Andrew Moravcsik: Fatherhood’s Good for Dads, Motherhood Bad for Moms

September 17, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Sigh.  Another week, another article by another person who doesn’t grasp the basics of the “work/family balance.”  More depressingly still, this one’s by Andrew Moravcsik who’s Anne Marie Slaughter’s husband (The Atlantic, October, 2015).  She of course is the person who penned the last mostly uninformed article on the same subject.  

Moravcsik describes his piece as “the other half of our family’s story.”  It’s not; it’s the same side as hers, just in his words.

Moravscik and Slaughter are both highly-functioning people.  He’s a professor at Princeton and she, by turns, has been a professor at Princeton, a member of the Obama Administration and the president and CEO of the New America Foundation.  They’re intelligent, well-employed and financially secure.  And they have two sons.

As it’s turned out, Slaughter’s various jobs have proven to be more demanding than have Moravcsik’s and so he’s been the primary parent to their boys.  Yes, Slaughter’s done a lot of parenting, certainly as much as she could, but Moravcsik’s always been what he calls the “lead parent.”

Confronted with such realities, most two-career families sooner or later find that one person falls into the role of lead parent. In our family, I assumed that role…

Lead parenting is being on the front lines of everyday life. In my years as lead parent, I have gotten the kids out of the house in the morning; enforced bedtimes at night; monitored computer and TV use; attempted to ensure that homework got done right; encouraged involvement in sports and music; attended the baseball games, piano lessons, plays, and concerts that resulted; and kept tabs on social lives. To this day, I am listed first on emergency forms; I am the parent who drops everything in the event of a crisis.

As he says, most families in which both parents work end up appointing one person the lead parent.  It just makes sense for only one person coordinate activities, set rules, attend functions, etc.  Two people trying to do so would only confuse matters and waste at least one person’s time.  In fact, it’s not just two-earner families who do that; single-earner families do it to.  One parent stays home full-time and is the lead parent, while the other earns the money and picks up the parenting slack where necessary.  In short, what Moravcsik and Slaughter do is just one version of what every two-parent household does.

So far, so good.  But for reasons I can only guess at, Moravcsik seems to believe that, when men do what he’s doing, it’s a benefit to them, but when women take the lead parent role, it’s not.  Strange, to say the least.  He writes,

Promoting gender equality is laudable. Yet if taking the lead at home is so tough, many men may wonder what is in it for them. The answer is a lot.

Moravcsik goes on to list the benefits of lead fatherhood.

First, being a lead dad can be good for your marriage.

Second, lead dads have something special to offer their children…  In my experience, dads tend to take a practical, project-oriented, and disciplined yet fun-loving approach to parenting—an approach that is in many cases precisely what is called for, particularly with boys.

The third and most fundamental reason for men to embrace a more egalitarian and open-ended distribution of family work is that doing so can foster a more diverse and fulfilling life. Polls suggest that men feel as great a conflict between work and family as women do (and in some polls, a greater conflict). Both sexes are trapped in the same system, which has defined a one-dimensional role for each. By being a lead parent, men can get what many moms have long had—a very close relationship with their kids.

So Moravcsik sees that being his kids’ primary parent has been good for him, much as it has been for countless mothers.  He also sees that he’s sacrificed some of his career by taking on that role.

Yet the role has unavoidably taken a toll on my professional productivity.

In short, Moravcsik has enthusiastically embraced the role of primary parent despite its having decreased his performance at work.  But just a few sentences later, he’s bemoaning the fact that women do the same things.  Countless women take on the role of lead parent and place their jobs second.  Moravcsik realizes the benefits of that decision both for himself and for mothers.  But,

According to a Pew Research Center study, 50 percent of married or cohabiting women report doing more child care than their male partners, whereas just 4 percent of men do more than their female partners. This disparity has a devastating effect on women’s careers. Researchers refer to the gap between male and female wages and seniority as the “motherhood penalty,” because it is almost entirely explained by the lower earnings and status of women with children.

