I read an article recently about Google’s new maternity leave policy – 5 months of paid leave, which is resulting in more moms coming back to work after the birth of their babies. That’s great if that’s what families want and need.
However, there is one line in that blog that really struck a nerve and really bothers me. It said something to the effect of “I can only handle my son for a few hours at a time, so coming home at the end of the day after he has eaten is perfect so I can spend time giving him a bath, reading a story, and putting him to bed.”
My fear is that this is far more common of a mentality than any of us knows. Are we as parents so ill-equipped to deal with children that we instead choose to work in place of taking care of our kids? I understand that finances and the modern American lifestyle generally requires both parents to work outside the home. What I can’t understand is the idea that a parent would choose to spend hours at work and get home just in time to tuck Jr. into bed. That a parent “can’t handle more than a few hours” with their own child? Because… they are a child? Because they are more demanding, more impulsive, and haven’t yet learned how to control their emotions, their works, and their bladders?
If this is truly the “Modern Parent”, then why in the world are people choosing to become parents? What are we teaching our children? That working is more important than family time? That our coworkers are more important to us than our children? That we’d rather spend time with people who have learned the art of working and controlling their emotions than teach our children to do the same? That we’d rather pay someone else to deal with diapers and temper tantrums and learning how to speak and potty training?
I know that the point of this article was about the importance of extended paid maternity leave. I agree with that wholeheartedly. I know because just as our children are exiting the goldfish stage and starting to become interesting, we have to choose to either leave our job to continue exploring our little one or hand her over to someone else to experience these things. It’s a very difficult choice. Is an unintended consequence, however, the complete lack of learning how to actually be a parent?
I know that for decades now the extended family in America is dissolving, that people don’t have the support networks to raise a child like there has been in the past. Grandma and Grandpa have to work and they live states away anyway. Friends work just as many hours. The result is that the Modern Parent never actually learns to be a parent. The worst part is that we don’t know that until it’s far too late. Until the chance to really develop a relationship with our child has passed. Until our kids get ready to go to high school and we never see them again. Until they go off to college and we realize we have no idea who this young adult is that is leaving our house. Until they have boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives and move far away and we see them at holidays if we’re lucky. Until they have kids and we see them living the life we taught them how to live. Until we only get every other holiday year with them because life is too busy and finances are too tight for getting together more.
This lifestyle creates increasing fractured families. I certainly don’t wish for days past as there were many problems then as well with inequality, endorsed abuse of wives and children, high disease and mortality rates, and other undesirable things. However, the family unit was that – a unit. When mobility was limited, families stuck closer together and children learned to parent from their parents and much more patient grandmas and grandpas were around to help with children. There is something very desirable about that lifestyle.
Raising children is extremely hard. As a work at home mom with a daycare, I know that. There are no days off. There are no nights off. There are no responsibility-free sick days. Often, your sick days and your child’s sick days coincide, so you both feel terrible together, but one clearly makes being sick more miserable for the other.
There is nothing easy about being a parent. No one ever promised such. Or if they did, shame on them. That is a lie. Parents have the impossibly hard and unenviable task of raising blank slates into responsible and productive adults. Often with little outside support, at least in these days.
I often wonder, when people of the future look back to us, what will they see? What future are we building with our children? What are our children going to know and going to be able to do when we send them off into the world? Will they be equipped? Will they be ready? Will we be ready? Or will we be wishing for more time with them when they are little?