Academic: Dads Don’t Do Enough

February 5, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

This online publication “The Conversation” self-describes as “academic rigor, journalistic flair.” But if this article is an example of “academic rigor,” then “academic rigor” isn’t what it used to be (The Conversation, 2/2/17). In fact, the article, while providing the occasional worthwhile tidbit of information generally traffics in untruths, half-truths, unasked questions and misused statistics. Given what I understand to be the norm in academia these days, I’d say “academic rigor” is about right.

Author Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan’s theme is a familiar one – despite aspirations to parenting equality, fathers just don’t do enough, and what they do, they do poorly or half-way. To her, mothers are the gold-standard of parenting. And that of course undermines her thesis that fathers need to do more. After all, if dads are, generally speaking, less good parents than mothers, why would mothers give up the parenting role and why would fathers want them to?

Needless to say, Schoppe-Sullivan never addresses that core contradiction of her piece. I guess that’s an example of that academic rigor by which we’re supposed to be impressed.

My research focuses on the sharing of parenting between mothers and fathers in dual-earner couples – a group that is most likely to hold gender egalitarian beliefs. In this group, successfully balancing work and family makes some degree of shared parenting necessary.

My research and that of others shows that even though significant progress has been made toward gender equality in parenting, more subtle inequalities remain. Many fathers – even those in the households most likely to have progressive views on parenting – have not achieved equality with mothers in key areas.

Schoppe-Sullivan goes on to describe the many ways in which mothers spend more time parenting children and just plain parent better.

It is true that today’s fathers are more involved in parenting children than ever before. Over the past half-century, fathers in America nearly tripled their child care time from 2.5 hours per week in 1965 to seven hours per week in 2011.

But, over this period, women’s parenting time too has increased – from 10 hours per week in 1965 to 14 hours per week in 2011. This has resulted in a smaller but persistent gap in the time mothers and fathers spend on parenting…

Another area in which subtle, persistent inequality exists is multitasking – especially doing several unpaid work activities (e.g., housework and child care) at the same time.

Mothers multitask more than fathers do. A recent study showed the size of this difference: mothers in dual-earner families spent 10 more hours per week multitasking than did fathers…

Intensive parenting requires strong dedication to managing children’s activities, organizing schedules and making appointments – part of the so-called “worry work” of parenting…

Research that has surveyed or interviewed parents about who takes responsibility for the managerial and organizational aspects of parenting indicates that mothers take greater responsibility than fathers.

If that all sounds a bit like “mommy – good; daddy – bad,” that’s pretty much Schoppe-Sullivan’s attitude. Oh, she’s scrupulously balanced in tone, but her content is anything but.

That imbalance isn’t because there aren’t countervailing facts she could have mentioned, facts that are well-established by much research and many reliable sets of data. So yes, she’s right that both mothers and fathers are spending more time parenting than the parents of, say, 50 years ago.

But when it comes to multi-tasking, what does Schoppe-Sullivan have to say about the research demonstrating that a fair description of that behavior is “doing many things at once, all of them poorly?” If Moms’ approach to parenting includes a lot of multi-tasking, that research strongly encourages the conclusion that, in addition to their other tasks, they’re not doing parenting very well. Schoppe-Sullivan’s not interested.

What about that “worry work” mothers supposedly do that fathers supposedly don’t? Has Schoppe-Sullivan ever heard of the concept of maternal gatekeeping? If so, she doesn’t let on. There are many reasons dads tend to step back from parenting and mothers are Reason 1. What countless fathers report is that if they try to take on additional parenting duties, they’re often thwarted, criticized or simply overruled by their child’s mother. So is it really unusual that mothers do the “worry work?” Indeed, would mothers have it any other way? There’s surely no better way to control the child’s activities and the father’s ability to impact them than to take them over oneself.

In that same vein, has Schoppe-Sullivan read the relatively new research on Oxytocin and paternal involvement with children? I guess not, since, once again, she doesn’t mention it. One crucial finding is that father’s brains are wired for a secondary parental role, that if Mom can’t or won’t do the job, Dad comes fully equipped to step in, but if she takes on the role of primary parent, he won’t.

That of course is precisely what much research and casual observations show. Mothers take the primary parenting role in the vast majority of families with fathers’ role being secondary. And when Mom is sick, or away on business, Dad steps up. Clearly, many couples do parenting differently, but that’s the norm. Indeed, with her reference to the recent New York Times article I wrote about here, Schoppe-Sullivan refers to exactly that set of behaviors.

The Times piece described a suburb of Montclair, New Jersey on the day of the women’s march on Washington and what fathers did while their female partners were gone. As I said, the dads did what pretty much any other set of dads would do; they took care of the kids, doing all the things necessary to keep them clean, fed, safe and occupied. Doing with one parent what usually required two was a bit stressful, but it wasn’t anything the dads couldn’t handle. In short, what occurred precisely reflects what the Oxytocin study said would happen, not that Schoppe-Sullivan would notice.

What she did notice, she made up.

The article narrated how women’s absence resulted in empty yoga classes, Starbucks cafes populated by men and hapless fathers struggling to juggle children’s weekend schedules.

“Hapless?” Far from it. The dads performed perfectly well and there wasn’t a word in the piece to suggest otherwise. Indeed, that was the very point of much of the criticism of the article – that it seemed to reward fathers for doing something fathers do routinely without fanfare.

But, for Schoppe-Sullivan, the fathers had to be hapless. After all, that’s the point of her article – that fathers are deficient. It’s untrue of course as countless research into fathers and parenting demonstrates, but her intention was never accuracy or balance.

More on this tomorrow.




National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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