I’m a mother, but more importantly, I’m a parent. And I think sometimes we forget to talk about parenthood.
If you’re into shaking up the way we talk about motherhood and fatherhood and parenthood, read on. If you’d rather a daily dose of roses, I don’t blame you. Here’s a lot of that.
To be clear: I don’t think it’s wrong to talk about motherhood. And the topic of balancing work and motherhood? I could talk about it forever. I wish people talked about it more. I just really wish that the conversation more often included both parents. I wish we didn’t still live in a culture that expects certain roles for women and men when those roles are so often fluid. Everyone’s motherhood looks a little different and everyone’s fatherhood looks a little different. But I think that motherhood and fatherhood don’t have to look so very different from each other.
I guess what I’m trying to get at—and it feels practically sacrilege to say it—is that I don’t feel like my role as mother is significantly different from James’s role as father. We’re Faye’s parents. We’re here to nourish and teach and protect and buoy her. There are things that I’ve done that biology and circumstance mean that James hasn’t done. And yes, I treasure those things: Carrying my child, giving birth to her, nursing her for twenty blissful (and very long) months. But they are also almost besides the point. We all know that biology doesn’t make a mother anyway.
Some of the ways that our parenthood looks similar is deliberate. We’ve made choices that mean that James does things that fathers don’t always do: He woke up with me for almost every single nighttime feeding of her infancy, so that even in those early days I didn’t feel like I was in it by myself. James takes Faye to most of her doctor’s appointments. I put her to sleep at night for the first half of her little life; he’s put her to sleep at night for the second half. Nine mornings out of ten, James wakes up with her in the morning and makes her breakfast. (I watch Faye slurping up oatmeal from my perch in bed; perk number #1838 of life in a tiny apartment.) Once James is off to work, I take Faye to the park. We’ve divvied responsibilities up as well as we can. I signed us up for birth classes. James found Faye a pediatrician (and then another). But more than any of these particulars, the real point is this: James is as adept a parent as I am in nearly every single way and I’m as adept a parent as he is in nearly every single way.
My experience has been that of a working mother with a husband who also works, and so my view is necessarily limited to what I’ve lived. But whether or not both parents work full-time, I think equality parenting, to coin a phrase, is possible. It just takes some reframing of responsibilities, some challenging of the status quo, some imagining of a different way of doing things and talking about things.
A few examples of things that could use a shake-up: When people ask me what I do for a living—after I tell them—they often follow up the description of my work with their own addendum. “And on top of that, you’re busy taking care of that baby.” Totally true. I know that this is meant to be kind. I’m sure that they mean to acknowledge the incredible hard work that it is to be a mother. They want to let me know that they’re aware of the sacrifice, the commitment, the heart-rending pain of preparing a child for the wide world when you just want to watch their chest rise and huff the crook of their tiny necks. I know that they mean to be supportive. But sometimes it also feels like a scolding; that the speaker thinks that by omitting my motherhood from my job description, that I’m denying my motherhood. No one follows up James’s job description with a friendly, “…And the whole fatherhood thing.” I wish they did. Because saying it only to me undermines my career. And not saying it to James undermines his parenthood. We’re both working really hard at this whole parenthood thing.
I’m grateful when people acknowledge that I’m a hard-working mom. But in surprising ways I encounter people using my motherhood as an excuse for me. They might preface an ask with the acknowledgement that I’m a busy mother. Or excuse a little tardiness for the same reason, even if I haven’t used the excuse myself. It seems kind on the face of it, but I’m frustrated by the assumption that motherhood must necessarily impact my work but that it doesn’t also impact James’s work. Sure: Sometimes an email is delayed because Faye needs dinner now, not ten minutes from now. Sometimes I can’t be on a late phone call because I have a toddler who’s sleeping in the next room. But more often, Faye’s not the reason behind whatever it is that happened at all. When an email is late it’s usually because I had too many emails to respond to in a timely manner. Of course, these are examples of people extending kindnesses. The insinuation for many working mothers is that they’re failing at the dual challenges of career and motherhood. On the flip side: No one talks to James about the fine art of balancing his work and his fatherhood. No one congratulates his being a father in addition to pursuing a career. No one wonders if he feels guilty for working. The idea sounds almost preposterous. The absence of concern for a father’s ability to “do it all” comes from not expecting fathers to even try. I’d love if we could start to acknowledge that parents of all genders perform balancing acts. It would be amazing if we asked working fathers how they’re managing to balance their career and their family. It’d be amazing if no one ever asked James if he was going to “babysit” Faye, or gawk at his ability to change a diaper, or wipe Faye’s nose, or put her hair in an elastic. I’d feel so much better about someone letting me off the hook because of my motherhood if they extended the same generosity to James. But until we live in a world where he could invoke his “baby brain” without getting looked at funny, I don’t want to talk about mine.
Coupled with the idea that my motherhood impairs normal brain function is the idea that it’s all consuming. Babies are distracting as all hell. (Toes! Thighs! Giggles!) But my work gets done in spite of—and because—of this. My work gets done because bills need to be paid and careers need to progress and because despite the extreme deliciousness of baby toes, I like to work. And I need to work. I love baby toes and I love work. And James loves baby toes, too. Sometimes he texts me pictures of them smack-dab in the middle of the work day.
Perhaps the most frustrating example of inequality in the way we talk about parenting has to do with childcare. I’m asked on a regular basis what I do about childcare. I don’t mind the question. I’m really happy to spill the details. I love hearing how other people navigate childcare. It’s tricky! There are so many options! But James never ever gets asked this question and it makes me crazy. The implication is that he’s not much interested in the topic. And far worse: that his work is a sure thing, childcare or not, but that mine is dependent on specially procured childcare for me. The truth is that we’re in this together. I want to talk about parenthood because I’m in this for the teamwork. We don’t have childcare because I work, we have childcare because we both work. After Faye was born we looked long and hard at our resources and schedules and together we worked out a system that felt right for both of us. James asked for a change in his schedule that means he can go to work earlier and leave earlier to relieve our sitter and spend time with Faye. I start and end work later so I can do the morning hand-off and spend time with Faye. We both work more or less the same number of hours in a given week. I think lots of families with two working parents figure out this kind of system. And the more that fathers are able to request changes to accommodate their parenting, the more normal it could become. We’d start to see fewer mothers sacrificing their careers and fewer fathers sacrificing their parenthood. I guess my wish is that if we so choose it, more of us could lean into our parenthood and lean into our careers in equal measure.
