Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Post on Parenting by a Childless Woman

One of my good friends from medical school has three children between the ages of 7 months and 5 years.  When it came time for her to go back to residency after her first maternity leave*, she and her husband were faced with the inevitable question of who would take care of the child.  From a financial perspective, it made much more sense for him to stay home, so they decided to go against the societal norm and make him the stay-at-home parent.

Now three children into the process, it seems to be working very well for them.  My friend thrives on her work as a physician and earns enough to support the family, while her husband (mostly) enjoys being the primary caregiver.  Whenever I visit, he is the person that the children go to first, whether for food or comfort or just to whine about one of their many grievances. 

Although the arrangement is mostly good, it does come with its own set of challenges.  While there is a huge network of supports available to mothers from the beginning of pregnancy onwards (exercise classes for pregnant moms, lactation groups, mom-and-baby programs), there is very little for fathers who choose to stay home with their kids.  There's the constant judgement of women who choose not to stay home with their children.  And then there's the never ending societal narrative that says that women should be the caregivers, not men.  It's present in ads for baby products that feature only mothers, in the language we use to describe parenting (e.g. talking about fathers who "help" with the kids or who "babysit" them when the mother is away), and in the way we label restrooms for parents with kids as "Mommy and Me" restrooms.

Even though I don't have children, and probably never will, these things frustrate me to no end.  They frustrate me because they make it unnecessarily hard for fathers to stay home with their children, even when that's what works best for their families.  They frustrate me because they perpetuate the idea that a woman's role is to raise the children, regardless of whether she would prefer to be in the workforce.  And they frustrate me because they limit us to traditional gender roles, even though two X chromosomes don't automatically make a person a better parent than an X and a Y.

We have to start doing better.

*Unlike in the States, Canada has a great parental leave policy that allows the mother and/or father to take a combined total of 50 weeks of partially paid leave.


  1. These things frustrate me too. My husband is my equal in parenting and we are each as likely to deal with kid stuff as the other. My son's old school used to call me a lot when I was in class and I told them repeatedly that they should alternate calling me with calling my husband. Apparently, their system automatically brings up the mother's phone number first. I was *very* cranky about that and complained to the principal.

    My husband would take time off to stay home with sick kids (we alternated who took off work) and he'd get chewed out by his workplaces.

    It sucks. When we have our third child eventually, he'll be taking the max parental leave he can (8 mos) and then be a stay at home dad after that and we've really noticed how isolating it will be for him. There's no daddy-and-me playgroups and womens' groups are rarely welcoming to fathers.

  2. Have we really not progressed at all past that old movie Mr. Mom? Yikes!

    The US leave is AWFUL. Our whole labor system is completely fucked up - on both a social level and individual level. Like, my employee is a breast cancer survivor who is a part-time employee, and in her time outside work she gets ongoing treatment to prevent its return. My HR department has told her she must file Family Medical Leave Act paperwork. Why? She's not taking any leave? She has years of leave acquired from 20 years on the job. They say it's for her protection, because under FMLA if you file you are protected and you can't lose your job for 12 weeks. Wait, what? Only 12 weeks? So what they're trying to do is stress her out, hope for a recurrence, and then when her FMLA has run out but she actually does need some time off they can fire her because she's only protected from a serious illness for less than three months.

    Unfortunately, this is very typical in the American workforce these days.

    Sorry for the side rant.

  3. I'm a SAHM of three (worked part time from home until #2 was a toddler), and in my area there are very few SAHDs. The traditional gender roles are strong here, I guess. When my kids were little, I belonged to two different playgroups, one of which had a dad in it. The really sad thing there is that eventually his wife got uncomfortable with him hanging out with other women (even though there was absolutely NOTHING inappropriate going on) and so he stopped coming to playdates. He was the one who lost out there, because parenting small children can be incredibly isolating and those other moms were my lifeline for several years. We were welcoming and his own wife's insecurity was the problem there! My usual geocaching partner these days is a SAHD of two and has been since his twins were born 11 years ago, but the only dad friends he has are from Boy Scouts (those guys work) and he doesn't have many mom friends either. People always look at him funny when he says that he's the stay-home parent, especially now that the boys are older. Apparently the societal norm is the he should be back at work by now, at the very least. He's a fabulous father, his wife is happy and flourishing at work, and more power to them for making it work outside the traditional lines. BTW, our school directory did get more with-it recently, at least... it now calls parents Parent #1 and Parent #2 instead of Mom and Dad and they call whomever is listed as Parent #1 first. Doesn't address the alternation issue but at least it doesn't automatically presume to call the mom anymore.