Are You DAD Enough ?
(the role of the second parent in the couple)
Here is one more response to Time Magazine's May 21, 2012 article "Are You Mom Enough?" concerning the "attachment parenting" movement that demands such huge amount of time and effort by the mother while demanding little or nothing of the father.
Fathers, male humans, can and SHOULD be sharing ALL baby rearing chores except the one and only thing a male cannot do, namely gestation.
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The May 21 , 2012 issue of time asks "Are You Mom Enough ?", with a provocative cover illustration of a woman breast-feeding her 3 year old son. The woman's stance is assertive and challenging , as she stares at the camera. The son's stance looks as if he would like to get away from this were it not that mom's hand is holding him in place, and his eyes are looking away from mom. While the photo is supposed to illustrate "attachment parenting" which is supposed to create a close and loving bond between mother and child (something we would all consider to be desirable) , the actual image suggests something more like "captive parenting" for the child and possibly "trophy parenting" for the mother.
Any number of parody and rebuttal pictures have been posted on the Internet. I include 3 of them that seem related to my subject of the role of the father in parenting. The most relevant of these is the "Are You Dad Enough ?" cover, showing a father seated in a chair with his child on his lap, the child holding a bottle of milk -- or is it a can of beer ? The point of course is that any adult, parent or not, male or female, could nourish a child by means of a baby bottle filled with formula or with pumped out breast milk. Another "Are You Dad Enough ?" cover shows a man with two children, one being held up and the other standing, in a woodsy setting. The story seems to be that Dad is taking the kids for a walk in the woods , a recreational and probably educational activity. The last illustration , "Are You Man Enough ?" seems to be intended as parody, as the same stance of the parent and the same child on a chair composition is used.
The entire thrust of the "attachment parenting" movement is to place an enormous demand on the time and effort of the child's mother, without placing any significant demands on the father (or 2nd parent, co-parent, whether male or female).
So great are the demands on her that in order to do it Mom is going to have to cut back on her paid employment or abandon it altogether, with the movement purists advocating the latter course. She must place herself on the infamous "Mommy Track" or else into unemployment and dependency on support by husband or anyone but herself -- though presumably the "family values" advocates would not be pleased to see Mom resort to going on Welfare for support so she could stay home and be an "attached" parent.. Nowhere in the article is it mentioned that a woman in any serious career track job who takes significant time off from her job is going to be paying a price for that for the rest of her working life. She will never regain the position "on track" for promotion and pay that she would otherwise have had. She will thus be less financially self-sufficient and thus less independent than otherwise. She will have less bargaining power, be further from equality in marriage (or other couple relationship) , because she will be less financially able to walk out (what I call "walk-away power"). Would a man who took equivalent time off from work in order to be an attached parent suffer the same permanent derailment of career ? We don't know. (There may by now be enough cases on this to be basis for a study. Compare men who take a year or more off from work to do child-care with men who take similar time off to do military service orto cope with personal illness or injury.)
Time merely asks "Is attachment parenting a misogynist plot to take women out of the worklace and put them back in the home full time ? Or is it a way to encourage mothers and babies to form loving bonds, which science has shown is beneficial to long-term emotional health and well-being?" A misogynist plot ? Well whether or not it's an actual plot, it sure does tend to have that effect ! The effect of restoring that old patriarchal power so yearned for by those who proclaim "family values" . Encouraging loving bonds between mother and child ? Well who could be against that ? Certainly something to be desired. But where is there any mention of the desirability of encouragement of loving bonds between father and child ? Are those bonds not also necessary for the long-term emotional health and well-being ? A strong bond between father and child is also important for the long term financial health of the child, as fathers lacking such a bond find it easier to walk out of the marriage and easier still to cease paying child support and , surprisingly often, to spend very little time with the child. Would there be so very many (divorced/deserted) mother and child/children households living in poverty if those fathers had developed a strong bond with their children ? I think not.
The answer quite obviously is that fathers should actively participate in the care of their infants immediately after birth and should share a full 50% of every child-rearing task. The second parent must be a true co-parent, sharing 50% of everything subsequent to parturition with the gestational parent. (Likewise where the child enters the relationship via adoption, via surrogacy, via donor insemination, or any other way. The point is that here are two people who have undertaken to become parents. Likewise of course for same sex couples, be they gay women or gay men. Likewise if there were a mechanism for three people to undertake to be parenting partners for a child, though then the split would be 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 or perhaps some other balance if the third parent is aunt, uncle , or grandparent, whose share might be greater or lesser. .)
