March 30, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Leave it to The Guardian. With a headline like “Millennial Men Want Parental Equality – Will Anyone Let Them Have It?” my first thought was “Is the flagship liberal paper in the U.K. really supporting equal parenting?” Needless to say, my hopes were dashed, although honestly I never dared hope. The Guardian is just so predictably, pitifully bad on family law issues that I didn’t expect much. And ‘not much’ is what I got. Here’s the article (The Guardian, 3/21/16).
It’s written by a “millennial.” Patrick Greenfield tells us he’s 23 and that
I do want to be a dad. I want a good career, a loving relationship and a family in which I am both a homemaker and provider. But is that a realistic aspiration? Can millennial men really have it all?
To begin with, I’d like to ask all people who are considering writing a piece about career and parenting to never again wonder whether they can “have it all.” To be frank, when someone asks that question it’s a clear indication that they haven’t much of a grasp on their topic.
It’s a simple concept. If by ‘having it all’ they mean being a full-time parent with a full-time career, the answer is obviously ‘no, you can’t have it all.’ No one can both work full-time and be a full-time parent. On the other hand, if by ‘having it all’ they mean taking some of the parenting role and some of the provider role, then yes, like everyone else, they can have it all. Each person can trade off some parenting for some paid work, but I hate to tell millennials like Greenfield, that’s always been the case. Sex roles have almost always overlapped somewhat for almost all people. The only question is how much parenting do you and your partner want to do and how much paid work.
So please, stop with the silly, meaningless concepts.
More importantly though, Greenfield spends a lot of words and manages to miss essentially all the important aspects of his chosen subject. I’ll be charitable and chalk it up to his youth and inexperience, but honestly, how anyone can take on the subject of parental equality and never mention equality in family courts is beyond me. After all, it’s not like the papers aren’t full of case after case of fathers bemoaning their treatment by courts, of statistics like one-third of British children never seeing their fathers, of false claims of abuse to gain custody, of mothers who routinely refuse their exes even the meager visitation the courts order.
Has Greenfield noticed none of those?
The simple fact is that fathers will never fully embrace parenthood as long as they’re treated so shabbily by mothers, judges, children’s welfare officials, etc. Why take the risk? As Greenfield notes, parents, including dads, who take significant time off work to care for their kids see a reduction in their earnings. Mothers do that all the time for a couple of very good reasons. First, their body chemistry tells them to. Before the birth of a child, women’s bodies produce hormones specifically designed to produce parenting behavior in every mammal species, not excepting homo sapiens. Second, they know that, should their marriage break down, they won’t lose their children via the whims of a family court judge. And of course they know they’ll receive child support and likely spousal support into the bargain.
Fathers, unlike Greenfield, know the opposite. Yes, they’re powerfully motivated to care for their kids, but they also know that regardless of how good they are as parents, in the event of divorce, their parental world will be destroyed. Overnight, they’ll go from loving, caring father to persona non grata. So why would any man bet as much as mothers do on his role as parent?
Greenfield of course knows none of this. If he did, and he dared to write it, he’d have to look elsewhere for a publisher. What he does know just happens to fit nicely with The Guardian’s preconceived (and doggedly clung to) notions about how men and women can become “equal parents.”
As we saw in the U.S. in the words of Anne-Marie Slaughter, the liberal take on gender equality in parenting extends to one thing – parental leave. That, cozily couched in some verbiage to the effect that, if fathers would just get off their butts and do some work, everything would be fine, is pretty much as far as rags like The Guardian will go toward promoting equal parenting. Greenfield of course is no exception.
Now, I’m all for equal leave for fathers and mothers post-divorce and Great Britain has pretty much accomplished that. Mothers and fathers there can now split 52 weeks of parental leave following the birth of a child. It’s largely up to them how they want to divide the time.
Does Greenfield notice that fathers take far less parental leave than do mothers? He does, but still manages to ignore the question “Why not?” that could lead him to a real analysis of his subject.
Instead, Greenfield decides to congratulate his generation on being far more enlightened than any previous ones. What a surprise.
Take a glance at the British Social Attitudes survey, and it might seem as if the British public still supports the traditional family model. But look more closely, and it’s clear that change is coming. When asked whether they agree with the statement: “A man’s job is to earn money; a woman’s job is to look after the home and family”, only 4% of men and women aged 18 to 25 agreed. There was little difference between the genders.
That’s all jolly good of course, but what Greenfield never considers is whether there might be a difference between the attitudes of 23-year-olds and their behavior once little Andy or Jenny comes along. In fact, there’s a big difference. The simple fact is that, however egalitarian they might sincerely believe themselves to be, when the issue is no longer theoretical, overwhelmingly, mothers will want to be the primary parent and fathers will take up the role of primary provider. I suppose there’s always the chance that Greenfield’s generation may be entirely different from all previous ones, but if past is prelude (and it is) …
Indeed, Greenfield might want to take a peek at his own words.
Asked whether paid leave should be divided between the mother and father, 44% of those aged 18 to 25, and 26% of those aged 26 to 35, agreed that it should, compared with just 13% of over-65s.
Amusingly, Greenfield may consider the 26 – 35 year old set to be impossibly older than he is and therefore imbued with values alien to his and his peers’, but I have some news for him – they’re not. Indeed, for a many years now, we’ve been reading surveys indicating that the younger generation is fervently in favor of equal parenting, and by now, those who were so recently Greenfield’s age are in their childbearing years, i.e. 26 – 35. And guess what. Some 74% say parental leave shouldn’t be shared equally between mothers and fathers. But that obvious fact conflicts with Greenfield’s happy narrative so he either ignores it or can’t see it at all.
Finally, he’s mostly wrong about the causes of parental inequality.
Attitudes among young men towards gender, career and family norms are increasingly egalitarian, but economic pressures, social stigma and restrictive family policies are still obstacles to their ideal family life.
There are certainly “economic pressures, social stigma and restrictive family policies” that militate against men fully being the fathers they want to be. (Of course what Greenfield means by “restrictive family policies” is, as I said, limited family leave opportunities.) But the most important factor behind the persistence of gender roles, despite 50 years of efforts by elite opinion-makers to alter them, isn’t culture, it’s biology.
Culture of course is very often an expression of biology, particularly when it comes to gender roles. Every social mammal divides adults’ duties along gender lines, albeit with some overlap. For countless millennia human males have been the protectors of women and children and the main providers of resources. For that same time, human females have been tasked with conceiving, gestating, giving birth to and caring for offspring. Among humans, that division of labor has been astonishingly successful. Who’d have guessed even 15,000 years ago that homo sapiens would come to dominate the planet as we have?
With so much evolutionary history and the success of the species, is it any wonder there’s resistance to abandoning the whole thing? Can we possibly be surprised when men lean toward paid work (resource provision) and women toward caregiving?
Greenfield will be. Eventually, he and his wife or girlfriend will probably have a child and he’ll ratchet up his work hours and she’ll spend more time at home with the bairn. And he may even notice that, despite his “attitudes” as a 23-year-old, he and his partner are acting very much like so many humans have before them. Oh, he’ll have his ready-made explanation – social pressure imposed by a patriarchal power structure made him and his wife contradict their own real desires.
Meanwhile, human beings will continue to do what we’ve always done, leaving Greenfield behind to wonder why he’s working so hard.
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