My very greatest hope is that by the time Faye becomes a parent, some of this stuff will finally be sorted. I know it’s a tricky subject. There’s room for parenthood to look different in a million different ways and what works for us might not work for you. But I think that change begins at home. And I think that change begins with hashing out tricky things in public places. And so.
New York State just passed a law that when fully rolled out will provide parents (birthing mothers and otherwise) 12 weeks of paid family leave. It’s a massive step forward. I hope we keep moving in that direction. And in the meantime: I’m gonna try really hard to talk about my parenthood.
“fewer mothers sacrificing their careers and fewer fathers sacrificing their parenthood”- yes, exactly. That is exactly the aim this dialogue needs. Amen.
Amen. My hubby also got up with me for nighttime feedings for all 3 of our kids. And now that they’re a little older (3, 5, and 7), he is quick to hop up when someone cries in the night. Just a tiny example of our attempt at equal parenting, but one I find shockingly rare among my peers. Loved this essay.
Yes! Great article.
This topic has been on my mind constantly as we – impatiently – wait for our first baby to arrive sometime in the next couple of weeks. I’m going to send this on to my boyfriend now; equality parenting is definitely top of our priority list. Beautiful writing as always Erin.
Yes. Yes to all of this. I have so many thoughts I don’t know where to begin. Biology aside, my husband is just as involved a parent as I am. While our work situations have changed a couple of times since our daughter was born two years ago, we’ve always managed to figure out something that feels equal. And he’s never asked, “What do you do with your daughter when you’re at work all day?!” yet I get this question on a regular basis, coupled with the sad faces that assume I feel guilty for working.
I wish we both had some more flexibility in our jobs to allow us to do more split-shifting, but this is where we are right now. We both feel really strongly about better paid maternal AND paternal leave. Because when he has an opportunity to be a better parent, I’m a better parent. And our kid benefits from having two capable, loving, connected parents.
Things like these often make me feel tired and a little hopeless, but reading this also made me hopeful. I love your blog and never comment, but now I had to because of, well, awesome.
Our story is a little bit different. I am divorced from my daughter’s father. I have been since she was born (that is a story for another day). While her father is in her life, he has a totally different parenting role than my now husband, her step-father. Luckily, my husband stepped in and helps share the parenting responsibilities with me. We both work so he helps me with getting her to the babysitters, helping her with homework, all the good stuff, etc. I am beyond grateful for that.
If I am to be completely transparent with you though, I long for the ability to simply be mom and homemaker. I have a job, a fairly good one at that. I am the “breadwinner” in the home, if we need to break it down to nuts and bolts. But, I desperately long for the opposite. While I feel the guilt of not being able to be home for my child, I feel the social pressure to “use my education” and “break the gender barriers” more. And, frankly, I resent those pressures.
Hypothetically speaking, why is balance so difficult to come by?
Sorry if this isn’t 100% on topic. It seemed to me to not be too far off…
I hear you!
I’m not a mother yet, but I find I resent the pressures to be any sort of wife & mother in particular. It’s like you can’t win either way–you feel guilty for wanting to work, but also guilty for “wasting” your education.
I feel the pressure from both sides whenever people talk to me about the kids I don’t even have yet (and there’s a whole other conversation). Isn’t the goal for more women to be able to find a balance or what works for them and their families without being stigmatized one way or another? Isn’t the goal for us to have freedom to choose between OR choose both/and?
I’ve been a stay at home mom for five years, since our first daughter was born and straight through to now as we are getting ready to welcome our third. I don’t do it out of guilt or because I couldn’t get a job, both of which are insinuated to me on a regular basis. The choice to have our children’s primary caretaker be a family member was something my husband and I both felt strongly about, and we have been blessed to be in a financial position to pull it off. If my husband is out with the kids people will say ‘wow it’s so nice that your husband babysat the other day.’ If he cleans, cooks, gets groceries anything I always get a report and some kind of comment that implies that Im totally incapable. I can’t even do one job myself. People follow up on me saying I’m at home with the kids with ‘so you’re a housewife’ and I get asked at least once a week if I ever plan on ‘using my degree.’ The pressures come from every side and I truly don’t think any mother is protected from it. For me the most ironic part is that I have never felt myself playing as strong a role in breaking gender barriers nor has my education ever been Put to as good use as it has in parenting. It is so far from a brainless pastime and I wish we’d all stop talking about it like it is.
So sorry to hear about your experience, Ariella. I’m hopeful you didn’t feel that I was insinuating that full-time parenting is a brainless pastime. Certainly not my intent.
Yes – I agree. It’s almost like society equates wanting to stay home with your kids as some kind of intellectual and feminist failure. You’re quite a woman if you are involved with your kids and work an awesome job, but if you stay home you aren’t fulfilling your potential. I love Tina Fey and Amy Pohler, but I get tired of their (and others’) rhetoric that you’re only an amazing woman if you do a lot of stuff outside the home. We need to recognize that raising kids at home is a challenging and meaningful full time job for those who choose/desire it and it doesn’t make them less influential, powerful, or feminist. And yet, as Erin is saying, there’s also a sort of social scolding felt if you do have a job and raise kids (a scolding that men never deal with unless they aren’t involved at home at all). Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could, as a society, agree that parenting is important work and kids matter and that both working and at-home parents need support and compassion to raise kids well and be meaningful contributors to society in whatever form suits their abilities, passions, and personal needs?
For example, when I tell people I’m a sahm, they say “good for you, that is just what you should be doing”, and while I appreciate the encouragement, I hate the implication that mothers who work are choosing a lesser path or that I need to be patronized for my sacrifice. It would be enough for them to say “that’s a tough job!” or something descriptive instead of comparative.
Oh man, I feel like Fey and Poehler both have pretty balanced views on this stuff. They’re both working parents, to be sure, but Amy Poehler in particular says just the opposite. “Good for you, not for me” while maybe a bit flippant in the phrasing seems like the best we can hope for: respect for someone else’s choice while not also needing to embrace it personally.
