How not to write about parental leave

I read this piece today in the Atlantic. It’s in the business section, and it’s called “The Economic Case for Paternity Leave.”

Head hurts at having read such a wrong-headed analysis. I agree with her ultimate conclusions (Sweden, of course Sweden is the gold standard), but the framing is soooooooooooo off. 

Here’s how you frame a piece on parental leave:

1) What is good for babies?

2) What is good for parents?

3) What is good for society as a whole?

NOT 

1) What is good for the economy?

2) What is good for the labour market?

Literally no mention throughout of what babies and children need. Choice quotes such as “Another common worry about “family-friendly” European policies is that they encourage women to settle for part-time work and for mommy-track career paths.” How terrible, in Europe, women spend less time working and more time with their children. And the final sentence “In the long run, countries that make sure parents, regardless of their gender, can wring the greatest possible value from their time and skills will be those whose economies and families thrive.” Wait, thriving means wringing the greatest possible value from time and skills? I thought thriving meant enjoying life. Oops, looks like I’ve picked up a soft attitude that’s going to hold me back in my career. 

Resolution

On election day, my baby turned seven months old. He is getting so big! He can do amazing things like burble with assorted syllables and cadence (he’s gonna be such a chatterbox), eat soft finger foods, crouch on all fours with a proud “I’ll crawl one day” look on his face, and smile openly and joyously at anyone who smiles at him.

They say parenting is rewarding, and all these things are prize jewels, yet my work is also invisible. Sometimes parenting feels like my born purpose in life, just a total delight. Other times I feel my attentiveness slipping and know it means I really need a break, and in most cases there’s no one to give me a break right then. I muddle through vaguely dissatisfied, trying to meet our needs as best I can, wishing things were better set up for babies and that my husband had shorter working hours. For me, at the moment, motherhood is devoting heart and mind to compensating for society’s lack of responsiveness to the needs of babies and children.

Then there’s this election, and I was pretty enthusiastic about the Greens’ thriving kids policy package. It keeps hitting me, daily, the gulf between my baby’s life and the lives of babies in poorer parts of the country. He is warm and cosy all the time, he is read to, talked to, sung to, played with, he is cuddled and soothed, he lives in a smokefree home, he is enrolled in a great early childhood centre for next year, he has two parents who adore him, his parents don’t know anyone who is out of work, his neighbourhood is safe. When he greets the world with his great grin, he expects it to  smile back. And, given his demographics, it will.

So I felt pretty ridiculous for my moaning, jeez, I’m so bloody lucky, life’s a happy song in this house, some people have it hard as nails, some parents are scrambling to find work and pay rent and keep their kids warm and fed. “My husband works long hours at his well paid desk job” yep, it sounds like a parody tweet from the first-world-problems twitter account.

…On the other hand, our wants are modest. We don’t want or expect anything more for our children than we had ourselves. If we could buy a house on a good public transport route, if we could both get home from work in time to hang out as a family, if we could take a few days off during school holidays and a couple of weeks to go camping in summer, we’d be set. This is the sorrow of the modern left. How can you be progressive when you’re fighting to maintain?

A quarter of New Zealanders are children. A fifth of them live in poverty. And half of those have a parent in work.

Don’t have kids of you can’t afford them. First blush, sounds reasonable. Until you think about it, and see that it demonstrates a very strange attitude towards parenthood. To care for children, you need to cut back on paid work. But children are expensive to support, very few people can afford to pay for everything their kids need without any government assistance. We’d be struggling financially if it weren’t for interest-free student loans and a public health system that provides free prenatal care. 

A quarter of a million children live in beneficiary or low wage households (with insecure, irregular work), going without things they need, even John Key thinks it’s a concern. But there is so much talk about incentives to get into work, and welfare dependency. That’s not the problem, the problem is the assumption that everyone is able to set up a career first, and have children second. And the assumption that you stop being a parent when you arrive at work. Meanwhile, childcare is expensive and difficult to arrange, and anyway, parenting should mean spending time with your children. When I enrolled bubs in his daycare, I was told that drop off is any time after 7.45am and pick up any time before 5.30pm. “Do any children stay all day?”, I asked. “Oh yes, around a third of them.” That is really not ideal. There is no point in solving material deprivation if children end up deprived of their parents’ time as a result.  

We need to go back to first principles and look at all the big aspects of social support and hash out a new consensus – with children at the centre. At the moment it’s a jumbled up incoherent mess, and we can’t solve it by piecemeal policies to provide more funding for this thing or that thing and let’s slap on a new tax here or there to pay for it. National say they want to address child poverty, I want to take them up on this. Progress comes from building broad support, from making ideas seem obvious so that all political parties get on board. 

