EZRA KLEIN: Even if you're perfectly healthy and your kids are perfectly healthy, I don't believe people are meant to do this. You know, two parents plus kids, it's too few people, I mean, to say nothing of one parent plus kids.
[Death, Sex & Money theme music starts]
ANNA SALE: This is Death, Sex & Money.
The show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot....
....and need to talk about more.
I’m Anna Sale.
[Death, Sex & Money theme music ends]
ANNA SALE: Journalist Ezra Klein explores a wide-ranging beat on his podcast and in his column at The New York Times. He’s interested in how policy systems interact with Americans’ political identities, and how all that trickles down in each of our lives.
And like many of us, the past few years have been characterized by a lot of upheaval in his life. The year before the pandemic, he and his wife had moved across from Washington, DC to the San Francisco Bay Area.
EZRA KLEIN: And what kicks off then is a four to five year period, depending on how you count it, where my partner got very sick in very mysterious ways, which interacted with pregnancy, with two pregnancies, in fundamentally disastrous ways.
ANNA SALE: Their workplaces shut down, they didn’t have family locally, and earlier this year, they decided they couldn’t stay.
EZRA KLEIN: It really was because that was just too hard. It was too hard to be there with young kids and one of us being sick without family support, without a kind of deeper, more connected community. There’s a lot I love about California, but it wasn’t, it did not work well enough for the entire family.
ANNA SALE: And they moved to New York City. Not a place I think of when I think: how do I add more ease to my life? But it worked for both his job and his wife’s job, and there was more extended family nearby.
EZRA KLEIN: You know, everybody's life is complicated. [Ezra laughs] I think one thing I'll be honest that I'm uncomfortable even talking about this with you.
[“Balti” by Blue Dot Sessions starts]
EZRA KLEIN: And one reason I'm uncomfortable talking about all these decisions through the lens of my experience of them, and one reason I also wanna be careful about how much of this story I'm the one telling, is that they make it sound like I'm the protagonist of all of it. But the truth of the, like, the beautiful truth of being in a marriage, of being in a family, is that it's not a, you know, there's no one protagonist.
ANNA SALE: That’s the thing about being a family, he told me. Your story is made up of a lot of different people’s needs.
I’m a listener to Ezra’s podcast, The Ezra Klein Show, and I’ve picked up on how he’s been wrestling with some of these big transitions – he’ll offer asides about how it doesn’t feel like the architecture of American life sufficiently supports families of young kids, or he’ll wonder out loud about the big forces undermining our ability to live in community, and what makes us feel less alone.
He told me as they considered where to move, Ezra realized his sense of community is less about place, and more about where his people are gathered. Like his hometown, it’s not somewhere he ever felt particularly rooted.
[“Balti” by Blue Dot Sessions ends]
EZRA KLEIN: So I grew up in Irvine, which is very suburban. Both of my parents moved there as adults and well into their adulthood. My father is a Brazilian immigrant, my immediate and extended family in the United States is very small. And… Irvine has, well, I don't wanna speak for suburbs, but my experience of it was not highly communal. You know, very car-oriented, very single family, home-oriented.
And so it was actually a real delight of being in Washington D.C., which is, I think, a place really well-built for community, where the built environment does foster it, where I was there, I was part of its dominant industry, so to speak. I mean, people often say as a way of maligning Washington that it's a one-company town. But if you're, you're part of the company, that can actually be quite wonderful because there's so many people who do something of relevance to you, or you of relevance to them, and it creates a lot of space in which to get to know people.
ANNA SALE: Ezra arrived in Washington at 21, just after graduating from UCLA. He lived there for 13 years.
EZRA KLEIN: So Washington, and living there as I did for a long time, was the first place I felt embedded in a deep and wide community. And that, that was a really beautiful feeling.
ANNA SALE: And did you immediately move into a housing situation where you were living with other people?
EZRA KLEIN: Yeah, they're not people I knew. So, I immediately moved into a housing situation with somebody I met on Craigslist.
ANNA SALE: Uh-huh.
