Angela Garbes is a Seattle-based writer whose new book focuses on the need for communities to support caregivers. In “Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change,” Garbes examines the structural failures that make child-rearing so difficult in the United States.
While Garbes has been interviewed on national programs including the Daily Show with Trevor Noah and on NPR’s Fresh Air, she welcomed the opportunity to reflect on the specific challenges of rearing children in Seattle.
“I love Real Change,” Garbes said when I interviewed her in June. “I have talked about my book in different cities, and it is great to look at the issues in my own city.”
Garbes has lived in Seattle for 20 years. “My first apartment was a $400 studio in Capitol Hill. The city has changed a lot. The median income is so much higher. It’s very expensive,” she said.
Garbes believes the city of Seattle could do more to support caregivers. “We like to be a progressive city. We have paid sick leave but underfunded enforcement.” She would like the city to fund expanded programs for young children in all neighborhoods. “In the winter in Beacon Hill, it is hard to entertain a child in the rainy months. Seattle Parks and Rec offers free and affordable programs such as toddler gym time, but the hours are limited at Jefferson Community Center and Rainier Community Center.”
While other countries support families with child care benefits, the United States offers no national programs. “Until your child is age six, you are on your own. Our institutions are not built with care as a value. We have privatized human rights such as health care, housing and family leave. We are in a state of emergency in Seattle,” Garbes said.
Garbes sees the scope of mothering as more than caring for children. “My book is mostly about caring for young children, but I also believe our only real work is to care for ourselves and other people. We are all interdependent, and the health of one person impacts the health of everyone. Child care, disability care and elder care are all essential labor,” she explained.
“Everyone is born deserving. I reject the idea of earning a living. We pathologize people living in the margins. We could take care of everyone if we chose to,” she noted.
Even before the pandemic, Garbes created a network of caregivers for her family. “I could not do what I do without my mother, preschool teachers, public school teachers, close friends, after-school teachers, babysitters.”
She saw a positive trend during the pandemic of people reaching out to help each other. “Families created pods because they said, ‘I can’t do this alone.’”
She hopes the values of caring and interdependence last beyond the early stages of the pandemic. “My hope is that normal is unacceptable. The care crisis and the housing crisis predated the pandemic.”
While Garbes believes the government has failed to provide needed programs, she remains hopeful. “I believe in communal interdependent living,” she said. “People of color and marginalized people have been taking care of each other forever.”
I asked Garbes about the Supreme Court’s reversal of abortion rights. “I am not surprised at all. Poorer women of color in the South already had very limited abortion rights. Rich people will always be able to get abortions. Government has failed. We will take care of us. My community will teach my daughters how to deal with their bodies,” she said. “My community has always been doing that.”
Jennifer Astion is a freelance writer and yoga teacher who lives in Seattle.
Read more of the Aug. 24-30, 2022 issue.