N.B. Many of my readers, I know, are wonderful and loving parents or on their way to shortly becoming such. Not wanting to lose the vast majority of my friends, and my sense of humor being what it is, I feel obligated to note in advance that this post is satirical. If these shadows do offend, etc…
John and I had a brilliant idea the other night. We were discussing the pros and cons of having children and we’ve decided that the current model is a bit broken. As it stands right now, a woman has to make the decision to subject herself to an extended period of severe discomfort, extreme pain, and a substantial portion of humiliation just to bring the child into the world. Once the child is in the world, it often becomes one parent’s job to give up their identity as a member of a professional or creative community in order to handle fecal matter, vomit, laundry, and tears. As these tasks are essentially non-skilled labor (although people can certainly be more and less skilled in dealing with them), the stay-at-home parent often suffers from a loss of confidence in self that is underscored by the working parent’s subtle and most likely unintentional habits of devaluing the work of the stay-at-home parent (e.g., dropping the socks on the floor six inches from the hamper or failing to do that one simple thing they were asked to do, such as taking out the trash). The stay-at-home parent is rewarded for their efforts by having their offspring be habitually more excited to spend time with the parent who they do not interact with all day long.
Human beings have a glorious capacity for coping. I have not met a parent who’s been through these soul-rending experiences who has not claimed that all of the suffering was worth it, but as I observe the interactions between grown children and their parents, I’m pretty sure their claims are the claims of trauma victims who have incrementally developed astounding levels of resilience throughout their years of child-rearing. Nevertheless, I propose that the number of families experiencing this sort of parental suffering can be drastically reduced by the implementation of a simple new social institution: child timeshares.
Imagine: two young couples who know each other well and hold the same values are half-convinced that having children is a valuable part of living a rich life. With the help of a professional counselor, they go through a number of sessions to make sure that their ideas about child-rearing are compatible. They find a child in need of a good stable home and sign an agreement outlining the way the child’s time will be divided between households according to what best suits both the child’s developmental needs and the work obligations of all four parents, with provisions for periodic revision as both the child and the parents’ careers grow and change. The parents then communicate with one another about key moments in their child’s life as he or she grows and savor the fact that if they’re having a particularly difficult week with their child, they will at least have a break from the situation next week.
Does this fly in the face of conventional child-rearing? Perhaps. But consider this: the child would be better off than many children of divorced parents who share custody. In each home, they would have the affection of a loving set of parents who harbor no bitter emotions towards an ex-spouse they are constantly obligated to interact with. Instead of watching his or her parents fight over the best way to raise her or him (thus affording opportunities to play the parents off one another), the child would see two couples collaborating and presenting a united front. I ask you, which environment is better for the well-being of a child?
The arrangement also has a further potential benefit. Many homosexual couples and single would-be-parents are banned from adopting because conventional wisdom suggests that a child benefits from having role models of both genders. Through child timeshares, gay and lesbian couples could partner to adopt a child and meet the social demands for a dual-gender child-rearing environment. Likewise, single parents who stand to lose their children to social services because their child does not have role models of both genders could partner either with other single parents or with single people who would like to become half-parents. This would significantly widen the spectrum of families legally allowed to rescue children from unstable foster homes.
Furthermore, child timesharing could do a great deal to minimize key factors that contribute to child abuse. In situations where parents are struggling fruitlessly with the child over an issue, forcing one parent to bear the full force of the conflict leads to excessive frustration that can become entangled with deeper emotions that spill over in the form of physical or emotional abuse. By equally sharing responsibility for a difficult conflict between four adults instead of one, the stress can be evened out with breathing space and time for reflection, thus affording all children the safety of an environment in which parents are emotionally more stable than in a traditional one and a sort-of parent home.
There is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. I can’t say that I would recommend handing over the role of parenting to the village chief, but if anyone ever takes this modest proposal seriously and sets up a child timeshare adoption agency, I suspect that John and I will be the first to put our names on the waiting list to raise a child with the support of our corner of the village.