In the same shoes, minus the step father. Separated from my son’s father more than 3 years ago. Although I am a freelancer, I had to slowly go back to working long hours and away from home. Until he was about 4.5 year old, I would work mostly from home and 1 day from the office. After he’d started school, I began working almost exclusively from the office. My son suffered. I could see this. He was picked up from school by my parents when they came for extended visits or by a friend of mine who was his childminder for about half a year. But I feel I need to be home more and work from home more. These first few years of his life are going fast and I feel like I am missing out. Being the breadwinner and raising him financially almost on my own can be a thing of pride…although be regarded as a sacrifice…all I know is it comes with a price…I have been wondering lately if that price is worth it though, when considering the relationship with my child.
Hear hear! It is changing though, everywhere. Here in Italy where mothers get five months MANDATORY leave, fathers get a ridiculous two days. But still, fathers around me are taking shared responsibility for all aspects of parenthood, from birthday parties to doctor appointments to cooking. My male friends in Tanzania are deeply engaged in their kids’ upbringing even though they receive no state help and schools are ridiculously expensive. These days, I almost feel that fathers have more of a reason to be offended by the traditionalist assumptions than mothers do.
I’m not even a parent yet, and already I say: Amen sister.
My fiancé and I have talked about how our ‘picture perfect’ would look before we decided to get married, and part of this picture is that ideally he will stop working to look after our future littles. Will it actually happen? Not sure, but a couple can dream, right?
Every single time we mention this picture perfect to others though (and interestingly, it has come up quite often since we’ve announced our engagement – the whole ‘you’ll start working part-time soon after the wedding right? Nudge nudge, wink wink’ situation), it’s followed by a super awkward, almost worried look.
I am already sick of this, and the littles to be take care of don’t even exist yet.
So yes, amen!
THIS. ALL OF THE HEART OF EYES FOR THIS.
I have 11 month old twins. Even if my husband had wanted to sleep through the night, and not get up, and not change diapers, and not feed them, or go to doctor’s appointments, etc., et al, it would not have been possible. Just plain not possible. But of course he wanted to, because he is their father. Their parent. When people are surprised that he always gets up at night, I look at them like they’re crazy. Because, of course he did. Why wouldn’t he? Even with one baby instead of two, he would have.
He’s also the one who wants more kids. I’m the one on the fence about it.
Somewhat unrelated but still telling about our culture….when we got married, I added his name onto my own. He wanted to add my name onto his. I could do it for free because I got married. He would have had to go through the whole legal name change process, with all of the included expenses.
I think the conversation is larger than just parenthood. It extends beyond that into how as a culture we look at sexes (and gender) and our expectations wrapped up in these views.
Agreed entirely! So much larger than just parenthood!
Erin, thank you so much for this incredibly thoughtful and timely post. Its something we’ve been thinking about a lot.
Thank you New York State. Here’s hoping many states jump on this bandwagon…
I work for a science/engineering company with a limited paternity leave benefit. You have to “qualify” for it by working for the company for at least 10 years. Or you can just use your “paid time off” i.e., vacation time, because lord knows you won’t need that after the baby comes. (sarcasm alert) Sigh… On every employee survey that rolls around, I suggest “parent leave” instead of maternity/paternity leave on the basis that if you start treating parents the same, then there will be less gender bias in the workplace. Which in this male-dominated workplace, would be a very good thing.
Thanks for talking about this. When my son was born almost 10 years ago, I had many of the same conversations. Frustrating. My husband used to get such applause for “babysitting”. I agree with you that we just need to talk about these things more. And hopefully over time change will happen.
Thank you for this. Thank you thank you thank you. (And I don’t even have kids yet!)
I love this so much, Erin, but I’m slightly surprised that you aren’t finding more parents doing similar things as you. Maybe I am lucky to be married to a someone who also feels the way I (and you) do. It just struck me as a little presumptuous that what you’re doing is different than any other modern, progressive family. Also, “when Faye becomes a parent”… Or if?!
Surprised by your surprise! Certainly married to someone who feels the same as me. Certainly finding lots of parents doing similar things. Absolutely not buoyed by a general culture who expects equal parenting roles. As for Faye, I’m sure you can appreciate that I was using the timeline of her eventual parenthood for the sake of argument. Of course she might not become a parent at all.
That makes sense. I think I just read it the wrong way. That is to say, I’m really hopeful that we are already in an equality parenting era. I think our generation is living by example and I’m reassured by the families and family structures I know. Thanks for your thoughtful response!
Of course! I think we have quite a ways to go before we’re in an equality parenting era, but I’m hopeful we’ll get there one day!
This is a blog post from 2016, but now that my husband and I are about to venture into parenthood, I find myself circling back to this post again and again. Could you recommend further reading? A place to continue the conversation? Or maybe just what you think would be a good small next step to make parenting just a wee bit more equal? Thank you for voicing these issues. I find your blog helpful on so many aspects of living, personal growth, and preparing for parenthood.
As a stay at home (sometimes work at home) parent, my partner and I take different roles but of course working toward the same goals. Along with equal respect and treatment for both parents and the roles they take, I hope that everyone can feel good about their choices. It is far to easy to feel guilty, whether you are a stay at home parent, working outside the home or whatever. Let’s get to a place where we all have choices and options and we feel good about them because no one is expecting us to choose or not choose something in particular based on things beyond our control.
YES! YES! this is so right on! When I work on the weekends I constantly get asked who has my kiddos (umm, their dad) – my husband has never been asked this question! The dad “babysitting” comment is maddening! My husband is so offended by this as he should be as if I can take care of 3 kids no question but he just subs in for me until I can get back…. Great post!!
What a wonderful post! These issues have been on my mind a lot as my husband and I have actually set out a concrete schedule for when we’d like to have children, instead of having it be something ambiguous in the future. For a while I was struggling with whether or not to have kids, and I had an epiphany when I realized that I was terrified by the idea of being a “mom”, but being a “dad” sounded like a fun challenge. Somehow “dad” sounded like something you add on to your previous identities, whereas “mom” sounded like a whole new one. It’s so weird how the two words have such different connotations for me!
I really recommend the book “Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family” by Anne-Marie Slaughter, which is about precisely these kinds of issues. I could not put it down. I think that everyone who’s thinking about or currently combining parenthood (or some other kind of care-taking, for example for elderly parents) with a career should read it. It made me face head-on some unconscious bias I’ve been carrying around, and it led to some really helpful and honest conversations with my husband.
