One of the things I’ve picked up from being a new(ish) parent is this induction into the club of parenting, whose members consist of all the other parents of small children. I get to relate experiences, share stories of the stages of our kids’ growths, and bond over how American society inadequately supports parents of young children.
It feels like a club in large part because parents don’t expect folks without kids to be able to fully empathize with the additional responsibilities. Certainly, despite asking friends and family for advice and guidance into this chapter of our lives, my pre-child self would not realize that caring for children is akin to having another job.
This plays out in all facets of life1, but is most acutely felt with trying to maintain some semblance of work-life separation. Women in the workplace have raised the issue once they’ve fully entered the workforce, but experience the impossibility of trying to fit too many responsibilities in too-few hours, all the while being told simultaneously that they both can and cannot “have it all.”
There are now a handful of American companies which are taking it upon themselves to provide maternity and paternity leave in lieu of any formal, national policies. It’s an encouraging start, but having only time off during the first months of a newborn’s life is not enough. While dealing with a new baby is one of the most taxing periods in life2, those early years of a child’s development are just as demanding and time-consuming. Anecdotally, I know of a few friends – both moms and dads – who opted out of the office altogether, so they get spend more time with their kids while making do with a single source of income.
Society hasn’t really yet responded well to this rise of dual-income households3. Even just from the standpoint of macro policy and demographics, making life difficult for parents will in turn discourage would-be parents from making the choice, which causes all sorts of domino effects on the balance of society. As a cautionary tale, Japan has been wrestling with an aging demographic for decades, and the negative consequences affect everyone – parents and non-parents alike.
All that said, I’m optimistic that we’ll get this right, if not my generation then the generations hence. The future of humanity literally depends on it.
We retire from social gatherings at about 8pm↩
They’re not joking when they say that you don’t get much sleep as a new parent.↩
Of course, there are other demographics to consider: DINKs (Dual-Income, No Kids) couples often enjoy added discretionary income, while single parents have no choice but bounce between work and childcare consistently.↩