This has been a heavy news week both in terms of the sheer volume of news as well as with regard to its emotional impact. In addition to the constant stream of news regarding COVID-19 and the related staggering economic news, this week’s headlines have been dominated by news of Michael Flynn’s pardon and details out of Georgia regarding the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery.
Oddly enough a news blurb that many may have missed this week continues to weigh heavy on my heart. Several outlets reported that in the Netflix documentary Becoming, which was released this week, former First Lady Michelle Obama states that, “having kids was a ‘concession’ that cost her ‘aspirations and dreams.'”
I immediately thought of Mrs. Obama’s two daughters when I read the above quote. How do her words impact them? Will her words factor in their decision to one day have (or not have) kids? Routinely I read pieces with titles like, “Millennials Aren’t Having Kids. Here’s Why That’s A Problem For Baby Boomer Real Estate & Retirement.” A 1980 baby, technically I am a millennial, depending on whose timeline you use. Having once owned a (very worn) cassette tape of The Bodyguard soundtrack and a giant bag-phone I hauled around in my car, I don’t classify myself as a millennial, but I do read with interest these pieces hypothesizing why millennials are delaying or even completely forgoing having children. While the Obama daughters are a good bit younger than I am, they came of age, as I did, inundated with messages about the burden of children, the immense sacrifices that are required of those who choose to have kids.
It is unfortunate the thinkpieces and the soundbites bemoaning the sacrificial requirements of parenting are not matched or even outnumbered by pieces espousing the immeasurable joy of having and rearing children. Perhaps if we ceased constantly whining about parenthood successive generations of Americans wouldn’t be so hardened against the idea of having kids of their own? Is it hard? Absolutely. Everything about parenting is much more than you assumed it would be: it is much harder than you thought it would be, and the love and joy your children bring you is so vastly beyond anything you imagined.
Children will consume you; they should. If they don’t you’re not doing it right. Last year I wrote about the dual role of mother and teacher many American teachers unfortunately play. COVID-19 continues to reshape many aspects of life in America, and the extent to which some parents rely on others to care for their children has come to a head in a dramatic way the last few months. Not only did many schools close with little to no notice, many after-school programs and daycares shut their doors as well.
This from CNBC discusses the “childcare conundrum” COVID-19 presents. For many families things will look different moving forward in a post-COVID-19 world regardless of when their state begins to lift restrictions. Many summer camps have been cancelled; many daycares have closed their doors permanently, unable to withstand weeks of forced government closure.
What will working parents do? I note that I have always bristled at the phrase “working parents.” Let’s be clear: every parent is a working parent regardless of whether or not they draw a paycheck. Parenting is hard work, some of the hardest and most important work a person will do. One of my children, my daughter, has a chronic illness; she is a type 1 diabetic. The sheer number of details required to keep her humming along, her prescriptions filled, her blood sugar in check, would befuddle many CEOs.
It is my hope that some positive shifts in American culture might result from the forced changes this virus has imposed on our lives. In her 2013 novel Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell says this:
The professor leaned forward. “But there’s nothing more profound than creating something out of nothing.” Her lovely face turned fierce. “Think about it Cath. That’s what makes a god—or a mother. There’s nothing more intoxicating than creating something from nothing. Creating something from yourself.”
There are far too many negative ideas floating around about parenting. Is it any wonder some young people are opting out? If it is a national crisis that schools and daycares close, what does that indicate about our attitude toward parenting?
Our children are only little and in need of supervision for a few years in the grand scheme of things. I pray many parents rethink their orientation toward work and childcare during this time.