Women, Work, and Monetizing Misfortune

While Birkner’s article casts the growth of Jewish daycare programs in a positive light, it left a really sour taste in my mouth. These institutions claim they are doing right by their community by bringing young families into the fold. They offer a Jewish space for children, etc. Note that while these programs offer some financial aid and credit help, they still are, ahem, “income generating” for these temples. And for all of their purported “Jewishness” they seem largely willing to stay open on Jewish holidays and Friday evenings. Because, well, if they didn’t, the programs wouldn’t stay afloat. But isn’t that the Darwinian truth of the matter? They just shouldn’t? Days of rest are a part of Jewish life because they should be. Times of rest and reflection are built into our week and year. But here I feel like we have a case of supply creating demand, or water rising to its level—the longer daycares are willing to stay open, the longer hours many people will work to make ends meet. We are fostering norms that are out of whack with our core values.

And it is frankly unseemly for these institutions to be monetizing people’s misfortune. Because I don’t believe that anyone really wants to stick their children in daycare 10 hours a day from the time that they are teeny tiny. You do that because you have to, because circumstances have compelled you to. (And I can’t help wondering about the children in this equation, whose perspective goes largely unmentioned in the article.) All of this hand-wringing and financial finagling is symptomatic of a broader problem and disconnect between biological and social imperatives. What does it say about our society that we are having to institutionalize children younger and younger? And why this euphemistic, seemingly self-deluded need to call them “early-learning” centers? It’s not enough for it to be childcare, now we have to get these kids on a productive worker-bee track, fresh from the womb.

It seems that for a woman to pursue meaningful well-paid work, it ends up being at the cost of what is gentlest for her and for her children. I know, I know, that comes off classist and judg-y. It’s easy enough for me to have my opinion from my cozy, well-padded nest. But I am, in fact, attempting to empathize. I think we are all caught in kind of an insane/unsound loop. Technology and civilization are out of step with biology. As a species, we haven’t evolved beyond the mother/child dyad as physiologically ideal, yet we’ve structured our economy and culture to splinter that bond as early as possible. We encourage people to reproduce, we stigmatize abortion, and then we insist that women return to work (regardless of marital status). But we fail to structure the work force to optimize their roles as either mothers or as professionals. Don’t mistake me: women deserve intellectual fulfillment outside of child-rearing. But if there is any use for religion in a 21st century world, it should be this: as a softening psycho-spiritual technology or process, a means to achieve balance, and as a resource for preserving, not fracturing the home. More full-time Jewish daycares at partial discounts are not the answer.

photo credit: DigitalArtBerlin via photopin cc