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. 

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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. 

 

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.

Live and let struggle

This, today, on Jezebel.

This, a while ago, on Stuff.

Who are these people? Who are the parents who assume non-parents don’t have meaningful, joyous, valuable lives? They sound irritating and lacking in imagination. And who the hell are the non-parents who write these op-eds, brazenly condescending, pleading for understanding yet not demonstrating any in turn? They make my blood boil.

I’m especially annoyed at Jezebel’s piece, because the gripe “I wish we could stop idolising motherhood” displays, in the context of her rant, a level of ignorance that is inexcusable in a supposedly feminist magazine. Dude: the idolisation of motherhood is a major problem for mothers! Wake up and smell the patriarchy. The pervasive idea that mothers are all-giving and naturally selfless, and that motherhood is totally rewarding and the source of all life’s wonder, directly fucks with my life. As much as I love peek-a-boo, I want to do other things too. We’re stuck under the same rock, and you’re telling me off for taking up too much room.

I wish that not having children was considered the default. People who don’t want kids wouldn’t have to defend that choice, which would be better for them; and maybe that way, it would be clear that parents are doing something above and beyond, and would be properly appreciated and recognised. Not put on a pedestal, which is just a lonely place from which you can fall, but actually given credit for the day to day hard work of childcare. Looking after kidlies is not the only way to contribute to the world, but it is definitely an essential task. And an invisible, underappreciated one. If your sister-in-law is posting on Facebook about how only mothers know what true selflessness is, try empathy for a second: maybe it means things are hard for her at the moment, maybe it’s an outlet and a coping strategy. Don’t yell at her on the internet. Offer to look after your nieces and/or nephews and let her have some time to herself.