From Heather Boushey, The New Breadwinners, in The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything, Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.
From Heather Boushey, The New Breadwinners, in The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything, Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.
With Mother's Day approaching, I realized that I never posted a book review for One Big Happy Family. Yes, it's another anthology of essays about families, this one with the twist that all of the families are nontraditional in some way — the subtitle is "18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love." I'll admit that when they emailed me to ask if I wanted a review copy, my first thought was "Househusbandry makes the cut? I'm not hopelessly uncool and traditional?"
Anthologies are always somewhat of a mixed bag, and this one — with the members chosen for their breaking the norrm in some way — is probably more of one than most. Some of the voices were ones I've read before — Dan Savage reports on his son's mommy, and how he copes with her erratic communications, Dawn Friedman writes about Penny, Madison, and open adoption, Amy and Marc Vachon make their usual pitch for Equally Shared Parenting. Some were new to me. Overall, I enjoyed most of the essays, although a lot of them were a shade too didactic for my taste.
That said, the one essay that I truly disliked is the one by Neil Pollack, which is the one that I think is supposed to be about "househusbandry." For one thing, Pollack explicitly says he's not a househusband and his wife isn't a housewife — they both work from home, and neither of them seems to do much housework. And they both come across as incredibly passive aggressive and annoying. If Marc and Amy make sharing things down the middle seem impossibly perfect and easy, Pollack makes it seem like chewing broken glass would be far preferable. I think the last time I read an essay by Pollack that was causing a shitstorm on the blogosphere, the conclusion was that it was supposed to be satire. I truly hope this essay was satire, although it wasn't funny. Because if it's just true, it's sad.
Today's New York Times had an article on unemployed financial-industry men who are spending more time with their kids. It's all too typical of the Times' coverage of parenting, in that the reporter seems to have noticed a pattern among her neighbors and decided that it was a trend. Far more interesting than the article is that pretty much every comment posted on the article said:
And seriously, it's time to retire the "Mr. Mom" references. It's just lazy copyediting.
In skimming today’s Washington Post, I saw a short blurb that says that women’s careers are responsible for one-third of corporate relocations, up from 15 percent in 1993. The study that it’s based on appears to be only available for a hefty fee, so I don’t know how reliable the data are, but if it’s real, that’s a fascinating trend.
In reading Pamela Stone’s book on Opting Out?, I was struck by how often a choice to be the "trailing spouse" in a relocation was the first (unintentional) step down a path that led to women leaving the workforce. They assumed that their skills were strong enough that they’d have no trouble finding another job, and that was generally true, but often it wasn’t quite as good a job, or they just didn’t have the leverage in the new job to insist on the flexibility they wanted. Or the relocation put stress on their family, and they wanted to take time to help the kids adjust…
The big question I’d want to know is what the breakdown of relocations by gender is among married couples — my guess is the 32 percent figure includes relocating singles. If there’s really a big growth in the number of men willing to be a trailing spouse, that’s a bigger indicator of gender equality than the frequently cited stat that 1/3 of wives earn more than their husbands.
The Washington Post today had a front-page story on a recent poll that found that 60 percent of working mothers said that part-time work would be the ideal situation for them. This is an increase of 12 percent since 1997.
It’s hard to know what to make of this finding since, as the newspaper article points out, only about 1/4 of working mothers work part-time, and that hasn’t increased in the past decade. The question asked was "considering everything, what would be the ideal situation for you, working full-time, working-part time, or not working at all outside the home?" It’s hard to know how people interpreted that — if people thought about a hypothetical part-time job that paid as much (per hour) as a full-time job, with benefits and interesting work, or if they thought the part-time jobs that are actually out there. Who wouldn’t want the "have your cake and eat it too" version of part-time work?*
I know I’ve said that at some point I’d like to cut back to part-time (probably 3/5 or 4/5 time) work. I’d like to spend more time with the boys, and I’d like to have more time to do all the other things (reading, blogging, cooking, hanging out on the lake) that I never have enough time to do. And I could even do it at my job without it being a major career-limiting move — Rachel Schumacher, who is quoted in the article about her part-time job, works for my organization.
So why don’t I? Money is the most obvious reason. I took a paycut when I took this job, and while we’re doing ok, it would be hard to cut our budget by another 20 percent. T could presumably get a job that would fill the gap, but it would be tricky to align our hours. This will likely be more manageable when the boys are both in school, and I suspect that we’re headed in that direction (although it will in part depend on how much the market value of T’s professional skills have degraded with his time out of the workforce).
