Problem, solution


“What is the problem to which this is the solution?

That’s one of my favorite questions – and has been ever since I heard Neil Postman ask it. He was buying a new car that came with power windows. He said, “No thank you, regular windows are fine: they’re less expensive and less likely to break.” But the salesman said, “Nope, not an option, we have power windows now.” And Postman shook is head and said: “Power windows. What is the problem to which this is the solution?”

The story’s a bit dated now but the question isn’t. It’s a great question, and I think it’s worth asking yourself every time you’re trying to create or introduce something new.

If you have a hard time answering it, you know that what you’re offering to the world isn’t something the world needs very badly.

So I put that question to myself with this project.
What is the problem to which Big Days are the solution?

And right away I knew I had it. Because there is a problem — a big, impossible problem — right at the heart of this thing.

The problem is 50/50 parenting. This is where both partners are trying to have ambitious careers AND share the childcare and the housework.

Now, this is a pretty new arrangement — maybe fifty years old — and we haven’t cracked the nut. Nobody can figure out how to do this.

The way I see it, with shared parenting there are two competing models.

One is that it’s like doubles tennis. Both of you are on deck at the same time, running around each other and each trying to do half the work in kind of a “mine”/”yours”/”mine” haphazard way.

The other model is rock climbing, where one partner spiders to the heavens while the other belays. By “belays” I mean, stays down on the ground holding the rope that’s keeping the climber safe. The belayer manages everything — homework, shopping, playdates, housecleaning; everything on the domestic front — while the other person just goes for it at work. Then the climber comes down and now he’s on belay at home and she goes big at work.

Let’s look closely at the two paradigms.

The tennis model is I think a lovely romantic idea — that we’re in this together, one big happy family making it all work in real time, but I also think it’s pretty much guaranteed to torpedo both careers. Because, when you’re continually on the clock at home, you’re AWOL professionally — you’re not there the way you need to be if it’s a demanding job with big projects and tight deadlines. You can’t be counted on to deliver in the crunch. You just can’t.

The climbing model is better for that, if you can swing it. (It only works if both partners have flexible schedules.) It’s as if each partner gets a “wife” for awhile, so things are covered at home while they do a big push on the Clorox account or whatever. And then the roles switch; the person who got the wife becomes the wife. It’s almost like a throwback to the traditional roles of the Fifties, but nobody feels oppressed because you’re taking turns being the wife.

BUT … and if you’re with me so far you probably see the caveat coming. What happens if you take the climbing model to its extreme? I climb for a week, then I come down and you climb for a week, etc. Now you and your spouse are like hot-bunking sailors. Goodnight Ralph, Goodnight Sam. That’s not a marriage: that’s a custody arrangement. That’s not gonna work over the long haul.

So, while I think the climbing model is better than the tennis model, neither works in its pure form. The only solution is a hybrid between the two.

How much rock climbing can there be — should there be — in the mix? I think one day every two weeks would be ideal. That’s one day every fortnight that you get to climb while your spouse belays. But to be conservative, let’s say one day a month.

And that, right there, is the source code of the idea for Big Days. I think they’re a fix for the shared-parenting conundrum. Shared parenting is the problem to which Big Days are the solution.

Now, I happen to think Big Days are the solution to a lot of other problems as well (like an Rx for mental health, if you use them to get away and fill the well). They’re a very versatile little leatherman tool. But the shared parenting-while-avoiding-career-suicide puzzle is the big one.

And believe me, I’m prepared to accept that there may be superior solutions. I’d love it if there are.

But until I hear a better idea, I’m sticking with this one.


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