Since I decided to take paternity leave for half a year, I have been thinking over childcare issues of Japan.
A long time ago in Japan, typical childcare environments for parents were said to be like living with grandparents, communicating with neighbors and relatives actively, and only father works outside as an office worker while mother works inside as a housewife. This type of childcare is currently controversial, but sounds very stable at the same time.
Now most of them are two-generation families with less communications with neighbors, with double income but less income per person. Under such vulnerable conditions, I reckon, parents are ought to take deliberate actions by themselves - otherwise they will face various problems successively in pregnancy, delivery and childcare which rarely appear in the past.
This is why I decided to write how methods of project management and organization theory can work in childcare, which is like a newly-emerging company where they are required to prioritize and solve various issues one by one in urgent while living a daily operation.
Childcare is different from family to family. There are 100 unique situations for 100 families, and they have 100 childcare. There's no ideal figure of childcare. We should not follow someone's childcare idea blindly, and we also should not force other families to follow blindly. We, by ourselves, are required to go and learn by trial and error while reviewing own situations and designing how we want to grow with our children. Therefore, of course, please refrain from following this post blindly.
It was the autumn of the year 2017, about a year ago from now. As soon as my wife suddenly became unable to move because of morning sickness, I started to think about how I struggle against childcare which would start soon in the near future.
In Japan, the word "Iku-men" was started to be used by Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in 2010 while they promoted paternal childcare including paternity leave. (Iku-men literally means a man who is engaged in childcare", and its pronunciation implies cool guy.) And now lots of emotionally-charged arguments are being shared on social networking services, some of which have had impatcs on Japan's political affairs. By the way, I do not like the word "Iku-men".
My idea is kind of controversial, but is based on typical business idea that any project is likely to fail if we limit our problem solving method before starting. You know, in case of childcare, each family has their own situation. Once every father is unexceptionally forced to take paternity leave and get involved much in what is called childcare tasks, there appear lots of unsaved unhappy families.
However, it doesn't mean that men have an indulgence that they only need to work outside so I decided to look at the environment of childcare calmly from the business point of views.
When we start a new business job, we launch what is called project and try to achieve its goal with invited members. Because it is very hard to achieve the goal if each member works separately, it is common for what is called project manager to take and adjust entire commands.
The size of the project can be like tens or hundreds of members, but also can be around 10 or a few members. In case of childcare by two-generation family, the size is just two members. It must be the smallest as a project. *bitter laugh*
Then, under the project of two members, what do we need to manage?
What I think we need for the project management is - (1) purpose x goal design, (2) operation flow design, (3) incentive design, (4) progress management, (5) resource management, (6) schedule management, and (7) problem x objective management. Now let's see each of the seven elements in case of childcare.
As there are lots of tasks in childcare, we may feel ill from overwork if we try to do all of what appears to be necessary. Once we google what other families do - such as series of celebration events, home visits by friends and relatives, and making happy memories with children - we are surely threatened by the dangerous proverb "the grass is always greener on the other side".
Therefore, I reviewed what our childcare is aimed at in the first place, set up the passing mark of the goal, and decided what we do not need to do. It is better to care about the long-term risks based on the resource management below.
I decided to note that it is quite important for both of parents to decide together because we might fall into self-hatred and feel like "I am cutting corners in childcare, ain't I?" if we decide alone. I think that this is one of the biggest traps of solo childcare.
When we face childcare for the first time, lots of new tasks flood into our daily lives. We need to recognize not only the existence, flow and frequency of necessary tasks but also common mistakes and troubles so that we avoid them in advance.
Childcare books available in bookstores will give us basic knowledge about childcare, of course. But it is important to re-design concrete flows of childcare tasks based on each family's environment because the flows should be changed according to the layout and arrangement of their houses, situations of their children and parents' skills, etc.
We must note that it often works very well to prioritize childcare and re-design the flows of daily lives inside home especially when we have a first baby because our houses are likely to be the best for the lives of us two. Re-designing can make childcare tasks much more efficient from the beginning, otherwise it deprives us of physical strength and will power gradually. Fathers can play an active role because moving and buying furniture needs a bunch of physical power.
Humans need to be praised to make an effort. There're few people who can keep making efforts only with self-praise. This is why common organization theories insist that we need a system which gives good evaluation to someone who makes good efforts. It is necessary for both fathers and mothers to have their childcare being evaluated to satisfy their esteem.
In the past, most wives' esteem was satisfied through lots of communications with their parents living together and neighbors. But now they live separately with their parents and have much less communications with relatives so it's much more dependent on their partners. Limited amount of online communications with relatives and friends through LINE can do very little. And you know, it's much difficult to get esteem from their babies who do not utter a language.
Parents' motivations to work might drop radically once the evaluation ecosystem falls apart because most parents used to work in their offices where good evaluation systems work. Parents' organization management power is very much challenged here - they are required to design incentives for childcare and household jobs and keep being motivated to work.
We need to check regularly whether we go beyond the passing mark of our childcare and whether our children are growing healthy. Especially when both father and mother are engaged 100% in childcare, both of them do need to recognize the situation in the same way.
In the past, when mother and grandmother lived together and were engaged in childcare together, they communicated closely, shared information, and managed progress of their childcare. But now, if either or both of parents of two-generation family work outside, they tend to have different recognition of childcare because they cannot know what happens when either of them are out. This is why we need to design how we manage progress of childcare together.