But I also suspect that I’m driven enough that I’d have trouble cutting back on my work commitments. Take next week for an example. T has someplace else he needs to be for 2 days– we’ve known about this for months, and I’ve planned to take them off from work to hang out with the boys. But Monday I learned about a meeting on an issue area that I’ve been trying to get into for the past year. And of course it’s scheduled for one of the days that I’m supposed to be off. My boss literally didn’t say a word, but I knew I should be there. So I scrambled, and have lined up some childcare for that morning. I have a feeling that I’d wind up working at least some of the time as often as not on my days off.
* Well, fathers apparently. Only 12 percent of fathers said that part-time work would be the ideal situation for them. But, interestingly, 16 percent said that not working outside the home at all would be the ideal situation for them. That’s lower than the figure for mothers (29 percent), but I think it’s fascinating that fathers were more likely to chose "not working" than "part-time work" and mothers were more likely to choose "part-time work" than "not working." Does that mean that there’s more interest among men in "reverse traditional families" than in "equally shared parenting"? Or that more dads still think that staying home is a permanent vacation?
Not in the print edition, but online, the Prospect has added a response by Linda Hirshman. While she is, as usual, gratuitously obnoxious toward anyone she disagrees with, she does make a point that I think is on target:
"even if by some miracle male employers could be
persuaded to enact the reforms discussed, without a real change in
women’s attitudes about the family most of the effect would be to make
it easier for women to continue to bear their excessive share of an
unjust household. And allow the women to think they chose it!"
In their discussion of a recent conference on Rethinking Gender Egalitarianism, Laura at 11d and Harry at Crooked Timber responded to a similar point made at the conference — that things like paid parental leave are an obstacle to gender egalitarianism, because they are disproportionately taken by mothers rather than fathers. Laura and Harry argue that parenting is not a "shit job" (as Hirshman clearly believes), but rather a source of great fulfillment for many people and that if barriers are removed, men will voluntarily take on more domestic responsibilities and joys.
I don’t think parenting is a shit job, or one that makes your brain rot. But I also think that it’s almost certainly true that absent a massive societal shift or highly prescriptive government policy, family friendly policies probably would increase the gender gap. Because, as Rhona Mahoney explains, every choice you make changes the hand that you have when you make the next set of decisions. And unless we get to the point that working fewer hours or taking time off from work has zero career cost (which seems unlikely anytime soon), it’s always going to make sense for the person who has already stepped off the fast track to be the one to accommodate the other’s career. And because of both biology (pregnancy and breastfeeding) and gender ideology, the one taking that first step off is far more likely to be a woman.
Mahoney also makes the interesting suggestion that this is a tipping point phenomenon; e.g that if SAHDs were more common, more men would make that choice. And on that note, I have to point out the Colbert report piece on SAHDs. (And a look behind the scenes.)
Via Miriam at Everyday Mom, I read this NYTimes article about "breadwinner moms." Dunleavey’s not talking about single mothers who support their families, but about the women in what I call "reverse traditional families" — married couple families where the wife works outside the home and the husband is the unpaid primary caregiver.
I agree with Dunleavey that there’s a lot of "renegotiating expectations" in reverse traditional families. We have a set of societal defaults about what women should do and we have a set of societal defaults about what stay-at-home parents should do, and when there’s a stay-at-home parent who is not a woman, many of these expectations collide and everything’s up for grabs — as Dunleavey says, from who does the laundry to who manages the money. I’d add from who chaperones the field trip to who is on duty when the child starts puking at 2 am.
But I part from Dunleavey when she says "When I say uncomfortable, I’m trying to be polite. The women I know in these shoes are seething — with uncertainty, resentment, anxiety and frustration." I’m sure not seething.
We’ve been doing this for nearly 6 years, and I’m not going to tell you that there aren’t ups and downs. There are days I’m jealous of him for getting to play with the kids and there are days he’s jealous of me for getting to escape to a nice quiet office. When I was trying to change jobs, it would have been nice to have the security of another income. Sometimes when he spends a lot of time on his hobbies, I think it would be nice if he mopped the floor instead. I burn quietly when the preschool teacher effusively tells me how nice it is to see me for a change. But none of these really bug us for more than about a minute at a time. Maybe someday we’ll make a different choice. But this is working for us.
