Friday, November 30, 2012

My Dual Part-Time Parent Plan

My brother and sister-in-law were in town for the week to see us and the kids and my sister (who lives near us) and to see NYC, all decked out in Christmas lights. NYC really is beautiful at Christmastime, and I'm really glad they were here to share it with us. I was a little sad that Chad has been working even crazier hours than normal, so he was only able to join us for a NY pizza one night. It did make me stop and think about Chad's schedule, though, as a father and a working man. I think we get certain messages from society and, speaking as a Christian, from the Church about how we are to be as mom-parents and dad-parents that strike me as a bit off. I realize I may be setting up straw men here, so feel free to call me out, if you disagree.

Message #1: Dad should be the bread-winner, no matter how hard he has to work, to provide for stay-at-home mom and kids.
This message means well, insisting that kids need a stable parent (Mom) to raise them and care for them while the other (Dad) is working. What bothers me is the unintended consequences: Dad ends up taking a job he hates to pay the bills, or a job that has him working 50-60-70-80 hours a week, or even two jobs. This message insinuates that the only thing children really need Dad for is his money/provision and a little guidance on the weekends. I emphatically disagree with this. Children need their fathers and need them more than just bath-time some evenings and weekend afternoons.

Message #1A (Church-version of above): Men are created by God to provide, which means they must be the bread-winners, and women are created by God to nurture, which means they must stay at home to raise children.
Pretty darn similar to Message #1, except justified by God's differential design of men and women. Now, I'm totally on board with the idea that God created men and women differently for some specific plan, but I am just not convinced that He created men to work at a job away from home most of the time while women struggle by themselves to raise children. God created both men and women as parents. Plus, He must think pretty highly of the importance of fatherhood, since He calls Himself Father. If, as Christians, we're doing God's work by insisting that men bear the burden of full-time work while women raise the children, I don't think we're fully appreciating the importance of fathers. Also, I don't think this view really appreciates the fact that God may have given women gifts that are being ignored, even repressed, in this scenario.

Message #2: It's the new millenium, both parents should work, and children can be raised by daycares/schools. Independence is good for you!
This message also intends well, since it's the natural outgrowth of the feminist movement. Women should become exactly like men, as men currently exist. Since men currently work 50+ hours a week, if women want to be equal, then they too should work 50+ hours a week. This is clearly just stressing everyone out. And we are completely devaluing parenting in general. We're saying that daycares and schools do just as good a job as parents? We are paying $20,000 a year for someone else to teach our children? Now, I'm not totally qualified to speak to this, since my oldest is not quite 3, but it rubs me wrong that we expect others to care for and teach our children as well as we could. Reminds me of Plato's Republic, the disturbing part of the book.

Message #2A (Church counter-position to the above): Men are created by God to provide, so they can keep doing whatever they're doing, but women are created by God to nurture - AND secular schools are trying to destroy our children - so good mothers will stay home to raise their children, but the BEST mothers will homeschool their children. Bonus points for every child you homeschool. Extra bonus points for having them memorize Scripture.
Okay, I'm poking a little fun here. In all seriousness, I do think parents should be much more involved in their children's schooling than they generally are. Memorizing Scripture is also probably good for all of us. But, again, this insists that Dads should still spend the majority of their time and guilts Moms into homeschooling. Well, heck, what if it's Dads who should homeschool and Moms who should provide? Well, that just screws up the whole created by God for specific tasks argument.

Message #3: It's the new millenium, so Dads can stay home, if they want, and Moms can go to work, if they want.
This message has interesting intentions, freeing individuals up to work or parent as they see fit or feel called to do. A couple of issues, still. Again, we're saying one parent is more important than the other, one is disposable for 50+ hours a week. Also, we're beginning to say that "good" Dads want to stay home. Let's just put everyone on various guilt trips, right? If you're a good Dad, you'll stay home, if you're the typical, emotionally-distant, non-nurturing kind of Dad, it's okay for you to go to work.

Those are the main messages that I feel like I hear, and I feel uncomfortable with all of them. Hence, my frustrated post last time. What's the answer? Some might suggest retreating to a family farm or something, but, as a Christian, I think we need to learn to live in such a way as to impact culture, to be in but not of.

At this moment in time, I would love to see some crazy system, where Moms and Dads both work something like 25-ish hours a week, so we might call it the "Dual Part-Time Parent Plan," and it might work out something like this:
Monday - Mom works 6 hours, Dad stays home with kids.
Tuesday - Mom works 6 hours, Dad stays home with kids.
Wednesday - Mom and Dad each work 6 hours, babysitter or family or tutor with kids.
Thursday - Mom and Dad each work 6 hours, babysitter or family or tutor with kids.
Friday - Mom stays home with kids, Dad works 6 hours.
Saturday - Mom stays home with kids, Dad works 6 hours.
Sunday - Everyone's at home together.

This model would not be easily adopted because Americans love weekends. Honestly, though, we spend half of our weekends just trying to rest from the stressful week. Or we travel and exhaust ourselves more. This kind of model would work better if people lived close to family and friends and didn't travel as much. Now, I know, Chad and I are traveling fools, but we would probably prefer to see family more regularly for something like Saturday night dinner and just take a week off to travel somewhere cool. That's totally doable with my "Dual Part-Time Parent Plan."

