Families helping one another: It’s what we’re meant to do

When the story broke that migrant children were being separated from their parents in unprecedented numbers at the U.S. border, the journalism world pounced.

One of my friends, Christina Jewett, works for Kaiser Health News as an investigative reporter. Her childcare had fallen through, and she needed someone to watch her son, Charlie, so that she could report on the story. She called me.

Of course I would help, I said. Time that my daughter spends with Charlie is not time wasted. They’ve been friends since they were infants. 

An asylum-seeking boy from Central America runs down a hallway after arriving from an immigration detention center to a shelter in San Diego on Dec. 11, 2018. Photo by Gregory Bull, Associated Press

Shortly after, Jewett and her colleagues broke a shocking story with the headline “Defendants in Diapers? Immigrant Toddlers Ordered to Appear in Court Alone.” It took a mother with experience caring for a young child to fully realize the intricacies of what this meant. The story spoke of toddlers climbing up on tables in the middle of court hearings and not being able to verbalize an appropriate response when questioned by a judge. It took a mother to give these children a voice, and it took another mother to watch her son so that she could do it.

Later that day she asked me if I might be able to watch him again while she worked overtime on the story, but she feared taking advantage of my goodwill.

I told her that not only was I willing to do it but that I wanted to do it. Enabling her to report on such an important story by watching her child gave me the satisfaction of knowing that I was contributing to the mission of journalism to inform and educate — even while playing with Play-Doh. 

And it goes both ways between us.

With a journalist watching my daughter, I don’t need to apologize if my assignment runs long or explain how we would be strapped if I couldn’t work the holiday shift that I was scheduled to work. It’s just understood.

Human beings were not meant to exist independently of one another. We are not animals who lay our eggs and then leave them to raise themselves. Great effort is put into each child to ensure that they not only survive but thrive. In order to accomplish this, primitive humans formed tribes. Some hunted; others gave birth and tended to children. Others gathered and cooked and sewed. It would be impossible for one human to do all of these things alone, yet this is what is expected of us culturally in modern society. Independence, personal achievement and each family operating as a unit are what is valued. This goes contrary to our evolution.  Interdependence is our nature.

Journalists with kids are part of the same tribe with the same goals: to serve the public while also raising good citizens. We are each other’s best resources.

When faced with the overwhelming task of raising kids and working in journalism, we should open a conversation with one another — and start viewing our mission in the context of the whole, rather than simply in the context of the individual: the whole newspaper, the whole journalism community, the whole of humankind. We cannot succeed without one another, and sometimes it takes articulating our desire to operate as a team for people to feel OK asking for help.

Jewett is now expecting her second child, due in June, and I’ll be there for her as a friend, a parent and a journalist. And I know she will do the same for me without counting favors because what serves one family serves us all.

Autumn Payne