(And I predict that as there are more and more gay male couples raising children, they will set a new image of what being a father can be and of what equal sharing of parental joys and duties can be. The popular and delightful TV show "Modern Family" gives us one image of this.)
There is only ONE parental care activity that a male person CANNOT do : that is gestation. So far there is no way a male can carry out the work of pregnancy. Now I think it would be wonderful if science found a way that males could become pregnant and carry pregnancy to term. That would almost certainly change the debate on contraception and abortion ! (The so-called "pregnant man" given some publicity a while back was a female to male transgender person who still had uterus and ovaries. (ie he'd had "top surgery" but not "bottom surgery") So while I am perfectly willing to acknowledge him as a man in terms of his self-image, legal status, and social status, the fact remains that medically he was still a functional female in the fundamental biological/procreational sense.)
update : there has been at least one case of a woman to woman uterus transplant, intended to allow the recipient to gestate. I don't know how well that turned out. Big issue of need to take transplant rejection suppressant drugs. In theory a female to male uterus transplant might be possible. Not a high probability of successful male pregnancy would be my guess.
Fifty years ago, more than a decade before Roe v Wade, I outlined a Science Fiction story in which a group of women kidnap the Pope and confer upon him an etopic abdominal pregnancy, then turn him back into society when he starts to "show". Such pregnancies do occur in women and must be aborted as they will kill the woman long before the fetus approaches viability.
It's possible for a male to lactate, but requires hormone manipulation. Probably that is not a good idea medically. But male hands can fill a bottle with formula or pumped out breast milk, can warm the bottle to the right temperature, and can hold the bottle and the infant so that infant can drink. And as the child begins eating pureed or solid food, male hands can prepare and offer that and clean up the bits spilled onto the floor (assuming the family lacks a dog to do this clean up chore) as well as anyone else's hands.
(Note : it's a separate issue, one subject to medical science study, as to how long a child benefits from remaining on breast milk or substitute for same. In our ancestral Gatherer-Hunter societies, long term nursing was a practical necessity. That's not the case today. But it is surely as important for a newborn human to receive the colostrum , milk containing protective antibodies, as we know it to be for a newborn horse or dog. (Horse breeders will save and freeze a portion of colostrum from healthy mares so as to have on hand for future use if a mare dies foaling or is unable to lactate soon after.) Now in dogs, there is a period where the maternal milk antibodies no longer provide sufficient protection but are still strong enough to interfere with response to vaccination. I don't know if this has been studied in humans ; if not, it should be. In any case three or four years of breast feeding or bottle feeding , as advocated by the "attachment" proponents, is not necessary for the child's welfare and unduly burdens the adult provider.)
Male hands can change diapers -- and male noses can learn to tolorate the stink. Males can swish dirty cloth diapers in the toilet and then run them through the washing machine. Later on the male can escort child to toilet, help child attain that throne, praise child for depositing, and then flush the handle. These are not mysteries. These do not require an Engineering degree.
Male hands can bathe baby and clothe baby and rock baby. These are tasks that many find enjoyable and endearing.
Men can make doctor's appointments and can take the child to the pediatrician. Men can stay home with a sick kid too. Whatever the parental leave policy at Dad's workplace, if it is not gender neutral, that's a lawsuit about to happen, a lawsuit that should and must happen !.
Men generally love to drive cars, so they certainly can drive the children to school, sports, ballet lessons, wherever, as well as Mom can.
Male mouths and minds can read stories (including stories involving simple math) to baby, sing to baby, make faces at baby. Really clever and creative men can even invent stories and songs. (Remember Dr Seuss ? He was a man.)
Daddies usually are willing to play with their children. That's fun and best excuse to be silly that most men ever get. A lot of children's toys are designed to appeal to parents desire to play with those toys. Playing together is good of course, though children eventually also need to learn to play by themselves, to amuse themselves solo, etc as well as playing nicely with other children.
