On Tuesday, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced via Tumblr that she is expecting twin girls. On the same day New York Magazine writer, Oz Spies described her life, as a mother of three, as a ‘tag-team parent’. These two distinct narratives provide a vivid illustration of how folks cope with balancing work and life in a world of income inequality.
Ms. Mayer became one of the highest profile working mothers three years ago, not long after her appointment as head of the global internet service. A 2013 profile in Vogue described her strategy to balance work and child care.
“She set up a nursery next to her office, and for several months after Macallister was born, he and his nanny came to work with her.”
In her announcement this week, she implied she would utilize a similar approach with the birth of the twins.
“Since my pregnancy has been healthy and uncomplicated and since this is a unique time in Yahoo’s transformation, I plan to approach the pregnancy and delivery as I did with my son three years ago, taking limited time away and working throughout. I’ve shared the news and my plans with Yahoo’s Board of Directors and my executive team, and they are incredibly supportive and happy for me. I want to thank them for all of their encouragement as well as their offers of help and continued support.”
What is the message to the employees at Yahoo who might be planning family leave when the CEO opts out?
Writers Claire Cain Miller and David Streitfeld explored the issue in their NYT article, ‘Big Leaps for Parental Leave, if Workers Actually Take It’.
“Such contradictory signaling from Yahoo, which lengthened its parental leave in 2013, is typical and ambiguous, said Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings. “The underlying work culture sends the message that if you’re really committed, you’re here all the time,” she said.”
On the other side of the spectrum, meet a Colorado couple, parents of three. One is a firefighter and the other a writer and consultant in the non-profit sector.
“We’re tag-team parents. It’s a term coined by the Center for Economic and Policy Research for parents who work alternating schedules, taking turns at both paid employment and child care, and it’s a work-parenting setup that’s on the rise. More than one-fourth of two-income couples include an adult working a nonstandard schedule (other than nine to five with evening or weekend hours).
Shift work is nothing new, but traditionally, many men who worked overnight, including firefighters, had wives who were stay-at-home moms. Now, more of these couples trade off work and kid duties. On my husband’s crew (all married fathers), the wives are all in the workforce, most of us fitting that work in around our husbands’ 48-hour shift blocks and our children’s school schedules. As a nonprofit consultant and writer, my job often gets done from a computer in our basement late at night, and I fit in the rest on the days when my husband is home with the kids. It’s yet another way that families today don’t look like the breadwinner father and stay-at-home mother ones of the past.”
While the media focuses on the birth announcements of business rockstars, it ignores the larger issue facing middle class families today. The average parent cannot bring their child and nanny to work. The cost of child care for two or more children exceeds the additional revenue of most second incomes. In the majority of families there is only one solution, alternating schedules with frequent handoffs of toddlers in parking lots when the best plans fail and shifts overlap.
This is our new American dream.
“Single parents, deployed parents, grandparents who are raising the children of their children — there are all kinds of complexities with which to wrestle. We figure it out as we go and we keep going.”
For the majority, including Oz Spies and her family this is the new normal.
“For us, tag-team parenting is the best way to see the kids we adore, do work we love, and still pay the bills. We’ll never have a standing Friday date night or every weekend together, but all this tag-team parenting has made us appreciate that we’re a team.”
Maybe Marissa Mayer’s strategy for blending family and work is a version of ‘tag team parenting’. It’s just hard to visualize a pre-dawn Silicon Valley McDonalds parking lot where a CEO and venture capitalist husband exchange toddlers, diaper bags and car seats.