The previous edition of the Economist had several articles about the gender pay gap (and gender pension gap) and included many suggestions to remedy it – and to not make things worse (bonus article: getting the housework done). The goal, essentially, is to encourage both men and women to stay in the workforce, working the same number of hours, saving the same amount for retirement while having at least 2 kids (the ideal is to increase the birthrate) and getting both maternity and paternity leave for these.
It’s worthy goal, but it does fail to address one problem: logistics.
Say you have a family of five, mom and dad both work outside the home. Kids are ages 8, 5, and 3. It’s Monday morning. You need to get 5 different people to 5 different places, all at the same time. GO!
In some places, this might not be impossible. In Germany or Finland, the 8 year old could get himself to school and then one parent each takes one child to day care/Kindergarten. In Finland, since school doesn’t start until age 7, they could conceivably be in the same place.
But here in the US…If my husband and I didn’t both work from home, we would both have to commute 30 minutes at least to get to the nearest town where work is. And since we would be commuting along with everyone else, make that 45-60 minutes commuting. So let’s make that the case for our theoretical family. Let’s say they have to be there at 9. Well, the local elementary school doesn’t start until 8:30 and they don’t want you dropping your kids off until 8:20 (unless you pay for before and after school care and there’s room). So the two oldest have to go there and get dropped off at 8. Other parent takes the 3 year old to daycare. It’s 7:30-5:30, so we’re good on time.
Then mom and dad go to work. But wait! Kindergarten gets out at 11:30! It’s only half-day in my town. Someone needs to pick up the 5 year old. Oh, and there is no after school care for Kindergarten because the rest of school is still going on. I forgot to mention that. Maybe 5 year old should go to private school which, like day care, has hours from 7:30-5:30. That costs more though. This shit is getting expensive: $300 a week for private school for the 5 year old, $200 a week for day care for the 3 year old.
Then school still gets out at 2:30 for the 8 year old, but that’s okay after school program will keep him until 5:30.
But wait! Work lasts until 5:00! Commute is 30 minutes without traffic! With traffic it’s 45-60! How are they going to make it there on time? It’s not physically possible! Who is going to watch the kids? Who is going to cook dinner for that matter? We eat at 6 because it’s a well known fact 3 year-olds turn into pumpkins at 8pm. Whiny, cranky pumpkins who hate everything. Can these two parents get dinner on the table for their whole family and get their 3 kids, who have also just come home, fed while they themselves haven’t had a break? And then homework! And then bed! And after school activities!
This would be hard with just two kids, but I think three kids is where everything really starts to break down. It’s not a problem that can be solves with state funded maternity and paternity leave, or guaranteed daycare spots or even before or after school care. With three kids, it becomes necessary to have someone who dedicates a large portion of his or her time to managing the family: getting everyone from Point A to Point B and maybe occasionally having a nice drink at Point C, which is located at a convenient distance from point A.
Either that person is going to have to cut hours back to part-time or just surrender and become a stay at home parent. It doesn’t matter WHO does it, the mom or the dad, but someone pretty much has to, otherwise you go insane.
We manage by both working from home and homeschooling our kids. Our toddler goes to “preschool” (more like a daycare) three days a week so we don’t go insane.
My sister managed with two kids both parents working full-time with her husband working the regular 9-5 job and she worked overnights at the hospital on the weekend. Since shifts for nurses are 12 hours, she’d work Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights to be full-time, my youngest nephew went to daycare on Monday so she could sleep and she’d be up in time to pick oldest nephew up from school and then get youngest nephew from daycare. It was about as much fun as it sounds. It worked, but my sister and her husband pretty much never saw each other and after a few years, working nights lost its appeal. You can file this under the “flexible work hours” the Economist recommends.
So, yeah, while eliminating the wage and pension gaps and increasing the birth rates are all well and good what we really need help with is managing the time gap. How exactly are two parents supposed to fit everything in? Will someone come around and plan out the logistics of modern day family life?