Yes We Can . . . Admit That Men Care for Children Too

If we don’t accept the reality of how American families live today, we’ll never be able to have a real conversation about what they need.

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On Saturday, I got out of bed, fed my almost-four-year-old some oatmeal and got my two year old dressed. I did this while my husband was on a run to the grocery store. When he got home, I laced up my shoes, grabbed some signs and met up with my friends at the #WomensMarch in Oakland.

Me leaving my husband with our two very young kids for a couple of hours on a Saturday to march barely registered as a conversation between the two of us. That’s because whose “job” it is to care for our kids never registers as a conversation between the two of us ever. Both my husband and I work and since the day our son was born almost four years ago, we’ve been tossed headlong into coordinating with each other with regard to the kids. We text message each other constantly:

“Are you doing pick up today?”
“We’re out of beans and the kids only eat beans right now remember? can you go to the store on the way home?”
“Oh crap, she has pink eye can you take her to the doctor today? If not I can try to cancel some things but gonna suck if I have to”
“Crap I have pink eye now I think”
“Did you realize preschool is closed Monday? Can you stay home? I can’t I mean I can if you can’t but I can’t”

That’s us back and forth all day every day for the past four years. It’s constantly a jump ball and if I’m totally honest my husband grabs that ball and runs with it more often than I do. It takes both of us to chip in because we both work. We’re hardly unique this way. Dual income familes are becoming the norm, not the exception, in this country. This according to Pew Research:

Among couples living with their children under age 18, about a fourth are now in families where only the father works and about two-thirds are in dual-earner families. In 1970, almost half were in families where only the dad worked and a similar share were in dual-earner families.

The fact is, for most families, both parents have to work. That’s kind of a big deal and requires a new way of thinking about the support they need that we aren’t effectively dealing with.

That’s why it was so disheartening to me to see this story about the march in the New York Times. They got a lot of flack for it and even seemed sincerely sorry for the bad judgement that went into publishing it so I don’t mean to beat the horse dead (and actually the Times is home to some of the very best reporting on this topic). But that story represents something that has really worried me throughout this election: we’re living in an era in which a lot of historic changes are taking place and yet, we seem, at times (most of the time?), unable to have a real conversation about how best to approach these changes because we don’t agree on the reality on the ground.

Where this really hits home for me is how we talk about what today’s families need. For my husband and I to pull off two careers in the Bay Area without extended family near by requires a full-time nanny for my youngest and five days of preschool for my toddler. We’re very fortunate and so much luckier than the majority of working parents in this country that we can afford to cover our bases with regard to childcare this way. We also have good healthcare thanks to our employers and I will be forever greatful for the outstanding, paid maternity leave I enjoyed with both my kids (thanks to my employer at the time, Twitter, and California laws).

Since becoming parents we realize every second of every day how heartbreaking it is that one needs “luck” to be able to raise kids in this country. From affording quality childcare for babies and toddlers to having access to healthcare, to good solid time off after babies are born to recover properly and bond as a family, to flexibility in schedules to deal with sick kids that doesn’t impact your paycheck or force you to lose your job, or quit—these are the things young families with working parents now need to survive, much less thrive.

The American family has changed and it’s about time we acknowledged that fact. We’ll never be able to talk about how we can best support families in this country until we admit the roles men and women play in the home and in the workplace have changed, in most cases by necessity. Making sure that all children in this country grow up with the same opportunities I’m working hard to give my children is the most important issue to me—and it’s why I marched. To me, that is what will move us forward as a nation, denying the reality of how we live today just slows us down.