A little research into equal parenting reveals that the satisfying picture of men routinely sharing childcare is simply a myth. Those surveys are misleading at best. Men haven’t taken on childcare in anything like the numbers we’ve been led to believe.
Some thoughts as to why this isn’t happening here.
11 thoughts on “Shared childcare: some insights on what’s not happening.”
A little more research reveals that the article’s little research assumes that the ratio of men and women staying at home to look after children compared to those who stay at home for other reasons hasn’t changed in the last decade. Wait, what? It seems a little premature to simply trot out the ‘fact’ that shared childcare “isn’t happening” based on this.
Moreover, a childcare situation is only problematic in instances where at least one partner is unhappy with their role qua childcare but unable to change it. That’s the statistic that matters, but where is it?
How about if, for the sake of argument, we assume the worst-case scenario: The majority of primary caregivers are women who don’t want to be primary caregivers. Fine, problem acknowledged. Now the hard part. As individuals, as a society, what should we do about it? What can we do about our neighbor’s childcare arrangement?
Not better daycare options, given that Mr. Burrows folds families availing themselves of daycare into the statistic of families with fathers who don’t pull their weight.
That’s not the only statistic that matters to me. As a feminist, I am not only concerned with how a childcare situation affects the parents; I’m equally concerned with how a childcare situation affects the child. Children learn what they live. If mommy is responsible for taking care of the children and daddy only “helps out” occasionally, what do you think those children will internalize about gender roles?
As a feminist, I’m a little irked right now that my digital copy of “The Mermaid and the Minotaur” hasn’t survived the migration from Microsoft. Child care is more than a job, it’s an identity and a personality. I’m totally with Dinnerstein on this issue. Dealing with the bodily fluids of infants of children, being required to spend hours on end in the diffuse states of mind that responding to the needs of a dependent requires, and needing to put the needs of others before one’s wants all of the time makes a person a different person with a different position in society from those that don’t.
When men don’t share equally in the childcare, then they don’t share equally in the family and household, and they don’t share equally in the human experience— it’s a rather anti-social stance that is the backbone of patriarchy. Men not participating equally, or even just significantly in the responsibilities of caring for others, while women are working or on call non-stop, rewarded less if rewarded at all for it; men can focus on producing wealth and power or in their own amusement and dissipation.
Men not sharing in the care of dependents IS patriarchy.
Wileywitch, I take it from your objection to Asur that you have an issue with a distribution of childcare responsibilities chosen by two parents and with which both parents are satisfied, unless the arrangement contemplates equal participation in those tasks by both mommy and daddy. You wrote “Children learn what they live. If mommy is responsible for taking care of the children and daddy only ‘helps out’ occasionally, what do you think those children will internalize about gender roles?” (And remember, we’re talking about a scenario where this arrangement suits both mommy and daddy.)
Whatever else they internalize, I would hope that the children internalize that it is the role of the parents to arrive at an allocation of childcare responsibilities that works for each of them and which, in their parental judgment, is suited to the administration of their household and the upbringing of their offspring. That way, when those kids have spouses and children of their own, if someone outside the family has a problem with the couple’s mutual choices about childcare responsibility allocation, those grown-up kids will know where to tell them to stick it.
Where did I say, “You wrote “Children learn what they live. If mommy is responsible for taking care of the children and daddy only ‘helps out’ occasionally, what do you think those children will internalize about gender roles?” I agree, though.
Turning the macro into micro doesn’t change the fact that patriarchy is a thousands of years-old institution. Regardless of what arrangements individual couples make, the fact is that caring for dependents is functionally a woman’s domestic role and is as poorly paid as any other domestic role. The man having a job and providing money should not release him of the duty of being equally responsible for the welfare, intellectual and emotional well-being of his child(ren)— especially when the woman is managing the household and its budget. As essential as food and shelter is, it’s a monetary contribution that falls very short of being a socializing and developmental relationship between a parent and a child. Men who are resentful of being treated like a walking wallet should stop insisting that being a walking wallet (while furthering their career) is enough.
Women who give up work to stay home and be full-time mothers, are also putting themselves and their children at risk, in the case that the husband/father fails and/or abuses them, divorces them, abandons them, or dies. They also risk poverty in old age due to all the money that they didn’t pay into Social Security for their retirement while they were taking care of children.
I’d love to see a study on how many “single fathers” claiming to be dedicated parents have a girlfriend that takes care of their children. Generally speaking, men are expert at giving themselves a lot of credit for what little they do, while taking women’s time and energy completely for granted.
@Nemo, I believe you were quoting me. And I was addressing statistical outcomes, not individual cases.
Yep, I misattributed the quote to a different commenter, apologies for any resulting confusion.
“Moreover, a childcare situation is only problematic in instances where at least one partner is unhappy with their role qua childcare but unable to change it. That’s the statistic that matters, but where is it?”
This isn’t necessarily correct, or at least it doesn’t necessarily have the implications that one might think it has. This is certainly a controversial issue within feminist theory, but the fact that a person is happy with a childcare situation doesn’t mean that the childcare situation is not problematic. It’s entirely possible that folks’ happiness and desires are shaped by the social situation in which they find themselves. Even if everyone is happy, we may still need to work on expanding everyone’s options.
FYI: I should also credit wileywitch above, who made a similar point.
Matt, you’re correct about Asur’s point there. But I’d say that while it’s theoretically the case that a childcare situation with which both parents are happy may nonetheless be problematic, except in extreme instances it’s unlikely that whatever problems exist inhere in the parents’ good-faith, mutually satisfactory allocation of childcare responsibilities. I should think it is also less potentially problematic than the reluctance of third parties to accord at least a strong presumption of legitimacy and propriety to such choices in any given case or cases.
I’d also say it’s not merely possible but naturally prevalent in a general sense that folks’ happiness and desires are, to a nontrivial degree, shaped by the social situation in which they find themselves.
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