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Our own adventures in childcare and chronos time
This Thursday, I’ll share highlights from your discussion of the limits of consent culture. And I have a profile in Breaking Ground of an intergenerational project where retired nuns and single mothers in college will live together.
It’s an exciting week for our family, as the country debates childcare subsidy policy, and our daughter begins three-day-a-week Montessori. Alexi and I had no childcare during the pandemic, and we’ve only both been away from her for short periods (about an hour) while our parents visited and we took a walk.
I’ll return to some of the discussion about childcare policy in future newsletters, but today, I’m thinking about an essay I found via Anne Helen Petersen’s substack, “What It Was Like Growing Up on a Commune,” by Kathryn Jezer-Morton.
One of the passages that stuck out to me is below:
But whether or not you’re living on a commune, community interdependence requires us to give up our stubborn belief in the myth that we have complete autonomy over how we spend our time.
Neoliberal family life has turned the very idea of accountability to others into a dreadful burden. We associate having to check in or do favors for others as a kind of systems failure. If you’re looking to optimize your schedule for maximum efficiency, having to pause and account for someone else’s pace and needs—someone who isn’t even related to you!—throws a spanner in the works. At a certain point, though, we owe it to ourselves to ask what rewards we’re reaping from having optimized our nuclear families. For what?
Outside childcare will make us more accessible to others, but not in the way we were available to Beatrice. Our obligations to others are scheduled on our calendars with emails or texts to prepare. For the most part, people don’t drop in and depend on us.
A lot of the childcare discussion seems to be about freeing parents to return to chronos, clock time, rather than be in kairos—God’s time—the time that is utterly attentive to the work or needs at hand, not a larger schedule. I wrote a little bit about the in-breaking of kairos into chronos for the Institute for Family Studies.
Even after we welcomed Beatrice, I found myself on involuntary kairos time, since she entered the world through an unexpected c-section. Anything I did, even something as seemingly simple as getting into or out of the hospital bed, took my full attention. I was forced to give everything its needed time—no option to shortchange or squeeze it.
My recovery came as others entered kairos through me: my husband, my mom, and many others leaving aside their schedules to come and act at the opportune time to care for me. It was a good way to begin because parenthood will always involve moments we can’t plan for and dependence on others. So will all the rest of the parts of our lives, but those exits from chronos won’t always be embodied as beautifully as our new limits are: given life in our daughter.
I’m glad politicians are making proposals to support parents, but I hope to see proposals that aren’t about letting parents act as freely as non-parents. I’d rather give non-parents more flexibility to be depended on, the way parents are.