It’s so very odd.  Somehow, as Moravcsik understands it, what he does, that he considers so beneficial to both him and his sons, becomes the ninth circle of the inferno when mothers do it.  

The only explanation I can come up with is that he Moravcsik figures that fathers coerce mothers into taking on the lead parent role (except of course when they don’t, as in his and Slaughter’s case.)  He doesn’t come right out and say such an outlandish and patently foolish thing, but he gets close.

More than a quarter century has passed since Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift powerfully made the case that women cannot compete fairly with men when they are doing two jobs and men are doing only one.

Anyone who still believes in the myth of the “second shift” can’t be trusted to be informed on the realities of the work/family balance.  A casual glance at statistics on that subject plus a bit of common sense will show just about anyone that women face no special obstacles.  The simple fact is that, on average, men and women do the same amount of work, when the paid and unpaid varieties are aggregated.  Women do more domestic work and childcare than do men, but they make up for that by doing less paid work.  The converse is true of men.

And there’s nothing to indicate that either sex is doing anything under duress.  Yes, the culture tends to promote women as parents and men as not.  And the same culture promotes men as earners and women as not.  But no one is the witless dupe of cultural messages.  Adults are free to do what they want within the bounds of the law.  And in any case, those very cultural messages have greatly changed over the years.  Nowadays, women are encouraged in every possible way to work and earn, and men are belatedly being told that being a hands-on dad is an acceptable role as well.

But what neither Moravcsik nor Slaughter grasps are the reasons why men and women so often tend to fall into typical gender roles.  They both have Ph.Ds and are high-flying intellects.  Would it be too much to ask them to do a bit of reading on the subject about which they’re writing in major national publications?

If they did that, they’d learn what human beings have known for millennia but that we in the 21st century are having to re-learn.  Our success as a species stems in large part from our sex roles that required men to take the risks, to fight and die to protect females and children.  The practicalities of human procreation mean that, for the species to survive, men are the disposable sex and women aren’t.  Human mothers tend to give birth to a single offspring and historically many mothers and children have died in the process.  Many more children haven’t survived to reach sexual maturity.  And sexual maturity is nine or ten years down the road.  Meanwhile, a single man can impregnate many women if necessary.

All that means that the survival of the species dictated that men were far, far more expendable than were women.  So men hunted dangerous animals and fought other groups that threatened to impinge on valuable territory.  Many perished in the process, but that was OK because fewer of them were needed to produce offspring than were females.  And females chose as mates those males who looked to be the most capable of performing those important, masculine tasks.

So it’s no surprise that men and women are still filling those most ancient of sex roles.  Men no longer hunt for food, for the most part, but they do “bring home the bacon.”  And women no longer need to be primarily bearers and carers of children, but they continue to opt for that role.  As I’ve said before, a look at the data shows that people in the economies of the U.S., Europe, Scandinavia, Japan, etc., show much less inclination to abandon those roles than elites like Moravcsik, Slaughter, et al, would like.

That may be a good thing, or not.  Sex roles have always been based on the assumption that humans, like all other species, had to do everything possible to ward off extinction.  The world was a dangerous place and every effort had to be made to increase the likelihood of survival.

By contrast, the idea that we can and should abandon those age-old sex roles assumes an environment of peace, plenty and security.  That is, we have enough or even too many people on the planet, most people are in no danger of dying in war or from crime and industrial capitalism has produced enough wealth that most people can survive reasonably well.  Sex roles, so the theory goes, served their purpose well enough, but are now not only unnecessary, but actually harmful.  To realize our individual potentials, we must be able to step outside of the roles of protector/ provider or mother.

And so it may be.  That notion of perpetual peace, prosperity and security is certainly a happy one.  I hope it’s correct.  But the entire course of human history tells us it’s not.  History is nothing if not about perpetual change.  Empires rise and fall, peace is replaced by war, plenty varies with famine.  Should the current order fall disastrously to pieces, human beings will revert to our ancient sex roles fast enough to make your head spin.  Here’s hoping today’s men and women remember them.  



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