Agreed! Almost linked to the book at the end of the post! So great.
I love your thought about the different connotations about “mom” versus “dad” as identities. I am happy to be a mom, but I want it to be a cool extra, a thing I also happen to be able to do, not the defining feature of my identity.
Loved this too! So, so true!
Thank you so much for this post! I was lucky enough to grow up with a father that took me and my siblings to the doctor and was VP of our elementary school PTA and drove me to dance classes… but he was almost always the only father there. And now that my husband and I are expecting a baby in September and beginning our own journey with this difficult topic, it sadly doesn’t seem like enough has changed. As always, your approach to an important conversation is lovely and thoughtful.
(And I too cannot stand it when people refer to fathers as “babysitters.” It’s appalling, but I hear it all the time. Drives. Me. Bonkers.)
Thank you! What a wonderful example! (Agreed on the bonkers front!)
YES! I worry about the same things too. Don’t even get me started on my soap box about the utter CRAP that is family leave in this (US) country.
Oh man, I know it. Stay on that soap box, girl.
Love this, thank you for writing!
Erin, this is incredible. This one hit really close to home in a way that I will be processing for a while. I am now on a mission to get every one I know to read it.
Thank you so much for this beautiful and honest post! Although I am not a parent, I often feel that fatherhood is not acknowledged as much as motherhood and LOVE that you marry the two into what they are and should be—parenthood. Wishing you a wonderful week!
Beautiful and encouraging. Thank you for this!
How true all of this is. The point is that we are all doing the best we can for our families, regardless of whether or not we are stay-at-homes, working, single parents, or blended families. We see a father out with his kids and he’s looked at like a hero, even though it really should be “He’s a father, he’s wants to spend time with his kids too.” Mother’s are heros too!
I am looking forward to seeing more states do the paid parental leave for all parents. My husband’s employer doesn’t offer it and it would have really helped me cope postpartum. I am grateful that my husband’s boss is understanding that even though I stay at home with our daughter that occasionally my husband needs to work from home or leave early/come in late because he wants to be there for things (or that mommy needs some time to take care of herself).
Thank you for this. It’s such a thoughtful, beautiful piece – one that I’ll happily share and talk about with parents of all sorts.
“We’ve made choices that mean that James does things that fathers don’t always do: He woke up with me for almost every single nighttime feeding of her infancy, so that even in those early days I didn’t feel like I was in it by myself.”
Same here. And it felt (still feels) like the right move for us. Despite the commonly held idea that if my husband is getting up to go to work and I’m home with our baby, he should get the better sleep. The fact is, I’m also getting up to work. Nighttime parenting, daytime parenting, equality parenting… signing up for the whole deal.
Totally. Thanks so much for sharing!
This is a beautifully written and important message, Erin, for parents, maybe one day parents, THE WORLD. Just married a year (next month!) and already the nudging has started… as well as the assumption that I, the female with the lower paying job, will of course be the one to not work while my husband continues on. Challenging these assumptions is hard work- especially when responses that you both would want equal part in the parenting is met with laughs or “Oh wouldn’t that be nice!” sentiments. The question: do you challenge or just smile, nod, and continue on your own way? One thing I’ve learned already- parenting is SENSITIVE business. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.
Ah, totally. Depends on the day, I guess! Sensitive to be sure!
I found this article enlightening. My husband and I do not have children, and don’t plan to have children in the future. It’s a choice that we have made. If we were parents, however, I do think our perspective would be the same as yours and James’s. It’s refreshing to read it.
My issue seems to be the opposite of yours, in a way. I have been told so many times, “Well, you have time because you do not have children.” Or the dreaded “If you had children, you’d understand.” Or perhaps the “Do it now, you’ll never be able to do it once you have children.” Which is interesting, because my husband never gets these questions.
Parenting (or the choice not to be a parent) is tricky business. I try to lead by example and support other women and men for their very individual choices. Thanks for your thoughts.
Oh man, for sure. In general a heaping dose of sensitivity around these issues would be an improvement!
This is certainly an important topic for discussion and you make some excellent points.
The only thing I’d offer a different perspective on is that sometime it helps to use a longer time frame as it relates to the notion of “equal” parenting. I personally found the heavy emphasis on equal at all times had the potential to create feelings of resentment when the reality of parenting the child you’re given doesn’t fit with the plans you had. The biological fact is that women are the only ones who can lactate and not all breastfed babies will accept bottles or night-comfort from fathers (heck, my second screamed bloody murder from birth when anyone but me tried to hold her or change her diaper… thankfully she’s mellowed with age). There are other important ways the father can/should support the family during this time that don’t directly involve parenting (e.g., cooking meals, cleaning, laundry, shopping, etc.).
With both my daughters I went back to work full-time after my parental leave year and my husband stayed home full-time. We work hard in our relationship as their parents to make sure that we’re both feeling valued and supported. Parenting with another person is a team effort and roles/responsibilities will change over time.
I think it’s amazing that we all have the total freedom and power to choose how to raise our children. There is frustration in whatever path is chosen. People come from their own points of view and often intentionally or not press our buttons. There is such joy as well…especially when we feel we have made our choices with intention and love.
I’m not a parent, but I hope to be in the next few years. Something I talk to my partner about is, if choose to be a stay at home parent and all the pressure is on him to pay for mostly everything, is that something he would be resentful of (meaning would he miss out on parenthood)? The discussion was long and productive.
I am in academia and right now it seems to me really one sided and that I have to choose my career or providing for my family. This read really put me at ease, as not everything is black and white but shades of gray. Thank you!
Excellent post, Erin, thank you.
I agree! Though I am, for a variety of reasons, a stay at home mom (I always write “stay at home parent” on forms asking about employment bc of this very subject), my husband takes on a lot of the parenting as well and prioritizes family life (over more money and stuff – it’s a tight budget these days but we’re rich in family time). At the same time, I want these conversations about motherhood and parenthood to also acknowledge that choosing to stay home with kids isn’t an indulgence or irresponsible or a waste of potential or anti-feminist or a quaint thing of the past or inherently judgemental of working parents or any of these things I hear and feel – I often feel the urge to apologize for not having a job, or feel excluded from conversations about modern parenthood. We need to have a much more elevated discussion about parenting on all fronts without it turning into a dichotomy of “moms who work” and “moms who stay at home” – I wonder if making the conversation more about parenting than about motherhood would help with some of that.
