Work vs Family

So, over at “Love, Joy, Feminism” Libby Anne has written a post called “Why Paid Maternity Leave and Subsidized Childcare Are Not Enough”. The post talks about the fact that in South Korea they have paid maternity leave and subsidized childcare — which her jurisdiction, the U.S., lacks — and yet birth rates aren’t increasing. Libby Anne notes that South Korea also has a pretty strict work culture, with long hours being expected and so jobs aren’t at all family friendly. She notes this:

The next time I hear someone complaining about millennials not having children, I’ll make doubly sure my response is dual—we need both childcare subsidies and paid maternity leave, and family-friendly workplace cultures. Women need to know that they can have children without passing up promotions or being pressured to put work over family.

Well, with a site named “Love, Joy, Feminism”, obviously she was going to turn it into a feminist issue. But, in general, if a proposed solution isn’t working, we start to think that maybe the solution isn’t one. Here, obviously, she doubles down: not only do we need the first solution of paid maternity leave and subsidized childcare — which, you know, might actually be two separate solutions — we also need this family-friendly workplace to make this work. But if we keep having to add more and more and more programs and aid to make the situation work, maybe there’s a deeper problem here that we need to fix first.

She summarizes it this way:

Paid maternity leave and childcare subsidies are necessary, but they are not sufficient. If we want to create a world where every woman who is interested in raising children has the resources and space to do so effectively (and sanely), there is work to be done.

The problem here, though, is that she isn’t really interested in a world where women who want to have children has the resources and space to do so effectively. Her solutions don’t address that for all women. Instead, they address it for a certain type of woman: those who are interested in having children and in working full-time outside the home, and so want to have a household where neither parent can stay home to give primary care to their children but instead where both are spending much if not most of their time working instead.

(The “interested” line above is indicative, BTW. It places those women being interested in having children at about the same level as I’m “interested” in blog writing or writing novels, like a hobby rather than like something critically important).

So, keeping this all in mind, let’s break down what might be happening here.

The first thing that we have to note — and it seems obvious — is that children require direct care for most of the day for many years. If both parents are working and cannot provide that care, then that care has to be done by someone, which means that it has to be done by someone else. Thus, if both parents choose to work, then they have to find someone else to provide that care, as it is indeed their primary responsibility to provide the needs of the child (which feminists cannot deny since that statement is the underlying argument to their claims that child support must be provided in pretty much any circumstance where a child results from any kind of a relationship, where since women get primary custody more often is something that primarily impacts/benefits women and so is a feminist issue). So what really happens here is that the parents decide that their time is best spent working, and so they have to find another option to provide that primary and direct care for their children.

This can obviously be seen as them choosing their work and careers over their children and family. I’m sure Libby Anne and most feminists will cry out that this is a sexist interpretation, because it’s only used against women and rarely, if ever, against men. The problem with this is that it actually misunderstands why men focus on their careers in the first place. Feminism insists that the big selling points of work and careers were things like personal fulfillment and independence, but this was never the case for most men. The main reason men put so much effort into building and maintaining a career was because that was their contribution to family life. Thus, for men, the idea of choosing their work over their family was nonsensical: their work was their primary contribution to their family, and they sacrificed time spent with their children to ensure that their work provided as best they could for their family. This is why we have all the stories about men after divorce who wanted to change to a more fulfilling career rather than the more lucrative one that they were in on the grounds that if it wasn’t going to maintain their family they didn’t see the point in working so hard and in the job they didn’t like to do so. It’s also why you can see in a number of posts at Dalrock’s site (I’m not going to search through the posts to find one) stories about how women in their 30s and 40s who are now looking to find a man to marry often find the remnants to be woefully unprepared career-wise to do so: those men didn’t find that having a career helped their chances of getting a family, and so feel no need to work that hard and get that great a career to have one. For men, their career tends to be aimed at preparing for a family, attracting a woman for a family with how well their career will provide for one, or supporting and maintaining the family they already have. So for men, working hard is generally not seen as being a choice, and particularly not a choice between their work and their family. Instead, it’s seen as the sacrifice they have to make for their family.

Feminism did not do this for women. Women, it seems to me, don’t particularly feel any pressure to work as a primary way to support their family (except in one increasingly common case, which I’ll get into later). They’ve been encouraged by feminism to see their jobs as liberation, as a means to independence, as personally fulfilling. So any woman who has a successful career is likely hesitant to give it up because she’d lose all of that to gain something that she at least doesn’t see as being as valuable. The example of women in their 30s and 40s mentioned above highlights this: they spent their 20s and early 30s building their career for the sake of building their career, and then start to look towards having a family. At this point, they have less time to have children and there are less acceptable men available. This, obviously, has to impact birth rates.

