Recently there has been a growing collection of articles written around the subject of parenting and gender equality. More often the scales are tipped toward Moms being the housekeeper and the child care provider, even if she’s also working Mom. According to these articles, Dads are able to put more into their careers because they’re not preoccupied with the details of caring for the children and the daily upkeep of the home. The argument is being made that while some gender imbalance has disappeared, what remains keeps women who have children from fully embracing their career goals or passions in life.
I have seen this myself among female friends and acquaintances who work outside of the home. I have been out with these friends at a happy hour or events where they’re checking in on their husbands or partners constantly because “he doesn’t know how to put the kids to sleep,” or “he’s never had to handle both kids by himself before.” Meanwhile my husband is at home with our children, and I have given no thought to checking in on him. This may be more about the need for control that these women possess and less about their husband’s parenting deficiencies or lack of interest in equal household duties, but who can say? I know I can certainly be controlling when it comes to folding towels the correct way or how I really wanted the kids to wear those specific clothes for the holiday, so the feeling isn’t foreign to me. However, I just don’t feel that way when it comes to how my husband gets along as a father.
With our first born, we both fought hard against the tired old stereotypes applied to parenting roles. When we arrived at our first pediatric appointment with our newborn, Mike carried him into the room and took charge of the appointment while I sat on the exam room couch in pain from a difficult labor. The nurse practitioner who had been randomly assigned to us as our son’s primary care provider made many remarks about “how nice it is to see Daddy helping out.” Helping out? From day one Mike was doing what he always had done in our life together, he was filling in where I fell short, making up for my inabilities and offering his skill where my talents failed. This wasn’t helping out, this was partnership. We were just continuing with the roles that had worked for us before we had children.
Back in college, when we first met, Mike had already mapped out his post-school future. I wasn’t set in any direction with my own, so I decided to follow along with his plan and see where it took us. I took a job that helped pay the bills but wasn’t what I wanted to do long term. This allowed him to take the extra time needed to become established in his career. A few years went by this way until I had a chance to go back to school and find something more career-worthy for myself. I went back for a master’s degree when Benjamin was only a year and a half old. It was during this time that Mike spent evenings and weekends at home with the baby so that I could go to class and complete homework. We never formally decided how many hours either one of us would be devoting to Benjamin or to housekeeping. Once again we simply picked up where the other left off and filled in wherever we were needed. Time and time again we’ve been through this ebb and flow of parenting/household responsibility: through Mike’s Ironman training, through my time spent working with biking projects and government advocacy, through illnesses and surgeries, work-related travel and other endeavors. It has rarely been a 50/50 split, but it has always been fair.
As I read the many articles on parenting equality that are calling out males for not pulling their weight, I have to wonder where the couples surveyed are in their parenting timeline. Are they new parents, still adjusting to having little sleep and more responsibilities than ever before? Or are they seasoned parents with independently functioning children who have outgrown the need for constant parenting oversight? Since our experience as parents is ever-evolving and constantly changing to fit the needs of the moment, how can we ever get a clear picture of where each person stands in their parenting roles? I don’t think we can because today it may be a 70/30 split, but next month it may be more like 45/55. Seeking the dictionary definition of equality in parenting can only lead to disappointment and frustration. Instead of 50/50 for all time, we should hope for what feels right for your family in just this moment in time.