Does anyone else feel these messages in our culture? Do you think the arguments I set up are too simplistic or don't adequately represent the true message? Are there any messages that I missed? I churn through these thoughts actually quite often, and my sister is probably sick of hearing them, so I need new insight from other people! Comment below! :)

Added 12/2/12:
I would like to note that I know parents who are amazing parents, in spite of difficult work circumstances. In some cases, just the father works, and both parents are extremely involved. Or both parents work and work hard, and they're very in tune with their kids' lives. I hear tell of fathers who stay at home and working mothers who are still present for the kids' lives. I don't want to sound like I'm saying that these situations make it impossible to parent and parent well, but I do think these messages are pervasive in our culture and make parenting, arguably a phenomenally important job, even more difficult than it already is. And, yet, think, when you hear a woman lamenting that working is difficult and then say that parenting is phenomenally important, what's your first thought? I'll bet it's, "Well, then, lady, stay home with your kids." And I just want you to think about that immediate mental jump.


  1. Being a parent is a rough no matter which path you take! All you can do is try your best and pray God takes you down the path that's best for you and your child. I thought my path consisted of both of us working but God changed my path and now I'm at home with Noah. I think it's what is best for him but of course everyone is different.

  2. I assume you've read Arlie Hochschild? She's been calling for that exact system since the 1970s. I'm all on board. The backlash I tend to hear when I describe such a work scenario is that US productivity would plummet. Apparently those people are okay with sacrificing our children and our families to the great capitalist machine. Sad. But it also shows a serious lack of imagination. Thanks for being a free thinker! Let us be voices in the wilderness!

  3. Thanks, Rachel. Yeah, I guess I'm still in the process of figuring out what's best for us. I stayed home for 18 months, I've worked part-time for 18 months, and I just continually feel like the options I (and women in general) have could be better. Heck, the options for men and women in general could be better. How many people are talking about work/life/family balance these days? Basically everyone.

    KPB, thanks too. I read Hochschild's "The Managed Heart" in grad school, but I have not read "The Second Shift" or "The Time Bind." I'm adding those to my to-read list now.
    The productivity question is a tricky one. Technically, a couple working 50 hours a week should be comparable to a breadwinner working 50 hours a week for the stay-at-home counterpart. But, the male-dominated industries like engineering would suffer.
    Also, yes, this model probably would slow the economy, but, I don't know, maybe having a thriving family would be better than snazzy technology. It does seem like a model that would be easier to adopt at the small business level than the 24-hour-7-days-a-week-multi-million-dollar businesses.
    Ah, well, thanks for the comment, and now I have more reading!

  4. About your plan: It could work. It *does* work. For some people, in some industries, etc. Maybe it's telling that the first example I thought of was someone who is leaving that lifestyle for a more typical dad full-time, mom part-time, with grandma's help setup, but there were extenuating circumstances. Anyway, I actually feel like I see a fair number of stories along the general lines of: SAHM starts at-home business, which takes off, and husband is in career transition anyway, so he comes home. And everybody works together, although it probably isn't as idyllic as it sometimes sounds.

    As far as planning such a schedule from the get-go, I think to make that work it would have to be the top priority. None of this choosing-what-industry-sounds-interesting. You'd have to choose the job based on the schedule. Which sort of brings you back to your critique of point 1. Maybe that's okay because the priorities are better ordered?

    Anyway, about the messages you feel like you're hearing, I don't think I'm getting the same vibes. Because, you know, Grand Rapids is so much more enlightened than NY. Part of it is probably because I am where I want to be at the moment in that respect, and so it's not as much on my mind. Adam works a lot, but it isn't crazy. Most of my interests/gifts/talents are well-suited to being at home.

    That being said, I have no doubts that y'all have it harder. You want to be out, Chad's job and commute make that super-difficult, and the culture of the place is just so different.

    Eh, I've written a bunch with no real insight. Sorry 'bout that.

  5. Thanks, Kathy. Yeah, I do think a lot of industries are not open to anything but a 40-50 hour work week, so if you wanted a more dual-parent lifestyle, it would have to be more important to you, maybe, than the job itself. But, that's kind of what a lot of moms feel like they have to do if they want to work period.

    Maybe NYC has made me more...on edge? about this whole working parent thing. Chad's schedule is insane. He was home and *not working* this weekend, and I feel much more calm about family now than I usually do. If he could just get a weekend (a weekend *day*?) more often, that would honestly help.

    I do think I've generally gotten two major messages. In college, I remember a professor saying very sarcastically to our Sociology class of mostly women, "I mean, after all, how many of you are here getting your ridiculously expensive Bachelor's degree just so you can stay home with kids? Honestly, raise your hands, how many?" I raised my hand. None of the other 20 women did. Afterward, 3 young women, who I had never talked to before, came to me and said, "You know, I kind of want to be a stay-at-home mom, but I just was too embarrassed to raise my hand!" I think there's a strong push to say not only are women worthy of working full-time, they are obligated to, as a matter of feminism pride.

    The other message I get is, honestly, from some of the more religious people I know in my life, who insist that women are the best nurturers and so are not only worthy of staying home full-time, they are obliged to, as a matter of pride the in talents God gave them.

    And I don't know what to do about these conflicting messages. Maybe my circumstances have had me run into these ideas more than most, but I kind of don't think so. The hardest part is that I'm open to both. I feel like, if God wants to use my talents in the workforce, I would totally do it. I feel just as strongly that if God wants me to use my talents to home school my kids, you know what, I totally would. I feel pulled in both directions, and I don't know if it's society talking at me or God nudging me.

    Thus, this really confused/ing post.

    But I am always grateful for other women's perspectives because how else are we supposed to make sense of all of this? I am glad that you're in a much more peaceful place that I am, though. :) Hopefully this struggle will work out for the best in the end. But preferably in the near future.