It’s time to start including dads in the work/life balance discussion.
Working Dads Risk Damaging Their Child’s Prospects
Working Dads Are Healthier, Study Finds
Working Dads: Don’t Feel Guilty
The 10 Commandments For Working Fatherhood
5 Comments To Avoid Saying To A Working Dad
The Myth Of The Rich, Selfish Working Dad
Have you seen these headlines? No? That’s because they don’t exist. Links to the real headlines appear at the end of this piece. They, and the millions like them, are actually about working moms. Working moms are without a doubt the most picked apart, analyzed, written about, advised, talked down to, talked up to, monitored, and micro-managed group in society. And when working moms speak about being working moms, we listen, and then we attack.
This article is not meant to weigh in on any of these debates. Rather, this article asks the critical question: Would we say that to dads?
If the topic du jour sounds absurd when the word “Dad” is substituted for “Mom,” we need to take a step back and ask ourselves if our energy is being well utilized. Instead of answering and re-answering the age-old questions about working moms—Are they harming their kids? Are they helping them? Are they too selfish, too rich, and spoiled, too frazzled, pulled in too many directions?—let’s ask a different question. A critical question.
Why aren’t we talking about dads?
In this wonderful piece called “Dads Have Regrets Too,” blogger Charlie Capen writes:
Men aren’t judged in the same way if we decide to work full-time outside the home. We aren’t bludgeoned by criticism for taking a job or going on a business trip. But the fact remains that we do have self-critical thoughts similar to those of our female counterparts.
I’m not suggesting we should begin picking apart and obsessing over dads, their work-life balance, whether they work or stay home, etc. Instead, we need to ask ourselves why these discussions are gendered at all. We need to shift the conversation to equal parenting, rather than micromanaging and judging women.
While we are out policing each other, defending and condemning each other, paralyzed by our own guilt, and blogging about it, dads are out there living their lives, parenting, working, not feeling scapegoated, and much less paralyzed by guilt. Why?
Andie Fox, blogger at Blue Milk, writes, in a piece called Complaining About Motherhood:
The myth of motherhood is that the loving, the giving, and the nurturing is innate and unconflicted. Mothering is supposedly the core of my gender. The caring tasks I perform are expected of me, unlike those done by my partner, which are often seen as evidence of particularly exemplary traits in him.
When dads move out of traditional gender roles in ways that challenge work-family balance, they are typically validated for it. It is not seen as damaging to children. Of course, there is misunderstanding and may be some judgment, especially for stay-at-home dads, but for the most part, dads balancing work and family are seen in a positive light. Oh, he makes time for his kid’s soccer games, isn’t that great. Wow, look at that guy with the double stroller, check him out! What a gem, his wife must be so appreciative. He cooks dinner every night, can you imagine?
I can’t count the number of times folks have commented that I should be grateful my husband is such an involved dad. However, when I do the same things, the reaction is very different. I’ve never gotten a Wow, look at her with the double stroller! No one is shocked when I cook dinner. What shocks people is when I’m away from my kids and I seem fine. Wow, it must be hard leaving them. So, they started school, are you OK?
No one ever asks my husband how he’s handling being away from our kids. Living in an egalitarian household, where labor outside the home and childcare is shared, the realities of our gendered assessments of parents are particularly bizarre. When you and your opposite-sex partner do the exact same things and get drastically different reactions, things start to come sharply into focus.
If we really want equality, if we really want men to be viewed as full parents and women as full participants in public life, we need to start talking about parents, instead of women. But semantic shifts are not enough, we need to mean it.
Since so much of our focus and energy is on moms, the main shift we need to make is to bring dads into the discussion. This is not at all meant as a critique of dads. Dads are already parents. But they are rarely part of discussions of work/family balance. Any balance they achieve is viewed as an added bonus, icing on the cake.
We need to start talking about family balance as it relates to families—families with moms and dads, single parent families, families with same-sex parents, transgender parents, and families with extended family members and others contributing to childcare.
If we, as women, keep getting sucked into discussions of mothers, instead of discussions about childcare and labor as it relates to families, we are validating the idea that it is our responsibility. We are sending the message that it is, and should be, harder for us than for dads. Likewise, when we coddle dads and praise them for things moms do day in and day out, we are disrespecting dads as full parents.
As Capen goes on to write:
We may not leak breast milk every time a child cries, but I certainly get phantom pains when my son injures himself, a strange twinge in my abdomen that moms I’ve talked with describe as “uterus-quake.” Call it a scrotal spidey-sense. I don’t have a uterus, of course, but I don’t need mom parts to be deeply and physically connected with my son.
We don’t need to stop talking about parenting, family balance, and family-friendly policies and legislation. Quite the opposite, we need to talk more about these things, but in the context of parenting, not mothering. These are things that shouldn’t be gendered. Women carry children and breastfeed. These are gendered realities, but they are realities that impact families differently.
When we are talking about workplace policies, when we are talking about legislation, when we are griping about moms who do this or that… let’s pause, let’s take a breath, and let’s take gender out of it. The more gender creeps in, the more it fosters inequality, not just between men and women, but inequality toward same-sex parents, non-traditional family structures, and families that use surrogates, adopt, or utilize other nontraditional methods of conception.
Yes, we live in a highly gendered society. There is no way to talk about parenting without talking about gender. So let’s talk about work/family balance, how it’s different for men and women, and why it shouldn’t be. Let’s talk about how women are expected to do more balancing, and men are expected to care less about balance. Let’s talk about gender with the goal of not needing to talk about it anymore.
I want my husband to feel like he can go to his superiors at work and take advantage of family leave policies that were put in place for women. I want to take a weekend vacation with friends and not have folks assume I’m distraught being away from my children. I want to fill out an enrollment form for my kids and see lines for caregiver/guardian, instead of mother and father. I want people to be completely unfazed when they see my husband walking through a store wielding our 2 year old twins. I don’t want my husband to feel the guilt and pressure I do as a working parent, but I believe if we removed gender from parenting, I wouldn’t be feeling that guilt and pressure either.
Would we say that to dads? If the answer is no, then don’t say it.
Lyla Cicero has a doctorate in clinical psychology, and focuses on relationships, sexual minorities, and sex therapy. Lyla is a feminist, LGBTQIAPK-affirmative, sex-positive blogger at UnderCoverintheSuburbs.com, where she writes about expanding cultural notions of identity, especially those surrounding gender, sexual orientation, motherhood, and sexuality. Follow her on Twitter @UndrCvrNSuburbs.