Parenting Is 50-50

Avi Norman Nathman argues that fathers play an equal role in parenting, despite an abundance of mom-centric marketing and media. 

One of the fun things about Facebook (you know, besides profile-stalking) is connecting with old friends. It’s especially neat when you find yourself not only waxing nostalgic about the “good old times” (aka the ’90s), but when you can find some current common ground to chat about.

I’ve been recently messaging back and forth with Maya, a friend from high school. She has a little baby boy, and she got in touch, letting me know that she’s been reading along with what I post and mulling it all over in her mind. Despite some differing thoughts, we’ve had a great discussion about boys, gender, and expectations. Then, the other day, she wrote to me about something she and her husband Uri have been talking about lately:

Will you please write a blog about the gender inequality among parents? Uri’s trying desperately to be totally egalitarian – but we often feel it’s impossible. Prenatal books all picture moms on the front and focus on the mom inside. Our birth certificate did not require a dad – nor did any of the nurses ask his name. Our bathtub is “mommy’s helper,” our play group is “upper west side mommys.” Don’t get me started about Mount Sinai’s one day paternity leave. How can we expect our kids to be open minded if we box ourselves even before they are conceived? 

The part I bolded above really hit home for me. It reminded me of when I was still pregnant, and MD called his company, asking about their family/paternity leave policy. The response was disheartening. Before he was even able to get a response, the person he spoke with actually questioned his decision. He couldn’t comprehend why MD (my husband) would want to stay at home with his wife and new baby. If I recall correctly, the employee even shared how he was happy to get back to work and leave the baby stuff to the wife.

We were finally able to acquire 1 week of paid family leave. In our minds, that wasn’t enough, but MD’s place of employment didn’t support anything further financially. So we wracked our brains, trying to figure out a way to make it work. In the end, he also took 1 week of paid vacation and  2 weeks of unpaid leave, giving us one month home together as a new family.

But back to Maya’s point. The fact that MD’s boss was incredulous over the fact that we would sacrifice a paycheck or two to have him home with us in that first month is exemplary of the larger issue at play here. So many times I’ve heard fathers referred to as babysitters, as people wonder if and when he “watches the kids,” like it’s not an automatic part of his life.

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It’s not so hard to understand how folks get to that way of thinking. Despite years of feminist fighting to allow women the same chances and choices as men, there is still a deep-seated societal belief that women (whether working or not) are inherently responsible for the majority of child-rearing. We birth them, so we obviously are the only ones capable of caring for them. [Insert any number of eye-rolling gifs here.]

This notion is hammered in again and again in books, television shows, movies, advertisements, playgroups, etc. As Maya mentioned, take a look at many of the products marketed toward parents of infants. The majority of them are mommy-centric, leaving dad off to the side or nowhere in the picture.

A quick scan through Target’s online baby section (and they’re not alone in this – the majority of big-box stores follow this pattern) exemplifies this not-so-surprising phenomenon.

(On the plus side, the one – and only – picture of a man that I saw in the baby section was in the infant carrier section. But his head was partially cut off.)

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Even when men are depicted as care-takers, there is usually humor involved to swallow the idea that males can also be nurturing and adept at parenting. (Fast-forward to 1:00 for proof.)

Not only does this promote the erroneous stereotype that all men are incompetent, bumbling fools, but it adds insult to injury by insisting that men are not naturally equipped to safely care for their own children. You have to wonder then, how do all of those 2-daddy households manage to do it without misplacing their child? My heart goes out to Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka’s two young twins, who, no doubt ,will end up trapped in a washing machine any day now.

The number of articles/blog posts/Facebook status updates I have read that lament the fact that husbands/fathers are not as active or involved in the lives of their children make me simultaneously sad and frustrated. Sure, some of these guys might be total tools, but at the same time, most are probably going with what society feeds them. If we’re not being inclusive, and not only welcome, but expect, fathers to be an equal part in the parenting process, then it practically encourages men to shrug off the responsibility.

At the same time, by excluding (and excusing) men from the early parenting process, we’re essentially shackling children to their mothers, by implying nobody else can properly care for their needs. All of these little things (“mommy group” instead of “parenting group” or “mommy’s helper bathtub,” ignoring the father at the hospital, etc…) add up to negatively impact both men and women.

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So how do we change this? As trite as it sounds, be the change you want to see. Normalize the fact that parenting is 50-50. That (as unbelievable as it sounds) men are just as capable of changing diapers, taking on nighttime duties, hanging out with the kids, etc… as women are. Roll your eyes and speak up against the inanity of movies like the one above.

Above all – change expectations. If we buy into the false expectations that society throws at us via marketing, television, movies, and more, then we’re just feeding the problem. Mothers and fathers may have varying styles of parenting, but that doesn’t automatically mean that dads are simply incapable of doing much more than keep the kids alive.