Time is long over-due for fathers to do their half of the child-rearing work, not just the child-rearing play. Equally over-due for husbands to do their half of all of the house-work, with chores that neither partner likes being shared equally, and with total time and effort spent being fairly equal. (Within the over-all equality, some chores could be done mostly by the one who actually likes that chore, eg as can be the case for cooking. or gardening , so long at that's not used as excuse not to put in equal time and effort at other chores, whether liked or disliked. Both adults need to become competent at survival cooking, grocery shopping, doing laundry, and managing the family finances, because these are skills every adult needs. As they mature the children can and should begin to learn these tasks too. )
Actually one could make a good arguement that while the wife is pregnant the non-pregnant spouse should be doing ALL the housework and that for the first nine months of the child's post-birth life, the non-gestational spouse should be doing most or all of the child-care --- at least should do ALL the diapering. This would be partial compensation for not having shared the unshareable work (and discomfort and health risks) of gestation.(I use the term "non-gestational spouse" as this would include same sex spouse.)
Women of the world arise ! Before you agree to have children with a man, get his promise in writing that he will do his half of all the house-work and child-care. Then set a couple of years testing of his actual performance of house-work. And he should do 100% of the cat litter-box cleaning : it's a good test of willingness to do diaper duty, and it's essential that a pregnant woman not be handling cat poop due to risks of toxoplasmosis. (This assumes you have a cat ; don't get one just as a way of testing hubby. Doing poop scoop duties for the dog is an alternate test.) Ideally these demands should be made before marriage and be part of the written marriage contract. And let him know prior to conception that if he ducks out on child-care and house-work after a child arrives, well he should carefully view Kramer vs Kramer, the diffference being that after leaving him with the child, you won't later be coming back to seek custody, just visitation.
(Hint to men : if you want to make yourself much more attractive as a potential spouse and parenting partner, do these things voluntarily and without needing to be asked.. Let potential mates see that you are willing and competent to do these tasks.)
While I don't nescessarily think it takes an entire village to raise a child, I do think that in today's world the job is a bit too much for only two adults, especially when both have to do paid employment (or other means of income-producing "work") to pay for food, housing, clothing, etc etc --- not to mention the iPhone every 6 year old seems to require.
Sometimes it's the aunts, uncles, grandparents who provide the extra time and effort, covering times the parents need to be elsewhere. Not everyone has the luxury of such relatives and not every such relative has any desire to take care of children or at least not very often.
I would propose that it would make sense for two couples who like and respect one another to join forces to assist one another in child-rearing. With 4 adults each working 5 days a week, that means that 8 days a week someone could be home to take care of house and the one or two children involved. I don't care whether those two couples are Bob & Carol plus Ted & Alice or whether it's Bob & Ted plus Carol & Alice. Buy a duplex and maybe add a connecting door between the two units. Or buy one of those megasized monster homes and let some of the space be private and some of it be shared. Could even be 6 adults raising 2 or 3 kids, thus most days there could be 2 adults home or perhaps 6 days a week when one parent is home and 1 day a week when everyone is home and doing something together. These schemes do count on being able to stagger the work days of the people, and that requires employers to be more flexible about schedules.. There could be other combinations, perhaps including single parents and infertile adults deeply wishing to undertake parental roles and duties.
Note that we are living in the most over-populated nation (in terms of ecological impacts) on a critically over-populated planet. Restricting child-bearing to one child per female or one child per couple is essential for the next half dozen generations (after which the reduced population might want to stabilize by averaging 2 offspring per woman or per couple) . So if each singleton child is to get some equivalent of sibling experience (not always a desirable thing), then they will have to be interacting with other parents' children. (Note : research has proven that singleton children thrive and develop as well or better than do non-singleton children.)
Multi-parent schemes could very much enrich the child's life by giving the child a wider range of close-up role models (plus the other adult models outside the home : isn't there at least one teacher who had a huge beneficial influence on you ?)
But of course it's hard enough for two adults to make the adjustments and compromises needed to live together in harmony. It would be harder for more then just two. Hard enough to find one person you are willing to share a home with, probably much harder to find several.
And there would be legal issues related to property, support, etc, as well as custody or visitation issues if the arrangement breaks up . I am not proposing that we expand the concept and legalities of "marriage" to include three-somes, four-somes, etc. Nor would I be opposed to same, but it's not very likely to be widely accepted in our current society. And I certainly am not suggesting the communes of the '60's , which were largely a device for the males to be able to sleep around while the females did all the housework and child-care. But two couples who really like each other finding a duplex or owning a large house together (in Joint Tenancy or Tenancy In Common) so they can help one another ? That could work for some people. For some, not for all and maybe not for many. Just something to think about.
