By: Amber Kinser
I was thinking this morning two thoughts. One was how much things have changed in terms of dads’ involvement in childcare, that dads are much more likely to be present at the birth of their child, to do a share of the everyday grind that parenting calls for, to attend to the sound of crying baby. The other thought was about how much things haven’t changed. That for heterosexual couples, the share that dads generally take is, statistically, still not a fair share, that care of the home is still done primarily by women even if both mom and dad work (and even if they both work full time), that dads are noted more often as (generously) “babysitting” or “helping” when they care for their own children than on doing what dads should be doing. And while I am quite pleased that men have stepped back into their families, especially if, rather than focus on getting out in front of it and “leading” it, they focus on getting in the middle of it and serving it, as women have done and still do, I still despair at the disproportionate amount of family and home care that men continue to offer up overall. So in light of this comparatively lower level of family engagement, I’d like to place a moratorium on giving dads extra credit for doing what women just get standard credit for (which usually isn’t much). The fact that men’s family engagement continues only half-heartedly is perpetuated when we insist on swooning over the image of men participating in the daily grind. I have been at the mall and seen girls or women who comment on men pushing a stroller through the stores as soooo sweeeet!. And to be honest, I probably was such a girl at some earlier point in my life. The interesting thing about this image is that at pretty much any point, a walk down the central aisles of the shopping mall will provide numerous examples of women pushing strollers, plenteous women dealing with children who are insisting on the purchase of this or that or children who are so dead tired all they can do is hang on people (not strangers alas) and cry or, better yet, just whine. And it is these women we’d have to look right past, or right through even, to see these sweeeet guys pushing strollers. I’ve heard young men, and because I work at a college it’s college men I’ve heard, saying that bringing their little nephew along with them functions as a “chick magnet” and I wonder why that is. I wonder why we insist on giving women almost no real credit for the parenting daily grind but gobs of extra credit when men do brief moments of it. I wonder why women say “thank you” to their male partners for cleaning up their own kitchen, or folding their own laundry. I wonder if we could start to give fathers the same credit for the parenting work they do that we give mothers, or that we should give mothers anyway. I wonder what would change if we acknowledged the continuous work that is parenting, appropriately valued mothers for their motherwork and supported them in it, and then gave men exactly the same amount of credit when they do the same amount of work. A good bit would change, I’ll wager.