Originally appeared at The Mamafesto.

—Photo kelsey_lovefusionphoto/Flickr

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About Avital Norman Nathman

Avital Norman Nathman is a play-at-home-mama, feminist, wife, writer, and activist (in no particular order). Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine (and website), Ms. BlogBamboo Family MagazineGender Across Borders, and more. When she's not hosting dance parties in her kitchen, she's knee-deep in dirt in her teensy urban garden, nose deep in some young adult lit, or off in search of the perfect cup of Chai.

Comments

  1. The Bad Man says:

    If you want to normalize the fact that parenting is 50-50 then start with the laws.

    Nothing is going to stop the stares you get from going to the park with your little girls.

    • Justin Cascio says:

      Aren’t you saying two different things? Because it’s not illegal to be in the park with your little girls, and yet still, people stare. People also stare at breastfeeding women, and all kinds of things that are healthy and good, but not accepted by everyone. I think the best thing for a dad with two little girls to do is to try to forget the judgments of strangers. That self-consciousness can be corrosive to your relationship with your children.

  2. I’ve been at the dadding business for over 16 years now. I’m a part time stay at home dad, and I;m proud of it. Over the years I’ve realized that I can’t change the world’s perceptions about male and female traditional roles. I’ve also learned where those roles come from, as my parenting style is more masculine, less nourishing than my wife’s.
    But one thing we can change: our own children’s perceptions. They don’t care about the pictures at Target, or even in their own books as long as they grow up with a daddy whose caring, and present, and playing a different while equal role to mommy.

    • “I’ve also learned where those roles come from, as my parenting style is more masculine, less nourishing than my wife’s.”

      This reminds me of my Dad when I was growing up! Admittedly a Daddy’s girl; but I do not think a Dad’s style is less nurturing it is more like a different style nurturing that feeds the mind, body and soul in a different be equally as valuable way. Sounds like your children are very luck.

      Thank you for your response.

  3. Peter Houlihan says:

    Well written :) And thanks for speaking up.

  4. John Sctoll says:

    What I have always found rather odd, is the assertion that women (all or most) want the father to be more active in the child life. Women have this huge organization called NOW that promotes equality , the promote what is best for women (and presumably mothers). Yet you never hear them up in arms about the latest stuff from Johnston and Johnston where every product they sell is for “MOMMY”.

    For years advertisers, movies, tv shows etc have bent over backwards to ensure that there is fair and equal representation of women in what would be called traditional male roles and job, i.e. police, firefighters etc. BUT when it comes parenting, they still show mom as the competent parent and dad as the bumbling fool who can barely tie his shoes.

    To the OP , please don’t use celebrities as a model of how tough they must have it, pretty sure that couple has at least 1 full time nanny and housekeeper. There as an article on cnn.com a couple of months about what is considered the most well kept secret in hollywood, the nanny. How Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have several nannies and even an on call doctor for their kids and even though the paparazzi take ever single photo of the celebs they can, they don’t go near the help.

    • My comment re: NPH & David Burtka was a little tongue-in-cheek and I used them b/c they’re probably the most recognizable 2-dad family apart from Elton John & David Furnish. I’m quite aware that they probably have a full staff of nannies, house keepers, etc…

      As for your other comment – I think we still have a long way to go until most folks are represented fairly in the entertainment media. I don’t think the media has bent over backwards at all in portraying women fairly. Take a look at Geena Davis’ organization (it links to numerous studies) for examples: http://www.seejane.org/research/

      I am an unapologetic feminist, but while I do believe that while we have fought incredibly hard to ensure the equality of women in the workplace (and yet…we’re still not there 100%), I can admit that we haven’t done as much to bring men back into the family within that shift. Is it all our (women) responsibility? No. Just like promoting women’s rights isn’t all on the shoulders of women. We need to work together to change the way society looks at and portrays men’s role within the family.

      • Author: “Just like promoting women’s rights isn’t all on the shoulders of women. We need to work together to change the way society looks at and portrays men’s role within the family.”

        What doesn’t help is posting a study that minmises the concerns of John about men in the media.

        If you’re going to insist that both genders need to support each other, how about putting an end to minimisation of one’s experiences like you just did a moment ago. Because this happens every single time when issues like this come up concerning men. It’s the “Women still have it worse” meme and it’s, frankly, tiring and irritating to hear every single time. I’ve even had a feminist do the same thing to me in the commetary section of my “Bullied By Girls And Women” article with regards to avoiding stories featuring strong female protagonists IF (and if I had Bold and Italics at my disposal, I’d apply it to the word ‘if’ because it seems some feminists can’t even be bothered to OPEN THEIR EYES AND FREAKIN’ LOOK AT MY DISTINCTIONS ON THE SCREEN!) they are developed at the expense of the male protagonists or treat the male protagonists like trash in the name of “Girl Power”.

