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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Friday, December 11, 2009

Moms' Opinions of Dads

On December 1st, the National Fatherhood Initiative announced the results of its Mama Says survey.  This is the first national survey of how mothers view fathers and fatherhood, and consisted of an online 80+ question poll of 1533 mothers.

Among the key findings of the survey are:
  • For parents who live together, the top predictors of a mother's satisfaction with her partner's fathering were his closeness to the kids and how well he manages his own work/life balance.
  • Most mothers think that fathers are replaceable - that a child's father could be replaced either by a single mom who parents alone or by another male.
  • Very few mothers think that men and women parent similarly.
  • Most mothers consider women to be far more nurturing than men.
There are other key findings, but these four stood out for me as I read the survey results (full study can be found here).  First of all, we have to keep in mind that the survey's main aim was to get one parent's opinion of (or satisfaction with) the other parent - this is always tricky since it is always best to mind one's own business rather than evaluate someone else's performance.  But let's put that aside for the moment.  The first finding above speaks to the connection between one partner's happiness and the other partner's life balance.  It is just another small piece of evidence that this whole parenting thing works best as a team sport, and that when we work together to assure that each partner has a chance at a balanced life (and a meaningful connection with our children), everyone wins.

The sad finding about father replaceability is rather hard to interpret.  For women who are more connected to their children than their partners are, and surviving with this inequality, the result makes sense.  We all have to made do with what we have, or make a change.  If a father disappears or dies (as my own father did), a mother has to believe her kids have a chance at happiness (look Mom, I'm happy!).  And short of these scenarios of 0% father presence, mothers with less involved but existing partners have to also believe that the kids will thrive.  The question doesn't ask whether mothers feel that a fully involved co-parenting father can be replaced by a good-for-nothing bum of a new boyfriend with no consequences to the kids.  Nor, by the way, do we know what fathers think...would they say that a mother can be replaced by a single father or a new female companion?  I suspect they would not be as cavalier about their answer as the moms in the survey seemed to be, but in an ESP worldview the answers should be no different.

The last two findings were somewhat buried in the report, but interesting (and also sad) to ESP parents.  Do men and women parent similarly?  Our culture trains us to say "no" with a vengeance - both from what we observe on TV and from how our society is set up to teach men and women their proper roles at home.  But very little is actually nature (it's nurture).  Men and women, globally speaking, can parent similarly. Individual fathers and mothers parent very differently, of course, and that's one of the big perks of ESP.  Two different parents, two styles, two heads better than one - lucky kids.  The question of male nurturing runs along the same lines.  Yet we have a chicken-and-egg quandry here.  If moms believe moms are better at nurturing, moms will continue to take control in this arena...thus winning the nurturing trophies and proving the myth.  We all know boys are better at math than girls...right?  Or perhaps....

Mama Says is an interesting set of data.  It is reflective of the state of parenting in America, surely, and worthy of review.  A followup study would be useful, several years from now and then again in several decades.  How would the results be different if the percentage of ESP couples in the survey was larger?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is indeed a sad result.

As someone who had a difficult relationship with both my parents, but especially so with my father, I would like to say that fathers are absolutely critical, and the fact they are different people from mothers and have a different perspective is part of the value.

Although I suspect this is going to be controversial, I would say that the "father wound" and "father hunger" in our culture is much misunderstood and misdiagnosed. I sometimes wonder if the invention of any creator or higher power as masculine (i.e. "God") is indeed a subconscious effort to create a father where a real one too often does not exist.

Children need more from fathers than a genetic contribution via sperm, and money.

I am very disappointed in women who overvalue themselves as parents and do not make room for engaged fathering. I believe they are doing a grave disservice to their children. And on a societal level, they perpetuate the very abusive and abandoning behavior in men because (a) they see men as sperm & money (who wants to be devalued and objectified like that?) and (b) they deprive men from feeling connection with their children and the consequences and meaning of their procreative sexuality.

Very frustrating behavior by both men and women. And a big thanks for Marc and Amy for showing us another way.

9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have a wonder blog. I added your blog to the nosle rss index, so you get more traffic.

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4:07 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Anonymous - thanks so much for adding our blog to this index, and for your thoughtful comment. Very interesting theory about a male-perceived God and a subconscious fatherneed. I suspect you may be onto something! And I agree that we're still a long way from the public realization that fatherhood is no less important than motherhood - beyond gestation, that is. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. -Amy

9:05 PM  

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