An interesting article from the New York Times Magazine: When Mom and Dad Share It All. [quote=Lisa Belkin] On her first day back to work after a four-month maternity leave, Amy Vachon woke at dawn to nurse her daughter, Maia. Then she fixed herself a healthful breakfast, pumped a bottle of breast milk for the baby to drink later in the day, kissed the little girl goodbye and headed for the door. But before she left, there was one more thing. She reached over to her husband, Marc, who would not be going to work that day in order to be home with Maia, and handed him the List. That’s what they call it now, when they revisit this moment, which they do fairly often. The List. It was nothing extraordinary — in fact it would be familiar to many new moms. A large yellow Post-it on which she had scribbled the “how much,” “how long” and “when” of Maia’s napping and eating. “I knew her routines and was sharing that with Marc,” Amy recalls. She also remembers what he did next. Gently but deliberately, he ripped the paper square in half and crumbled the pieces into a ball. “I got the message,” Amy says. That message was one the Vachons had agreed on from the evening they met, though they were clearly still tinkering with the details. They would not be the kind of parents their parents had been — the mother-knows-best mold. Nor the kind their friends were — the “involved” dad married to the stressed-out working mom. Nor even, as Marc put it, “the stay-at-home dad, who is cooed at for his sensitivity but who is as isolated and financially vulnerable as the stay-at-home-mom.” Instead, they would create their own model, one in which they were parenting partners. Equals and peers. They would work equal hours, spend equal time with their children, take equal responsibility for their home. Neither would be the keeper of the mental to-do lists; neither of their careers would take precedence. Both would be equally likely to plan a birthday party or know that the car needs oil or miss work for a sick child or remember (without prompting) to stop at the store for diapers and milk. They understood that this would mean recalibrating their career ambitions, and probably their income, but what they gained, they believed, would be more valuable than what they lost. Full article >> When Mom and Dad Share It All.[/quote] If you don't want the hassle of clicking though the pages, download the PDF below.
I read the full article and was glad when they presented Tim and Jo's story, as I think it bears discussion. I go back and forth and am quite ambivalent about this....yes, I firmly believe that parents should share as fully as is possible in care of children. Some of the arrangements that people have come up with are very creative and really do work. But the fact remains that the baby gestates for nine months inside the mother's body, the mother is uniquely equipped to feed this baby, and both of those factors create a bond between mother and child that I have a hard time imagining being replicated by the father (or non-gestational parent). Also, another issue that was just touched upon in the article is the fact that if one parent wishes to pursue a career which does require 55-60 hours per week, it's just not feasible to have the other parent doing the same. Or you end up with kids who are raised in day care. Which is one option of course but then you can't really say that parents are sharing care--they are farming it out. Sharing child and home care between partners is a balance that I think each couple needs to work out, and there is no solution that will work for everyone. But if we can truly get to the place where neither parent needs "lists" from the other I think we will be doing good!
I agree that each couple needs to decide what works for them. I appreciated the inclusion of a variety of different models in the couples described. There were three things, though, that stood out to me:
- It is so easy to assume that men simply don't know how to take care of children. Girls babysit, boys don't. Sometimes it really is that girls grow up learning more, and sometimes, it is, as the article notes, simply that we have different standards, different expectations, and different ways of going about the same thing. I think that we underestimate the ability of men to learn, and so never teach them. I like that the article emphasizes needing to talk about expectations, and that women can't assume their way is better just because they are the mother.
- The article challenges the assumption that careers are more important than family for both men and women. Men have to sacrifice their own careers just as much as women if shared parenting is to be a reality. We really can't "have it all" (except for that one bizarrely competent couple in the article!!!).
- Finally, the article highlights choices which at the time seem normal and innocent, but which later on affect our ability to even try a different model. Our culture is set up for male providers, not shared-working and parenting. We make choices that further this, and at the same time, are influenced to make choices that do the same.
I am not sure what I think about the bond created in the womb. It seems that we so easily fall back on that as an excuse to not work at creating a stronger bond with the non-gestational parent. Of course, children go through stages of attachment with both parents. Perhaps what I liked best about the article is that is simply challenges us to look closely at our cultural habits of parenting and ask what kind of parents we really want to be. It gives us an option to allow fathers to be more than bread-winners which seems to me to be a benefit to men and their children. It simply allows us to think more flexibly about our options, and realize that it is possible to parent differently, with some thoughtful and creative work.