        So, start from there.

        • I’m sorry, but I just don’t agree with your assessment of my comment. Nowhere in my comment did I: a. minimize John’s concerns or b. claim that women have it worse.

          Please reread what I said. I agreed in saying that we still have a ways to go until most people (meaning women *and* men) are fairly portrayed in the media. And in my article above, I specifically mention the poor way that men *are* depicted in entertainment media, specifically as parents. That was one of the main points of my post. I don’t see how that could be misconstrued as minimizing at all.

          What I did disagree with in John’s post was his assertion that the media has made great effort/strides in promoting a better view of women. I don’t think that’s the case at all, and just made note of a good resource that discusses that – that’s all. Providing some information about one topic doesn’t and shouldn’t minimize the other side of the coin, especially when the entire point of my article is the opposite of minimizing the issue.

          • Very well. I apologise if I was too upfront.

            It’s just that I’ve heard the information you provided used as a means to minimise male concerns, especially those of male survivors, by other feminists.

            If you’re advocating both sides of the coin, then I can vouch and support that.

  5. At the same time, by excluding (and excusing) men from the early parenting process, we’re essentially shackling children to their mothers, by implying nobody else can properly care for their needs.
    Many thanks for talking about exclusion because usually the complaint about men not doing their share of parenting is presented as excusing men from the responsibilities and dumping them on women.

    Back in 2008 and 2009 when president Obama made it a point on to go to a church on Father’s Day and give a speech about how fathers need to “step up”. Yeah one day on the calendar set aside to give some respect and love for dads and he has to spend it running dads under the bus. (I noticed he didn’t do the same on Mother’s Day.) Instead he could have given a speech about the dads that are fighting to be in their kids lives to take on the very responsibilities that people complain that men don’t take up. (Fathers and Families and the site Dads4Justice have no shortage of these folks.)

    A bit after that (late 2009 I think) I remember a story about a school in the UK where a new policy was passed the children couldn’t make cards for Father’s Day. Yeah once again why that one occasion being the only one singled out like that? (If I’m not mistaken I think the reason was that Father’s Day cards would embarass kids with single moms and lesbian parents. Assuming that’s the real reason I really hope they don’t have any kids with two dads…)

    But time and time again the complaint is that men are being let off the hook? Sounds more like they are being tossed off the boat like chum.

  6. Not a dad yet, but when I am I hope to do my bit to fight the ‘clueless dad’ stereotype.

  7. Did I miss something? What’s wrong with the clip of the guys in that movie trailer? I saw a bunch of guys actively taking care of their kids, yet admitting their screw-ups. That’s something I’ve done in real life, and something I’ve chronicled on my own blog since my son was born. There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone makes mistakes. It would be much more offensive if the guys were shown not wanting to spend time with their kids, not knowing how to work the stroller, etc. But what I saw was funny, realistic and encouraging. The opposite of what you described.

    I agree dads are left out of the parenting equation, marketing, etc. But women are often left out of the boardrooms at work. It evens out. I think dads need to continue to step up and make involvement more the norm. However, you can’t always have 50/50. It’s just not possible. As the sole breadwinner, some dads need to work more whether they like it or not. Therefore their childcare duties cannot possibly be even with mom’s. I find it a little ironic that while you’re calling for equality, you’re also unintentionally marginalizing working dads who can’t possibly live up to the standard you’re describing, through no fault of their own.

    • I don’t know about you, but comments like “My kid ate a cigarette,” “I picked the wrong kid up from daycare,” etc… seem a bit more than “screw ups” and are promoting the idea of dads being the bumbling idiot when he attempts childcare. Certainly everyone makes mistakes, fathers and mothers – it just bums me out that they keep showing these types of fathers. I’d love to see more varied (less stereotypical) depictions of dads on TV/in movies, that’s all.

      Also, my point wasn’t to marginalize working dads, and I’m sorry if I came across that way. Working fathers can still be an important part of a child’s life. I only have to look at my own husband to know that. Despite working full time, he was still up at night changing diapers, consoling our son, and hanging out with him during his non-work hours. I also don’t think it’s a bad thing to hold fathers up to high standards. Working moms have had to deal with that backlash (of pulling both the domestic/home and working role) and while scrutiny and judgment (for both men & women) sucks and is wrong, quality standards, especially when it comes to parenting, doesn’t seem like all that bad an idea to me.

      • You can’t imagine a scenario, perhaps at the park, where a kid finds a cigarette butt on the ground and tries to eat it? Sounds fairly common to me. And the “picking the wrong kid up at daycare” was pretty obvious sarcasm mainly for hyperbole. The dads in the movie were babywearing for goodness sake. They simply didn’t come across as clueless, any more than the pregnant woman who talked about how awful pregnancy is.