Neighborhood day care centers that are run completely by the subscribing parents, perhaps with some hired professional oversight , may be the easier way for parents to create mutual assistance. Every parent (male or female) would put in a given number of hours of labor for each child they have in the plan. Perhaps prospective members should be required to put in some hours prior to having a child, thus learning a lot about what it's really like to deal with children of various ages and personalities. Just as it's foolish to buy a horse before you learn how to ride, it's foolish to have a child before you get experience caring for children and "riding herd" on several at once. (My guess is that such pre-child child-care experience would convince some people that they don't really want to be parents and for the rest would give them a lot more confidence in knowing the needed basic skills.)
Multi-adult households and neighborhood day care co-ops may seem a bit "far out" right now. But requiring fathers to do their half of all the work at home, that's something that is long long long over-due. Women of the world arise !
I originally omitted this quesstion, but it's a glaring omission. Honesty compels me to say that I think that a single parent has a terribly tough set of jobs and will almost always be over-burdened. So I would really strongly discourage almost all women from voluntarily becomeing single parent mothers. That choice usually results in a very hard life for mother and for child.
Murphy Brown (fictional TV character) could do it because (a) she was an exceptionally competent person and had irreplaceable "star" status at work, (b) she had a very high income from a job that was less than a full time 9 to 5 inflexible hours job, and (c) she had a reliable all day child care person whom she trusted. My own objection to Murphy's unwed pregnancy and child is quite different from that of Dan Quayle : I strongly object that she did not insist on use of reliable contraception and I object that she lets a drunken accident turn into a child without ever considering the alternative of abortion. ( I don't say she should have chosen abortion, but she sure should have considered it as a serious alternative given that the conception was purely an accident.. This was post Roe v Wade, so the topic was not unmentionable. Nor would it have been a TV first.) Up to this point in her life she has had zero inclination towards maternity, so why this sudden unthinking change ? Also I note that once the baby has been born it seldom afterwards appeared in the show and certainly there was no depiction of the inevitable problems and complications to Murphy's life. (On TV generally there is no indication that an infant changes Mom's life very much.) ah, well , there's a reason we call TV "the idiot box".
Historically of course there have always been widows and widowers bringing up their children as single parents and there always will be some , though with our modern lifespan and health care it has become less common in the affluent nations.. Often such involuntary singles will be actively seeking a new mate and parenting-partner who will help raise the children. Alternatively such an involuntary single might find another single parent to join forces as house-mates and helpers in rearing each other's children. While today it's less common for people to lose a spouse to death while the children are still young, it's very common to lose a spouse to divorce while there are dependant children. Half of all marriages lead to divorce ; I'm not sure whether the percentage is greater or lesser in marriages with young children. . Again, the quest for a new mate or a house-mate makes a lot of sense. Nice if you can get it.
I recall a number of TV shows on the theme of two women sharing a home and helping raise one another's children. "Kate and Allie" springs to mind. (If that show were being made today, perhaps Kate and Allie would be a gay couple, not simply friends and house-mates.). Or the divorced or widowed mom has some other person who becomes a helper. "One Day at a Time" springs to mind.
In any case, society would do well to make it as easy as possible for single persons to avoid single parenthood, especially young single persons who do not yet have high earning power and emotional maturity needed for parenting. This means universal honest sex education, including honest contraceptive education, beginning some years before onset of fertility. It means universal access to contraception and abortion, with loans or subsidies for those with low incomes. It also means social pressure on young singles to view voluntary single parenthood as an irresponsible and unadmired choice. .
Society also would do well to help the involuntarily single parents, ie widowed/widowered and divorced, to find new parenting partners or join into mutual help arrangements. This doesn't have to mean re-marriage. (Indeed the divorced are often quite avoidant of re-marriage and with good reason to be so. ) Actually I think the internet may be filling this role for a lot of people. And married friends are so often quite eager to "fix up" their single friends with dates with persons hoped to be compatible.
Would equal parenting and equal house-work mean that both partners would be at a disadvantage in career advancement as compared to similarly talented and ambitious childless collegues or collegues who did little parenting and housework ? Would both of the equal parenting partners in effect be placing themselves on a "parent track" that is a bit slower or disadvantaged as compared to "non-parent track" ?
