September 7, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

It’s hard to criticize an article that includes this sentence (The Spinoff, 9/5/17):

Enabling shared care of children by both parents should be a priority for the new government, but it requires big legislative, industry and social change otherwise for many, it’s simply not an option.

Yes, New Zealander Jai Breitnauer favors shared parenting and when she says “shared,” she may just mean 50/50. Or she may not. Whatever the case, Breitnauer not only supports shared parenting and the many changes needed to bring it about, but understands the value of fathers to children. For example, she recently attended a conference at which three men presented information on that exact topic.

Dave Owens from Great Fathers noted that children who had involved dads from day one usually have much better outcomes in later life. Better at making friends, better at problem solving, secure enough to explore the world and their place in it, better able to cope with frustration and control aggression … Boys and girls with involved dads were less likely to experience teen pregnancy, substance abuse, end up in jail or be at risk of suicide…

David Ringrose from Family Start Manukau noted how important it is to engage men, especially fathers’ in vulnerable families, early on. He noted how little trust some of these men have for social workers and government agencies. They’ve been let down, and they need to be met on their own terms. They need their confidence rebuilt and for their friends and family to see how capable they are…

Brendon Smith from Father and Child said that according to the Growing Up In Auckland study, 40% of mums don’t have their child’s dad actively involved. This has increased by 7% in the last decade and it means many fathers are forgotten in services for parents. He said he has met with staff at a local agency who said, ‘our policy is we don’t have to ask if there is a dad involved.’ Brendon noted that mental health, development and poverty outcomes are usually better with an involved dad.

He noted that post-natal mental health issues affect dads too, plus women with PND have faster recovery times and better outcomes when the dad is involved. Multiple studies, he says, have shown that a happy relationship with both parents taking joint responsibility for the child leads to better outcomes for the child.

All true, and good for Breitnauer for including the information in her piece.

And just in case a reader might think she talks the shared parenting talk, but doesn’t walk the walk, she includes this:

Our day usually involves dad dropping the kids off at school before heading into the office. I work from home so I will do a load of washing or run a quick errand in my breaks. Four days a week I pick the kids up from school, and on one day, husband does the deed. Crucially, (and if you have a willy and a sense of entitlement this section is definitely for you), the four nights that my husband doesn’t pick the boys up from school doesn’t mean he wanders on home when he fancies, cracks open a stubby and asks what time dinner will be served. We appreciate that evenings are also shared care time, and that means we share responsibilities at home while supporting each other to have personal interests.

With all that, why do I believe that Breitnauer still doesn’t get it, that she still fails to grasp the basics about why there’s not more sharing of parenting between mothers and fathers? I conclude that because nowhere does she abandon her feminist mindset that it is fathers and not mothers who need to change. She takes for granted that, in most families, Dad gets off work, cruises home, kicks back with a bubbly while Mom does all the domestic work.

Mum worked two jobs. When her part-time paid job finished, her other job preparing meals, doing laundry, cleaning, helping with school projects, and being a taxi began. That made her working day much longer than Dad’s, which finished at 5pm followed by a bath and a beer and Brucie on the telly. This second, unpaid job is referred to by sociologists as the ‘second shift’.

Interestingly, Breitnauer has her father coming home at 5 PM whereas two sentences earlier, he got home at 6:30 PM. But apart from that, how many hours did Mum and Dad actually work? According to Breitnauer, her father did none of the yard work, none of the car maintenance, none of the home repairs. At least if he did, she never mentions it. And yet, in dataset after dataset, that’s exactly what men tend to do. In all those datasets, men and women spend essentially identical amounts of time each day when paid and unpaid work are combined. Breitnauer mentions not a one of those datasets.

And of course men earn more on average than do women, which means they pay more of the family’s expenses. When that fact is taken together with the fact that the huge majority of mothers prefer taking care of their kids to working and earning in the corporate grind, a fair conclusion is that men finance their partners’ choices at the expense of their own time with their kids. The same looks to have been true of Breitnauer’s parents, but she never grasps the fact.

Indeed, the same may well be true of Breitnauer and her husband. After all, he’s the one who goes off to the office and she stays home. Now it may be that she earns as much or more than he does, but I doubt it. And it may be that she really truly would prefer to leave the kids with him or at daycare, but I doubt that too. She herself explains that she and her husband are privileged enough to make their own choices.

We are a Straight, White, Affluent Family (SWAF’s – I just made that up, cool eh?) and that means we have options that aren’t always open to other types of family.

So it looks very much like the choices they’ve made involve him doing the lion’s share of the earning and her doing the lion’s share of domestic work. In other words, their arrangement is less Brave New World than it is Leave It to Beaver. Yes, her husband seems to do more childcare than Breitnauer’s father did, but is that just because he, like she, has absorbed the feminist lesson that women are fine as they are, but men need to change and the way they need to change is to do more of what women used to do?

If so, Breitnauer’s family is no model for others to emulate, it’s just more work for men. If women really want men to do more childcare (and there’s not a lot to suggest that they do), the best thing they could do would be to demonstrate their commitment to working and earning equally. Until that sunny day arrives, we need to promote shared parenting, not because the occasional feminist sees it as a way to put more of the day-to-day burden on her male partner, but because it’s good for kids.

At least Breitnauer understands the latter.

 

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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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