        And yes, high standards are good for all. But I just fail to see how those standards were sullied in your example.

    • Also, I should note that GMP came up with the title of this post, not me. The original title (when it appeared on my blog) was: Parenting – It’s not just for Mommy anymore.

    • For Daddy Files –

      Sorry, but I am going to disagree, ” As the sole breadwinner, some dads need to work more whether they like it or not. Therefore their childcare duties cannot possibly be even with mom’s. I find it a little ironic that while you’re calling for equality, you’re also unintentionally marginalizing working dads who can’t possibly live up to the standard you’re describing, through no fault of their own.”

      If you are the sole breadwinner and that is the agreement with your spouse – you are DROPPING the ball if you shirk off responsibility as a parent because you “bring in the money.”

      I see nothing about this article that marginalizes – it demands that the bar is RAISED.

      If you believe working Dads cannot live up to their part of being a parent, perhaps they should reconsider the role they are moving into.

      • You’re absolutely wrong.

        If the agreement is that the husband works full-time and the wife stays home with the kid, the simple math bears out that the childcare duties CANNOT POSSIBLY be 50/50. Mom is spending every minute of the day with the child while dad is at work. Even if the dad comes home and does bathtime, bedtime and weekends it still wouldn’t come out to 50/50.

        Dads in this role (and I’m one of them) are not shirking any responsibility and you really put your foot in your mouth when you denigrate them unnecessarily. The person (mom or dad) who works full-time is performing a responsibility just as valuable as the childcare. How would you like it if I said the woman at home with the child is shirking her responsibilities if she doesn’t find a job at night after the husband gets home to help support the family? It’s the same logic you’re using, but that would offend the delicate sensibilities of mothers so no one goes there.

        My point is both people should be pulling their weight. But if one person has to bring in all the money, it’s just not feasible to have an equal split on the childcare duties. This has nothing to do with dads not being able to live up to expectations. Working dads do that and more. But a 50/50 split? There’s not enough time in the day.

        • There is the difference – you want to do the math and make sure things are equal 50/50.

          “How would you like it if I said the woman at home with the child is shirking her responsibilities if she doesn’t find a job at night after the husband gets home to help support the family?”

          It is not up to me to like it – but I have a feeling that if you told your spouse that, there may be issues.

          In case you are missing the point – the DEFINITIONS are not created by society, it is up to each family to define what works for them. If one person creates enough income for the other person to stay home and focus on the home and children – good for them! That is a rarity.

          I am saying “bringing in the money” is not enough of a role as a DAD. And I can say that because I am familair with the role too. Kids needs more than a paycheck from a parent.

          Live in your world and make your excuses to feel good about what you are doing. I can tell you – from MY experience, that it takes a LOT MORE to be a DAD than just bringing in the money.

          • Of course it takes a lot more than bringing in the money to be a dad. I never said otherwise. If you bothered to read what I was saying, I was talking about the title of this piece which talks about parenting as “50/50.” And I was simply pointing out that when it comes to the actual work in the trenches that makes up the childcare duties, it’s an unachievable goal is one parent is working full-time and the other is staying home full-time.

            You can stop your snide and insulting comments right there. I don’t need to make excuses for myself because I’m a good dad. Do I wish I had more time with my son? Absolutely. But I had to take a job that involves three hours of daily commuting plus all the time at work, because we need to pay bills. And while I agree with you that parenting is more than just a paycheck, the paycheck is what helps us parent with a roof over our heads and food on the table.

            So perhaps you should giving working parents a little more credit. If anything I believe they have it tougher than stay-at-home parents, because we’re constantly trying to make it work in two different worlds. We need to put in the hours to get ahead and provide for our families while somehow spending enough time with said families so we’re not cheating them of our time. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, especially if you’re a super-commuter.

            I’m not making up societal definitions here. The term “50/50″ has a very set definition. It means equal. The same. Split right down the middle. And it’s the title of this piece, which is why I’m referencing it. I’ve kept my points right on target. Yours, however, are all over the place and I’m not even sure what you’re trying to argue for at this point.

            • OK – I am out. Apparently having a different viewpoint means I have no place sharing them and I am “off-target.”

              Yes – your story is sad. You work harder than stay-at-home parents. You very well may work harder than any parent ever.

              I am afraid to comment anymore and possibly hurt your feelings. Keep score and make sure you do less than 50%.

              Good luck!

  8. Matthew Casto says:

    PArent is rarely 50/50. Relationships are rarely 50/50. When we approach these portions of our life with this 50/50 attitude families fail. Each parent must give 100%. There are times that we are weak and we are not capable of giving our all. It is during these hours that a partnership in parenting is necessary. There are days that I carry the family 100%. There are days when my wife is the entire support. I never approach meaningful relationships with a 50/50 attitude.

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