I think the answer is probably in most cases "yes". This acknowledges that children come with a price-tag. There's a price in terms of your time, your energies, your money, and your freedom. Most of the rewarding things in life have a price and often the price is in regards to one or more of the aspects of time, energy, money , and freedom. Having a dog has great rewards but also considerable price in terms of those 4 aspects. Most hobbies and recreations have a price in one or more of these terms. If you want to rurn marathons, there's a huge time and energy price. If you pursue seriously doing art or music, there's a price. Anything you choose to do or pursue has a price in that it precludes some potential alternative choices. (And when you have children, you give up the potential choice to move to Tahiti to pursue your career in art.) Children "cost" more than most other possible choices. But that cost should be shared equally between the two who are making that choice.
Some people do choose to be total workaholics (and for the rare genius, the compulsion to use that gift may be overwhelming.) In some fields there is a period where education and work do have to be taking most of your time etc. Eg a career in medicine (MD, DVM, or other) requires an intensive training period. Some other professions tend to have a job structure that is more demanding of those seeking advancement than is truely necessary. Eg the big law firms demand that associate lawyers rack up huge amounts of "billable hours" and this can preclude any personal life. Of course there are other ways to practice law. But often there is a choice between all out ambition in one's profession vs a more balanced life, a life that has some rewards other than work rewards.
The take home message is that there's always some kind of "work vs family" or "work vs personal life" balance and choices that one has to make. One makes these choices thoughtfully or one just allows them to be imposed upon one. Those who put priority on climbing to the top of the corporate pole or other pole of ambition often have to be willing to pay the price of losing their personal life. Such people should not be parents at all. Maybe just visit one's nieces and nephews occassionally or likewise children of one's friends. Most people probably do want a personal life of some kind. Not necessarily children as the main feature that will dominate one's personal life for about two decades or more. . (I myself prefer dogs and horses, and some time doing art and writing, time with friends.)
Yesterday on the library book and magazine recycle shelves I happened to notice an issue of Bloomberg Businessweek (June 3 -June9, 2013) with a cover story "Lean Out : Working Dads want Family Time Too". The article began "A new generation of Alpha Dads is done being offfice slaves". It goes on to describe three men who seem to be in fairly secure and well paid corporate jobs in a very "family friendly" and flexibility oriented firm. The article is about the choices and trade-offs they have made in order to have more time with their children. Also mentions that the firm has become more family friendly in order to be able to recruit and retain really talented capable men who are willing to work hard but not willing to have work be all of their life, ie who insist on having a personal life and family time. So I get the impression that men who already have high value to their employers do have the bargaining power to choose to "work to live, not live to work" and to utilize family friendly policies. But it can be harder for a man than a woman to declare and follow through on this scaled back, "leaned out" , type of policy. Of course those men who know from the get go that they are not going to make it to the top might actually have more freedom to set limits on the degree to which they allow work to devour their lives. For all men, the extent to which their wife (or their husband or domestic partner) is earning a decent amount, possibly an amount larger than he earns, can create both the freedom to scale back enough to spend more time at home and with family as well as creating the obligation to share the at-home-work (child care, house-work) needed to sustain that family and thereby reap the benefits of full participation in family life.
The article also has the obligatory brief mention of men's roles and family policy in Sweden. Ahh, Sweden, a country also notable for the fact that 3/4 of dogs have health insurance and it's very rare for there to be accidental litters and rare for dogs to wind up unwanted in the pound. And where everyone pays 55% of income in taxes but actually gets useful services in return.
The "family values" crowd will continue to try to drag the rest of us back to 1776 or maybe to 776 or even 776 BC, but their goal of returning women to the status of livestock and children to little workers is not very appealing to the rest of us. So called "family values" is antithetical to actually valuing the family that you have chosen freely to have and participate in.
Actually I had read Village some years earlier. After writing the above, I went and found it on my bookshelves (a huge and disorganized collection on many topics). Re-read it. Everything Hillary says about early childhood development has plenty of evidentiary backing. Plenty then and much more now. (A dear friend of mine has a career of research in early childhood cognitive development, so I confirmed this with her.)
(Alas, my prediction that Hillary would be elected POTUS was wrong. Of course a majority of several million voters also thought she'd be elected.)