I barely need to add a syllable to Slate’s recent, brilliant article by 30-something dad of two, Peter Mountford. With the perspective of a stay-at-home dad who can barely leave his house with his kids without being called a hero, Mountford captures the agonies of our culture’s double standards for moms, better than almost any woman, academic, or work-life expert I know.
Here are some of the essay’s nuggets (cut and pasted a bit, but all Mountford’s words):
“It so happens I’m alone with one or both of my kids – 9-month-old Sadie and 3-year-old Anna – at least 50 hours a week. I spend a lot of time thinking about diapers, nap schedules. I spend a lot of time trying to put clothing onto the bodies of very small human beings who are thrashing around and screaming. More or less every week, a stranger informs me that I’m a ‘hero’ for taking care of my kids while their mother, my wife, is at work making the money that we require to continue living in the manner to which we are accustomed. Never in my life has anyone put the word ‘hero’ anywhere near my name, and at first I was delighted that all these people were so impressed with me. Then I noticed that a lot of people also often referred to me baby-sitting my kids, too. The implication was that it was baby-sitting when I had the kids, but when Jen had them she was merely being a mother.”
Hallelujah! Now I am all for EVERY parent who takes care of his or her children being called a hero, early and often. Caring for small children can be frustrating, draining, and exhilarating. For me, finding balance between caring for my kids and keeping my career alive was easily the steepest mountain I’ve ever climbed. So I don’t begrudge hero-dads anything. But sheesh! Save spread some of that hero worship on us mommas too.
“Yes, taking care of kids is difficult and it is underappreciated work, especially if you’re also nurturing a career. But it’s not heroic. Because, if it’s heroic to forgo working so that you can take care of kids, then what if you have to work to provide for those kids? Is my wife un-heroic – maybe even a coward – for passing the kids to me so that she can return to work full time? What about me? Was I lacking in heroism before, when I was working long hours and she was with the kids?”
Sometimes, it takes analysis by someone outside the fray to crystalize the issues for others outside the fray. For too long, men’s collective retort to women’s complaints about juggling work and family have been mutterances along the line of “Yeah, yeah, it’s all men’s fault,” sarcastic double-speak for “you emotional, irrational females are full of crap.” Even when the woman has been someone as notable as Gloria Steinem, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Naomi Wolf, or Sheryl Sandberg.
“I’d like to humbly suggest that I’m not a bad or good person based on my position with regard to this particular question. I don’t feel guilty or proud of how much time I spend with my kids now, and I didn’t feel guilty or proud when Jen was on maternity leave. I wish that Jen also didn’t feel guilty or proud about this issue, but I know that as a woman she is inundated with judgments.”
Feeling guilty may be inevitable, so too feeling proud, but the real point here is that both moms and dads have the right to feel GOOD about our parenting sacrifices.
“I get judgment, too, I suppose: I’m accosted by strangers who want to praise me because I’m with my kids at noon on Tuesday. But when I was working around the clock and Jen was with the kids, people applauded my ambition. I’m a hero either way, which is nice for me.
No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get this thing wrong. Meanwhile, Jen is always wrong. At home with the kids, she’s an anachronistic housewife; at work, she’s ditching her kids to nurture selfish professional ambitions. Somewhere, lurking at the root of this all, is the tenacious idea that men should have a career, whereas women must choose between a career and being at home.”
In Mountford’s article, a man – not one of us emotional, irrational females – is speaking truth to power. Not women’s truth about the challenges of balancing work and family. Every PARENT’S truth.
Thank you, Peter Mountford. I sure hope other men are listening.