A typical nuclear family comprises the main breadwinner and the caretaker who’s in charge of the children and the household. Both must perform equally for the greater good of the family. Raising children has almost always required that construct.
Conventionally, the man tends to be the breadwinner —giving up the opportunity to spend time with the children. The woman takes on childcare responsibilities as a stay-at-home mom or a working one who also takes on the management of any childcare assistance (e.g. nanny/daycare) and the household chores too. Each starts to scorn at the other partner feeling they’ve made the greater sacrifice. It becomes a competition. Both feel unsupported, screaming for an extra pair of hands and commiserating that they have the poorer hand.
Previous generations had the support of a blood village — nearby cousins, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews together with neighbors. It was a powerful network of people. For most millennials (including myself), we’ll never have this luxury. Raising a family means living this nuclear life.
Why can’t both partners have it all in terms of equal opportunity to pursue their careers, look after their children and lead a more balanced life overall where one doesn’t feel they’ve made the greater sacrifice — where we’re not competing for our time, giving up our careers, or giving up precious time with our children?
Sheryl Sandberg advocates that she and her late husband had an “equal” relationship — where they both worked hard at their careers but also did their fair share of raising children. When I suggested this to friends as perhaps the solution to managing childcare and housework, they said, “Well maybe this is why her husband had the heart attack. He couldn’t do it, as he is not biologically programmed to do so and evolution hasn’t caught up! His stress caused his attack!”
I was speechless for the first time. Firstly, it’s a shocking judgment to make. Secondly, does this mean that women should continue bearing the majority of the responsibility when it comes to raising children and managing the household because they are biologically designed to do so? And that men are not capable? I know plenty of male same-sex couples who manage perfectly well!
Neither spouse should have to do this — to take on weighty mental loads at home when you’re also doing the same at work. Instead, everything should be outsourced to a “village of helpers,” relieving modern-day couples and allowing them to focus on fulfilling work.
This is an ideal world that I only dream about. Instead, the opposite dystopian reality is no more apparent than here in Silicon Valley.
Every member of the mother’s group I interact with on social media screams, “Help me with my childcare! I need a nanny. I need an au pair. I need a mother’s helper,” or, “I’m shocked at what childcare costs!”
The reality of hiring help is far from rosy. I had one nanny asking me for $45 an hour for a full-time (40+ hours) position, which, after several sense checks with other mothers, was insane! Another mother’s helper said to me, “I don’t like to wash my hands after 4:00 PM, so you need to give me all the washing tasks beforehand.” Well, I’m sorry, but you might have to change my little one’s diaper in 15 minutes which will involve you washing your hands! Another one was distressed at the thought of doing the dishes.
I decided to give the au pair route a go, interviewing a young Thai woman. Two minutes into the interview, I became the interviewee. She asked me if I’d pay for every one of her Uber rides as there’s inadequate public transport here in Palo Alto — outrightly declining a generous monthly budget for Ubers and Lyfts.
And if it’s this bad in Silicon Valley, one of the most liberal and progressive places on earth, what hope is there for the rest of the world?
As a mother, I’m on a mission to innovate family tech so that it can improve the lives of mothers and fathers alike, to support the nuclear family, to support parent-kind. This is something that affects EVERYONE. We can build self-driving cars, we can send rockets to space yet we can’t solve childcare! Even a child-hugging robot who can offer an extra pair of hands for a 5-month-old while I console my toddler might make the difference between whether I have a good day or not. Do you care to join me on my mission? Then get in touch — like the nuclear family, I can’t do it alone.
Bijal Shah is a book therapist, author, poet & founder of Book Therapy (www.booktherapy.io) — therapy using the power of literature. She’s also a mum of two who lives in the Bay Area. Email her at email@example.com for a personalized reading list.