Gen X are the revolutionaries (and the NYT coverage of shared care stinks)
How ironic that right after I post about dangers of Mommy Porn, the New York Times exacerbates this problem to include men. Take a look at the insipid photo that illustrates the article about shared care by Lisa Belkin.
But first, a disclaimer: I know Lisa, she’s super nice and fun, and she talked with me about how I could be the person in the article who is the train wreck example of shared care.
A second disclaimer is that Amy and Marc, featured there as the poster children for shared care, are also people I've helped—about how to pitch themselves to the media so they could get some articles written about themselves and get a book deal. And they, too, were nice.
So it’s ironic that I am going to bitch about them now. Specifically, I’m going to tell you why I wanted to rip all their heads off when I read that piece about shared care.
1. Shared care shields people from the reality that their careers are not great.
It’s rare that shared care works long-term for someone who is very good in the business world. Some people are great at management, some people are born leaders. These are people who catapult up to the top of the business world, in whatever sector they are in. And they love their work.
These are not the people who do shared care. It is simply not appealing in the long run to the best workplace leaders. The people who think they want to try this usually end up frustrated after downsizing their career for shared care. Read closely and you'll see examples of this in the article. In fact, there is not an example of someone who is competing at the very top of their field who ended up enjoying shared care.
2. You need a lot of money to do shared care.
With one stay at home parent, you only need one parent to pull in a ton of money. With shared care parenting, you need two people who can make miracles happen in their chosen profession; two people who are so clever and specialized that they can figure out what to do for work that is part-time.
Already, this is a big feat since the Washington Post reports that most women who stay at home full-time would rather work part-time but they can’t find the jobs. But you also need people who have salaries high enough so that if you made both the salaries part-time, the family could still not only survive, but actually grow and still be financially okay.
Look, I know that usually when the topic is money and people are saying they don’t have enough to do what they want with their lives, I am a hard-ass and I tell them to move to a place with a lower cost of living. But I can’t help noticing that most people who make shared care work have their families helping them, which means they have to stay in the vicinity of family and do not have the ability to move to more economical locations.
3. Shared care kills two careers.
I am about to support this claim with very sloppy research from people I have met. But this seems okay because the New York Times is announcing a major trend based on interviews with what appears to be about ten couples.
So based on my own research of about ten couples who did shared care and hated it, everyone’s career takes a huge hit.
Dylan Tweney, editor at Wired.com, told me that his career definitely took a hit from doing shared care with his wife and daughter for two years. He freelanced, and he points out that you cannot grow a business if you are working four hours a day. You have to always be earning money, so you can’t afford to take time to expand your markets.
4. Shared care requires an unlikely match of personalities in a marriage.
Newsflash: Not everyone has the personality to stay home with kids. There are some people who get their energy from leading. Those people need a team to lead. There are some people who are caregivers. They are energized by meeting peoples’ personal needs.
In fact, pairing those two types makes great couples. Corporate life is designed up for leaders to thrive, and leaders—yes, proven—do better when they have a caregiver type at home, taking care of their personal life.
Here’s some more news: It’s unlikely that two caretakers would marry each other. They just don’t. They are not attracted to each other. I have not much to prove this except that I am conscious in the world. And so are you, so you know this intuitively. And this means that marriages are not generally optimized to work for two people who both want to stay home with their kids.
5. Shared care caters only to detail-oriented types.
Shared care might actually be the most inefficient division of labor in the history of humanity. With one stay-at-home parent, he or she maintains a schedule, checks in with no one, and announces to the work-at-the-office parent what will be happening at home.
With shared care, the schedules are insane. When Tweney talks about the intricate schedules he and his wife had—that actually required the help of neighbors because they didn’t have family near—he says, “It’s definitely more efficient to have one person in charge. There is a lot of overhead to managing shared care.” And this is a theme even with the people in Belkin's article who love shared care.
For some people—visionaries, big-picture thinkers, leaders—managing the details of a shared care schedule would be mind-numbing and soul-crushing.
The fundamental problem with Belkin declaring a revolution in parenthood today is that the revolution is in a demographic she is not a part of. It’s like the New York Times covering the blogosphere. They don’t get it, so they focus on the craziness instead of the mainstream.
But the real trend that we really have here is that Generation X puts parenting before anything else—even men. Gen X is horrified by the self-centered parenting that they received. And Gen X is an inherently revolutionary generation. We have little to lose: We are the first generation in American history to earn less than our parents. We are a generation largely berated and misunderstood by the media, so we have no great image to protect, and we have been handed nothing on a silver platter, so we have nothing to squander.
The history of the revolutions—French, American, Russian—is the history of people with nothing to lose recognizing the need for change. Generation X is that group today. And shared care is just one, small way that Gen X is expressing their revolutionary nature: with their parenting.
I’m glad someone else read that article and thought “shared care” was a joke. I’m not a career crazed chick, but I like working part time. I’m lucky that I have found opportunities to keep using my brain and earn a few bucks along the way. Since I work part time, I still take on more of the child related responsibilities and that’s fine. Of course, my DH does the laundry on the weekends, does that mean we do “shared care”? I don’t think so, but I do think we have a nice division of labor in our home that works for us. “Shared care” is just a silly catch phrase and an annoying, created “ideal” for us all to feel depressed about not achieving. Like I said before, I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees it this way.
Oh my dear. Shared parenting gives you a crappy career because you will never be able to give your work the focus or time that it needs?
Then working full time makes you a crappy parent.
If I have to choose, and PT implies that I do, then I choose being a good parent – to hell with my career advancement.
Crappy people make crappy parents. Full time workers, part time workers, shared caregivers, stay at home parents; makes no difference. It is who you are as a person and the environment you create for a child that puts them in the best position for success.
If you place your children and the idea of parenting first, as anyone who makes a conscious decision to be a parent should, then everything falls into place – eventually. The question is when do you decide to place your children first? Is it before they are born, after conception, once they’ve been born, or after a period of time when problems have started to rear their ugly mugs:)
The decision on parenting, lifestyle, career, and any other potentially lifelong “project” should be considered, tested and finally decided upon after much shared exploration, discussion, equally weighted decision making, and genuine caring by each partner, about the needs of the other parent and the children.
Whatever the final decision on lifestyle, it should not be weighted too heavily in the direction of (for the benefit of) any of the stakeholders in the mix. Too much toward the parents and the children suffer, too much toward the children, and the parents lose themselves and eventually each other. Balance in all things, lots of research and observation, and the advice of trusted caring mentors are needed.
You may still feel like you fail miserably, but the think of the possible alternatives if we don’t do our homework beforehand… we see them all around us.
My two cents worth.
Penelope, I do believe you were Out-Brazened by Marc and Amy ;)
Weighing in belatedly….
My husband is a teacher, and so we do ‘shared care’ in the summers, loosely speaking. It always seems like it will be a break, but it really just becomes a confusing, contentious, crabby mess. Our home works best as a (benevolent) dictatorship, *not* a democracy!
Wooooooooow Thanks for da info