“I want these conversations about motherhood and parenthood to also acknowledge that choosing to stay home with kids isn’t an indulgence or irresponsible or a waste of potential or anti-feminist or a quaint thing of the past or inherently judgemental of working parents or any of these things I hear and feel – I often feel the urge to apologize for not having a job, or feel excluded from conversations about modern parenthood.”
Me, too, Missem. Me, too…..
(Your entire comment had me nodding.)
Oh, man. I can definitely see that. It’s fascinating, too, because so much of this feels damned if you do or don’t. I often feel like my working is viewed as an indulgence or irresponsible. I’m sure so much of this would change if women and men both felt like they all possibilities were okay.
Yes, it’s pretty weird that women are stuck in this damned if you do/don’t place and I think it probably does have a lot to do with shifting the weight of the conversation from motherhood to parenthood, as well as viewing people as amazing when they are living whole and honest lives instead of seeing women as amazing because they’ve ticked off the right (and impossible) boxes for “being a good woman”.
Love this post/frustrated that the same concerns I had as a parent of young children are still so current. (My youngest is now 14.) One major factor for our family was that my husband had a boss who was incredibly supportive of him taking time to be a parent, from paternity leave to adjusting his schedule to accommodate school carpools and sports practices and all the daily needs of children. This was, 20 years ago, somewhat rare. And, of course, he was always irritated by how people congratulated him on being such an amazing dad when he’d take off a day of work to go on a field trip with a child’s class…a field trip at least 5 or 6 mothers would be on. People taking care of people, from babies to elders, is a necessary and meaningful part of life that has remained undervalued for far too long. (Look at what preschool and daycare workers are paid, for example!) We have definitely made some progress, but we sure have a long way to go. Loved reading thoughts on this, Erin!
Thank you for this.
I wish more bloggers would talk about this, I feel like they often talk about motherhood, balancing career and children, but their significant others rarely are mentioned (not in detail anyways) and while I get that they do not want to talk badly about them, I feel like it is really important because those blogs which are seen as real life stories make an impression. There are a couple of blogs I read where I feel there is equal parenting going on and still it is not talked about. So thank you for talking about it.
Wonderful, wonderful post, Erin. So well-articulated. Tiho and I are slowly figuring this all out at barely four months in. For the time being, I am at home full-time with Felicity while he continues to work out of the house. We budgeted, saved and planned for this scenario to allow me to be able to do this. I’m still trying to find my footing with “getting things done” while also meeting her infant needs, and thus, he takes care of most of the general home-keeping tasks (laundry, dinner, bills, light bulb switches, etc.). Felicity is still super dependent and attached to me (we’re working on her being able to fall asleep without the boob!) but I know that as we move forward and navigate the ever-changing developmental needs of our child, we’ll figure it out…together. I will also likely be returning to work later this year, so we’ll have to adjust again (and again and again). I love your phrase “equality parenting:” I can’t imagine it any other way. And a note on that: I recognize my privilege in being able to stay home for the first year of her life as well as the privilege of having a loving, supportive partnership with my husband. As a new parent, my heart goes out to anyone doing this alone.
Yes, our third will soon be a month old and as for night feedings they are most often followed by (or preceded) diaper changes. And those are my husbands responsibility. In sweden we have 480 days of parental leave to share, three months are bound to each parent and there are some rules for taking days together and limitations for saving days after the first year, but you can save days to use until the child is 8. Such a luxury, and still, some fathers here never use the three months that they are not allowed to give to the mother. And some fathers sleep all night i guess. As our kids have grown my husband is the only one getting up during night since i have trouble falling asleep again if i get up.
When I was studying in Sweden my husband came to visit me and he got to see papaledighet in action. He was so excited about it! Dads out together, pushing strollers! Dads out alone with their kids! He (and I) are super jealous of Swedish parental leave, especially now that we have a kid.
Similar in Germany. We get 14 months of paid (65 %) parental leave to share and 12 months if only one parent takes parental leave. Here as well, some fathers never use the two months that they are not allowed to give to the mother. Although, I feel, more and more dads take at least the two months.
Funnily enough, my boyfriend and I decided on the same plan as you, Erin, for future kids. Him going to work early and picking up the kids and me spending the mornings with the kids and getting home late from work. Plus, that means dinner responsibility on his part, while I get to pack cool lunches for everyone. 😉
At first, I was gonna skip over this because topics like this usually leave me weary, and mentally exhausted but I decided to plow through and I’m so glad I did. You wrote your essay in such a way that it really spoke to me. I remember having our first almost 6 years ago and my parents saying the most frustrating things to me. Now, in Canada, mothers get 15 weeks of paid leave, PLUS another 35 weeks of paid parental leave that either parent can take or split any which way between them. Its very generous, and most mothers take the whole year off. But I remember my dad saying things about my husband having to go work every day so he should not be getting up with the baby in the night. And my mom wondering if my husband was “going to be ok to handle” both kids when I’m at work and he has to swing by the school to pick up one from after school care, and the other from day care and then make supper for them, bathe them and put to bed. Like, uuuuugggghhh he’s not an idiot ,he’s their father! And the reactions he got when he took 5 weeks of paid leave when we had our second?!?! You’d think the sun shone out his ass. I’d love to live a world where Dads weren’t crowned King just because they parent the kids too.
Sorry. I totally posted this too early. But seriously, loved this post.
Preach, sister! I had no idea about any of this until I experienced all of this.
YES to this. I don’t yet have a little one, but this is a topic I have thought a lot about, and I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for articulating it so well. Your perspective is vital to this conversation. I am bookmarking to share with others.
Thank you for writing this article! It really hits home. I decided to go back to school to pursue my dream of being a biologist when I got pregnant with my daughter. The criticism and skepticism I’ve received from my family, peers, and even professors really floored me. Being a student is seen as a tenuous occupational status, entirely optional, and many expected me to give it up once she was born. I’ve been discouraged from pursuing research by my professors and called selfish and delusional by family members on the other hand. But I’m still going strong, have a stellar GPA, and am working on my first journal publication. So there! My mother has been my rock supporting me through all of the criticism. I’m so grateful for her example, and hearing stories like this one make me feel less alone. Thank you!!!
