Home Health Why the 'essential labor' of raising children is too lonely and expensive...

Why the ‘essential labor’ of raising children is too lonely and expensive : Shots

Lucy Kramer (foreground) does schoolwork at her home, while her mother, Daisley, helps her younger sister Meg, who is in kindergarten, in 2020 in San Anselmo, California.

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Lucy Kramer (foreground) does schoolwork at her home, while her mother, Daisley, helps her younger sister Meg, who is in kindergarten, in 2020 in San Anselmo, California.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

During the pandemic, when schools and nurseries were abruptly closed, millions of parents – especially mothers – stopped working to make up for the backlog. Author Angela Garbes was one of them.

Garbes was working on a book in 2020, but had to stop the project when her child’s daycare closed. And while she loves being a mother, the isolation and exhaustion of being a full-time caregiver took its toll.

“I really felt like I was watching the fun and color drain from my life,” she says. “I felt like someone who was ‘just a caregiver’. And while I knew that was valuable work, I had to confront that it wasn’t enough for me.”

In her new book Essential labour: mothering as social change, Garbes argues that raising children has always been undervalued and undercompensated in the US

“We live in [a culture] that doesn’t value care work and that doesn’t value mothers and that doesn’t value women,” she says. “America doesn’t have a social safety net; America has mothers.”

Unlike other countries, which offer paid parental leave and state-subsidized childcare, Garbes says the US often leaves parents of young children to their own devices. She argues that raising children is a social responsibility – and should be treated as such.

†[Children] need other people. They need family. They need friends. They need adults who are not related to them, who have a certain patience and bring something different into their lives,” she says. “We weren’t supposed to raise children in isolation.”

Highlights of the interview

Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change, by Angela Garbes

About what it felt like not having a daycare during the lockdown and giving up work

If you go back to those early days of the pandemic when we didn’t know what was happening…it felt very clear to me that the most important thing I could do was not write. It wasn’t making a podcast. It was taking care of my family, taking care of my children and keeping them safe, and also my community. And that meant moving away, living in isolation. †

As far as my husband is working, he is the person who had a steady salary as a writer. I have deadlines ahead of me. It’s all very vague, when my work has to be done and, you know, there were no regular paychecks, no health insurance coming our way from work. We got it from him. So it was easy for me to say, “Let’s prioritize your work.”

But he’s always insisted that we have this part of our marriage where we say, My work is not more important than your work. It is the same. So he’d say, “Take your time. Go write. Lock yourself in the spare room, put on the noise-cancelling headphones and do what you can.” And my kids couldn’t respect that line. There were actually no boundaries within our house. But I also felt my ability to guard those boundaries slipped a bit.

About women being forced to leave the workforce

The stat that will always stay with me is in September 2020, 865,000 women were forced out of the workforce in one month, and that was because schools remained closed. People were essentially saying, “I can’t be a mom, be an online school counselor and be a professional worker at the same time. It’s just too much.” So I think anger, this healthcare crisis, predates the pandemic. And many of us were more familiar with the financial difficulties of having kids in daycare. People have been making these decisions and logistical negotiations for years, but suddenly it was a problem that concerned everyone. And then we really saw a lot of that anger.

On how the momentum to change the system has slowed

I had the feeling that there was attention. There were a number of articles, including mine, that were basically like, “Women aren’t okay, moms aren’t okay.” And then we saw things like the child tax advance, which the government kind of recognized, yes, this is hard work, having families and raising children, and so we’re going to give you some money every month. And that funding for the CTC was allotted for a year, and in December Congress dropped it—even though the funding had been set aside. When trying to figure out Build Back Better, I think it was collateral damage or just something we wanted to let go of.

I feel a certain amount of anger at lawmakers and some anger at Democrats and the government I voted in for because that government also bought out paid leave, which the Biden administration was after. I feel like we’re losing that momentum and we’re losing some of the energy behind that very justified anger that so many women and parents felt.

About how she made decisions about her own childcare

Angela Garbes is also the author of As a Mother: A Feminist Journey through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy.

Elizabeth Rudge/Harper Collins

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Elizabeth Rudge/Harper Collins

When my first daughter was born, we both had full-time jobs and it was still very difficult to make ends meet. And so we relied on a mix of things. My mother helped us, and that was unpaid work. We shared a nanny with two other families. This woman was a woman from Mexico. She would care for two to three babies at a time in these other two houses. And we made sure we had an appointment where we paid her at least $15 an hour, and we gave her a month off every year. And she was allowed to take her son of about 3 to the house where she took care of the children. So I make decisions where I feel like I’m paying people as much as I can, as fair as I can, and I’m giving them time off. I treat it like a real labor negotiation. And I must also say that my husband is a union organizer. So these issues were a top priority for us.

on Roe v. Wade likely to be overturned by the Supreme Court

We know this is coming. And really, for many people in the United States, especially poor people of color in the South, access to abortion is already extremely limited. I think rich people will always be able to have abortions and the people who will suffer the most are all the people who suffer. My favorite abortion statistic is that: [the majority] of the people who have abortions are already parents. They are already mothers. And to me, it says it so clearly, we know the costs of having children: financially, emotionally, psychologically, but most importantly financially. And I think when we judge people. When we force people into motherhood, we force them into poverty. In that sense, I think what’s happening right now is that our system is working exactly the way it’s designed to keep people in power and to keep poor people and people of color and marginalized people in lives that are harder than they need to be. is.

Sam Briger and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Laurel Dalrymple adapted it for the web.

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