01 April 2010

I See Your Board Meeting and Raise You a Teething Baby...

This post is actually inspired by a Facebook survey thing I was filling out on Circle of Moms (I know, just bear with me here, I get to some real content soon, I promise).  One of the questions was:

Do you think it is easier being a Mom or a Dad?

I confess this question gave me pause.  Once I got over the whole implied heterosexuality norm of the whole thing, I realized that this was kind of two questions in one.  The meta-message here is “Who has it harder in your house?”  The larger question is “Who technically has it harder in American culture/society?

Based on the amount of “my DH doesn’t help with the kids/laundry/whatever” wank present in the forums, I am pretty sure Circle of Moms was inquiring about the former.  Never one to be content with just answering a meaningless survey and moving on, my mind was churning.  Who really does have it harder in the big scheme of things and is this also true in my house?  Is ecologic fallacy sometimes correct? Can I torture DH with this discussion endlessly because it will give me great glee to hear him confess his undying respect for the fact that I am a perfect mother and he could never find anyone better than me to be his life partner for ever and ever?

In society I think there is a greater burden of expectation on women/moms.  (Lets just assume we are talking about a heterosexual two-parent household so as to make the data neat and tidy.)  I think that this truism is demonstrated quite well if one examines some of the major hot button issues in parenting.
  1. Childbirth- Natural or drug addled, the good news is that your parenting can be called into question long before you actually have that darn baby.   Here is a prime example of how women’s choices about their own bodies now become part of the public forum.  The even better news, you can be in trouble no matter what you choose.  The criticisms here range from how "dangerous” it is to give birth at home, to how “detrimental” it is to have a C-section.   Wherever you fall on the spectrum, you will be in trouble with someone, and certainly the male partners don’t get placed under this scrutiny.  Hells bells, many men we know did not even get to be present for said births and no one is calling their dedication to the cause into question.
  2. Breastfeeding-  Again public opinion seems to weigh heavily on the private choice of what is best for each family.  In addition to the public stigma on both sides of the issue, since only women can do this task (with some disturbing exceptions), the “successes” and “failures” rest entirely on the shoulders (or boobs)  of Mommy. This is a somewhat inflammatory article that attempts to explore this issue.  Even as someone who chose not to continue breastfeeding, I would take argument with some of the points, but I applaud the use of proper meta-analysis and some good points are made. An deeper exploration of the supposed benefits and/or the idea that breastfeeding scrutiny may be last bastion of anti-feminism rhetoric is required, but not today!
  3. SAHM vs. WAHM vs. WOHM and so on- Women, and men, discuss this endlessly, but you will notice all those acronyms end in “M.”  When men decide how to balance family and career, assuming they even choose to consider it, the same scrutiny is not applied.  Granted, there is a biological imperative as to why careers of women are more impacted than men’s, but the shunning of those who choose work over family (or vice versa) is not as often seen for men. Let’s face it, the notion that the work life of a man would change when he started a family rarely flickers into anyone’s head.

In  nutshell I would argue that Mommies may have it a bit tougher on a societal level.  Add to all this the fact that studies have proven that women shoulder the greater burden in terms of hours spent doing housekeeping and child-rearing (even in dual employment households) it can be a tough deal to be a Mom these days.   Not to say that being a Dad can’t be sucky too, after all I did witness the nurse at my pediatrician’s snarkily ask a Dad if “the child’s mother was coming to handle all this.”  (Way to perpetuate a stereotype bitch!) I would, however, argue, that not being expected to parent at all is a much easier grade to make than being expected to parent a certain way.

Finally, look at the accolades men get for doing what is considered de rigueur for women.  Men get such a fuss made for “being such a good dad” when they change diapers, do a night feeding or play at the park…all things women do ad naseum with no attention paid at all!  (A good post on this fact here.)  Clearly the bar is set to different heights depending on your genitalia.