EZRA KLEIN: Because you don't make a ton of money as a writing fellow at The American Prospect, and that was not an ideal situation. And I was lucky to meet, you know, other young journalists over the kind of months after that, such that, I don't remember exactly how long it was after, but I moved into a group house of, you know, two other journalists and, um, an education policy wonk, uh, for years, um, which was just a real joy of a home. And, that for me really was like a beautiful experience that formed me in many ways. And I remember the, um… easy intimacy and the atmospherics of that, right? The way in which you would come downstairs, and there would just be somebody there, who you liked.
ANNA SALE: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
EZRA KLEIN: And it was okay if you didn't hang out, but you also could. And that was great. Um, so I was lucky to fall into, not just fall into, I mean, helped create, was one of the, you know, was we, we found a house together, but was really lucky to fall into a situation that was much more intentional pretty quickly.
ANNA SALE: Uh-huh. Is this, um, The New Republic wrote a piece about you some years ago where they described this phase of your life as, um, “they rented houses together, where they sat in boyish semi-filth, and blogged.” Is that that life phase you're describing? Your boyish, semi-filth.
EZRA KLEIN: Yeah I mean, I would say it was filth, but sure. [Anna and Ezra laugh]
ANNA SALE: And you described it as group housing as opposed to getting a place with roommates who you knew, like did it have a, was there sort of an ethos around we are living together in a group with these sorts of intentional expectations like. Did it have like a co-op feel? Were there like meal, you know, did you prepare meals for each other, or was it more like you shared rent and signed a lease together?
EZRA KLEIN: Look, you can be in a home, as you say, where you live with people, or you live with people you know, or you get to know. But what's happened is you're sharing rent. And that wasn't really the way of it, but it wasn't like we had a family dinner on Tuesday nights either. We just, we had a great rapport with each other. We were friends, we were in similar industries Our friends outside of that home were the same friends. I mean, not, you know, a hundred percent, but to a large extent.
So it isn't just that we saw each other at home, but we saw each other when we went out too. And so, it had a quality of living shared lives that again, was not something that, you know, we all went out for a dinner before we moved in together and said, how do we want this to look? Well, you know, we're making a commitment to each other. Um, we were, all of us just trying to find some housing at that point. But it grew in a beautiful way.
ANNA SALE: How many years was it the same group of people?
EZRA KLEIN: Uh, four, I believe?
ANNA SALE: And when you left that living situation, why did you leave?
EZRA KLEIN: I moved in with my now-wife.
ANNA SALE: And when you left, did you kind of acknowledge that there was a loss that was happening?
EZRA KLEIN: I don't think when I left, I understood the loss that was happening. It's funny, I have thought a lot in later years, these years, but before now, that, that… what a punctuated period of time that was to live with a bunch of friends in that way. And when I think about the arrow of time in my own life, one of the places where that really pierces for me is a recognition that you won't relive your early twenties, trying to make it alongside a bunch of your friends in a filthy house where the back porch might collapse during any one of the parties you hold. I mean, honestly, it's a wonder nobody died. [Anna and Ezra laugh]
EZRA KLEIN: And that you'll have that kind of easy camaraderie and that your problems will be small and largely self-created. I mean, we were lucky, right?
[“Careless Morning” by Blue Dot Sessions starts]
EZRA KLEIN: And I don't really look back on college fondly. And I don't look back on high school fondly. Uh, but I do look back on that very fondly. I mean, that was a real chosen community chosen family situation. And I mean, it endures. I just moved to New York and, you know, who did I see last weekend, but one of my roommates from that house.
[“Careless Morning” by Blue Dot Sessions ends]
ANNA SALE: I know this feeling of loss, of having found a community with easy camaraderie. And then you leave it, and miss it when it’s gone.
For me, that didn’t happen in a post-college group house. It’s been in smaller cities and rural communities, where I grew up in West Virginia or in Wyoming, where I spend a lot of time now because my husband studies wildlife around Yellowstone. In those places, I’ve felt that connectedness that comes from knowing it matters that you’re there. And also, like I’m known, even if it is just from spontaneous chats in the grocery store aisle.
But most of the time, I live now with my family in a big metropolitan area, in the San Francisco Bay Area… where I usually get my groceries delivered. There are a lot more economic opportunities and diverse communities to tap into, but that takes more effort, more time, and generally more money.
It can be confusing – this tension between stimulation and opportunity on one side, and on the other, that feeling of interconnected care.
