Full-time dad Marcus Williams senses some nonsense in the Census.
I’ve always been good with kids. From about age 13 continuing into my 20’s, I was the regular and favorite babysitter for several different families and kids. In my college years, I worked a few summers as a camp counselor (later director) and spent my first year out of college working with kids as an instructor at a sleep-away Outdoor Science School. My babysitting gigs never lasted more than a few hours at a time. At OSS, I lived with and helped care for a bunch of kids for 4.5 days at a time, but it was still just working with and watching out for other people’s kids. Almost three years ago, at age 39, I became a father to twin daughters, for whom I have been a stay-at-home dad since they were born. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, I’m still just providing babysitting and childcare services. “Parenting”, apparently, is what mothers do.
Since reading about this at The New York Times, Huffington Post, and Time, I’ve had a hard time deciding how much this bothers me. On a personal level, I’m not all that troubled, because I care more about what fatherhood (or even manhood) means to me than how I might be judged according to cultural stereotypes. I know that what I do is parenting, even if some governmental agency doesn’t see it that way. On a policy level, it’s more disturbing. As Kristin Maschka wrote in her HuffPo piece:
If the data the Census Bureau uses for their report, “Who’s Minding the Kids?”, treats mothers caring for children as totally invisible, and fathers caring for children as equivalent to “babysitting,” we end up with an inaccurate and nearly useless picture of what’s really going on with today’s families.
Measuring caregiving work, in a gender-neutral way, and using that information is critical to making good decisions that support the unpaid caregiving work that creates healthy communities and a healthy economy for all of us.
The implied insult to my and other fathers’ parenting role is less important to me than the fact that framing the stats that way does a disservice to both mothers and fathers, and the communities they live in. I remember an old programming cliché I learned: GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out. With this kind of garbage going in to Census Bureau reports, it’s hard to expect anything but garbage coming out.
Photo courtesy of Katie Tegtmeyer