent in the same way, is regarded as respectable? Where is the focus on emulation, wanting to be a hero like mommy, that’s all over the place on pieces focusing on father and child reunited?

    Not only that, it’s insulting to the male parents who are aboard space stations, as though they have less of a place in their own families than this woman has in hers, simply by virtue of her gender.

    • Dave

      I don’t know that the article was really trying to make any broad assessments (it was just telling a story), but you are probably right. Perhaps the argument should not be: “If fathers can be absent, why can’t mothers too?” Rather, it should be: “Neither parent should be absent.”

  • kennedy

    It seems that there is a perception that working in space is some sort of adventure or vacation. These people dedicate a large part of their lives to their careers. The culmination is to spend months working away from home, living in a life-threatening environment, trying to do good for humanity. Sounds a lot like military service. And I am thankful to those who serve in those capacities, on and above the earth.