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, March 23, 2010

Moms - Get a Grip!

If your partner is a fantastic parent, does that make you a crappy one? Hardly worth the energy to think about, really, but that's exactly what an MSNBC article last week describes when it comes to mothers' anxieties. The article starts out with an objectionable sentence - "Dads are helping out with childrearing more and more these days"- which gives us a big clue to the crazy-thinking of the moms in question.

The key word here is 'helping,' of course, and we find out a few sentences later that new research from Osaka University of Commerce in Japan (in collaboration with the University of Texas) reveals a drop in self-esteem in mothers who rate their husbands' parenting as high quality. Now, the 78 couples interviewed for this study were not ESP couples. They were dual-earners, and the moms spent on average triple the time caring for their babies (all had 8-month old infants) as compared to the dads. In other words, Dad may have been an involved parent, but he was probably thought of as a 'helper' by his partner.

In these quasi-traditional relationships, the mothers seemed to want to hold on to their role as primary caregiver - which makes sense since our society (and probably even more so, Japan's) expects this and has a way of making a mother feel guilty if she doesn't. Yet, the moms wanted help with the parenting too...just not so much help that their place in the family was usurped by a too-good daddy.

I can see the (sad) logic in this. But I can see a no-win situation, surely. For both partners. It puts mothers between a rock and a hard place and it cheats fathers out of the joys of full-on parenting their own way. And it sure sets a couple up for resentment rather than appreciation of their arrangement!

I bet that if this same study were done with ESP couples - meaning couples who had made a deep commitment to equal partnership in their parenting - the results would have been very different. It seems to me that the women in this study weren't really ready to let go. But in an ESP family, the eyes of both partners are wide open to the challenges of re-sculpting traditional roles and are focusing on creating balanced lives and a team approach to raising their children. In an ESP mom's soul, a competent father is the best thing in the world for her/his/their children - and her self-worth is no longer tied to what culture expects.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting view, Amy, and I imagine this is one reason why many women have trouble making room for dad as an equal parent. Also, I suspect if you don't have a good job and autonomy, it is more difficult to give up that role of mom-in-charge.

I was also curious if you or Marc had read the Louann Brizendine books "The Female Brain" or "The Male Brain" In the recently released "The Male Brain", she maintains that, at every phase of life, the 'male reality' is fundamentally different from the female one. And she says men "thrive under competition, instinctively play rough and [are] obsessed with rank and hierarchy."

As with many of these studies (and books like "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus"), the concepts that men's and women's brains are vastly more alike than different, and that there may be a socialization role in the ways men's brains are being developed, gets very little focus and instead the focus is on the conflict and the difference.

Would be curious to know if you think her views are true in your experience, especially given that you have chosen to avoid hierarchy among the two of you in your family.

11:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS - I was wondering if you two had thought about seeing if Joy Behar would be interested in having you as guests. She covers a lot of issues in contemporary relationships and I have not heard your wonderful perspective presented. I suspect she would be very interested in your perspective.

(I actually submitted a suggestion to her website as well that she try to get you as guests.)

1:26 AM  
Anonymous Francois said...

Interesting article. I personally cannot understand these women who like to hold on to their role as primary caregiver. I think that this can make the Father feel out of the loop.

6:52 AM  
Anonymous kiwimama said...

In response to the first commentator's query about Louann Brizendine's work: I haven't read it myself, but Mark liberman, a linguist at UPenn, has checked the citations in "the female brain" that relate to his areas of expertise and has found her scholarship to be ...um... severely lacking. Overall almost none of the cites he checked actually demonstrated what was asserted in the text. A compendium of his posts on the subject is in the link in my name, or just google it up.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, kiwimama. That was helpful and I agree with him in how the differences get distorted and magnified to the point of creating polarization and conflict.

I suspect that Brinzendine may be playing up the perpetuation of "male as lean, mean problem-solver" mythology in order to flatter men and support the wish some men have to remain dominant over women and retain patriarchy, i.e. to sell books?

4:44 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

All,
Thanks for the great discussion. We have not read the Brizendine books yet - still so many gender equality books on our reading list that I guess we haven't gotten to these gender science books. In general, I am skeptical of the significance of true gender differences - while at the same time I feel that there must be 'some' differences...it only makes sense.


I have minimal respect for 'Men are from Mars/Women are from Venus' pseudoscience, which I think does more to allow poor male behaviors and strap women with accepting them than anything else. It may be true that men run more on competition, rougher play, and rank-focus than women as a generality, but I think there are a whole lot of men for whom these facets of their M.O. are not nearly as strong as countless other motivators. In other words, the ol' bell-shaped curve must be alive and well in gender science as it is in all other data. Perhaps men drawn to ESP have a slightly different 'male brain' than those drawn to, say, rodeo competitions?

I agree with Anonymous that these kind of books tend to focus on the minute differences between the sexes rather than the vast similarities - makes for book sales, as you say!

In the end, what I think really matters is that men ARE fully capable of parenting and that they can fully share in this sphere of life, regardless of whether their brains are different because they are male or simply because we are all unique individuals different from our partners.

Thanks for the link, Kiwimama!

And thanks so much, Anonymous, for the plug with Joy Behar. We would love to be guests on her show, and hope you will identify yourself so that we can personally thank you for suggesting this!

8:14 PM  
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3:18 AM  

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