Weighing Costs
posted by Amy

Via Broadsheet, a link to an article about split-shift parenting (when parents work opposite shifts to avoid daycare costs). Arlie Hochschild's The Time Bind also has a more extensive discussion of families who "choose" -- with limited financial options -- this approach to balancing work and family.

We spent a few years doing the split-shift thing, and at the time, I was just so grateful that we could, as daycare wasn't something we could have afforded. Of course, I don't work 8 hours in an office; I go to campus, teach my classes, and have office hours. When I had babies, I was gone for three hours twice a week, maximum, and taught only one class. Compared to many families I know, we were damn lucky.

But 1) we live in a more affordable region than the couple in the article lives in; 2) we were able to buy a house when we did only because Chip lost his mom to cancer and inherited money for a down payment (and we'd obviously trade the house for having his mom here in an instant, given the chance); 3) we were both freakishly focused in our twenties and, at 35, have been in our current jobs for over ten years and had socked away money in savings to enable me to cut down my work hours for the first years of the kids' lives.

So, lucky, lucky-in-an-odd-and-sad-way, and lucky -- and even with all that luck, we didn't like each other all that much during the years he'd walk in the door from work and I'd hand him a baby, detach the toddler from my leg, and run out the door before anyone spit up on my work clothes. We were beat, we were always alone with the kids without another adult to share the burden, and we were stressed. The alternative to being stressed about not having time would have been being stressed about not having money, except that we really were stressed about both, as teaching one class didn't do much more than pay for our groceries each month (and we're lentils and rice folks).

What would help that couple in Long Island mentioned in the above article? What would have helped us? Well, affordable, flexible daycare would have been a lifesaver. Paid maternity leave (beyond the two weeks of full pay which I was thankful to have) would have helped, too. Even in California, where everyone is eligible for paid family leave, the families on the edge can't afford to take even that time off, as it doesn't come with full pay. Supporting families in concrete ways, rather than in empty, judgmental rhetoric, doesn't seem like a revolutionary idea. But maybe it is.

Edited to add: Check out Barbara Ehrenreich's piece, written partly to Kate O'Beirne's new book, Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports, on Alternet today. Here's a taste:

It's just not possible to be a responsible and responsive parent or spouse if your work leaves you with barely enough time to shower. But to get back to Kate O'Beirne: Will you help me save the family by joining me in a campaign for adequate wages and a return to the concept of the eight-hour day? If not, let's at least fight fair. You get out your photos of your grandkids (if any) and I'll get out mine.