Here we go again. I’m sure that this blog post will piss off more than a few men and women, but I’d like to speak for the rights and welfare of hard-working primary caregiving mothers for a change, since they don’t seem to get much attention in the media these days. Too often I see puff pieces exalting the role of fatherhood that either ignore the day-to-day contributions and sacrifices mothers have always made or these articles find a way to debase mothers, especially single and divorced mothers and poor mothers. It’s about time someone stood up for the moms out there who don’t get the glowing media attention they so richly deserve.
The last time I wrote about stay-at-home dads was June 20, right around Father’s Day because I figured – rightly – that there would be a fair share of articles out there about how the dads who lost jobs in this economy have turned into the mother’s dream of the helpful and attentive Stay-At-Home Dad. Now the stay-at-home dad story has made it to The Huffington Post (a publication I thought would know better, but then again progressive publications are just as likely to publish fatherhood exaltation puff pieces as are conservative publications), written by a stay-at-home mom of four kids.
I can safely report that the Stay-At-Home Dad remains a rare and mythic figure, despite all the media attention he has been getting.
Stay-at-home dads are all the rage in the media since this rotten economy has forced many unemployed men back in the ranks of the homestead. Judging from the plethora of Father’s Day articles celebrating stay-at-home-dads, you would think that dads across the United States are turning into Mr. Mom at an unprecedented rate.
From a profile in Michigan’s Lansing State Journal:
[For Chris Singer], raising Tessa, who has huge, Gerber-baby blue eyes, adorably chubby legs and a smile that could melt the hardest of hearts is mission one. That means nights without sleep, trips to the library and zoo, loads of diapers, bottles, burp cloths and the conviction that doing the right thing right now.
From columnist Jeff Gillenkirk in the San Francisco Chronicle:
The number of stay-at-home dads rose nearly 60 percent between 2003 and 2008 and is expected to keep rising as the economy and family roles continue to change.
And now we have Kari Henley, who positively basks in the glow of her own fatherhood exaltation. I found it interesting that in comments she admits she does not have a relationship with her own father. I don’t know whether the relationship has been distant or if her father has died but it’s a very telling statement. She also wrote this: “You seem to echo a similar theme here that is so important…. fathers need space to become the parents they can be.” When did dads need permission to be dads? Why not just take the reins and do the damned job? And don’t tell me that your wife won’t “let” you. That’s only an excuse. When it comes to parenting, most couples work things out that one takes the lead and the other follows that lead. Most often, the one taking the lead is mom, whether or not she works outside the home. There can’t be two generals running the homestead.
Most dads have no problem taking orders from mom in this capacity. They recognize that she is the primary caregiver of the children and they follow her lead. When it comes to the cultural drive for “shared parenting” in America, I firmly believe that parents should “share” parenting after divorce the way they did when they were married, and most often that meant mom taking the lead and dad following. Most dads are not and were not primary caregivers of their children. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s not a failure on dad’s part to not be his children’s primary caregiver. It’s simply a style of parenting that works for most couples and has worked for a very long time.
Most divorces don’t end up being heard in front of a judge and most dads agree that mom had been the primary caregiver all along, so they agree mom should continue in that capacity after a divorce. That’s 85% of divorces. If both parents agree to try “shared parenting”, nothing is stopping them. It’s that 15% of troublesome cases including domestic violence, affairs, abandonment, child abuse, ne’er do wells, passive aggressive jerks, anger issues, drug, alcohol, and gambling problems, and other serious “issues” that cause problems for the rest of the folks who can make up their own minds about their divorces and custody issues. This minority should not drive the court experiences of the majority who are capable of working things out on their own without meddling from “experts” who feed off divorce and custody cases such as custody evaluators, psychological evaluators, “shared parenting” proponents, “experts” who tout junk science such as “Parental Alienation Syndrome” (which just got rejected from the DSM-V, by the way), “experts” who support “friendly” parent provisions, parenting coordinators, mediators, those who work in visitation centers, guardians ad litem, etc., etc., ad nauseum.
Court-imposed “shared parenting” has been proven to be an abysmal failure. It’s so bad that Australia, which has experimented with mandatory “shared parenting” for the past three years, is now reverting its laws back to when primary caregiving moms were awarded custody or when both parents decided mom should have custody because she had acted as the children’s primary caregiver all along.
My long-winded point is that any dad can say he “wants” to be a stay-at-home dad or a primary caregiving dad, but a divorce-bed conversion is not the place for experimentation. If he was actually a stay-at-home dad or actually the primary caregiver of the children, he should get custody. If he wasn’t, then all bets are off. The best of intentions and “wanting” custody doesn’t mean that you should get what you want. Courts and dads need to recognize the contributions and sacrifices mothers already make when tending to their children’s lives. “Shared parenting” is a slap in the face to those moms who have taken on the primary caregiver role and all the sacrifices that go with it.
Don’t be fooled. These feel-good stay-at-home dad stories are trotted out for Father’s Day and other times of the year, but the reality is not so rosy. It’s true enough that the tide of layoffs hashit men harder than women. But bona fide primary caregiving fathers are still rare, and a man doesn’t automatically become a primary caregiver of the children simply because he’s unemployed or underemployed. The horrid worldwide economy has simply created a larger number of unemployed/underemployed men who aren’t picking up the slack at home.
In The New York Times, author Catherine Rampell describes the more complex reality:
On average, employed women devote much more time to child care and housework than employed men do, according to recent data from the government’s American Time Use Survey analyzed by two economists, Alan B. Krueger and Andreas Mueller.
When women are unemployed and looking for a job, the time they spend daily taking care of children nearly doubles. Unemployed men’s child care duties, by contrast, are virtually identical to those of their working counterparts, and they instead spend more time sleeping, watching TV and looking for a job, along with other domestic activities.
So despite media fantasies, men getting laid off means that many moms are now acting as both the primary caregiver and the primary wage earner. Most mothers are already the primary caregiver of their children and that fact needs to be recognize in the media and in court. I know this point of view is not popular these days but it needs to be voiced, recognized, and addressed.