On Father’s Day this year, I remind myself that parenting is hard. And it’s getting harder all the time. It’s not just the outside forces that are challenging to a parent’s influence and effectiveness, it’s also internal changes to our family structures themselves that have pushed the envelope.
I have always said that the untold story of women working full time is that fatherhood, of necessity, must also change. Far too often, however, when modern families are written up in the media, it’s still the same old model that’s assumed: a woman can work outside the home, but she’s still in charge of everything at home too.
That’s why I’m pleased to see this very long story in the New York Times today that points to a different, and still relatively new, model: When Mom and Dad Share it All
The story starts out by telling the tale of “Marc” and “Amy,” two modern parents who made the decision to not live our traditional roles of fatherhood and motherhood, or even by the neo-traditional role where the modern working mom still shoulders most of the familial burden. As the story tells it:
“…they would create their own model, one in which they were parenting partners. Equals and peers. They would work equal hours, spend equal time with their children, take equal responsibility for their home. Neither would be the keeper of the mental to-do lists; neither of their careers would take precedence. Both would be equally likely to plan a birthday party or know that the car needs oil or miss work for a sick child or remember (without prompting) to stop at the store for diapers and milk. They understood that this would mean recalibrating their career ambitions, and probably their income, but what they gained, they believed, would be more valuable than what they lost.”
Dennise and I have always tried our best to live this new way of co-parenting –dividing chores and responsibilities– but it’s hard work, and there are few role models. But, I’m pleased to see couples like us getting a little due. The story continues:
“There are Marcs and Amys scattered throughout the country, and the most interesting thing about them is that they are so very interesting. What they suggest, after all, is simple. Gender should not determine the division of labor at home. It’s a message consistent with nearly every major social trend of the past three decades — women entering the work force, equality between the sexes, the need for two incomes to pay the bills, even courts that favor shared custody after divorce. And it is what many would agree is fair, even ideal. Yet it is anything but the norm…”
“If you gave people a survey they would probably check all the answers about how things should be equal,” says Francine M. Deutsch, a psychology professor at Mount Holyoke and the author of “Halving It All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works.” But when they get to the part where “you ask them how things work for them day to day,” she says, “ideal does not match reality.”
Deutsch has labeled the ideal “equally shared parenting,” a term the Vachons have embraced. DeGroot prefers “shared care,” because “shared parenting” is used to describe custody arrangements in a divorce, and while “equal” would be nice, it is a bar that might be too high for some families to even try to clear. Whatever you call it, the fact that it has to have a name is a most eloquent statement of both the promise and the constraints facing families today.
“Why do we have to call it anything?” Amy asks.
Marc adds, “Why isn’t this just called parenting?”
Someday, it won’t seem so strange. I am sure of it. But there are days when it still seems like a challenging, trailblazing, life.
On other matters related to being a father….
The other day, in my wrap-up of the Democratic Primary season, I mentioned an essay by Peggy Drexler, that cited a surprising study about which politicians actually support women’s issues the most. She’s now unpacked that one quote in complete essay titled: Looking for a Woman’s Candidate? Check for Daughters.
Here’s what she says:
“A study (done in 2006 and updated last year) sponsored by Yale University and the National Bureau of Economic Research and authored by Ebonya Washington showed that male legislators with daughters are more likely to support women’s issues than those without them.
She came to that conclusion through an analysis of roll-call votes in which she compared votes with family composition. She used rankings by major women’s groups on 20 women’s issues, such as equal rights, women’s safety, economic security, education, health and reproductive rights.
It is a political application that mirrors previous research that shows – just as fathers change daughters, daughters change dads.
The dependent, passively feminine daddy’s little girls of the past have been replaced by a new and thoroughly re-designed model of young female – ambitious, educated, worldly and in need of nobody’s protection.
Instead of preparing his daughter for the time-honored matrimonial hand-off, fathers today can – and are increasingly expected to – have a hand in raising powerful and independent women; women fully capable of making their way in a competitive world where the competitors don’t always play nice.
More than most, legislators have a chance to shape that world.
As we wish them a happy father’s day, let’s also hope the elected fathers of daughters make the most of it.”
Happy Father’s Day, everyone.