Now, here is where the example I alluded to above comes in: for many couples, both parents have to work in order to afford having a family. This leaves them in the unenviable position where in order to afford to have a family, both parents have to work, but unless they have an extended family willing to help out they have to pay someone to look after their children while they work. This claws back the benefits of both of them working and if child care is expensive enough — and the more people who use child care the more expensive it will be, especially if the new ones coming in can afford to pay more for it — make it so that having that second job doesn’t actually benefit them at all. This is where things like subsidized child care and paid parental — let’s not call it maternity — leave can come into play. The idea would be that for these families one parent stays home until the child is old enough to go into child care, at which point that parent returns to work. Of course, by the reasoning I just gave this would be income-locked, where only families whose household income is low enough that both parents would have to work in order to support the family would get the benefits.

Most of the women pushing the hardest for these things, though, are women who have good enough careers that they could probably afford to raise a family only on her salary, or at least with one salary. Perhaps not to the extent that they could maintain the lifestyle they had before having children — it’s a lot easier to splurge on purchases if you don’t have to make sure that your kids have everything they need first — but they’d be able to manage. I’m not up on the most recent feminist thought on this, but making these things available based only on income doesn’t seem to be a big component of it, despite the fact that presenting it that way should make it far more palatable to almost anyone considering it. This suggests that it’s not need that drives this, but the desire to have that fulfilling career as well as a family, and the need to have someone help out with that if they’re “going to have it all”. The concerns of those who have to provide the help or what impact that might have on other people and even other parents seems to get short-shrift.

The idea of “family-friendly workplaces” tends to demonstrate this. Most of the focus is on making workplaces, well, friendly to those with families, allowing them to adjust their schedules in a way that allows them to fulfill their family responsibilities easier. If this is strictly limited to families, then they’d be getting privileges that people without families don’t get. If these are extended to everyone, then this may result in those without families getting an entire set of privileges that are useless to them on the basis of fairness, which would make it fairness in letter but not in spirit. No matter how it all goes, either those without families will pick up the slack or productivity will suffer. On top of that, those without families might willingly choose to pick up the slack for various reasons, but then would simply be more reliable, which would mean that they’d be relied upon more, which in general should lead to more raises and promotions and opportunities, which will then end up putting pressure on those who have families to keep up. But you can’t say to those who could, say, come in at the last minute because of some work crisis or because someone got sick or, heck, because someone had to run off to deal with a family crisis that they can’t do the thing that really needs to be done or needs to be done now because it might put pressure on those who have families to do the same sort of thing. And the sort of person who is willing to sacrifice their time to solve these sorts of problems is the sort of employee you want to have. Sure, it’s easier for people without families, but it’s still a sacrifice. Someone who is willing to sacrifice to ensure things work out at work hoping for some sort of compensation is a pretty good employee. You don’t really want to punish good employees who have generally manageable responsibilities outside of work that might cause conflicts like this, but you certainly want to reward the ones who put their work responsibilities over their outside responsibilities when it is necessary.

The ultimate problem, though, is that we don’t value having a family enough anymore. And I’m not talking about society not providing for subsidized child care or paid parental leave or family-friendly workplaces or with people not stepping up enough to help families in general. No, what I mean is that very few believe that having a family is an important vocation or part of people’s lives. As Libby Anne said, people are “interested” in having families, not considering it to be something that they should do. As such, we have lots of people who are willingly placing their jobs and careers ahead of having a family, and then treating that family as an afterthought, or as something “on the side” to make their lives complete. It’s also why we aren’t at all concerned about the fact that more and more families have to have both parents working to be able to support a family when the ideal situation is to have one parent provide that primary care for the child instead of them having to rely on — or pay — someone else to do it. This is why women are pushing their careers in their 20s and 30s despite that in no way helping them towards starting a family (especially since even career women marry men who make less than them infrequently). It’s why more and more men are deciding that a career isn’t all that important to them. We’ve decided that having a family isn’t a main priority in our lives. No wonder, then, that birth rates are falling.

Just looking at the labour required and the division of labour, the ideal situation is always to have both parents directly involved in the child’s life, and one parent to stay at home to provide the direct primary care required until at least the children go off to school and can be on their own for at least short periods of time. Feminists, not unfairly, tend to dislike this suggestion because typically that meant that women were the ones who stayed home, and even when we look at seemingly objective measures like which parent makes the most it tends to leave women with that role, whether they want it or not. But, for me, this should primarily be decided on who is best suited for the role with the secondary consideration of which income the parents can afford to leave. My primary concern, then, is with the fact that increasingly they couldn’t afford to lose either income. Once we fix that, then we can start looking into considerations of who could stay-at-home and still manage to do some paid work, either part-time or at home or whatever. But all of these things require us to put having a family ahead of careers and personal lifestyle desires, and this is what we increasingly do not choose to do.

And it should be obvious that if having kids isn’t that important to most people, then birth rates will fall. So before we try all of those things that Libby Anne wants us to try, we really need to make having children a priority again. And nothing that she or most people say does that in any way. Thus, when all is said and done, it won’t make things any better.


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