Anne Helen Peterson, the writer responsible for the popular substack “culture study” is responsible for a lot of writing that makes you think in a sneaky way, like her celebrity profiles that serve as cultural mirrors. She wrote a piece about Armie Hammer that asks why Hollywood gave this guy so many chances that I think about a lot. She’s written about work culture and its expansion into the rest of our lives on her substack and in the book she co-authored with Charlie Warzel titled “Out of Office.”
She’s also covered the culture of domestic labor, particularly how it impacts women today as they care for their children and their aging parents. In a piece titled, “forced to care” (which is a reference to a book by Evelyn Nakano Glennm by the same name) Anne stated the thing that I’ve been thinking about in not so many words as I considered having a family in this pandemic-y world.
“What we have, then, is a caregiving paradigm — not just for kids, but for elders and other adults — that relies heavily on proximity to family and presumed willingness. For those without those things, there are two options: 1) pay a lot of money for help, or 2) figure it out your damn self.”
And that mental exercise is something that a lot of current and prospective parents go through as they’re creating a plan to care for the human lives they’re responsible for.
We’re in the middle of a deep dive on deciding to grow your family or not. And in this episode, we’re covering the mental side of parenting, from making the decision (and yes that counts deciding NOT to grow your family), to communicating with a partner in parenting if you have one, to setting boundaries.
And more and more American humans are choosing not to add to their families as the world feels more uncertain and expensive. Birthrates were already dropping before 2020 they’d been falling for 6 straight years, but 9 months into the pandemic in December of 2020, the New York Times reported births had declined by about 8 percent – the steepest drop yet.
The hard truth of the pandemic is the erasure of systems that allowed caretakers to also be in the workforce. For the sake of stats, we’re going to talk about female caretakers taking on an increased burden, but I know that plenty of different folks who are the primary caretaker have been rocked by these same factors.
Before the pandemic – in January of 2020 – women achieved a very important milestone – they made up more than half of the workforce. Cut to today, 56 percent of American women are working for pay, the lowest level since 1986. Often to take on childcare or eldercare without any safe or affordable options, women left their jobs to do that work.
And I haven’t even started on the lack of paid maternity leave and the complete dearth of options for people like me who are entrepreneurs. Couple that with the fact that we’re still hearing stories about parents going back to work immediately, or taking a zoom from labor and delivery and we are being sent a very convoluted message – that mom’s are important, but we won’t do anything to make their lives or recovery easier. That moms are important, but not more important than the workforce.
Here’s the thing, I could and can talk all day about the systemic problems around growing a family, but you walk by me with a baby and forget it. I love those squishy little humans. I want to have a conversation with them about why they think grass grows, read them a story and help name their stupid stuffed animals.
That’s because I know that I would love a child if my husband and I choose to have one. I tear up at the thought of it. We’re genetically programmed to bond with these tiny humans. Generally, that bond brings a new purpose to the lives of their parents. But purpose from that bond does not negate the stress we just talked about. A study from Princeton University and Stony Brook University found that parents and non-parents have similar levels of life satisfaction, but parents experienced both more daily joy and more daily stress than non-parents.
It’s a confusing existence.
But for those listening who have always wanted a family, the changing work world and evolving systems of care might not change anything for you except for the conversations you’re having with your loved ones. The thing I want this episode to do for YOU, no matter who you are is to give you tools to advocate for your mental health and language to ask for help if you experience very normal, very treatable things like PPD and PPA.
And Postpartum Depression, NPR reports, impacts an estimated 1 in 7 pregnant women and new mothers, but less than 20% get treated.
That’s why we spoke to Tera Gurney for this week’s episode on the mental health impacts of the decision. Tera is a Licensed Clinical Social worker who focuses on working with parents and survivors of sexual violence and she comes at this topic from a practical, nonjudgemental place.
She and I talk about mental health in three distinct phases, before making the decision to grow your family. The time while you wait for baby after taking the plunge, and after the baby arrives. She shares tools for diving into decision making if you have a partner in parenting and tools for talking to your family if you’re feeling pressured.
And to quote our guest this week, “you are the best parent for your child” and a quote from me, that I say to my husband, “the best decision is the one you make.”
- Find Tera Gurney online and book a workshop with her
- Subscribe to and support the Culture Study, a Discord by Anne Helen Petersen
- “Out Of Office” by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen
- Ten Long Years of Trying to Make Armie Hammer Happen, Anne Helen Petersen for Buzzfeed News
- The New York Times, More Kids? After the Last Two Years? No Thanks.
- The New York Times, The U.S. Birthrate Has Dropped Again. The Pandemic May Be Accelerating the Decline.
- The New York Times, Women in the workforce during COVID-19 interactive
- CNBC, Does Having Children Make you Happier
- The princeton/Stonybrook study on Parenting and life satisfaction
- Neuroscience News, Moms at Highest Risk for Postpartum Depression Identified
- NPR, ‘A Lifeline’ For Doctors Helps Them Treat Postpartum Depression