Child care as unskilled labor (?)

My kids with their "other mother"

I have a guest post running over at Your (Wo)man in Washington on the topic of child care, and whether it truly qualifies as unskilled labor.  I hope that you will check it out and leave your comments!

In Morristown, New Jersey, near where I live, you can go to the train station on any given day and find an immigrant man who is willing to do just about any unskilled work you are willing to pay him to do, like painting your house or moving furniture.  Yes, you don’t need an advanced degree or specialized training in order to diaper a baby’s bottom or bandage a skinned knee any more than you need one to slap on a coat of primer or carry a couch up two flights of stairs.  Even so, you aren’t going to find me at the train station picking up a woman to watch my young children anytime soon.  So maybe it isn’t quite as easy as Guest seems to think it is.
Finding the kind of childcare that we need – consistent, reliable, high-quality and affordable – is often simply a matter of luck and is by no means a given.  Luckily, it seems that someone is Washington is finally figuring out what we have known all along.  According to a recent Washington Post article, Nancy Pelosi recognizes that the child care issue is key to allowing women to fully assert their presence in the workforce, and has vowed to put quality affordable child care on the national agenda if she regains her position as the Speaker of the House.  Even if she isn’t successful in her bid, at least she is finally bringing the issue to the fore: for women to be able to work for pay while maintaining a good quality of life, not to mention their sanity, we need someone to take care of our children.

The “Boy Crisis”…and why it doesn’t exactly work out to be such a crisis after all

Check out my guest post at Your (Wo)Man in Washington today:

If you read books like The Wonder of Boys and Raising Cain, you will learn that today’s American boys are in crisis.  As schools become more heavily focused on academic achievement and test scores, children are expected to spend more time seated quietly at their desks while physical education and recess are being squeezed out of their schedules.  The crunch is on after school as well, when time is spent going to organized activities and completing homework instead of running around outside, playing stickball and manhunt and generally letting off steam.

Boys, who on average are less inclined to sit quietly at desks and have more of a need to move their bodies, are suffering disproportionately under the current state of affairs.  Some even argue that the bias against girls in academic settings is a relic of the past.  With teachers under ever-increasing pressure, they tend to favor girls who (again on average) are more able to sit and focus for long periods of time.  This is borne out by the fact that young women are currently earning more post-secondary degrees than young men.

If women are doing better in school, and are earning more advanced degrees, then logic would dictate that the number of women in positions of power and prestige should be at least equal to, if not exceeding, the number of men.  And yet…women continue to be underrepresented in business, science, academia, medicine, and government.  The reason seems obvious:  biology is destiny, and motherhood makes the difference.

A Few of My Least Favorite Things

So, I have spent the summer concentrating on actually living a MOGO life rather than spending so much time reading and writing about it, which is why I haven’t been posting much.

Over the last few weeks, though, a few things have been knocking around in my head of things to write about – things that bother me.  Here are a few:

1.  Corn fields with Genuity signs posted next to them ~ what is that?

2.  Hotels that say that if you hang up your towel they won’t take it and wash it after just one use to conserve water and energy, but take them and wash them anyway

3.  Teacher appreciation events at our new school that are sponsored by Nestle

4.  Hotel glasses that are individually wrapped in plastic.  Really?

5.  The fact that everyone at our new school is addressed as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” or “Ms.” or “Dr.” ~ except the custodian.  He’s “Jose”.

So many problems, so little time!

Don’t Read Twitter at Bedtime

courtesy of flickr user velvetart

Much better to cross-stitch or maybe play some Scrabble, methinks.

I was checking TweetDeck the other night, and here is the exchange to which I was treated:

@thegoodhuman BINGO! RT@DMansini: @thegoodhuman @Matt_SF @EverydayFinance i advocate a tax credit for the CHILDLESS – we use far less resources

@thegoodhuman Absolutely. Should not be reward for having kids RT @Matt_SF @EverydayFinance what if we remove child/dependent tax credit? $3650/kid adds up

@Matt_SF @pcdunham: @Matt_SF @EddieBraverman there should be competency & income requirements to have kids, not fucking incentives


Where to even start?  Maybe that there should also be competency requirements to Tweet?

Too snarky?

Maybe I’ll start here:  Basic math dictates that two people use more resources than one, and fewer resources that three.  However, the world does not work on the principles of arithmetic.  Certainly, some childless people use fewer resources than families with children.  However, I know quite a few families with children who have made huge efforts to decrease their consumption of goods and services, and some even came to the path of simplicity because of their children.  Sometimes this is a choice made to leave a more sustainable and healthy world to our children or perhaps to allow parents to work less, earn less, and spend more time with their children.  Sometimes consumption is reduced out of necessity because children are expensive – and by the by, anyone who thinks $3,650 per child is a REWARD or INCENTIVE is out of touch with the cost of raising a child, to put it mildly.  Either way, parenthood dictates to many families that we use up, make do, or do without.

