Elizabeth Warren tells this story about her Aunt Bee. Elizabeth was a hardworking, high achieving lawyer and a mother of two young children. Her family was stretched to tearing and childcare had fallen through again. Elizabeth was tired.
She broke down to her Aunt Bee on the phone and said, “between tears that I couldn't make it work and had to quit my job.” And friggin Aunt Bee. Friggin’ Aged Aunt Blessed Bea, she says, “you hold on. I’ll be there in two days.” Aunt Bee showed up with two suitcases and then she stayed for 17 years. Good, good Aunt Bee. Her arms tended those babies right alongside Elizabeth’s. Elizabeth didn’t quit. And now she’s running for President of the United States. I love when women lift women.
Elizabeth’s point is that she only got to where she is by having an Aunt Bee and that very few people have an Aunt Bee. She’s advocating for universal childcare. And you know, It’s a good point. I don’t begrudge it. I believe it. I like Warren. If she’s the nominee, I’ll vote for her. But I also think that….well…in an economic system that functions the way ours does there will always need to be Aunt Bees.
For parents - for mothers - to succeed the way they want to, they need to, there will always need to be people willing to drop what they’re holding and tend to our children. Some of these people will be aunts, some will be nannies, some will be daycare workers. Nearly all will be women. (Should they be? No. But that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.) Some will feel called to childcare. Some will use childcare as a stepping stone to other places. And some will care for our children because we live in a country where they cannot access any other job.
I have a nanny. I love her. Brontë loves her. Brontë leaps into her arms every morning and I am glad each time. Our nanny is good at her job. But I know (because she’s told me) that if she had access to cheap education and childcare for her OWN four children, she would not be a nanny. And I am struggling with the rhetoric “enlightened” middle class women use when discussing childcare.
“No guilt! You deserve it! Get a nanny!”
And like, TOTALLY. Lots of us (but not all of us) have done away with the guilt around needing childcare. Lots of us (but not all of us) have found that we are happier when we are doing something in addition to the babies and the dinners and the breakfasts and the homework and the scraped knees. And thank God, you know? Stepping away from my children for 16 hours a week is one of the best things I’ve done since having them.
As we leave our babies in other loving arms, are we also working to make sure those arms get to someday leave their babies to pursue passion, education and advancement? And what about the arms they leave their babies in? Are we worried about them? As we build tech companies and influencer communities and, yeah, writing careers (hi!), are we asking the people who care for our children how we can help them build too? Or are we just vaulting off the backs of women who don’t get the same choices? And if so, how does that make us any different to the men that have done that to women for you know, all of history?
I think what we need is a complete cultural and economic revolution when it comes to work - the hours, the expectations, the benefits, the input, the output, the hierarchy, the whole damn thing. As I look around the Bay Area I feel compelled to ask, are we working to change the system? Or just working to fix ourselves within it? Are we women who lift women?
If we’re being honest here (and I try to always be honest) at the bottom of all of this lurks the question, am I really worried about this? Do I care enough to worry about this? Or am I just unsettled because I don’t have an Aunt Bee? Because I am afraid of becoming Aunt Bee?
I hope it’s because I care enough to worry. (I know you do.)