The Case for Stay at Home Parents
You know what I’m sick of hearing of? How much sacrifice kids are. I mean, yeah ok, I do not deny that kids require a lot of time and energy. But, here in San Francisco, I have watched people pour 90 hour weeks into their startups without ever complaining about time spent. No one every says “You know what requires a lot of sacrifice? Startups.” People seem to resent the energy poured into their children, but not the energy poured into their work.
Chances are, over the course of a child’s life, most parents will spend more hours at work than they will with their kid. After an 8 hour work day, how many hours in the morning and evening do most families spend together? Like, 4 max? That seems generous. (This article suggests more like half an hour a day.) Additionally, the best hours, the uninterrupted set of contiguous hours, the hours when your concentrations is at your highest, are spent at work. Yet, somehow kids are seen as the element that require sacrifice?
One of the failings of modern feminism is that it was built on top of modern capitalism. The traditional work that women did, raising kids, keeping a house, etc. did not produce wealth, and so was not valued in society. Being forced to occupy a perpetual “second status” rung was miserable, so in the 70s second wave feminism happened, and women fought for their right to enter the workforce. And, I aint no Phyllis Schlafly. I think that was important. And worthwhile. And absolutely changed society for the better. We need women to be architecting the infrastructure of society.
Yet, the one thing feminism didn’t fight for in parallel was for society to value unpaid labor that typically fell to women. Why is it seen as more shameful to be a stay at home mom than it is to be a middle manager at WalMart? I don’t know, but it is. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being a middle manager at WalMart.)
Now, I don’t mean to cast no shade at working parents. Nowadays, the luxury of having a stay at home parent is a privilege few families can afford and if I ever become a parent, it is unfathomable to me that I wouldn’t work. But like, why is this seen as ok?
American parents talk a big game. I would do anything for my kids, I would die for my kids, the wellbeing of my children always comes first, etc. etc. But, when we look at hours spent, when we look at real energy invested as opposed to “emotionally motivated outbursts”, children obviously do not come first. Work comes first. And, sure, I get that in this economy, maybe working long hours is a necessary part of raising a children — but where is the fucking outrage? Why is no one complaining about this?
I think the fact that children get less energy than our fucking thneeds is a national disgrace. And I don’t blame parents for this, I blame corporations. This is class oppression that has its roots in gender oppression. This is a class oppression that no one sees because we have cast traditionally feminine roles as so shameful, that people can’t admit that they want to occupy them. We have disgraced femininity so deeply that we assume only a fucking reprobate would voluntarily opt to express it. (This is also why we keep murdering trans women, but that’s a story for another day.)
And where, I wonder, did this shaming of femininity come from?
Men who are turned on by it. Who kills trans women? Usually men who want to fuck them. What type of man publicly disrespects women? Often ones with hyper-feminine wives. Is this shaming of femininity a societal expression straight male shame about their own sexuality? I leave this as an exercise for the reader.
Feminism has done a lot to undo the social stigma of being a woman, but it’s not until very recently that we’ve started to undo the stigma behind expressing femininity. And what a societal cost we’ve paid for that. Pink collar jobs that women tend to be overrepresented in (nursing, teaching, service industry jobs, etc.) are frequently nurturing jobs. They are also jobs that are often underpaid, especially relative to the value they provide society. Consequently, the people in these jobs are often overworked and understaffed minimizing the amount of care that is available to us as a society.
We have gnawed off the hand that feeds us, and we are suffering for it. We don’t have enough teachers or enough nurses, and the problem in both cases is getting worse. Certain mental disorders, like depression, are increasing in incidence, but who do we have to care for these people? Loneliness is on the rise as the people who were responsible for maintaining social connections dissipate into the workforce.
It’s so political it’s hard pinpoint the emotional effect of having two working parents, and actually it seems like maybe the kids do just fine. But what about the parents? Parents are less happy than their childless counterparts. American culture perversely fetishizes parenthood while simultaneously refusing to invest resources in supporting it, while simultaneously refusing to grant it the same dignity as other pursuits. American parenthood is frequently judged by the same metric we judge everything else by; how much money someone afford to spend on their kids?
The other skills parenting requires, the skills of nurturing, the skills of caring — these are hardly considered worthy of consideration. We may see articles on the best dressed baby floating around, but rarely encounter advice on raising happy children in popular culture. I spent about 15 years learning the skills I’d need to program computers, and another few years on skills I’m unlikely to ever use (bio is great, but I’m not a biologist) but at no point in my life was I ever taught about how to care for other human beings. I was required to take a class in latin, but never in non violent communication or mediation. I took PE, but never learned massage. These things I had to learn by investing in myself later in life.
How much better could the world be if we took care of each other instead of building garbage dumps full of useless refuse? How much better would the world be if helping other people was valued as much as material success? I don’t know, but I want to live in that world; a world that values not just women, but the work they have traditionally done.