Woo!! You’ve got this! I was in grad school for biology with a friend (also named Laura) who had two young kids, and watching her get sh*t done and getting her PhD. while also being an awesome parent was quite inspiring. There was a lot of shuffling kids interrupting her work day, and juggling when her husband was out of town for work and when she was out in the field, but they made it all happen!
I am a single parent (mother) and an airline pilot. I am always a bit thrown off when my colleagues ask me who is watching my child (soon to be children) while I fly. It seems like such a noisy question with that undertone of judgement that I am not staying at home. I would never think to ask these colleagues (always men and often parents themselves) about the particulars of their childcare arrangements. I have trained myself to tell them simply that I have everything worked out to my family’s great satisfaction and change the subject back to our work mission. I would love for my daughter to grow up to a professional world where her childcare choices are not the topic of conversation at work.
Thanks for the post Erin! I love your blog but have never commented. But this post really resonated with me as a young professional married to another young professional who wants to start a family soon. Your writing is so on point and well written and inspiring. I loved your book too!! I am moving to NYC from the midwest this Spring and can’t wait to simplify (and compost at the market!!)
“…Because saying it only to me undermines my career. And not saying it to James undermines his parenthood. We’re both working really hard at this whole parenthood thing.” I love this. All if it is so well said.
Incredible about the paid leave in New York. I just completed my second maternity leave a few months ago. I was paid $1000 over my leave. No typo there. That’s all I got. My income was cut by one third this year for the second time for being a parent. It doesn’t seem right.
This is a fantastic and honest and refreshing to read! Thank you for sharing something so personal and meaningful. Even though I am not a mother yet, I deeply appreciate your perspective.
Thank you so much much for this wonderfully well-written post. It says so many things I want to say when people share articles on social media regarding women balancing work /family, women going ‘back to work,’ leaning in and all that other internet noise. Why does every article have to address this as a mom issue? why not just a parent hood issue ? During the last recession, my husband got laid off due to lack of work, but the work in my field was still around….He became a stay-at-home dad to our 6 month old.. Then, he was a work from home dad when he was able to scrounge up some free-lance work. But he was doing all the errands, toddler gym, park and story time during the day while I was at work. When the economy picked up and there were more opportunities (and another kid added in), he was the one worried about the gap in his resume, getting back in the workforce after being SAHparent. Now we both juggle, but (other than me being the one signing up for camps and swim lessons like the article you linked previously had mentioned) we both juggle equally, leaving work early if a kid is sick, staying home for the washer repair man, splitting half days at the office if the day care is closed for some random bank holiday (Presidents Day).
I don’t know why all the life balancing articles refer to mothers; why not dads – they deserve credit/ sympathy too ?!?!? EVERY PARENT deserves this.
(reading some of the other comments, maybe i read your essay a little differently than others, but like people enjoy art for different reasons, in a way that applies to them, I enjoyed the essay in ‘my way’ 🙂 )
And +1 to ‘dads do not BABYSIT their own children’. Such a ridiculous comment- I too hate it when people say that.
YES! Thanks for voicing this. It is incredibly frustrating to me. Especially as a divorced parent who shares parenting with my little guy’s dad. It is assumed that his career comes first and I am left to work around him, juggle childcare, and generally let my career falter as a result.. It makes me so mad.
Really enjoyed this piece, Erin–certainly things that need to be discussed more. Not quite on the same level, but my boyfriend and I are getting a puppy this summer: we’re already starting to have so many conversations around who will be responsible for what, who will be able to leave work early, who will be more flexible about working from home when necessary. It’s an interesting test frame for having a child, especially since it takes out the “mother who birthed or breast fed and bonded” element: we’re both very equally capable and have the same total lack of experience when it comes to taking care of (and training) a living creature. And we both have jobs that make it financially possible for us to have a dog (and a dog-walker)–but that also come with responsibilities that can be tough to shirk. Again: not the same, but I’m interested to see how we can use it as a test case before having children: How can we split responsibilities in a way that is fair and balanced, and trust each other implicitly?
Totally! Some people get offended by the puppy analogy, but it’s SO APT! Good luck, guys!
Thanks for this. This is such an important conversation.
My husband has been an equal parent for the entirety of our children’s lives (they’re now in university). In fact, I’d say more than equal as he has more energy than I do. And we didn’t even have to discuss this. That’s just the way he is. It is my hope that as more children are raised in this way, they will model the same behaviour when they become parents, and we won’t even have to have this discussion anymore.
I love this. Thank you so much for discussing this on your blog and reminding everyone that parenting is a blessing and hard work for BOTH parents, not just mom. Dad’s are in this too, and I hope to see a shift where people include them more in the conversation.
This is one of the most important pieces I’ve read in a very long time. I never ever comment but this really and truly spoke to me. Thank you for having this important conversation and doing so beautifully.
It’s totally possible to get there. Actually we are getting there in Noway. It helps that dads also get parent leave, their part is 10 weeks but they can take more. Only my grandmother said I was lucky to have so much help from my husband with the babies. Others don’t consider it help, but a natural part of parenting.
Balancing work life and kids is a juggle. For mums and dads alike.
This is a wonderfully written essay and a topic I wish my husband and I had discussed in more depth before having our sons. We both work outside of the home but most responsibilities related to our children fall to me. I never assume I won’t have them and he never assumes he will. It is a conversation that would have been easier before having children instead of while raising them. I think part of this for us is geographical and is certainly the norm for most families where we live.
I heart you.
Beautiful essay, Erin. Thank you! This feels so relevant as I spent yesterday afternoon in deep conversation with my boyfriend about how parenting will affect our careers. Here’s to equality parenting!
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! my boyfriend and I are soon to become parents. he is really into parenting together and I am really into my booming career(s). he’s also really into his career and I’m really into taking my baby fishing, to the gallery, and taking care of it. your point above does what is so sorely missing in any other ‘mom advice’ website or parenting blog: acknowledges that parents are parents regardless of biological sex or gender.
and thanks for normalizing shared nighttime duties, diaper changings, and baby hairdos. upon first becoming pregnant I thought it was so strange that mothers, it was assumed, would be the ones losing sleep. I just kept thinking: “uh have these people ever heard of breast pumps, night nannies, and sleeping in another room while the other partner feeds the crying baby?”
the way we’re approaching the first few months of life is that I’ve done all the child-rearing work to this point so he will take the primary role for a while after birth. this feels equitable and good to me – not to mention allows him to bond with the new human.