Thankfully I can say this societal model is not wholly applied at our house.  I shoulder the greater burden of housework and child-rearing, but DH is out protecting national security so it seems pretty equal to me.  Additionally, he provides the funding required for us to enjoy our lives as we know them.  All the help vacuuming in the world won’t pay the electric bill.  Not to say that only those who make the money get the perks, but lets give some credit where credit is due folks.  (Disclaimer here: he still drives me bat shit crazy with his seemingly crippling inability to say…mop up the puddles in the bathroom, but really, in the big scheme of things, this is piddly shit.)

DH claims that our division of labor works because we each believe that the other person has it much harder.  I think this is true.  Maybe more importantly we both respect and appreciate the work that the other person does for this family.  He understands that me “getting to stay home and play” entails endless hours of often mind-numbing tasks and  activities that serve to provide the best we have to offer for our kids. Likewise, I understand that when he “gets to be at work” that often means long deployments where he misses milestones and family fun. 

Thankfully, around here, we both have it pretty good. It is not a perfect system, lest I sound a bit sanctimonious about my marriage and our lifestyle choices, but I do appreciate that I have it better than some, and just as good as most...a fact I will try and remember as I am folding my millionth load of laundry for the week.

Who knew a simple Facebook  survey could spawn so much analysis?

So, who do you think has it tougher, in life and/or at your house? 


Ginger said...

In our house, we've got the reverse set up--my husband is the SAHD and I'm off to work every day. He's a freelancer and an artist, and I'm the breadwinner. We have very different struggles: he struggles to get work done with an infant around, the "stigma" of being SAHD, the reduction in time for his art. I struggle with missing the kid, trying to give enough to all the areas of my life, and the time crunch. I would say emotionally, I have it harder. But in the day to day? I think it's hard to compare apples to microwaves.
I do think that as far as societies judgements, moms in general have it harder. We're kind of put in a damned if you do, damned if you don't position on so many issues that dad's just don't ever seem to have to address.

Heidi Maxwell said...

Right now? I definitely have it tougher. If for no other reason than the lack of sleep, or the inability to be in bed for 8 continuous hours without getting up, or feeding the baby...and still having to manage from get up to get the heck in bed pretty much on my own. When the day comes that I can sleep through the night again...well, we will see what happens if that day ever arrives. Can one ever truly rebound from extended sleep dep like this??

I'm sure Jim would say that getting up at 4:30 or 5:00 every morning and not getting home until anywhere from 4:00 to 6:30 pm is the more arduous task. Now - he isn't working continuously in this time period - classes don't start until 8:32 or some odd time, he has planning and prep periods, lunch, smoke breaks, etc. On the other hand, he is dealing with teenagers and infantile departmental politics regarding who gets to teach AP and who gets stuck with the 'slow' crowd. Blech on that. He does work his ass off to bring home the bacon for sure.

I think the big difference in parenting for us is that when I spend all day with the girls, other things like shopping, cooking, cleaning get done. When it's Jim's turn, it's just feed, diaper, and play. None of that other 'garbage.'

Alexis said...

@Ginger- Your situation is such a great example of how one can make family work in many ways, but also serves to highlight exactly how tough it is to parent, at all, in our culture. Lets face it parenting is a tough job no matter how you are juggling it.

@Heidi- Good point about the differences in what "being at home" means. Not to knock Chris' contributions, but yeah, when he solo parents only the "fun" bits seem to get done yet, as if by magic, I do all that AND the laundry, dishwasher etc. Granted I knew that was going to be part of the deal when we decided I should stay at home (and not work another job simultaneously like Ginger's NC), and do it all NAVY style where for the upcoming three years Chris won't even be home when the boat is in port, but none the less it does make for long days and no scheduled breaks.

Interesting comments!

gretchen said...

I'm afraid I don't fit any of those acronyms. I'm an actress, so I can actually stay at home with my kid and work at the same time, I just drag him around to auditions with me. So maybe that makes me a TAM (take-along mom). Anyway, there's no question who had it easier in my house, MY HUSBAND. Because he doesn't do a damned thing. Well, that's a mild exaggeration, but it's close!