And, like Ezra, it’s made me curious about other ways of building community. For him, that meant heading to the desert.
ANNA SALE: At what point did you start going to Burning Man?
EZRA KLEIN: I went to Burning Man for the first time in 2015.
ANNA SALE: Oh, so you were married. You had long passed this sort of early twenties phase.
EZRA KLEIN: Oh, I was a much more serious, respectable person in my twenties than I am now. [Ezra and Anna laugh] I don't think there's any doubt about that.
ANNA SALE: Burning Man, of course, is the gathering in the Nevada desert that started in the mid-80s as a pop-up campout gathering of artists and bohemians, and is now a ticketed event that attracts upwards of 80,000 people a year. Still artists and bohemians, and also celebrities, tech workers, and the Silicon Valley elite.
ANNA SALE: Why did you decide to go to the desert in 2015? What were you curious about?
EZRA KLEIN: I don't think you could have found anybody who is further away from the kind of person who would go to Burning Man than me. [Anna laughs] Uh, but my best friend from childhood, a guy named Grant, had been going for some years at that point, not that many, but a couple years. And Grant in every part of our life has been cooler, more far-sighted, and more interesting than me. And I trust him completely.
And even so, when he was telling me I should go to this, I did not trust him. I was like, that's ridiculous. [Ezra laughs] I know what that is. You know, I've seen the pictures. But I was starting, uh, Vox at that time, the sort of explanatory news site, and I was stressed out in a way I couldn't seem to come down from. So my ability to phase out of my work and rest on a weekend, or at night, had evaporated. But what made it… what got me to say yes was I came to realize I needed to take time off, that was going to be such a shock to my system, so different than what I did day-to-day, that it would stop me from thinking about work.
ANNA SALE: Mm-hmm.
EZRA KLEIN: That's what got me to go.
ANNA SALE: When you landed there, did you recognize it as an experiment in different ways of forming community?
EZRA KLEIN: I think… people have a lot of ideas about Burning Man. I wanna admit that upfront. And I think that first it's a very overwhelming place to be. Particularly if you've never experienced anything like it. I was not a festival goer before that. I hadn't been to Coachella or really anything. And so I would say the first time I didn't, it was a little hard to think about anything at all, which was to be fair the point. And what was really beautiful and unusual for me about the experience was to exist for a week without any reference at all to my public personality, to my professional personality. It's interesting for being a place in which you have a set of social mores that tilts like 15 degrees on its axis, so it's very coherent. You can't give anybody money for anything, you can't trade things. It's gifting. Um, it's very emotionally open with people you don't know really at all. It's very participatory.
ANNA SALE: Yeah. Did you wear different clothes?
EZRA KLEIN: Yeah, it would've been quite weird if I had wandered – I mean, actually, in a way it would've been amazing costuming if I had gone just sort of wandering around like I was about to appear on Hardball. And it would've been like that for me to go, you know, in jeans, a blazer, a tie, a button down. In some ways, now, I regret that I didn't.
ANNA SALE: How many times have you been now?
EZRA KLEIN: Uh, more than I'm prepared to admit.
ANNA SALE: Uh-huh. I think the reason I ask about Burning Man is to me it's like this, it's just like… I wonder if you've thought about it as an example of like, if you come up with a totally different way of scaffolding your life, there's a way you can pop something up that feels really different. Um, and I fantasize about that.
EZRA KLEIN: Yeah, you asked about the first time, which was a different kind of experience over time. Yeah. It does force you to think about some of those questions. I mean, you might go, I think people's impression of it is a big party in the desert, not a wrong impression. The way I tell people to think about it is its adult summer camp. It's an amazing space for building community. I mean, and that is fundamentally what it is designed for. People who go back year after year, I think, are not typically going back to party: that gets old pretty quick. They're going back for the community they've built. They're often going back to work to build things for other people, because that has begun to bring them joy. I mean, you are expected to, to, to be part of things, to create things. And in that way it's very beautiful.
