Why you should care
Because in the postindustrial economy, two parents aren’t enough — and one child might be too many.
Pooja Bhatia is an OZY editor and writer. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Economist, and was once the mango-eating champion of Port-au-Prince.
Last month, the FDA held hearings on a reproductive technology that would allow three people to combine their genetic material into one baby. The procedure, called oocyte modification, would prevent transmission of genetic diseases by swapping out the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of the mother’s egg and replacing it with the mtDNA of a donor egg.
Kind of like a ménage à trois, only with mitochondria and consequences that last a lifetime.
The FDA hearing raised the usual hackles about designer babies and eugenics, and while we at OZY categorically abhor such things, we have to admit: The science of multiparenting complements a particular fantasy we’ve been having lately.
If you want to pass on your genes but don’t wish to parent for a solid 18 years, BabyShare might be right for you.
Let’s call that fantasy BabyShare™, a name that intentionally evokes the sharing economy — but the BabyShare of our dreams is much more corporation or co-op than Sidecar. The setup looks like this: You and a few of your nearest and dearest take shares in a baby. Jointly, you experience the joys and pains of child-rearing, the blessings and the sacrifices, the costs and the dividends.
And each of you does this only one or two days a week.
Sound nuts? To some, perhaps, but to us it sounds ideal. And while we haven’t exactly figured out the production side yet, and we have a firmer grasp on why BabyShare should exist than how it could possibly work, the whys are undeniably compelling.
The main one: Child-rearing the way college-educated, professional-class America does it involves way too much anxiety, time, money and competition. It shouldn’t, but that’s how we live now. If you genuinely love children and selfishly want to pass on your genes — at least the good ones — but don’t wish to parent for a solid 18 years, BabyShare might be right for you.
You could manage the occasional midnight feeding or diaper change, but your lifetime supply of all-nighters has dwindled. You are not rich enough for full-time childcare, and you’d rather use the half bedroom in your apartment as a studio space or an office than a nursery. You do not want to spend your most productive years shuttling Junior to oboe lessons. And above all, you don’t want to hover over anyone for weeks and months on end, not even your own child: Life is too short.
A hundred years hence, scholars might well consider the nuclear family a blip.
Not that you’re championing divorce, but your friends who share custody of their kids seem to have a pretty sweet deal, at least from afar: They’ve fulfilled their biological imperatives, and now they put in only half the maintenance time. And those other hours? They merrily spend them painting, surfing, reading, exercising, visiting friends — in other words, living and enjoying life.
On top of that, you suspect that the nuclear family is unsustainable in postindustrial, dual-income America. It slots us into categories we can’t quite fill, and we chafe against them. A hundred years hence, scholars might well consider the nuclear family a blip. It’s not just the high divorce rates, or the fact that we’re postponing marriage and childbearing. It’s not even a monogamy issue.
It’s that the nuclear family has so little backup these days. Migration and urbanization have dispersed aunties, grandparents and cousins to faraway locales. Public institutions have hollowed out — especially affordable, good schools. And despite pre-K policy initiatives, we’re still very far away from a crèche system like France’s.
It’s just one reason parents today feel so much pressure and people of a certain class treat their kids more like artisanal products than kiddos. It still takes a village to raise a child, but America no longer has villages.
Instead, we have corporations. And like a private corporation, BabyShare would pool the collective resources of shareholders to achieve something no individual wants to take on alone. It could provide for a board of directors for big decisions. And shareholders could diversify — that is, they could invest in shares of several little ones. If that makes you queasy, fear not: We’d draw the line at securitizing them.
OK, OK, that’s taking it to Swiftian lows. But we’re quite serious about the concept. Just ask a parent in a calm, candid moment, and she’ll tell you she’d give her left arm — or spare child — for another mom or dad to help out.