Friday, May 10, 2013

Where Are The Dads?

The preschool where I work is run as a co-op.  As such, parents are expected to stay in the classroom and help the two paid teachers each day.  There is a schedule printed far in advance and just one parent stays each day.  As you might imagine, some days having the extra adult in the room is a real boon; other days, not so much.  It depends on two things:  the skill of the parent in working with three year-olds (other than their own child), and the ability of the child to share her/his parent with the other kids.  There are several parents who, when I see their names on the schedule for the day, I get excited because I know they will really bring some skills and excitement to the room and be a true help.  Others, …

Ithaca, where my preschool is located, is a very progressive town.  Yet the diversity of the place is not very evident in my classroom.  I have a total of 15 children and none have anything other than a mom and a dad as their parents.  This is not a complaint.  I am not saying, “Shit, why don’t I have any same-sex couples in my class?”  I only bring it up because it is relevant to my point.

So far this school year there have been approximately 120 days when a parent has stayed to help in my classroom.  Of those 120 days, a father has been the one to stay no more than 15 times.   Rounding up, this means a father has been the one to stay just 13% of the time and a mother has been the one to stay 87% of the time.  In the other classroom where a parent is expected to stay, the days when a father has stayed are even fewer and farther between.  In general, the parents in my school are highly educated with some sort of advanced or professional degrees.  I would certainly say they are modern, open-minded, and aware of gender stereotypes.

Yet, when the rubber hits the road, it is the moms who clear their morning schedules and come in.  Not the dads.  Why is this?  It is 2013 and, as a society we have decided, in theory, that if a child has two parents, those parents should share the parenting duties equally.  If one of the parents is a male and the other a female, there is no reason for the female parent to be the one who comes to the preschool to help with childcare all the time, is there?


  1. Chris, my husband "let" me keep my name. I had to ASK him if that was OK. He didn't ever even think to ask me if I wanted to keep it. Then when we had the kids come to live with us, we started out with a nanny, but I eventually had to choose to give up my work life if one of us were to stay home with them. Colin says he would LOVE to stay at home with them, if ONLY my job paid enough to let him do that. He has the convenience of working at a career that is 95 percent men, so that pay is very high. My career is mostly women, so it has been reduced to part-time work, no benefits and low pay (despite the fact that you are required to have a Master's, minimum, to do it).

    Now we are about to adopt our kids. I OFTEN started the conversation with my husband about what we should name them. Colin did what Western culture does -- he didn't say much or anything and time went by until we were literally sitting there facing the documents. I gave in as I always do -- as our women as caretakers always do because SOMEONE has to take care of business while the men sit passively by waiting for dinner to get made and clothes to get washed.

    My children will all have his name, and I will have my own. I share this in furious anger with you, and your readers, because the reality of our culture is that men don't care to change the status quo -- they really really don't. Life is good for them, of course! They have women that serve them and take care of their needs (make dinner, clean the house, organize their kids and manage the activities), while they get to continue only with very slight differences from the Mad Men era. And the differences have IMPROVED their lives -- giving them better connection with their children, more involvement with the community, more "prestige" because of that involvement. Ironically, the workload and stress has DOUBLED for most women, as they continue to do MOST of the home work (whilst DEEP BOWING in thanks to the men when they lift a finger), and managing their own careers. And the expectation of kids to DO so much more than 50 years ago has made life even harder.

    The question you are asking is: has there been progress in equalizing the genders in our country? And the answer as you can see is NO! You live in a "progressive" town and even there the men choose to opt out of any opportunity to really be involved. My husband likes to "work from home" but he is lounging around and available all day when the kids are at school. When they get home and shit hits the fan during homework time, he has not once come down to offer help. And he still manages to stay at his desk until dinner time.

    He's one example, but I hear and see the same degradation of "women's work" from many of my friends. This is white upper middle class land. I can only imagine what life is like for single moms and families in poorer neighborhoods where they live closer to the bone.

    I have much more to say about this, but I often don't because people see me as "dissing" my husband. He DOES work hard, and he does "see" the problems for women. Unfortunately, like 99 percent of men, he still sees them as problems for WOMEN, not problems his apathy and the apathy and cruelty of other men are creating.