I mean, it has its dark sides too, as anything does, but one thing it does have is community and, and you know, you have to build and then deconstruct, um, you know, these camps, these experiences with other people, and then you’re just living there with them for a bit. Sure, it comes with its responsibilities in the sense of, you know, you gotta do your cooking and cleaning shifts and so on, but you're, you're there without reference to a lot of your normal responsibilities. You know, if you're, you don't have your job, you don't have a Google calendar, you're not, you, you know, unless you bring your kids, which I have not done, you're not there with your kids. So, you know, I've seen some people go a little bit, get a little bit intoxicated by the freedom of it, which I think you shouldn't overread.
[“Base Camp” by Blue Dot Sessions starts]
EZRA KLEIN: I don't think you can build the world that way. But, but it is, you know, another thing that makes you think a lot about is what kinds of effort are motivated for people by money and which kinds of effort are motivated for people by community. Um, but of course, many things can make you think differently about that, including having a family.
ANNA SALE: Coming up, Ezra talks more about fatherhood, finding support systems, and group decision making in a family.
EZRA KLEIN: Like, my life is braided with my partner's life. It's braided with my children's lives. And what you're trying to do also is make decisions that work best for everybody as they are for you.
[“Base Camp” by Blue Dot Sessions ends]
ANNA SALE: This is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC. I’m Anna Sale.
Ezra Klein’s first child was born in 2019. Their second was born two years later, in the midst of pandemic chaos. Both times, his wife Annie Lowrey had really difficult pregnancies, with dangerous and mysterious complications that took some time for doctors to figure out and treat.
Annie’s also a journalist, a staff writer for The Atlantic, and she’s written quite beautifully about beginning motherhood with her own health crises and life-threatening complications. This happened to her, with Ezra beside her, unable to share those costs, or fix any of them.
ANNA SALE: I wanna ask you about, um, your experience as a father. Um, and I wanna ask you about your earliest experiences of fatherhood because, um, it was really hard. Um, your wife, Annie Lowrey, has written about the very difficult pregnancies she experienced, dangerous childbirth. Um, there's a piece we'll put in our show notes that she wrote in The Atlantic where she's a staff writer.
Um, and I don't wanna ask you necessarily to tell her experience of it, but I just, when you think about how that affected, um, your earliest sense of what it was to be a father and a co-parent, that you had a partner who was recovering, was having health difficulties, where there were really scary things happening. Um, how do you think that shaped the way you thought about what fatherhood was gonna do to you, was gonna change you?
EZRA KLEIN: I am not sure that what it changed for me was so much my sense of being a father than being a husband. Um, the person who suffered the most in all of this was Annie. And, that it was the worst thing I have gone through to watch her go through it, does not, like, make what I went through equal to what she went through.
And the birth of particularly our older son was very scary. And we were in the NICU for some time, and he was very premature and very small. And so there was a tremendous amount of fear early on. We're unbelievably lucky and blessed that he's beyond healthy. But, you know, there's always a sense that he could have gone the other way. And… I mean it, I have a lot of thoughts following from this. It did something strange to me, which is it made me, I was pro-choice politically, but I'm much more, much more fundamentally pro-choice emotionally now than I used to be. What I've watched my wife go through, it is no person's right to make a person go through what she went through. It would not be safe for her to be pregnant again, the idea that there are states that would say, well, because you can't necessarily prove that you'll die, you gotta roll the dice on that one. I find it, um, repulsive.
Not that I don't respect the thinking that goes there, but I think it's often very abstract. Um, the abstract question of fetal personhood, versus the actual personhood of the parent, of the mother. Uh, it's sometimes hard for me to see these conver– I've seen people in these conversations say, oh, it's, you know, most pregnancies are fine.
[“Toothless Slope” by Blue Dot Sessions starts]
EZRA KLEIN: Something that happens when you're near, when you're the partner in a pregnancy that isn't fine, is that people come out of the woodwork to tell you about what happened to them. And at least around me, a lot of pregnancies were not fine. And a lot of people suffer tremendously and carry those scars. And I mean, sometimes I don't, that's not just psychological, sometimes it is lifelong, physical scarring. And, you know, and we had young kids. I mean, a young kid, and then young kids during this period. And so there's also a certain set of difficulties being, you know, the parent who's healthy in that situation.
ANNA SALE: In Ezra's life, it was a health crisis that brought this all into relief. For other families, it can be any kind of stress or breakdown in routine that reveals the limits of relying on just parents when you’re raising a family.