On the other hand, I know plenty of single people or couples without children who use well more than their fair share, jet-setting around the globe on lavish vacations, driving multiple gas-guzzling luxury cars, rushing out to purchase the latest gadget, standing in front of a closet full of brand new and barely worn clothes, shoes and accessories each day, and basically using their disposable income to ensure that they have everything they could possibly want at their fingertips.  To generalize that childless people use fewer resources than families with children….that may be true on the whole, I don’t know, but it certainly doesn’t jive with my personal experience.

And in the end, the whole conversation just baffles me.  Even though I have two biological children, I am sympathetic to the idea of limiting population size as a huge component of environmental stewardship.  But that’s ultimately not what we’re talking about here.  We are simply talking about the cost, in dollars and cents, of giving tax rebates to parents, and the effect that removing that rebate would have on our current budget crisis.  Whatever your political/environmental/human rights position on procreation, to suggest that the way to cut costs is to take money out of the pockets of lower- and middle-class parents while refusing to ask the wealthy to bear more responsibility…..seriously?  And what should the income requirement for parents be, anyway?  And how would that guarantee good parenting?  Or are we just interested in low-cost parenting?

Baffled.  Just.  Baffled.

Hot in New Jersey

courtesy of flickr user plousia

Yesterday I made soup in the crock pot for dinner, and barely even ate any.  It was just too darn hot to cook, or eat, or do anything other than hang out in the air conditioning.  We tried to go out in the morning and lasted about a half hour.  It was already 90 degrees by 10 am.  Definitely too hot to think of something to blog about.

So instead I thought about the people who live in equatorial regions of the world who don’t have air conditioning, or crock pots, or barely even have shelter to shade them from the sun.  Yes, they are more accustomed to the heat, and they probably are carrying a lot less, ahem, insulation than I am.  Still, not fun to cook over an open fire of burning animal poop when it’s over 100 degrees outside.

In solidarity, and trying not to complain about the heat so much.

Gender Roles and Humane Parenting

courtesy of flickr user jubie29

I’ve been reading a lot of momoirs lately.  That, and historical fiction about strong women leaders – Cleopatra, Nefertiti.  I’m really into exploring femininity, motherhood and power these days.  My inability to reconcile all the parts of myself – woman, mother, wife, employee, volunteer, activist – and stay sane at the same time has me wondering how other women manage to do it, and if I want to continue to try.

I just finished the book Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself by Amy Richards.  She talks quite a bit about feminist parenting as challenging traditional gender roles.  I totally get that it is important for our children to see men doing laundry and women changing the oil so they get the idea that there is no such thing as a “man’s job” or “women’s work”.  But is that actually “feminist” parenting?

For me, feminism is about choices.  Women fought against having the roles of Wife and Mother proscribed by society so that they could have options.  Having options means, well, actually having options.  It does not mean that I have to take on all the work in our family that had traditionally been considered a man’s domain just so my kids can see me doing that work.  Does it?

In our family, John does a lot of the domestic chores like vacuuming, dishes and laundry.  If his life depended on it, he would not be able to pick an allen wrench out of a tool box.  I do most of the repairs, and I am responsible for finding people to do the ones I can’t.  He puts Harry down for his nap every day and gives the kids their baths when he is home.  I do all the cooking (and grilling) and take the kids to all their doctor’s appointments, arrange all their activities and play dates, and keep track of the schedules.  We both work at paying jobs, but his requires more hours and pays significantly more.  Our particular division of labor has nothing to do with female versus male, it is simply a matter of our different skill sets and the tasks that suit us best.  I wouldn’t say we have things split 50/50, but I think that is more a function of my neuroticism than his refusal to do his share.  At any rate, it’s close.

Yesterday, the kids wanted to play in the sprinkler and the nozzle was rusted onto the hose so I couldn’t get it off.  I asked John to help me, and our sitter commented, “I guess that’s one of the nice things about having a husband who works from home.”  Her words gave me pause: was I deferring to John because unscrewing things is man’s work?  No, I asked John for help because, partly by nature of his gender, he happens to be physically stronger than I am and was more likely to have success at that particular task.  Should I have struggled in futility, doing battle against this hose in the oppressive heat, simply to prove a point?  Or is it more important to find the person more well suited to the task?

While reading Richards’ book, I found myself wondering if insisting that parents select jobs because they are commonly identified with the other gender – and by describing this as “feminist” parenting, as if any other way is less that enlightened – is simply proscribing new rigid roles in the name of progress.  Just because women can be doctors or CEOs does not mean that every woman is suited for those jobs; some women are happier, and better at, being elementary school teachers or nurses.  And some men are great at those jobs, too.  While it is good for children to see diversity of all stripes in the world, and it is sometimes worthwhile to seek out examples of people who are stretching the boundaries, I think it is more important to respect who we are, and give our children permission to do the same.

Like this post?  Check out Banana Peels and Beach Parties


Am I the only one not celebrating?

photo by flickr user Mojo Baer

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

My kids are still little, and don’t watch much television, so thankfully they have not seen, and I have not had to explain to them, the events of the past few days.  The impact that it has had on their lives is more due to the fact that the things I am seeing in the news and hearing on the radio are definitely affecting my mood, and not in the positive way it seems to be affecting everyone else.