Not everyone becomes a parent, but everyone starts out as a child, and children are people too. Meeting their needs is paramount. It’s an idea we should all be able to sign up to. 

 

It’s cool if you don’t agree, yo, we can still be friends

I blog when my baby naps. As a result, I sometimes see something I want to write about, but don’t get time to actually write for a while – but which point, it’s less topical. I also often fire off quick blogs, but I tend to prefer the ones that I can take some time over, to make sure I’m saying what I want to say.

This blog is about a piece that Karl du Frense wrote more than a month ago on the influence of social media in the tenor of election debates. The gist is that social media promotes tribal clustering of ideologues, who are then nasty about their opponents. He concludes by saying “Champions of the Internet applaud the fact that public comment is no longer controlled by gatekeepers in the mainstream media, and they’re right, up to a point. But the gatekeepers were a civilising influence whose absence from social media we may come to regret.”

Sir, I respectfully disagree.

Among my facebook friends (i.e. my real life friends and acquaintances), there is a current National candidate and a current Labour candidate, there are corporate lawyers and union organisers, there are people who like and share posts from the Young Nats, and people who like and share posts from the Greens. There are people who share news articles about how Israel is unfairly maligned in the mainstream media, and people who attend Free Palestine rallies. There are people who are passionate about politics, people who have some interest in politics, and people whose attitude to politics is similar to my attitude to rugby (my brother has tried to explain it many times, but it’s just not my thing). There are people who say “they’re all the same!”, people who say “I genuinely don’t know who to vote for!” and people who have spent the last three months leafleting and door knocking for a cause they believe in. There are people who think that childhood deprivation is the fault of poor parenting alone, and there’s someone who had Susan St John as his dissertation supervisor. Whenever I log in to Facebook I see a random assortment of their views. There is no real-life equivalent to this melting pot. In real life, it is often considered impolite to discuss politics. We had an antenatal group catch-up the day after the budget, and no-one brought up the extension to paid parental leave: politics is something that people might disagree on, disagreement can cause offence, in some social situations it’s easier to leave it alone. 

But democracy requires debate. Social media may provide a platform where it is possible to be rude, but it also provides a platform where it is safe to challenge different views. Put me in a room with Karl du Frense, and I’ll be worried he’ll look at me and think “pffft young woman: dismiss everything she says”. Give me a blog, and I don’t have to feel my confidence ebbing away under a patronising look. Social media also allows us to reach out and find people we agree with, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If your views are the most prevalent views in society, you can take it as a given that people agree and so you can openly argue against people who disagree without compunction. But a plurality of views is a good thing, and new ideas are more likely to be properly considered if the people who hold them can back each other up. I can’t speak to the time Karl du Frense wistfully remembers; I don’t know what the world was like before the internet. But I do know that Facebook has enabled me to keep in touch with a broader and more diverse circle of friends than I see day to day; and as a result, the worldviews I’m exposed to are less same-same-samey than they would otherwise be. And I know that when I post this blog on my timeline, it will get lots of likes. But not as many as that recent photo of my baby eating mashed carrots. 

Money spending tips for new parents

  1. See something on sale. Buy three! Use one. 
  2. See something on sale. Restrain yourself and buy one. Realise you needed two. Item no longer on sale. 
  3. Buy a clothing item that’s too small, because in your head your baby is not as big as your baby is in reality. 
  4. Buy a clothing item for your baby to grow into, leave it in the cupboard, ultimately realise that it is still too big and the seasons have changed and it’s no longer of any use. 
  5. Buy a fancy expensive thing when a cheap equivalent would do fine.
  6. Buy a cheap equivalent of the expensive thing, get frustrated that it’s completely useless, capitulate and buy the expensive thing as well. Or do the same dance with a secondhand thing / new thing.
  7. Pay for two hours of parking, then leave town after 45 minutes because baby wants to go home. 
  8. Pay for an hour of parking, get derailed by being out with a baby, end up with a parking ticket. 
  9. The ultimate tip: buy something that looks cool but that you don’t need.

Ohmigod I need food now smoothie

1 banana, fresh or frozen
1 kiwifruit, fresh or frozen
½ cup rolled oats
½ cup almonds (preferably soaked overnight or for at least an hour. Soaked almonds can be kept in the fridge for a week after they’re drained)
½ cup apple juice (or any other liquid) – more to taste

Blend. Consume.