EZRA KLEIN: This is not how human beings raise children. And if you end up in a kind of extreme version of it as we did, you know, unwittingly, you really realize that. And you realize also for the kids, like they need more people around, they need people who aren't exhausted all the time around, they need people who have their heads above water. And so that's a deep part of my thinking about parenting, too. Not just parenting my children, but wanting to be there for friends.
[“Toothless Slope” by Blue Dot Sessions ends]
EZRA KLEIN: Um, I don't think we're meant to do this alone. I think too much… too much can go wrong. And even when nothing has gone wrong, too much goes wrong for that to be a reasonable ask.
I just believe we're living through a mistake. And I think you see the consequences of that all over. I mean, I think you see it in loneliness statistics, but it's become, I mean, you know, I hear these debates sometimes, but they seem to me sometimes to be mystified at something completely obvious: people don't have more kids, because it becomes at a sort of point unimaginable how you would do that again. How you would pay for that again. How you would, you know, build your relationship through that again. And that isn't just a policy problem, it's a cultural question. But I think it should also be understood to some degree as a cultural mistake. Like, I don't think you should look at a society where we have epidemic-level loneliness, terrible levels of teenage depression, anxiety, suicidality, and a sharply declining birth rate. And a lot of people saying they're having fewer kids that they want to have, while it is the richest society the world has ever known and think, ‘Huh, we really nailed that one!’ Like, something here is going wrong.
ANNA SALE: Mm-hmm.
EZRA KLEIN: I think this is a societal problem that has become individualized onto families and the reason it can be individualized onto families is that the acute period of it passes, you know, when the kids become, you know, everybody's over five years old or something. You know, different families put the age at a different point, it gets a lot easier. And so then the pressure people might have to say, something's wrong here. We need to fix it, it goes away. It just, but it doesn't really pass, right? It just moved on to the next people.
ANNA SALE: Yeah. I mean, I guess… when I think about the miscalculation, like the way I think about it often is like the communities I've chosen to live in and raise my family in, because that's where I have thought about it. It's not only that it's really hard to have kids who are under five, um, and that's an acute period. I have no doubt that as I move into my mid-forties, fifties, sixties, as I struggle to build a friendship network away from, you know, where I spent a lot of my early adult life, I think it's gonna take different forms, this lack of communal support. Um, I think it feels really acute when you have little kids, but I think about it more like, huh? Like what, what do I wanna try to DIY for my family? Um, to sort of, I don't know, like be some sort of, um, to help us make it through this gauntlet of big structural forces that are leading to these strains, and the sense of isolation and lack of support. Um, and… does that make sense?
EZRA KLEIN: It does. Um, and I don't disagree with it. I just, I think the thing I respond to or react to is the idea of it is a miscalculation.
ANNA SALE: Mm-hmm.
EZRA KLEIN: That sometimes there isn't a good answer to a problem because the good answer isn't there. And that's more how I see it. I don't think people have just done the equation and forgot to carry the two. [Anna chuckles]
ANNA SALE: Yeah.
EZRA KLEIN: I think that, yeah, what's happened is that there isn't space to, as I said, I think that, I think basically there kind of two options right now that are easily on the table for a lot of families. One is to move near parents, if the parents are well, right? I mean, and a lot of us, you know, who are having kids a bit older, their parents are getting frailer and sicker and you know, if they're God-willing still around. But one is if you have a a, a kind of kin network, you can be near, to try to be near your network. Co-living structures for families, a place where you and your friends, right? You and your chosen family can go through this phase of life together, or a later phase of life together.
It is possible to do, and I know people who have done it, and I've talked to them for many hours about how they've done it. And the problem is it's really hard. And when I hear about what it takes, uh, I, both there's a part of me that wants to do it and doesn't see how I would've at this phase of my life. And it's something I think about doing at another phase of my life, when maybe there is more space.
ANNA SALE: What were the methods you tried to, like, bring in more support? Like what, what were the different things you tried?