People are celebrating – rejoicing even – in the streets because of Osama bin Laden’s assassination.  Don’t get me wrong, I know he’s done some pretty awful things and is as close to pure evil as they come.  I am not mourning his loss in any way.  But to rejoice in the death of another human being, no matter how well-deserved you might believe that death to be, seems a bit much to me.  Some people say they feel safer now that he’s gone, which makes no sense to me whatsoever.  Some people feel a degree of closure now that he is gone, and I can understand that.  Other people may feel that justice has been served, and though I’m not a fan of revenge as a motivating factor, I think maybe this is what had to happen.  But even if you think bin Laden got what he deserved, I still cannot understand for the life of me how people can be so over the moon about it.

For one thing, it wasn’t just him, alone, one man, who has perpetrated all the destructive and murderous acts of Al Qaeda.  It was a whole team of people who have been carefully trained and are willing to risk their lives – in fact, they welcome the opportunity to risk their lives – in the furtherance of their beliefs.  It’s not like now that bin Laden is gone they are going to leave the camps and start new lives as computer programmers or cashiers at McDonalds in Kabul.  They are going to keep going on doing what they were doing, perhaps with more rigor than before.  Now bin Laden is not just a leader, he’s a martyr.

Mostly, I am thinking about the collateral damage. I think about the Afghani and Iraqi civilians who have lost their lives during our mission to search and destroy bin Laden.  Even if you think his death is cause for happiness, it seems a little myopic to just ignore all those other people who were just as innocent as the victims of 9/11, who lost their lives simply because they lived in proximity to where we thought bin Laden was hiding.  They weren’t asking for it, they weren’t plotting to kill Americans, they were going to work and raising their kids and cooking their dinners and hanging out with their friends, just like you and me.  He may have masterminded a mass murder like the world has never seen, but that is not enough to make me forget the devastation that has been caused in the name of seeking him out and bringing him to justice.  Maybe it’s just me, but it saddens me that so many people both here and over there had to lose their lives, their families, their homes, their loved ones, their health, and I cannot find any joy in that at all.

I kept thinking yesterday of a TedX video that I saw some time ago, and I think it is especially relevant today. It’s twenty minutes long, but it is worth every second.  Please, watch it:

Environmentalist. (Biological) Parent. Mutually Exclusive?

Harry's first day home, May 2008 - kids may use a lot of resources, but man are they cute!

I’m catching up on my blog reading, and I came across this post from Beth Terry at My Plastic Free Life, which asks the question:

[W]hat do you think? About population, procreation, adoption, and women’s reproductive decisions? Is adoption a more eco-friendly alternative to procreation? Or does it just create a whole new set of problems?

As I approach the anniversary of my entree into parenthood (a.k.a. my daughter’s birthday), these questions really strike a chord with me.  This is an issue to which I devoted a lot of thought before becoming pregnant, during my pregnancy, and since my children’s births.  I have vivid memories of reading World War III as part of my Humane Education program while 23 weeks pregnant and feeling panic and failure as an activist.

I am aware that no matter how lightly I try to live,my family uses exponentially more resources than, say, a family in sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia simply by virtue of where we are.  I considered the drain on resources my children would represent, and gave serious thought to building our family through adoption.  It is difficult to make a sound argument that adding humans to the planet, especially North American middle class humans, will not have a somewhat negative impact on the planet, though I have seen people try to make just that argument.

However, I also believe that humans (like all animals) possess a fundamental, hard-wired drive to pass on our genetic material and it is hubris to claim otherwise.  I believe that having children should be a woman’s choice on every level, but I also believe that the desire to have biological children is something that does not bend easily under the forces of logic.

(From this point forward, for the sake of brevity, I will stop saying “biological parents” and “biological children” and say “parents” and “children” instead, though I honor the fact that people become parents and build families in all sorts of ways that do not necessarily involve personal procreation.)

I agree with Beth, and with other bloggers she quotes, that it is important to explore the angles and to have awareness around the choices we make.  I am humbled by people who place their commitment to sustainability above their desire to have children.  That was a choice I was, ultimately, unwilling to make.

However, I worry about going to the extreme and saying that an individual with children is fundamentally unfit to be an environmentalist.  I know that there are a number of people who feel this way, and I know that other activist communities (animal rights activists come to mind) look down upon “breeders”.  However, I think that to exclude or discount the contributions of people who choose to procreate is to do a grave disservice to any social justice cause.

First off, many (most?) adults choose to become parents, and this is not likely to change.  If people who are parents are made to feel that they are third-string environmentalists, they may not be as motivated to make positive lifestyle choices.

But more importantly, I believe that for many people, new parenthood is a Come to Jesus moment (or Buddha, or Brahman, or The Great Spirit – insert the deity of your choice if you wish).  While they may have been indulgent and excessive in their younger days, people often become motivated to contribute to planetary peace, justice, and sustainability once they have children.  To make them feel unwelcome, that they are already disqualified just as they are coming to the environmental movement full of motivation and commitment, would be a sad thing.

So yes, having fewer people on Earth would help to stem the tide of resource depletion, and yes, this is a valid, even admirable, reason to refrain from having children.  But some people are simply not willing to make that choice, and that does not in and of itself make them a less important member of the environmental movement.