Article Lauds Equally Shared Parenting, but With Funky Figures and Twisted Logic

Here‘s yet another piece that lauds equality between mothers and fathers in childrearing, but uses some very questionable “facts” and figures to do it (Chicago Tribune, 8/20/10). The writer, Alexa Aguilar, wants to think of her marriage as non-traditional enough that both partners work and both do childcare. But she notices that, when push comes to shove, she’s more likely to control childcare and housework while her husband does the more traditionally male tasks around the house. She even refers to herself as the “gatekeeper,” and I wonder if she knows about the social science that refers to mothers’ control over fathers’ access to children and childcare as ‘maternal gatekeeping.’ If she does, she doesn’t let on. While Aguilar is interested in the concept of equally shared parenting, she still feels the need to detour through some very carefully selected numbers before she does it.

The University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Families and Households show that today, the number of hours a woman spends on housework still outnumbers a man’s by almost 2 to 1, and that’s when both partners work outside of the home full time. When it comes to child care, such as feeding, clothing and bathing the kids, women spend 15 hours a week tending to children. Dads spend two. In families where both parents earn a paycheck, the mother does an average of 11 hours of child care a week, while the father does three.

Those figures by themselves are accurate enough. But that’s the problem, those figures are by themselves; they don’t include all the other figures that show that, when men’s and women’s paid labor is added to their domestic chores, their total time spent is statistically identical. So her words “where both parents earn a paycheck” suggest rough equality in time spent at work. That in turn leads to the conclusion that men are laggards because they don’t do as much childcare. But of course that’s wrong. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics data regularly show, even when men and women work full time, men still spend about 50 minutes a day more at gainful employment. And overall, far fewer women work full time than do men, resulting in 56% of the total hours worked in the United States being worked by men (see here, p.10). So, although Aguilar may not know it, while women are at home with the kids, men are at work earning. And, like seemingly every other article written on the subject, Aguilar adopts the attitude that men are in some way deficient for not doing more childcare, but doesn’t criticize women for not doing more paid work. Aguilar moves on to the website set up by Marc and Amy Vachon, the equal-parenting mavens, and that’s a good thing because they provide a close look at what is actually required to increase dad’s part in his children’s lives. Tellingly,

[w]hen it comes to equally shared parenting, the Vachons say, a woman has to “abdicate her dictatorship” and fathers can’t take refuge in the stereotypes of a bumbling dad who gets applause if he changes a diaper or takes the kids to buy new school clothes.

That’s that old maternal gatekeeping problem again. Aguilar and the Vachons are right to point out the part dads sometimes play in that. After all, the same culture that tells mothers they have to be everything to their children, tells men that they’re incompetent at and uninterested in childcare. So, if they’re to be equal parents, mothers and fathers both have to be able to set aside those prescriptions they see every day for how to be a woman and how to be a man. Unlike Aguilar and the NSFH, the Vachons realize that equal parenting requires equal “breadwinning.” By that they don’t necessarily mean that each spouse earns the same (although that helps to keep one job from becoming “better” than the other), but simply that each spends about the same amount of time doing paid work. In other words, the Vachons do what I’ve never seen done, by Aguilar or anyone else (except here); they admit that if one person spends more time at work, he/she likely will spend less time on domestic chores, and vice versa. It’s a simple concept that, in our culture’s enthusiasm for disrespecting dads, goes mostly unmentioned.

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