A few days ago, I had a conversation with a woman who was on maternity leave with her second child. She said she was glad to have this time with her daughter, but then asked me, “How do you stay home with your kids full-time? Doesn’t it drive you crazy?”
“Sometimes,” I responded. “I am not creative enough to come up with enough ways to entertain toddlers every single day. I definitely need a vacation.”
“I could never do it,” she said. “I need to work. For sanity. And let’s be honest, my student loans. But, my job is flexible enough that I can adjust my hours if I need to be home a bit during the week.”
I’ve mulled over that discussion many times since. What is it about raising children that is so draining and difficult? And who is really happy doing it? Why are postpartum mood disorders increasingly prevalent?
Women have advantages and opportunities that were unheard of in times past. And those increase with each generation. The advancement of women in Western Society has been positive, and women have proven their mettle in almost all vocations and pursuits. We can pursue dreams and goals once exclusive to men. We have proven that “mother” is just one of the many hats we wear. (Something fathers never have to prove.)
The stigma of the absent and nonnurturing father is also disintegrating. Fathers are more involved in their children’s lives than ever before. By choice. Parenting is a joint effort, and once-rigid gender roles are fading, even in families with only one income earner.
This is all progress. Women finding their true selves outside of household responsibilities, and women and men side-by-side in the workplace and in the home. But, why is raising our children still so hard?
Our society lacks the social infrastructure to meet our basic parenting needs.
Gone are our villages. Villages that rallied around the laboring mother, welcomed the new life into the world and contributed to the caretaking of the infant while mother recuperated and healed. Gone are our communities that assisted in child rearing, providing safe environments for children surrounded by trusted adults.
We do not have standardized health practices throughout our country, which kills women and leaves special needs children behind. Maternal health care is not covered by all insurances, and postpartum health- and mental health care is not common. This disproportionally affects women of color.
Paid maternity leave is not standard in the U.S. And paternity leave, well, families consider themselves lucky if a father can get a few days off to help out after the baby is born.
Working parents toil through 40, 50, and 60+ hour workweeks, leaving little time for family interaction.
Childcare costs for a middle-income family can easily exceed $50,000 annually. With two income earners, it isn’t atypical for one earner’s entire paycheck to go toward funding childcare.
Living expenses throughout the US are the highest they have ever been, but wages are not increasing. Our standard of living is often stuck in survival mode, and most families cannot afford to give up an income in order for one parent to stay home full-time if they want to.
The cognitive dissonance women feel is distracting: we want to build careers and contribute to society outside the home, and we want to raise healthy, well-adjusted humans. Why must we choose between them?
I posit that as soon as we start prioritizing the growth and sustainability of families in this country, we will see our society strengthen and our overall health improve. If our basic parenting needs are met, we can be better parents without sacrificing our sanity, our children will be healthier and safer, and our workplace contributions will not be affected. If we can build communities built on trust and cooperation, our children will be safer. If we restore our villages, everyone wins.