Author: ‘Moms, I’m talking to you’ about Dads as Loving, Capable Parents

February 19th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
If Time Magazine is any indicator, the idea that mothers and fathers should not only be treated equally at work but in the home as well, may be gaining currency.  In the past, Time has proved itself to be a reliable source of anti-male, anti-father disinformation.  So, for example, in the not very distant past, we’ve seen articles on the “Second Shift” – that mythical being created by certain radical feminists selectively using only the statistics that backed up their arguments.

I’ve always wondered why feminists would be so hell-bent on writing the popular narrative of men as bad fathers.  After all, they’ve always wanted women in the workplace, earning as much as possible so as to be independent.  What better way to promote that than to tout fathers as the fine, capable, loving parents most of them are?  By taking half the childcare onus off mothers, they’d have freed them up to achieve more in their jobs and careers.

But no, feminist organizations have opposed even modest improvements in the treatment of fathers by state legislatures and family courts.  Every such bill before a state legislative committee can count on feminist opposition, and that’s never made much sense to me.  The only thing I can figure is that the feminist ideal for society and the family is for fathers to have as little contact with – or authority over – their children as possible.  Mothers would work full-time and dads would be replaced by state-subsidized daycare.  I know it sounds crazy, but it’s the only way I can make sense of feminist opposition to equal treatment of fathers in family courts.

So it’s good to see this article in Time that actually grapples with the real facts of current-day families (Time, 2/17/12).

Author Bonnie Rochman takes off from the latest flap about the U.S. Census Bureau’s treatment of fathers as second-class citizens in their own homes.  To the CB, when Mom does childcare, it’s, well, childcare, but when Dad does it, it’s supplemental, i.e. babysitting.  Rochman, like the Motherlode blog at the NYT before her as well as this blog, takes strong exception to the idea that mothers are presumptively the primary parent and everything else is just daycare.

That’s primarily because that view of things distorts reality.  If we look at all households, it’s true that mothers do substantially more childcare than do men, but that dataset includes the almost six million mothers who, as stay-at-home moms, do no paid work.  That’s likely at the agreement of their husbands who do all the earning.

But in households in which both parents work outside the home, fathers and mothers do statistically equal amounts of childcare.  That’s a huge change over the last 20 years or so, a change the Census Bureau seems determined to ignore, but that Rochman and countless others are not.  

No doubt, we’ve moved toward a more egalitarian society over the years: men work, women work. There’s no news there. Surveys bear out the shift toward co-parenting: according to the Families and Work Institute (FWI), which studies the changing workforce and its impact on families, men are spending more time caring for kids.

In 1977, the U.S. Department of Labor asked people to react to the following statement: it’s better for all involved if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children. Then, 74% of men and 52% of women agreed; in 2008, when FWI repeated the survey, just 40% of men and 37% of women concurred.

As University of British Columbia Social Work professor Edward Kruk reports,

On average, mothers who work outside the home devote 11.1 hours to direct child care tasks per week; fathers devote 10.5 hours, a 51%/49% split of child care tasks.  Although working longer hours outside the home than mothers, young fathers spend an average of 4.3 hours per day with their children, only 45 minutes less than mothers.

Those figures are taken from American time use surveys.

What really concerns Rochman is the possibility that mothers perpetuate the stereotype of the incompetent father.

Still, even the most equality-minded among us may unwittingly perpetuate the stereotype that fathers can’t care for kids as well as mothers. Moms, I’m talking to you. While preparing for my trip, for example, I made sure to meticulously update our Google calendar with names, phone numbers and addresses of places the kids needed to be.

She never answers her implicit question, perhaps because it’s likely impossible to do so.  Still, it’s worth asking whether mothers prefer to see fathers as the lesser parent.  That would certainly burnish their credentials as the better one, and countless mothers have reported the threat to their psyches posed by a father who says and proves that he’s perfectly capable of caring for the kids.

That, plus studies of maternal gatekeeping that find mothers subtly and not-so-subtly edging fathers out of childcare, strongly suggest that mothers may tend to do exactly what Rochman is concerned about.  Rochman is that somewhat rare mother who writes to tell us of her joy at letting some of the childcare go to her husband.  Many others tell us in many ways of their resentment of any encroachment on what they perceive as their “territory.”

And then of course there are the family courts.  The all-but-certain knowledge on the part of mothers that they’ll be given primary or sole custody of their children should the couple split up acts as a huge, juicy carrot encouraging mothers not only to file for divorce, but also to think of and portray fathers as incompetent at – and uninterested in – childcare.

So, my guess is that Rochman is onto something when she wonders whether mothers tend to promote the denigration of men as parents.  Changing those attitudes will require far more than a few articles in major national magazines, but pieces like Rochman’s can only help us get to the place we all know we’re going.

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