First, let me confess that I'm not the most socially adept person in the world. I'm fairly shy, and in larger groups tend to either be a bit quiet or try to make jokes. (I manage to teach because I've developed a teaching persona.) I tend to do okay in most small conversations because I find other people interesting and am happy to learn about what their interests. That said:
I went to dinner with some department folks and a candidate last night. The department folks included a married couple (TT), parents to two toddler types, an adjunct married to one of our TT folks, also parent to two toddler types.
There was a LOT of discussion of nannies, pre-schools, and other toddleresque topics among the two married women. The married man talked about bourbon and his beloved porch drinking club. (He's the type who babysits occasionally, so he didn't have much to add to the parenting discussion.)
The candidate listened politely but didn't seem to contribute. I don't know if s/he is a parent or a partner (s/he didn't contribute that information, and we sure don't ask).
But I can't help wondering if that dinner was at all useful to the candidate in terms of learning about our university, department, programs, etc.
I tried to move the topic onto program stuff, but it didn't really work, because the two married women really, really wanted to catch up on the latest pre-school news. I tried to get to know the candidate a bit, but there wasn't much room, since it's hard to move from diapering issues smoothly into pedagogy issues without an intermediate step that involves bringing the candidate in on the diapering issues. And I have little to say about diapering issues. I tried to move the topic onto things to do in the area, and the married man was just a tad snide at me (as he tends to be).
Do you ever wonder why someone who seems reasonably intelligent would marry a man who's a jerk? I wonder that a lot.
I left the restaurant and immediately wanted to check the other candidate meal lists to make sure I'm not eating with these folks again. Please, dog, no.
So, if the candidate is interested in small children issues in our department, then s/he likely thinks we have a reasonably decent place. If s/he is not, then perhaps s/he thinks this is the sort of place where only straight, married parental folks have a place.
In a purely social setting, I'm happy to hear from parents about their parenting, their beloved children, etc. It's not like that's the only thing I want to talk about, but it's certainly a fine thing to talk about as part of a conversation. But for a job dinner, I think we could do a lot better.