In the past, women fought for many things: right to vote, right to work, right to wear pants. And as a result, we have an image of a successful woman in a business suit imprinted in our minds. A woman who can have it all: a career and a loving family. We are told that everything is possible. It must be. Surely, I can raise one kid and have a career, can’t I? My husband and I have been lucky to have a great daycare which managed to stay open despite the global pandemic. But still, why is parenting so difficult? One phrase we see in pretty much every parenting book and article: “It takes a village to raise a child”. And we are encouraged to go and find this village. Men are much more involved nowadays in raising kids and doing housework. My husband is certainly indispensable and keeps us all from starving by taking 100% responsibility in the kitchen. But is two people enough of a village? It can be very difficult in our modern world and in the tech industry specifically. Maybe it is even more difficult than it used to be some decades ago?
Tech workers don’t live close to family
My husband and I came to the United States more than 10 years ago, and our families are scattered across multiple cities, up to 10 flight hours away. Even if not from a different country, most of our colleagues did not grow up in tech hubs, like New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, but moved there for work. So, most of us don’t have a community of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and high school or college friends.
When I was growing up, I had four sets of aunts and uncles, seven cousins, and a grandmother who was babysitting us all the time. We surely weren’t all in close relationships, but we were around. Our children are growing in a much smaller family than we did, and I wonder if they’ll have a weaker sense of family around them. Whether we’ll be able to create a strong enough family culture for them and instill family values. We are also missing on tribal knowledge of caring for children, and it takes us two weeks to figure out how to put a diaper on a baby, so it doesn’t leak every time. We resort to Google, ‘How to…’ blogs, and Youtube videos for guidance. Besides, it is sometimes just plain hard to raise a child without the support of the family. Every once in a while I am thinking that if I could send my son to my parents’ house just for one night, and spend one morning alone with my husband, it would be so much easier. Just one morning.
Many of our colleagues are younger, and don’t have kids
After interviewing at one of the top tech companies one of our friends said “they are all 23 year olds there”. Although, this is certainly an exaggeration, it is not a secret that the trend is real. During the past months of pandemic, several people I know commented that it must be nice to work from home because I can keep my kid at home too. I learnt to suppress the hysterical laugh and react calmly to such comments. I also still remember that not so long ago my husband was saying the same thing to our friends with kids. Shame on us.
Among ~30 people I work closely with, only 10 have kids. And on my husband’s team of 11 people only one other guy is a parent. I don’t think it changes much of a typical day at work for me (although during my pregnancy my women-parent-colleagues actually helped me, but this is a different story). All my teammates are compassionate people and I love working with them. But sometimes it would be nice not to have to explain why I am falling apart after a sleepless night, knowing that they’ve been there and survived.
Tech was founded by young people (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg), for young people. Without kids. It has ping pong tables and booze, and dogs in offices. This culture still attracts a younger population to a larger extent. But this might be our tipping point, when enough of young people who joined the industry ~10 years ago have become parents, and now have different perks in mind.
Working in tech requires creativity
Neuroscientists and psychologists have suggested that routine undermines creative thinking (e.g. mentioned here). But even if we abstract from a picture of our brain chemistry working in a certain way, the idea of thinking of new horizons on a schedule seems kind of weird.
I hear my childless colleagues often mentioning that they “looked into a matter last night” or “stayed until 2 am to finish this”. We used to be the same before having a child, and the reason was not poor organization skills. When you are working and you are in the zone, an interruption can kill your thought process. But once you have kids, your life follows a rigid schedule. You can’t leave work 10 minutes later to finish that piece of code, because you need to pick up your child from daycare before it closes. You can’t spontaneously go and write down that thought you just had, because you are in the middle of dinner, or bath time, or cleaning stuff before your child makes even more mess. And you can’t stay up until 2am. Well, technically you can, but you’ll be dead tired in the morning, because, guest what, you can’t sleep in for 30 more minutes next morning. Actually, not even for 5 more minutes, because when the baby is awake, the baby is awake. You’ll be lucky if you have time to brush your teeth before your morning erupts with happy laughs or not so happy tears (I hear it gets better in teenage years, but I’ll confirm in a decade).
Any tech worker will tell you that in order to meet expectations (and I am not even talking about exceeding them) you need to drive impact. It is not enough to be a ‘SQL monkey’ and to simply address incoming requests. We are encouraged to be proactive, creative, and think strategically. But as parents, we have to learn to do it on a schedule.
At this moment I don’t have answers or solutions. At this moment my husband and I are just two tired parents among many others, who are trying to raise their kids in the pandemic. Our companies, management, and teammates have been very supportive. We both love working in tech, and we love our jobs. And, of course, we love our child. We surely worked hard to get here, but we had a fair amount of luck too. All this makes us think that we should be grateful for what we have, and when asked “how are you doing” we should smile and brush it off. After all, we have so much technology around us, it must be easier to raise children in our modern world. But what if it is not?
[Estimated 3 hours of sleep were sacrificed to writing this post]