Now some of the cloud-based apps enable us to record and check situations of childcare through smartphones of both father and mother. It's quite easy to use with only one hand.
This resource management means that we need to manage manpower, goods and capital so that we stop project from falling apart suddenly. In case of childcare, resources can be interpreted as childcarer, childcare goods and childcare budget.
As for childcare, basically, both father and mother work as childcarer, and it sounds very desperate because there's no alternate or additional labor resources. In case of business project, they invite appropriate number of members with appropriate skills and experiences according to the difficulties and required speed of the project, and sometimes adjust them in case. But in case of childcare, there's no such helpful process so the project can easily fall into a death march. As the human resources are limited, it is the top priority not only to recognize the physical power, household skills and childcare skills of the two, and to try to improve the power and skills. And, it is also important to keep good relationships with parents, relatives and dear friends so that they help us in case, of course just in case.
As for the next childcare goods, childcare goods can be categorized as (1) durable goods such as baby bed and stroller, (2) semidurable goods such as clothes and shoes, and (3) nondurable goods such as paper diaper and milk powder.
As for (1) durable goods, we need to buy most of them only once at an appropriate time, but we should give much consideration to whether to buy series of expensive burden-reducing goods such as baby bouncers and rockers, electronic breast pumps, and garbage boxes for paper diaper. Of course, it's easy to say that we can buy them later if necessary. But once we get extremely tired or have some big trouble in childcare, it's very difficult to make a decision and take an action to buy them. Plus, it's likely to be a great burden to make such a decision alone so it should be helpful in advance to decide how father and mother make an agreement to pay for expensive childcare products.
By the way, except for durable goods, we need to buy replacements of (2) semidurable goods regularly, and we also need to buy stocks of (3) nondurable goods so that we won't run out of stocks. If we buy them after we had trouble every time, our minds might get exhausted so it is quite important to simulate mentally and make a plan so that the purchase cycle works.
As for the last item - childcare budget, I am quite sad to say that we are very likely to go over the budget because the childcare project is poor at managing manpower. Of course, we better record actual and forecast results, though.
Schedule management is as important as resource management in the point of preventing depression and karoshi (death from overwork). As I work under my belief that "schedule is not something to meet but something to move", I frequently move and move schedules of low priority when lacking manpower. I sometimes ignore tasks which are not fatal. These actions are essential because it is very hard to adjust the volume of manpower in this childcare project. We solemnly declare to cut corners.
Of course most of the directly-for-baby tasks are top priority, but tasks like cleaning rooms, washing the dishes, cooking, meeting with relatives and friends are often deprioritized. Yet, it is essential to keep the flows of daily lives clean so we try our best to move something being left on the corridor and return something to its original position.
Even if we try our best to design purpose x goal, operation flows, incentives, etc when facing our first childcare experience, it surely lacks something essential. What is important is to examine the problems we find as soon as possible.
First, we share what we feel is a problem, and what we are having trouble with. We will have lots of issues in the first place, and some of them must be too much to ask so it is important for us to examine them together and decide whether to take an action, what is an ideal situation, and how much it should be prioritized. If we need an action, we soon set an objective for this and start thinking about any solutions to take. All of these processes are based on its priority.
And we would like to note that (1) there are many problems which are not fatal and can be ignored for long, (2) most of the problems have multiple potential objectives and solutions for a single problem, (3) any type of risks which are not fatal immediately but give damage consistently and gradually should be treated soon in many cases, and (4) we should keep having a certain extent of physical strength because we cannot think once we get too tired.
Here, I've wrote down the issues of childcare in the point of seven perspectives through project management. Now let's see the objectives to deal with for parents in this current Japan.
I'm gonna list up seven childcare objectives to deal with when a couple living alone have their first baby. Of course this idea is based on the issues above.
A long time ago in Japan, typical childcare environments for parents were said to be like living with grandparents, communicating with neighbors and relatives actively, and only father works outside as an office worker while mother works inside as a housewife.
This type of childcare used to be a kind of unspoken request from the Japan's society. And although being controversial, it sounds very stable enough to prevent the seven objectives above from being necessary.
Now most of them are two-generation families with less communications with neighbors, with double income but less income per person. I reckon that we now do not need to live a stereotyped three-or-more-generation-family lives, but we need to face the problems instead.
As I wrote down in the beginning of this post, I do not like the word "Iku-men" because this word tends to be an authority to blindly regard paternity leave as an only justice and blindly condemn fathers who do not take paternity leave.
My conclusion is that even long paternity leave can be only just sharing a big burden of childcare if they do not consider the seven objectives above, which ends up being an unhappy childcare.
Strictly speaking, however, fathers do not necessarily take paternity leave if they can discuss childcare issues with their partners and take a leading role as a project manager of childcare. Of course, the reverse works, too.
There are multiple possible solutions for one problem. Therefore, I do not like the social trend of forcing all the parents to take a single solution - for fathers to take paternity leave. We can start living a three-or-more-generation family lives again. We can outsource household and childcare tasks in case. We can try to grow up incredibly in kind of childcare cram schools. We can start working inside home. The essence of childcare is diversity, I believe.
Well, despite my argument written down above, I decided to take half-a-year paternity leave for my first daughter.
Simply speaking, I didn't have any reasons not to take paternity leave in any point of views. But I dear to list up three arguments here.
These are enough to decide my paternity leave.
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