January 28, 2014 by Don Hubin, Chair, Executive Committee, National Parents Organization of Ohio
Men in the fathers’ rights movement run the gamut of the political spectrum. On issues other than the promotion of fathers’ rights to be full partners in parenting their children, they exhibit great diversity. Some are social conservatives; some lean toward libertarianism; some are politically progressive; some are socially liberal; and many are middle-of-the-road moderates with interesting mixtures of political and social views.
This truth is in marked contrast to the way fathers’ rights advocates are sometimes portrayed — as bitter men who see their unearned power slipping away and yearn for the patriarchal privileges of a bygone era.
I’m one of those who hold generally progressive political and social views. I grew up in a family with no apparent gender division of labor, came of age with the second wave of feminism, and have always been involved with strong, independent women. When I was first drawn to the fathers’ rights movement, more than 20 years ago now, I was surprised to learn that feminists, in general, were not sympathetic allies in the promotion of a presumption of shared parenting. There were, and are, some notable feminist allies — Karen DeCrow, former president of the National Organization for Women, for example — but the overwhelming reaction to fathers’ rights groups from feminist organizations was more than suspicious; it was downright hostile.
For me, the promotion of shared parenting after divorce — and specifically the creation of a presumption in favor of shared parenting — was another step toward a social arrangement that diminished restrictive gender roles and allowed people to find the balance of paid-work and family responsibilities that worked best for them as individuals in their families. These are goals that I thought all feminists should support. I learned, of course, that some who call themselves ‘feminists’ don’t support these goals. Some people seem to think that ‘feminism’ means that in any contest between a woman and a man, the woman should win. So, shared parenting is great, they’re happy to say, if mom wants it — otherwise, not so much.
As a father of one woman, step-father of two, and grandfather of a baby girl, I want women to have every career opportunity that my two sons have. I want my children and grandchildren of either sex to have the freedom to choose paths through life that will be personally rewarding and not to have their lives restricted by artificial, externally-imposed, gender roles. Over recent decades, that has meant expanding career opportunities for women and breaking down the stereotypes that have limited those opportunities. Now, it crucially means, expanding parenting opportunities for men and breaking down those stereotypes that are still limiting those opportunities.
So, I read with interest a recent article in The Atlantic on what they call ‘the daddy track’. It focuses on the benefits of establishing and supporting a practice of paternity leave for new fathers. Paternity leave is beneficial for fathers, children, mothers, and society in general. One of the benefits for mothers is that it can help to minimize the “mommy penalty.” This is the career hit that many women take when they lessen their professional commitments to handle additional family and childcare commitments. Studies have shown that there is little if any gender disparity in income for those in similar careers until women become mothers. At that point, many women reduce their hours, decline promotions that would require moving or a greater time commitment and, predictably, fall behind men who were on the same career trajectory.
Liza Mundy, author of The Atlantic article, points out that paternity leave happens at “a crucial time of renegotiation” between parents of their paid-work, household, and childcare responsibilities. This period can establish patterns of behavior that last a lifetime. As women reduce their work hours to take on more childcare, fathers often take on more hours or more responsibility to fill the economic gap. This leads to what some have called the ‘daddy dividend’ — fathers advancing faster in their careers than fatherless men. For many couples, this is fine; it is what they want. But many others would rather have a greater balance for both parents between paid work and family responsibilities. Paternity leave allows a family to explore different options for work/life balance.
Another “crucial time of renegotiation” between parents on these issues is at divorce/separation. A presumption of true shared parenting will, like the provision of paternity leave, benefit fathers, children, society, and mothers. And this is why feminists should join us in promoting a legal presumption of shared parenting.
True shared parenting, with both parents sharing parenting responsibilities in a substantially equal way, allows newly divorced mothers to continue to pursue their careers. It helps, then, to minimize the “mommy penalty.” Shared parenting might result in a lower child support transfer payment. (NOTE: not in lower child support. Children are supported directly by both parents. Child support — the amount of resources provided to support the children — will be higher in shared parenting cases. But there will often be less child support funds transferred from one parent’s house to the others.) But child support transfer payments end. And, if a woman’s career has been truncated by direct parenting responsibilities — if she has missed promotions and raises throughout the years the children were growing up — child support transfer payments will never compensate for the loss of income from professional advancement.
There are many reasons to support a legal presumption of true shared parenting when parents divorce. Shared parenting is usually better for children; nearly forty years of social science research supports this conclusion. Shared parenting is better for fathers; depression and suicide rates are lower for divorced fathers who are sharing child-rearing responsibilities. Shared parenting is better for society; a child of shared parenting is less likely to commit crimes, drop out of school, become pregnant, or use drugs. But, even if one thinks that all that matters is the overall effect on women, one should support a presumption of shared parenting. It’s usually best for moms, too.
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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