going off on a tangent here: either The Atlantic has become really wonderful in the past 2-3 years or I have grown into reading their work. Either way, they're doing great and they should carry on.
In addition to a lot of wonderful anecdotes about the Notorious R.B.G., author Ryan Park talks about the difficulties in being a stay-at-home dad for a year while his wife was finishing her rotation in pediatrics at Georgetown. This year was after he had spent a year clerking for Justice Ginsberg, which seems like a step down... until you read his article.
Of course, if you read anything at all about staying at home with kids, you'll wind up reading about Swedish family leave policies. To the point where I honestly rolled my eyes when I first came across it in this article and thought, "Oh sweet Moses, it's Sweden again." Anyway, Park talks about his friend who is married to a Swede and she went home to have her baby. He took a 5 week paternity leave from his residency in the US and was roundly mocked for it by his peers.
Yadda, yadda Sweden is sooooo amazing... but I got to this paragraph (talking about his American friend married to the Swede and moving to Sweden after the baby was born):
Despite his joy at becoming a father, the drudgery of life with a newborn didn’t sit well with him. His wife, a doctor at the same institution, agreed to stay home for the rest of the couple’s allotted time. But on his return to work, the hospital’s leaders pulled him aside and delivered a stern lecture on the poor example he was setting. He was soon back to changing diapers and warming bottles, and the couple redistributed their leave more evenly.
This resonated with me. I've now been a mom for 12+ years. I took a 12 week maternity leave with both of my kids. With our firstborn, my husband took 2 weeks off, but because our son was born during football season, he had to work a little during that time. The university where I worked gave a paid 8 week leave. I had to tell my boss about FMLA (9 years after it was put into law) in order to take an additional 4 weeks as unpaid leave because she was really sticking by that 8 week number.
With our second, my husband also took 2 weeks off and I took 12, but I recall him working a lot more during that time mainly because he had to take so much time off when I was pregnant with #2 and had a lot of drama. And I remember both times people PRAISING him for staying home with me. I know a lot of women with husbands who were back at work a day or two later because they had to be there or they would lose their jobs. In addition to that, I went back to teaching in mid-May. My husband took #2 with him in his little playpen to work until mid-June when I would be home with the baby again. He's kind of a rock star.
Aside: shortly after the birth of the first, we were living in the south and I cannot even tell you how many times I would hear friends says "my husband is babysitting the kids tonight." I wanted to scream
HE IS NOT BABYSITTING
HE IS THEIR FATHER
IT IS PART OF HIS JOB.
But I didn't. Sometimes I said it nicely. Sometimes I didn't say it at all. And if someone asked me, "who's watching the kids?" I would say, "Their dad, because he's their dad."
Back to the topic: I never wanted to stay home with the kids. With our first, I was home 5 months because we moved to South Carolina when he was 3 months old and I couldn't find a job. I was only home with him for 5 months because I went back to school. I really hated being a stay-at-home mom.
My husband, despite having a new job, supported my going back to school. He cared for our son in amazing ways. He let me lock myself in our room and work on lesson plans and my graduate thesis and all kinds of ridiculousness. He was the primary earner and the primary caretaker of our son for a year and a half and it is an investment for which I will always be grateful.
With the 2nd, I was home with him for a year. Again, because of a move- this time we moved from South Carolina to Virginia. Again, I couldn't find a job. But this time, I made a concerted effort to enjoy my time at home. Or at least, not wallow in my misery. I made a ridiculous effort to meet moms with similar aged kids and hang out with them as much as my little introverted heart could handle.
In the summer after we moved, the boys and I were fixtures at the local pool. We swam every day for 16 days before a rainy day closed the pool. When school started for #1, I ended up getting a membership to the indoor pool which was heated but still pretty cold. #2 and I could tolerate it for about a half hour before we would go warm up in the shower, but let me just say that #2 swims like a pro and has never taken a lesson. We went to the park. We went to the library. We went to the children's museum. I was seriously aggressive in my wanting to be in public with my kid(s).
Then, after 14 months of staying at home, I got a job, a wonderful job, a job I still have and love.
I happily sent my child off to daycare/pre-school for a year until he started kindergarten and I have never looked back.
What if it was different for us here in the US? (we've finally reached the not a rhetorical question part of this essay). Would I have felt differently about staying at home with the kids? Would they be different people? Because they're pretty awesome kids, I don't know if I would want to change them.
But if it was widely accepted that BOTH parents stay home at some point, would we all feel differently about staying at home?
How do we change this? There's so much talk about how the US is at the bottom of the list, internationally, for parental leave of any sort.
I have a self-selected sample among my friends, but seriously, almost everyone is in favor of this. Even the non-parents, because parents come to work sick because of their little
germ vectors kids and the parents get the non-parents sick, and who needs that? Stay home if you're sick!!!
This is totally from pulledoutofmyass.com, but If ALL parents, regardless of socio-economic status, had a chance to be with their kids more, would we see less mindless consumption? Would parents be less likely to spoil their kids with crap they don't need because they wouldn't feel quite so guilty about spending so much time away from them?
Would we see better educational outcomes with our kids because parents wouldn't catch shit from their employers for having to go to a conference with the teacher?
What can we do to change this? Why does it seem to be such an uphill battle in the US to make reforms that will support the entire population? Even if you're not a parent, you were a kid once!
Additional reading, if you're so inclined... a quick trip down the Google rabbit hole brought me these:
- Parental Leave: the Swedes Are the Most Generous from NPR
- The actual official website of the country of Sweden: 10 Things That Make Sweden Family Friendly