November 13, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Finally, the New York Times managed to address the issue of fathers, mothers and the work/family balance with a semblance of evenhandedness (New York Times, 11/12/15). Oh, Motherlode blogger K.J. Dell’Antonia doesn’t completely eschew the type of cultural misandry her piece decries. She can’t quite bring herself to come out and say something like “Stop demeaning men; they contribute as much to their families as women do.” She’s far too coy for that. But an open-minded person reading her blog will get the message, albeit somewhat obscurely.
And, more importantly, she grasps the concept that the sort of standard, off-the-shelf misandry in which discourse about the work/family balance is usually couched merely masquerades as opposition to the status quo. In fact, it promotes it. As such, she’s pretty much echoing what I’ve been saying for years. By falsely depicting men as uncaring about their kids, that discourse encourages judges, legislators and others to marginalize fathers in their children’s lives when Mom and Dad split.
Of course that’s not the way it should be. Kids attach to their parents irrespective of how much they earn or how many diapers they change. Children have a deep and powerful need to continue meaningful relationships with both parents post-divorce. That’s something judges should acknowledge and craft their parenting-time orders accordingly. So, regardless of the mewlings of popular culture about the failure of men to be women, equal parenting should be the rule. But it isn’t, and we can’t pretend that judges and legislators are immune to cultural messages belittling dads.
Leading the charge in the public forum of late is Josh Levs, whom everyone, it seems, is happy to quote on the subject.
“All the numbers show that men and women are putting in equal time for our families,” says Mr. Levs, even if we don’t yet spend that time in equal ways. “We’ve achieved a level of egalitarianism that no one understands.”
It’s that type of “Look what I just discovered” attitude that puts me off of the crumbs Levs wants to feed us. To put it mildly, plenty of people understand, Mr. Levs. The fact that you just woke up doesn’t mean everyone else has been sleeping. Still, Levs is right about the main point: men and women put in equal time on behalf of their families. Dell’Antonia gets in on the act.
Research, including the America Time Use Survey, supports the equal overall time premise. Fathers employed full time, on average, spend a little less than an hour more at work daily than mothers in full-time work, while mothers employed full time spend about 1.4 hours a day engaged in managing schedules, driving children to activities, providing physical care and helping with homework compared with about one hour a day for a father working full time. Full-time working mothers spend 1.7 hours a day engaged in housework compared with the 1.2 hours full-time working fathers report spending. Add it up, and mothers spend just under an hour more on the home front — about the same amount of time dads are putting in at work.
Better late to the party than not showing up at all.
And, this being the Times, Dell’Antonia chalks up to cultural forces alone the male/female differences in how each divides work/family time.
It’s barely necessary to note the long history of societal and cultural forces that put their fingers on the scale of equal distribution of work in and outside the home. Women have long been taught that we’re the caregivers; even without doubting our male partner’s ability to do the same, we can too easily see ourselves as failures if we’re not doing everything for our children ourselves.
True enough, but does she seriously pretend that women’s desire to nurture the children they carry inside their bodies and give birth to comes down to what they’ve “long been taught?” Yes, culture teaches that message, but does she ever ask herself (or anyone else) why that message is so resoundingly successful with women, why they learn it so readily, why women avidly pass the message on to girls, generation after generation from time immemorial?
Nope. Somehow the obvious, well-known fact of women’s biological attachment to their children goes entirely unmentioned by Dell’Antonia. It’s not hard to figure out why. Like Anne-Marie Slaughter and countless others who’ve decided that women’s desire to be mothers is learned behavior that must be unlearned, trumped by other forces, Dell’Antonia never questions why we should want to steer women away from a role that millions of years of evolution have instilled in them. To her, it’s a given and the fact that men are also fulfilling their age-old role of provider to their families is equally suspect.
Men are raised to be breadwinners and to relish the role; even in the least physical of jobs, like law or programming, management manages to create a culture of machismo around pushing the limits of time and sleep. Ironically, fathers seem even more likely to fall into the urge to meet that challenge: Men with a college degree living with their children are more likely to work more than 50 hours a week than men who are childless.
As with the distaff version, Dell’Antonia imagines that men’s behavior is simply a function of culture that can be changed with a little attention and effort on everyone’s part. But, like women, men do what they do, not because of ads in GQ or depictions of fathers on television or in the movies. They do it because the sex roles we cling to so strongly, even in the face of cultural messages aimed at tearing them down, because those same eons of evolution have been almost astonishingly successful for both sexes. Culture has a way of expressing biology, and the fact is nowhere more apparent than in how we address paid work and family time.
Dell’Antonia calls “ironic” men’s stepping up their work commitments when they become fathers. It’s not. It’s men doing what they’ve always done as one side of the mother/father dyad. Just as women are more likely to cut back on paid work when they have children, fathers take up the earnings slack at the same time. If she knew the basics of the issue, Dell’Antonia would never have made that claim.
That said, she still aims at the right mark, even if her weapon is undersized for the task.
Instead of going for the click and chuckle, we need to headline the numbers that show that fathers and mothers prioritize the same things, and that we all struggle to find a good balance.
Agreed. And what a “good balance” must finally mean is that our culture and system of laws must respect equally fathers’ decision to provide for their families and mothers’ decision to be the primary caregiver, and of course the converse. Family courts’ willingness to reward women for being moms doesn’t exactly encourage them to behave otherwise.
Once again, the key is family court reform. Once courts grasp the fundamental principle that kids need both parents post-divorce, both will be free to pursue their own legitimate goals, whether those emphasize paid work or family time. Men and women shouldn’t need to do the same things in order to be treated equally in family court or in the court of public opinion. It shouldn’t be so hard to respect both choices — paid work and family time — equally. After all, both are necessary for producing happy, healthy children, so why should we care who changed more diapers or who toiled longest in the corporate grove?
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