Kids With Benefits (KWB)
When the Future of Work Becomes the Future of Family
This month, I’ve discovered an unexpected benefit to the spread of working from home (WFH) and remote working more generally. It’s when your kids have contracts that allow a full month of remote working, anywhere in the world. And they flatteringly choose to come home! To spend time with you. As charming, civilised and caring grown ups. They cook, they ask questions, they take you out for dinner! It’s the most astonishingly welcome role reversal you never expected. It’s what I call KWB - Kids With Benefits.
As employers desperately seek to attract and retain increasingly rare and finicky Gen Z talent, they may want to take a moment to assess the additive power of wooing their parents. Where ‘remote working’ seconds as renewed family nesting. The gift of limited doses of inter-generational living may become a hugely attractive employee benefit. It’s good for everyone. A boon to mental health in an era of dislocation and loneliness, a connectedness between cultural roots and the wings of global exploration, an invitation to explore without losing touch with those you love (and who love you). And, as my daughter confessed, the ability to do all that without using up your precious vacation days, where you might want to explore further afield to destinations unknown.
KWB is all the loveliness of children and holidays and family and mother/ daughter time - with none of the common downsides. It isn’t kids returning to the parental nest because they failed flying solo. Or who need to save some money by moving back in and monopolising their old room (and your newly reorganised guest room or office). Or who decide that they really need yet another degree and expect you not just to subsidise it, but edit-their-essays through it. I’ve heard of all of these scenarios from different friends. This is something entirely different.
Here is your own little offspring, now astonishingly financially independent, busy all day long at work and then off for evenings with friends. A few nights a week, she’s all yours, and you rub shoulders cooking up a storm in the kitchen and raiding her wine stash in the basement. She knows London bars and restaurants far better than you do, and gets us out to try trendy new things in neighbourhoods we rarely trek to. We shop the sales and share a pedicure, revelling in old rituals. She suddenly looks and sounds remarkably mature, and asks you probing questions about your plans for the future! It’s easy, collegial and light. Time to be treasured, without the weight of responsibility and care. Only the lightness of love remains.
There is little heavy-duty caring left in life at this stage in my own family. Our role is to offer, if we can and will, the stability of home. Or as Kahlil Gibran said far better in his book The Prophet:
“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”
We returned home to a house empty of our beloved dog, Daisy, who died in September, while we were away in Cambridge. (She was, I hasten to add, in very good hands, with a close friend). It is a daily shock to return to a house where you are not welcomed with an enthusiastic scrabble of nails on the slippery hall floor and a joyous leap of adoration as you walk in. Every time the doorbell rings, I feel the emptiness of the silent echo which once was filled with a wild crescendo of bravura barking. I no longer wander daily along the South Bank with my alter ego bouncing along, leash-free and ladylike at my side.
Loss is so present in the outlines of what was, in the habits that defined so many days - and this particular place. Much of it in the acts of care that were a regular part of most days. I still flash moments of panic, when I sweatingly feel I’ve forgotten to do something for my mother, who died three days after Daisy. Calling daily as we did for all those Covid years, or shopping online at the supermarket to fill her fridge, phoning the pharmacist to fill prescriptions. Back home in London where I did all these things for years, I feel their absence far more than I did when we were away. It’s as though the routines are baked into the walls.
I guess you could say I was ‘working remote’ last year at Harvard, and got to spend my mother’s last year nearby. That kind of flexibility took me decades to craft and build. And I’m my own boss, so I can choose where to work. My daughter is only 26, but she - and her generation - can now hopefully negotiate a future where she lives and works in one city, works from her home two to three days each week, and works from ‘home-home’ one month a year. What a tremendous gift to families that will be.
As I lose my childing role, and my mothering role shrinks to enjoying mani-pedis and breaking my Dry January resolutions with dissolute youngsters, the future-of-work/ gender expert in me is predicting that my next role in this care series is, of course, grand-parenting. The august Economist magazine agrees with me. (If you, too, are looking for research to back up your own job negotiation, check out an article pleasingly entitled The Age of the Grandparent has Arrived.) There are, they say, 1.5bn grandparents in the world, up from 0.5bn in 1960 and rising to 2.1bn by 2050. Currently, our average age ranges from 53 in Uganda to 72 in Japan. It’s so wonderful when you can quote the Economist rather than saying this sort of thing yourself:
“The evidence suggests children do better with grandparental help - which usually, in practice, means from grandmothers. And it will help drive another unfinished social revolution - the movement of women into paid work.”
The article is a fascinating overview of the state and benefits of grand-parenting in countries around the planet. US research finds that “living within 25 miles of a grandmother raised the labour-force participation rate for married women with small children by 4-10 percentage points.” It warns, of course, that you don’t want to lose your day job to this function of what has been called ‘nanny-grannying.’
Next month, I’m off to Dakar to visit my 18-month-old granddaughter. I think it’s time for a serious conversation with her boss. I think it’s about time for her to ride this trend.
Her job is to learn to walk and talk and count and all that stuff. And she can certainly do all that remotely. One month a year sounds just about right. I’m about ready to gear back up on the caring front. My daughter would probably give me a pretty good reference. And like all those fancy tech firms, I’m even about ready to throw in a puppy.
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