The 7 "Kludges" of American Parenting

by Leigh Anderson
Originally Published: 

So yes, the community college plan is a real solution, not a kludge, which is terrific. But this got me thinking: Really, because we lack family-friendly policies like sick leave and paid parental leave, all of American parenting, from conception to college graduation, is basically a kludge. Below, seven common “solutions” to modern parenting dilemmas:

Problem: I am pregnant and need health care.

Kludge: Do you have health insurance? No? Spend a lot of time researching the cheapest plan you can get that covers your needs, and/or find out if you qualify for Medicaid. Find out what doctor, hospitals, and which of the 15,000 people who work in that hospital take your plan. All just easy-peasy tasks in the nauseous fog of early pregnancy. And then be ready to argue the surprise bills that many pregnant women and new parents have to deal with: the hospital where you delivered was in-network, but the anesthesiologist wasn’t, for example. Fun times for post-partum women: squabbling with hospital and insurance administrators.

Problem: I just had a baby and need some time to recover and take care of my child.

Kludge: Well, you don’t have any maternity leave. Save up your sick leave, plus your vacation days, if you’re fortunate enough to have any. Go to work sick because you don’t want to waste those days. Or take unpaid leave. Or quit, because you’ll probably get laid off anyway.

Problem: I just had a baby and need my partner to take care of me and our new baby.

Kludge: Well, too bad, they don’t have any parental leave either. Again, if you’re lucky, your partner has banked their meager vacation time, of which they’ll use a few days while you’re in the hospital. And then you’re home alone, maybe just a few days after a C-section, perhaps with an older child to look after too. Maybe you can patch this problem with eight hours of Sesame Street for the toddler, a lunch your neighbor brought by, and a few Percocet. Repeat daily for three months until you feel more like yourself or until you’re addicted to Percocet, whichever comes first.

Problem: You have a kid and a job and need child care in order to keep that job. There are no affordable day cares near you.

Kludge: Is your mother-in-law available one day a week? And maybe your mother a half day and your dad a half day? And can you arrange a nanny share for two days a week? Please note: Every week from October to March, one of the above caregivers will cancel at 7:46 a.m., leaving you high and dry. And so you will “work from home” that day, which means dialing into a conference call while you very quietly take someone’s rectal temperature.

Problem: From October to March, at least once a week at 8:46 a.m., one of your kids will barf. You don’t have any paid sick days.

Kludge: Send your kid to school anyway, where she infects everyone with norovirus, so the whole school shuts down for a week, and the Today Show runs an episode called “the sickest school in America,” which you watch several times because you lost your job when you had to stay home with your kids after the school closed.

Problem: Most jobs are 9 to 5 or longer, but the school day ends at 3:15. Also there are a lot of random mother#%^&ing holidays.

Kludge: Hire an art student in the local MFA program to pick your kid up, which she may or may not do, depending on the Muse and the F train. Pay for camp for school breaks, or take the kid to work with you. Or lean on family and friends yet again for help. After all, they’ve only watched him during the summer vacation, fall break, winter vacation, second winter vacation, spring break, and random days off in the middle of the year. Or leave her to play in the park while you work.

Problem: Your public school is okay but not great. How is your kid going to get a good education?

Kludge: Bankrupt yourself to move to a pricier district. Or switch to a charter school. Or get a voucher. Or parochial. Or the lousy public but with lots of enrichment. Choose any of the above for a not-great solution.

Problem: You’d like your kid to go to college. But a college education costs more than a house.

Kludge: Meager contributions to a 529 Plan or similar if you’re lucky. Plus, grants and scholarships and financial aid, all of which require a year’s research to suss out. And then, of course, shackle your kid to a six-figure debt he can never, ever discharge, thereby ensuring he’ll work a crummy retail job for a massive wealthy corporation, forever. Or, you know, maybe he’ll develop an app that can fix all that. He can call it Kludge.

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