EZRA KLEIN: I mean, the main thing that we did and, and do is we paid for help. And we had a wonderful, we had wonderful nannies with both of our children. Uh, and I mean, that was the help we got, right? It doesn't do all that much for you on nights and weekends and mornings. It really, I mean, it's really just making it possible to work, right? That's the kind of help you have. But there's nothing if you know somebody's sick at night or you know, it's just a really hard week. That's what I began to think a lot about, I mean, and also what Annie thinks a lot about. You know, when we were in San Francisco, was that total lack of flow that, you know, we could schedule paid care. And, and it's worth saying very loudly that that itself is a huge privilege that a lot of people don't have access to. Um, you know, paid childcare is really expensive. So that you just have a little bit of time, I mean, every couple of weeks to be in your relationship just with each other.
[“One Quiet Conversation” by Blue Dot Sessions starts]
EZRA KLEIN: That's something that a lot of people just basically can't afford. I mean, that alone is expensive, right? You're not just paying for the date, you're paying for the care, and it just doesn't work. It didn't work then, it doesn't work now, it doesn't work for a lot of people.
ANNA SALE: Have you, is there a way that your life after this move that you've rejiggered your routine or your bench of available care on a regular basis, that is adding some relief?
EZRA KLEIN: Absolutely. I mean, absolutely. Right. You know, Annie's parents, my children's grandparents are wonderful, um, wonderful grandparents.
[“One Quiet Conversation” by Blue Dot Sessions ends]
EZRA KLEIN: And there is just a little bit more backup from the family. I mean, we're not all that close to each other even so. We're still about, you know, an hour from the parents. You know, about that from the siblings or more. So, you know, these, even, even when you move closer, it doesn't mean you're actually close.
ANNA SALE: Yeah.
EZRA KLEIN: But, but it is a lot of help and it is more help. Um, and it still feels, you know, day to day, like we are either struggling our way through a lot of problems or buying our way out of a lot of problems.
But I don't, again, like I don't consider my situation like a policy problem that needs to be solved because I have a lot of flexibility. I mean, I don't think my problem is that bad, but I do think there is a problem here.
ANNA SALE: Yeah, yeah. And I certainly think there's many problems. Um, the way I've thought about it is kind of like, I'm not sure there's a policy prescription for this. I think this is a result of the kinds of frayed communities that I've found myself living in as I'm raising my kids.
And so I have, I think something that I turn around in my head a lot is like, what? What are the ways that I can sort of strengthen these informal networks of, you know, mutual support. Um, and it's like a weird retraining of my type-A brain that for so much of my pre-parenthood life was very focused on work outcomes and, you know, kind of relationship outcomes, but really work outcomes, because my husband and I were kind of doing it in tandem.
And now I think, what do I wanna spend time doing in order to create the kind of family culture for my kids that I want them to have? Um, and I don't always know what to do, but that's what I, I'm like, huh, should we be going to church? And then I sleep in on Sunday, you know, and I don't wanna go to church. That sort of thing, you know?
EZRA KLEIN: No, I agree with that. I mean, the thing that has been on my mind a lot in the last year is how important it is to a community, to community building, to ask other people for help.
ANNA SALE: Mm-hmm.
EZRA KLEIN: Uh, I'm really influenced by something that Alison Gopnik, who is at UC Berkeley, not far from you–
ANNA SALE: Mm-hmm.
EZRA KLEIN: Says, um, and she's a great philosopher and, and psychologist and has written beautiful books on parenting. But she's written something that I think is like the wisest thing I have read on just relationships, which is she says that we don't care for people because we love them. We love people because we care for them. And her point is that love is really built out of the performance of acts of care.
ANNA SALE: Mm-hmm.
EZRA KLEIN: Relationships are really built out of the performance of acts of care, right? Any parent knows how connecting it is to change your child's diapers, to comfort them through a night of sickness, right? It's not necessarily pleasant at every moment, but it is what builds that, that deep kind of love. And I think it's natural, certainly for me to like, have a ledger of relationships in my head and never want to be asking for more than I'm offering. And that's still most natural for me, except in, the, the deepest, relationships in my life, the ones that have gone far beyond that point. But I've also come to think of that as a way I, a way anyone impedes closeness.
ANNA SALE: Mm-hmm.
EZRA KLEIN: Uh, there aren't really profound relationships for me that haven't at some point required people to ask a lot of me, and I've actually come to think that people asked more than I would've been comfortable asking of them were pretty brave for doing so, and in many cases it created a profound kind of closeness. And so when I, this has just become more important for me because on some level, like you're not gonna have a community of people who watch each other's kids where that community doesn't already exist unless you go to somebody and say, “Will you watch my kids?”