I hope when we have the baby my boyfriend is able to bask in his parenthood just as I am supposed to. this was a refreshing read – sharing with him now.
Thank you so much for writing this Erin. you’ve put beautifully into words the very thoughts i’ve had throughout this past year as my husband and i parent our daughter while both working full-time. and well done NY State, hopefully many more states will follow !
Like everyone else has said, Thank you!! My husband and I each work part-time (ok, probably more than that) and have equal active parenting roles. We’re the only parents we know who do this, so it’s great to read that there are so many others out there, and that there is so much support for this lifestyle!
Wonderful post. I’m currently a stay-at-home mom, but my husband works from home and does just as much to parent and nurture our children as I do. As you write about with James, I feel he doesn’t get enough credit! Also, related, we have two girls and my husband is often disturbed by the “outnumbered” comment. He loves parenting daughters!
Oh man, as one of four girls, I’m *very* familiar with the outnumbered comment. Oy.
Thanks so much for this. We’re not parents yet but this is how I envision things will be with my boyfriend and me. He’s already amazing at sharing household things like cooking and cleaning and taking care of our cat, so I think we’re on the right track 🙂
My experience is that people are always, always going to judge. Even people who love you and mean well, like your parents. It takes a really long time for societal “norms” to change. All we can do is keep living the way that works for us and being outspoken about it, in the hopes that it inspires others to not feel guilty about living that way, too. So thanks for being outspoken!
Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah. I’m so inspired by your essay and chuffed that you can write so well, because I think the subject needs more well spoken voices. Yes to #parentlife, yes to raising this topic in more spaces, and yes to opening the conversation for parenthood. I think the more family life (in it’s many diverse forms) is celebrated, respected and shared, the closer we (human collective) will get to prioritising a really important part of society. Regardless of if you have children or not, families are the cornerstone of community life. No parent, grandparent or child is an island!
Cheers to you and James. You both have made and are raising one awesome human.
I really enjoyed reading your article ! My boyfriend took our baby daughter on a plane trip by himself and he got tones of smiles and encouraging comments from start to finish. When I did the same I got the compliments only after the easy flight without crying and a happy landing. Long way to go…
THANK YOU for this post! I’m not a parent yet, but I’d like to become one in the not-too-distant future and I’m already feeling overwhelmed and stress about the whole “balance” thing. I love to look at lots of blogs and instagram posters whose work takes a clear backseat to their “mamahood” while their male partners take on a clear “provider” role. Obviously this breakdown works for some families but it is not the only option for a happy, healthy family and I LOVE the way you describe how you and James make it work. That is the kind of parenthood I want for my partner and I someday. And I look forward to doing my part to change the way the whole thing is talked about.
What a great post! Definitely something I’ll be sharing with my man to spark a discussion 🙂
Bravo, Erin! Keep this issue alive because it is long past due that our federally elected officials get moving on this. Its why I’m working tirelessly for the “H” candidate!
Great post, and I completely agree with everything you’ve written. In Canada, mothers can take 15 weeks of maternity leave and then either parent can take 35 weeks of paid parental leave after that. No fathers I know have taken parental leave while the mother goes back to work. In my situation, I have a unionized position and I am easily replaced when I am off work. However, my husband works for a private law firm. Even though according to the law he is entitled to be off instead of me, the partners of his firm would be really unsupportive of that and it would probably affect his chances of becoming advancing his career. I think a lot of people weigh income when it comes to parental leave here in Canada, and unfortunately since men are more often the breadwinners, it’s usually the mothers that stay home.
I also find it challenging to insist on shared parental responsibilities when I am at home during the day and my husband works. I breastfeed our three month old, and although my husband would get up with me if I asked during the night, it doesn’t really make sense for us both to be up when he is working the next day and I am not. This also extends to household chores – how can I ask my husband to clean when he gets home from work when I am off with the baby? I guess what I am trying to say is while paid leave is great, and I am so fortunate to be off for an entire year, it doesn’t exactly lend itself to parental equality if the woman ends up taking all the leave. But to be absolutely honest, I wouldn’t want my husband to take the leave instead of me… I love being home and being able to bond with my baby. And I guess that’s part of the entire problem. 🙁
This is a really important conversation. Thank you for discussing it with grace. Our parenthood looks a little different than yours, but even with his many health problems, my husband plays just as important a part as dad as I do as mom.
(Random personal anecdote: One time my husband, kids, and I were traveling, staying with his family. I went out for a girls’ night out with my sister-in-law and some of her friends. One of the women asked me if my mother-in-law was watching the kids so that I could take a break. I was all, “Nooooooo. Their DAD is watching them.” Seriously. What the heck? I was so shocked and upset that anyone would make the assumption that he was incapable of doing the best job taking care of them.)
Yes. Yes. Yes. To equality parenting. To fathers and mothers having a chance to lean into both career and parenting. Sharing fully as parents the joy and pains of nuturing our little ones. Thank you for this timely essay.
Wow, this is wonderful! I don’t have children yet, and so therefore have not thought too much about these things, but reading your post really opened up something for me. I agree so very much, but until now, did not even see this unbalance that truly does exist. Thank you for sharing!
I’m not a mother, myself, but I hope to be one day. And I have many very good friends who are killing it as parents. I love this topic. Please keep bringing it up!
This essay comes at such a poignant time for me. I’m actually surprised at the ’empathy’ you get as a working mother. My husband and I also both work out of the home. We also share parenting as well as cleaning, cooking, etc. I am always getting comments from my mother, mother-in-law, and mostly other older women about what an amazing husband I have”He is such an amazing parent.’ ‘There are not many fathers out there like him.”You are very lucky to be married to such an amazing husband and father.’ ‘You mean he’s putting Josephine to bed and he is going to wake up with her too?’ We have created this family dynamic purposefully and many people are so taken aback by it. I don’t want to take accolades away from my husband because he is wonderful, but I’ve never heard anyone say to any of my fellow working mothers, ‘wow she is an amazing mother.’ It’s just expected that we should be. And it is even more perplexing because I have a more demanding job and make more money.