If one of the frustrating parts of being in a reverse traditional family is that there are no guidelines, one of the good things is also that there are no guidelines. So you can make it up as you go along and do things the way that work for you. Last week, I was jealous at the thought that T would get to bring cupcakes to D’s class for his birthday, and I wouldn’t. So I arranged to work from home, and we both brought the cupcakes.
Here are some links that readers have recently sent me:
And don’t forget to send your comments on the FMLA.
Congrats to Brian at RebelDad for his new gig as a regular guestblogger in the Post blog On Balance. I’m a bit jealous of his exposure (# of comments I got for my post on labor force participation statistics: 1; # of comments Leslie Morgan Steiner got for her post on the same topic: 187), but also somewhat glad that I’m not the target of some of the nutcases who comment there.
"What makes at-home dads interesting is not that they walk their kids to school or go to the playground or do laundry or whatever. It’s that they are refusing to play by the outdated gender roles. Parents should have a wide range of choices about how they balance work and home, and one of the largest obstacles to this free choice is the idea that there are certain things men simply don’t do (and that women, therefore, must do). At-home dads help shatter this idea, which helps not only SAHDs, but also go-to-work women (who face less of a "second shift" at home), go-to-work dads (who have additional freedom to ask for flexibility) and at-home moms (whose choice is validated by an expanded — and more diverse — peer group)."
I’m not sure that’s quite right. I think that reverse traditional families (my term for families where moms work and dads are at home) very much challenge gender ideologies. But we don’t challenge the "ideal worker" model — the idea that employers are entitled to employees who are largely unencumbered by family responsibilities, who don’t have to run out the door in the middle of the day when the daycare calls because a child is sick, who can stay late without hesitation.
My husband has been staying home for over 5 years now. At this point, I’m tired of stories about stay at home dads that basically treat them as dancing bears. I’m much more impressed by stories about other things — finances, transportation, whatever, that take stay-at-home dads for granted.
"When I’m taking care of Liko, I don’t feel like I’m “fathering” him. In my mind – and this is just the thought I was raised with, not the one I want to have – a father goes to work and comes home in the evening. "Fathering" is playing ball, patting on the back, putting food on the table. An honorable role."
"A mother, meanwhile, is home changing diapers and cleaning baby food off the floor and kissing skinned knees. That’s also honorable and often honored. That’s what I do. So I feel like by staying home with him, I’m “mothering” Liko. I’m a mom, or at least, that’s my role. In many respects, a man out in the middle of the afternoon with his toddler, who is known to neighbors and neighborhood shop clerks and waitresses as a “Mr. Mom,” is a man in drag, and queer in the most political sense of the term. Why shouldn’t I be proud to be a Mr. Mom?"
I commented that I worry that this definition implies that working mothers aren’t real mothers, and there’s been some interesting back and forth on Jeremy’s blog.
But maybe Jeremy’s right in some ways. I write here a fair amount about what I call "reverse traditional families" — families with working mothers and at-home fathers. One of the strains on women in these families is that we rarely give ourselves mothering credit for being breadwinners. We often beat ourselves up for the things that we don’t do, without giving ourselves corresponding brownie points for the things we do. Maybe we should stop worrying about whether we’re good enough mothers, and decide that we’re damned good fathers.
I can’t remember if I posted here about the "daddies and donuts" event at D’s preschool last month. This was a chance to have a snack and do a craft with the kids, at the relatively working-parent friendly hour of 9 am (vs. the 11 am time for "family snack" and most other events to which parents are invited). When I got the flyer, I asked T if he thought in this context, "daddy" meant "male parent" (e.g. him) or "the parent who never gets to do things at preschool" (e.g. me). [The flyer did say that if a father couldn’t come, a mother or "other Very Important Person" could attend.] Ultimately, since I was taking off a day the week before to go on a field trip with the class (to the Planetarium), I decided not to fight T for the chance to go. As it turns out, the "craft" was that the kids decorated paper ties.
On another note, RebelDad is having an online chat with Leslie Morgan Steiner at WashingtonPost.com tomorrow (Thursday) at 1 pm. If you can’t be online at the time, you can submit questions in advance and read the transcript later. I got Steiner’s book out of the library — look for a review in the next week or two.