Photo: I am holding my son, then a baby, at my parents’ home in New Hampshire in 2004. At the time, my parents, grandparents and youngest sibling lived in the same three-bedroom townhouse. Growing up, I always lived with extended family or family members stayed with us for extended periods of time. -Elisa
Any day now, my baby sister, who is actually 28-years-old, will have a baby of her own and stay with me. She will be a single mother and I am her only family in the area.
She and the baby will be the 6th and 7th household members in my three-bedroom house here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Depending on your cultural background, this is a given – she is familia after all – or you will look at me as if I have three heads. What do your parents / husband / kids say about this? What the heck is she going to do? -- as if single parenthood is the worst thing to befall on anyone.
I view both the situation with my sister and reaction to her as emblematic of a deeper cultural and economic issue in our country: we don’t value caregiving. If we did, my sister who is working towards a Master’s degree, would be able to support herself and her baby. If we valued family above all else, we would view my niece’s entrance into this world as a blessing and not a curse that could possibly derail the lives of the people living in the house.
I am not worried. Thankfully, both my husband and I have jobs that give us flexibility and the ability to make the mortgage each month. But I often think of the added pressures that low-income families of color face when they balance demanding jobs with extenuating circumstances related to family.
Here is a Washington Post article I can’t get out of my head – and one I can relate to coming from a close-knit Latino family: African American women are more likely than any other demographic group in this country to care for extended family in spite of great economic hardship. We are talking about women who take in babies that are not their own when they are over 50 years of age; women regularly taking in extended family members and pitching in for weddings or rent – even as their own finances are strained.
Coming from a low-income family that was both on the giving and receiving end of such generosity, stories like these warm my heart. They also make me sad. Unfortunately, such giving is penalized in our country, condemning these women to a life of poverty.
I look at my own parents who are caring for my grandmother who has Alzheimer’s disease in their home. They are such kind souls, yet their generosity is costing them dearly: they are strapped for both time and money, at times, unable to make ends meet. I don't buy that this is the only "choice" that working families have. This is due to our current priorities as a country.
We subsidize corporations like banks and big agricultural firms. Surely, we can dedicate a piece of the pie to caregivers? Childcare shouldn't cost more than college and our caregivers shouldn't have to qualify for food stamps.
For me, this is the next vanguard of feminism. Until we properly compensate our caregivers, we can't say that this country honors families -- or that all women are free.