Alloparenting, the Answer to Our Child Care Crisis
The pressures and pace of modern life has made parents and children stressed and miserable. With the rise of dual-earning families, mothers, and increasingly, fathers are struggling with work-life issues, forcing many to lean in or opt out. But is it truly modern life that’s at fault or is it our expectation that two people — whether hetero or same-sex — can do it alone and do it well? Is the nuclear family all it’s cracked up to be?
Despite the belief that monogamous male-female bonding is how mothers and children were supported and thrived, the anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy and others believe it was actually female cooperative breeding, or alloparenting — ‘sharing and caring derived from the pooled energy’ of a network of “grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, distantly related kin, and non-kin” — that shaped our evolution.
Shared parenting is likely in our genes. It works. So why do we cling to the idea that the nuclear family is the best way to raise children?
The nuclear family can be extraordinarily dangerous for children. Some — often children of educated and privileged families — are buckling under pressure to succeed and are committing suicide at alarming rates. Those in the United States who experience parental divorce are overwhelmingly being raised in poverty, which has lifelong ramifications on their health, wealth and education. At the extreme, some 500 children a year are murdered by their parents in the US, and millions more are abused and neglected, with inadequate systems to help them until damage is done.
But even in so-called “normal” families, children can’t escape some sort of dysfunction, whether they’re being raised by a parent who is depressed, adulterous, emotionally cold, smothering, absent, angry, passive-aggressive, narcissistic or addicted. The moral philosophers Samantha Brennan and Bill Cameron suggest that love-based marriage, with the “instability, tension, and even violence that too often forms a central part of romantic conflict,” doesn’t always offer children the stability and security they need.
Parents, too, struggle. It is a lonely, isolating and exhausting business…