  2. Argh--very well-said, Elizabeth (and Chris). I heard a report on NPR a few weeks ago that validated my frustration as a woman and a working mother. Bryan considers himself "enlightened," but the fact is, he sleeps in on weekday mornings while I make breakfast, pack lunches, let the dogs out. Then he has a cup of coffee while I'm rushing the kids out the door. Yes, he cleans up the kitchen afterward, but it's usually just a few bowls. Then he's off, and he conveniently gets home when dinner is on the table.

    When I was teaching at 8am, he had to do the morning routine, so it made sense that he would get home later from work, as he wasn't able to get in before 9am. But the deal was always this: when the kids were in school full-time (which happened this year), I would teach later so that he could get to work earlier and be home in time to help with dinner, homework, sports, etc. This has yet to happen, and it's a reflection of this "apathy" about changing the status quo to which you refer. It always comes back to "work stress." We had this discussion last night, and he said, "But you like to get up early." LIKE IT?? I see it as necessary. When you have kids in elementary school, isn't that what you (collective) are supposed to do?

    Wow; that was a rant! Sorry! Bryan is wonderful on most counts, but this has been a real sore spot for us (for me!).

    And Chris, I see the same mom-centric volunteerism, not only at school, but with sports. Alexa's soccer coach sent an email to all of the MOMS on the team when it was time for the bake sale.

    Okay, now that I've blown off some steam, I've got to get back to work. Thanks for posting, Chris. I have been thinking about the NPR report for weeks, and have been composing a blog post in my head, but I haven't done it yet. I do have a lot more to say, though, so you may see a companion piece to your posting as soon as I finish reading these portfolios. . . .

  3. Chris, here is the Tedx talk with arguments about women's issues being MEN's issues. Btw, you are the "some good men" that he is talking about. It's a small percentage. I doubt any men will even comment here. I love you!

  4. I am now OFFICIALLY the envy of every woman in America ; )

  5. 5 of 6 chaperones for Andy's upcoming field trip this week are men. This is in a Catholic school with primarily conservative parents - progressive is one of the last words I would use to describe the parents at the school. These dads are not self-absorbed and they make it a point to be involved in their kids' lives (sports, school, homework, Boy Scouts, Indian Guides and Princesses, etc.) and they take their family responsibilities seriously. They are not just grown up boys who need to make themselves feel important by working excessive hours or pursuing their own (often selfish) interests away from their families. I think most of them view their jobs as "father" and "husband" as their most important vocations.

    You seem to imply that you expect "more" from Ithaca because its residents are "modern, open-minded, and aware of gender stereotypes." Maybe you need to look to us conservative, close-minded parents in North Carolina that have no interest or concern with gender stereotypes for the dads you are looking for.

  6. This really seems to have poked at a raw spot. When I mentioned the stats from my classroom to some of the moms in the group, they were not surprised. They also started to explain why it was the case that their husbands never came to school to spend the day in the classroom. My brother Mike and his friends in North Carolina excepted, many men are not going to step up on their own. This might be shitty, but it also might be true. Like with many things, Elizabeth, Tricia, and other women might need to push and make things uncomfortable for men.

    And Mike--you are totally right that I was dumb to expect more from progressive men. In the end, all it takes really is what you described--mature men who take their jobs as husband and dad seriously. I was dumb to think that politics mattered in the equation at all. There are certainly men of all political persuasions who are "grown up boys who need to make themselves feel important by working excessive hours and pursuing their own (often selfish) interests away from their families." In the end, the politics of the place do not matter at all.

  7. I didn't see Mike's comment the last time I read this, but I definitely take his point. I can think of many "progressive" families I know who still have "traditional" family dynamics. And while I know men face a lot of pressure, I do see more of a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" attitude when it comes to women/mome: we're supposed to work, but not so much that it takes away from being supermom; we're supposed to volunteer, but not so much that it gets in the way of taking care of kids and house; we're supposed to be fit and beautiful, but not "selfish" when it comes to how we spend our time. And this stigma crosses all political/ethical boundaries. . . .