Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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Here's where we keep you updated on news about parenting as it relates to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions, work/life balance, and legislative and grass-roots movements toward equality or better choices for families. We'll also throw in our opinions of life as equal parents in a nonequal world, regardless of what's in the news.

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Equality Blog

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Preparing for Fatherhood

Men are disadvantaged in the quest for equally shared parenting from long before their babies are born. I'm not complaining or anything, but by the time a woman gives birth, she has had 9 months to physically prepare - her body has changed internally and externally, she had felt the baby move and kick, she has endured all manner of aches and nausea. Psychologically, I think this is nature's way of assuring that she'll be a strong mother since she has already sacrificed so much before she even meets the little person she'll be responsible for the rest of her life (together with equal responsibility by her husband, of course). Add to this the pains of labor and delivery, and then our culture's expectation that moms are in charge and our workplace expectation that moms get months of maternity leave while dads get a couple of weeks if they are lucky, and you have a set up for inequality. Moms can get way, way ahead of dads.

Parents who plan to equally share childraising can do a lot to overcome some of these barriers - the cultural and workplace ones at least. But the natural ones won't budge (unless more men gestate and give birth).

Well, one guy made an attempt to create his own way around this nature barrier. When he learned that his wife was pregnant, he rather inexplicably started to grow a beard. He didn't plan to do so, but a gut-level urge overcame him and he found himself making a personal vow not to cut his facial hair until his baby was born. The beard grew and grew, getting scraggly and bushy. He became a mountain man who drew stares from strangers.

When I first ran across his story of this crazy stunt (well worth the read - click over), I thought it was kind of corny. A beard is not a living baby. It is completely optional to the baby-making machinery. But his story grew on me (pardon the pun), and I found myself pondering the value of his attempt to prepare for his fatherhood. Did his beard give him a new identity, like a pregnant woman seems to become her pregnancy her near the end? Did it show the outside world something as drastic as a woman must show when her belly is the size of a beach ball? Did it help him feel the weight of this transition from man to father?

I'm not ready to advocate all men immediately make some drastic body alteration upon viewing the results of their wives' pregnancy tests. But I get it at a deeper level. We could do well to prepare to become fathers in a way that approximates what nature forces our partners to do. Because unless our children become ours through adoption, our babies will always be more of a mental, emotional and physical surprise to us than to our partners. It was this way for me, but then again, I'm not much of a planner anyway. I caught up to Amy pretty quickly because we were both dedicated to making this happen. But how might men mark their passage to fatherhood? What have you, or your partner, done to cross this bridge?


Blogger Molly said...

That's an interesting story. I get what you're saying (and what he's saying), though I'm deeply uncomfortable with the author's connection of readiness-for-fatherhood with 'manliness' (looking at the picture of his bearded dad and describing it as "the manliest photograph" of a burly provider, and then immediately beginning his beard-growing extravaganza). He questions the whole manly provider thing later, but it seems pretty important to the experience ...

As for me--when I was pregnant, my husband came to every single prenatal appointment with me, asked his own questions of the midwives every time, heard the fetal heartbeat every time I heard it, rubbed my belly with grapeseed oil every single night, took care of me throughout my rather extreme 'morning sickness,' brought me a prenatal vitamin and a glass of water each day, accommodated my physical challenges such that I could continue getting my fair share of work done on my dissertation and teaching (just like we've done as parents!), etc., etc. He did not experience our child's birth as any more sudden or surprising as I did; it was as though we'd always had this baby. I pushed him out, he caught him, and we started loving him together. In other words, I think there's LOTS of individual variation, but that (ahem) equally shared prenatal care can help even things out a lot. If the fetus is 100% the responsibility of the woman during pregnancy, it must be tricky to switch at the moment of birth.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're onto something Marc. As a lesbian non-bio-mom-to-be I did pretty much everything you describe during pregnancy, Molly, but none of that can come close to the very public (if sometimes annoying) recognition of parental responsibility that pregnant women get. I had to constantly remind people I couldn't take on new projects because, say, I was expecting a baby in a couple weeks. I had to push in order to get parental leave. I didn't have random conversations with strangers about impending parenthood unless I started them (which I did).

I was as parentally active as possible for a non-pregnant parent-to-be (somewhat to our midwife's chagrin) and my wife still got a head start. Our answer to this was to make sure I got catch up once baby arrived. We both heavily prioritized my time with the kid. If she wasn't nursing, I probably had her, and I got dibs before grandparents. In fact, we didn't even have grandparents around for a week, partially for this reason. One thing I did in particular was get out into public alone with the kid, even at just a couple weeks old. I absolutely loved getting those social interactions I had missed during the pregnancy. We were on equal footing fairly quickly, especially once I took solo parental leave. I don't think any of these tricks are lesbian-specific, though we may have been more pro-active because we were aware that I needed to actively construct a parental relationship.

11:05 AM  

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