ANNA SALE: Mm-hmm.
EZRA KLEIN: Because I have found trying this a bunch of times that going to them and saying, “I will watch your kids,” doesn't work.
ANNA SALE: Yeah.
EZRA KLEIN: Like, they will not give you your, their kids. Um, because they don't wanna ask that. But they might watch your kids. And even so, like knowing that, believing that I don't do it as much as I would like to, but, but in terms of how to build this kind of community of care, I've come to realize like you have to actually ask for care.
ANNA SALE: And I also think it's like, there's like a vulnerability in asking for help, but there's–
EZRA KLEIN: Always.
ANNA SALE: Also, there's also kind of a, um, you surrender a little bit of privacy, you know, like. Especially when it comes to like, whether it's paid care or care of people who are in your kids' lives. Whether you're inviting your, you know, grandparents over into the household, you are surrendering a little bit of your, you know, your private space.
And I think that that's also sometimes difficult for me. Uh, I wanna keep my private life kind of protected in a bubble.
EZRA KLEIN: And I would really put a distinction for me between paid care and the other conditions there, because I think something that, that people can afford paid care that they're buying their way out of, in a way, is the reciprocity of that relationship.
I mean, you described it, there's a loss of privacy and that's true, and loss of control, and that's true, but it's also just a kind of you are putting yourself in… debt is too strong a word, but you know, if you have parents or aunts and uncles or someone who's like really an important part of the family. Like they, they have a say now, right? And they, you know, they come with their own needs, and they come with their own desires and their own views about how to do things. Uh, you know, I know no end of people who've been very happy to have in-laws in for a bit, but then are relieved when they head home and they have kind of autonomy back, right? These things are trade-offs.
Um, you know, but they also require.. there's also, I think, a kind of beauty. And I say this is somebody who does not have other people living in my house with my family. So take my revealed, uh, take the preference that is revealed there for what it's worth.
But I have talked to people who say that, you know, we are losing when you choose autonomy over and over again, you lose the skills of living in community. You lose that kind of feel for it. When you choose the problems of being alone for the problem, when you choose the problems of being alone rather than the problems of being together, you don't always realize as you're kind of looking to avoid the short-term costs of togetherness, what in the long run you're sacrificing like the long-term costs of aloneness.
[Death, Sex & Money end theme music starts]
That’s journalist and fellow podcaster Ezra Klein. Ezra has a new book coming out in April 2024 called Abundance: What Progress Takes, that he co-wrote with Derek Thompson. You can pre-order it now.
I’m also a regular listener of Ezra’s interviews, now at The New York Times and at Vox before that, and we’ve linked to some episodes of The Ezra Klein Show that I think are great – one with a scholar of communes and intentional communities, one with an Atlantic journalist about homelessness and the deep roots of our current housing crisis, one about why it’s so hard to just hang out with friends in America today, and two interviews he’s done with Alison Gopnik, the child psychologist he mentioned in our conversation. Finally, Annie Lowrey’s piece in The Atlantic about her experiences with pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenting are also linked in our show notes. Her essay is called, What Counts As the Life of the Mother?
Death, Sex & Money is a listener-supported production of WNYC Studios in New York. This episode was produced by Christian Reidy. The rest of the team is Liliana Maria Percy Ruiz, Zoe Azulay, Afi Yellow-Duke, Lindsay Foster Thomas, and Andrew Dunn.
The Reverend John Delore and Steve Lewis wrote our theme music.
I’m on Instagram @annasalepics, that’s P-I-C-S, and the show is @deathsexmoney on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Thank you to Nancy Bergstrom in Chicago for being a member of Death, Sex & Money and supporting us with a monthly donation. Join Nancy and support what we do here by going to deathsexmoney.org/donate.
And for any future or current parents, Ezra has one more piece of wisdom to share:
EZRA KLEIN: Kind of every phase of parenting has a little bit of the quality of that Mike Tyson line, that everybody's got a plan until they get punched in the face.
I’m Anna Sale, and this is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC.
[Death, Sex & Money end theme music ends]