What a timely conversation to join up in! I have to chime in here, because I’m currently at a conference with my infant son in tow. There is no childcare, and it was not even considered as an option by the organizers prior to my informing them that I would be bringing a child. Upon hearing that news and my question if there is any childcare available for when I present, one organizer said, “Well, I wouldn’t even know where to tell you to start trying to find someone to watch him.” I’m not faulting him, or this conference for not considering this in advance, because, as you say, this is not yet the norm (in the States, that is) – I’m using this rather as an example of just how true that is. It is far more the norm for the primary caregiver, when faced with this type of situation, to either give up days with her (or his) child, plus the money, stress, and potential health effects of arranging these details, or to just not attend.
I’m here with my son. I’m attempting to normalize parenthood. We can have multiple facets to our lives. I can be a mother and a thinker. I’m writing this as my son naps on my lap between panel sessions in the back of the auditorium.
In the airport, no less than 20 people commented on or asked me about my travels with an infant, and, when they asked where we were going, expressed sincere shock that I would think to bring a (healthy, well-adjusted, hearty 5-month old) baby with me on a plane or to a work conference. One man asked me, upon hearing our travel plans,, “So, you just couldn’t stay at home any more?” Were I a man traveling alone with an infant, the comments would likely have been much more along the lines of “Where’s Momma?,” “Uh-oh – Dad’s babysitting! Watch out!,” or “I’m so sorry you have to do this.” My partner has heard variations of these themes nearly every time he has ventured out to Target or the park with our son alone. These comments are just as harmful, too, though, to efforts to normalize parenthood, shared childcare responsibilities, and gender equality. Fathers watching children are not babysitting, they are parenting. Mothers taking their nursing children when them (anywhere) are not always “getting out of the house” for fun – they are living their lives, which happen to include the lives of others. When did we become a world (nation) in which we don’t value our future generations? Why must we always see children as an obstacle to “real lives” rather than a part of them, and our shared experiences, as we live them?