To be sure: I’ve been there. When Faye was an infant we were at a party with her and James went to put her down for a nap in another room. No fewer than four people stopped me to ask where Faye was and whether James always put her down for her nap. “Lucky” was also the word used to describe my experience.
Well said Erin. I have not heard this perspective before which is surprising given how many “women’s issues” events I’ve attended and articles be read.
What an incredible article. As someone who wishes to parent in the future but is in love with her career, this is such an inspiration and refreshing to hear.
I love that you mentioned “babysitting” with regards to a father and his own child because I remember a comment from someone I used to work with. He told me he was babysitting that night, like it was an unusual thing for him to do. When I asked I found out he was going to watch his own child while his wife was at a class. I told him that wasn’t babysitting, it was parenting. He seemed very surprised by my take on it. Luckily my husband has never made that mistake. 🙂
Amen a million times. We’re two working parents with two young kids and are very much equality parenting practitioners. In my experience the biggest difference between being a mother and being a father is the external expectations. I feel tons of guilt for sometimes not living up to the expectations of a mother, while my husband feels absolutely none of that. I have barely set foot in my older son’s kindergarten class all year because he takes the bus to school and then to an after-school program. When he’s exhausted at 5:30 pm, I feel guilty that he can’t just come home after school like some of his friends. I’ve contemplated trying to change my work hours so that I could be home at least one afternoon, but the truth is that I like working and my job is very demanding.
I wonder sometimes where all this guilt comes from. I think some of it comes from comparing myself to other mothers, but a lot of it comes from comparing my kids’ experience to my own experience as a kid. My mother stayed home until I entered school, and didn’t work full-time until I was quite a bit older.
Thank you for your post. So much of the writing out there about parenthood seems so outdated to me and not in keeping with my own experience as a parent.
Wow. This couldn’t have come at a better time for me – at 6 months pregnant, I read Anne Marie Slaughter’s brilliant NY Mag piece (“On Raising Men Who Do Housework”) and couldn’t believe how much I’d already started to assume the majority of responsibility for the baby we don’t even have yet. I have a lovely, fair, active partner and yet I’d taken it upon myself to look into nurseries, baby kit, baby care, sleep practices, birthing lessons – you name it! Despite my strong feminist ideals, I’d just assumed this was for me to lead on and my partner to follow. It really took me aback. Anne Marie Slaughter talks about having a ‘lead parent’ in different scenarios, just as you describe – so I might take the lead on learning about sleeping, while my boyfriend might look into local childcare options, and then we share what we’ve learned and decide together. It’s so obvious, and yet it had completely escaped me. And it’s a dance that, if we’re lucky, we’ll be learning our whole lives together. Thanks so much for the thoughtful, passionate piece.
Such a wonderful (and insightful, since I’m not yet a parent) post! Hopefully the sway in paternity leave verses maternity leave is a good indicator that this is indeed the perspective change that is happening. Not just in the US but in other parts of the world as well.
Indeed. Sadly, the US lags far, far behind the rest of the world in our efforts at family leave (maternal or otherwise!).
I couldn’t agree more. Thank you!
Australia is far behind in the paid parental leave system and I honestly hope that things would change soon. Inevitably in Australia, the person who makes the most money would be the person working, which is usually the dad . Childcare is outrageous here (+ mortgage ) and unfortunately there just isn’t a point for the mom the work if her wage is barely covering childcare costs. I’m all for equality in parenthood but I also don’t deny that there’s an innate mommy instinct in women. Until there’s some kind of change in the system or work/wage structure, equal parenthood is a nice concept, here in Australia at least. But of course, there are those who managed to make things work for them…
Love this. Thank you.
Excellent article, Erin. I totally agree.
My kids are grown now, and though I was able to take paid leave when they were born (1989 and 1991), my husband didn’t get any — he had to use vacation time. But he still got up when they woke up at night — he changed them and I fed them, lol! He was usually the one who gave them their baths, we both read to and played with them, took turns putting them to bed. We took turns taking time off for pediatrician appointments and school things. He taught our daughter to fix things, change the oil on the car, etc. just like he taught our son. I taught both kids how to cook, iron, sew on a button or fix a ripped seam (you can tell my husband and I were raised with definite gender roles, but we didn’t want to do that with our kids). Our son is a massage therapist, unmarried with no children. Our daughter is now an English as a Second Language (TESOL) instructor and is taking a semester off because she and her husband just had their first baby. Our son-in-law (a clinical laboratory scientist at a university hospital) has 8 weeks paid parental leave. He’s doing everything with our grandson that our daughter does — they’re both great parents!
Biologically speaking I don’t think most men are capable of nurturing young children in the way that a lot of women can. I seriously doubt that most men are able to mentally will themselves to become the prime nurturers. For the most part women and men are naturally very different. Anyone with eyes and ears can see this. Call it testosterone, estrogen, biology, but the fact that women conceive and carry children in their own bodies isn’t just “no big deal.” Why should we be the same?
Oh dear, we definitely don’t see eye to eye on this point. I’m not dismissing the biological work of motherhood, or larger physical or otherwise differences between men and women, but I’m definitely challenging the idea that fathers can’t parent in stride with mothers.
Women have a limited time to have a limited number of children. Physically they are far more invested in the childbirth process. It makes sense that they are going to be more invested in the continued success of their children, and that they will do whatever it takes for them to survive and thrive. Unless men have had particular kinds of experiences early in life, like taking care of young siblings, or they have some kind of change in perspective later in life, I just don’t think they are going to be *as good* caretakers as most mothers.
Definitely agree that it takes a change in perspective!
loved your precise and thoughtful ideas here. people often tell me i’m “lucky” to have such a helpful husband (he changes diapers – oh my!), and it’s always irked me. i’m not “lucky” to be in an egalitarian marriage – I chose to marry someone who would be a complete partner. you inspired me to share my own two cents about the topic here!
thought you might like to see this
I love this, all of it. Thank you for writing it so well!
You made some great points! My husband does a ton as a father even though I am a stay-at-home mama. He understands that fatherhood is a full-time job too, and he takes it seriously. He should be asked about childcare and recognized as a working father.
Love and relate to these words today as a 2021 mama of a 2-year-old so much. Motherhood is beautiful and real, but Parenthood is just as real (and maybe more so) to me and my husband. Especially after the newborn phase, I feel we are so interchangeable and want to keep it that way.
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