There was an interesting article in NYT about the parenting equality in Sweden. Sweden’s practices are probably the most advanced in terms of creating parental equality, although they go a little too far for my tastes. As a business person things like 120 paid days of sick time per year for child care seem a little tough to work around. Nevertheless, the article highlighted some of the obstacles to creating true equality in parenting.
The obstacles I see preventing couples from truly being equal partners with equal opportunity for career fulfillment and a successful family:
- Familiarity. People who resist change in general, who prefer the comfort of familiarity and traditions, are going to have a hard time creating an equal distribution of parenting responsibility. From the article: “Society is a mirror of the family. The only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve equality in the home.” Mormon implications: Generally speaking, people who are active in religions tend to be traditionalists.
- Society’s and employer’s support. There are many financial disincentives for parents to shoulder responsibilities equally. “A mother’s future earnings increase on average 7 percent for every month the father takes leave.” That’s from Sweden’s findings. Of course, if you use the term “paternity leave” in the U.S., most people will laugh their heads off. For real societal change to happen, those who have the most to lose (in this case, men) have to willingly give up their privileges. Mormon implications: The church does actively support more co-parenting, IMO, although traditional norms prevail, and among the older generation, sexism even prevails. But on the whole, the Mormon men I know seem more experienced with things like diapering, cooking, making family-oriented decisions and pitching in around the home.
- Logistics of co-parenting. “Among those with university degrees, a growing number of couples split the leave evenly; some switch back and forth every few months to avoid one parent assuming a dominant role — or being away from jobs too long.” It’s natural for one parent to dominate the way the house is run. Mormon implications: Perhaps due to gender encouragement (e.g. PoF), IMO Mormons usually have female-dominated homes, even moreso than society at large (which also tends to be domestically female-dominated).
- Inherent differences betweeen the SAHP and career parents. “The higher women rank, the more they resemble men: few male chief executives take parental leave — but neither do the few female chief executives.” Career ambition and family responsibilities simply conflict. Over time, one will win. My DH has said (and I think he’s right), that in a family you can only really have 2 of these 3 things: well-raised kids, mother with good career, father with good career. And two is best case. You could clearly lack all three or only have one of the three. Mormon implications: There are more women in the church who choose to be a SAHM than outside the church. This, to me, is the real “gender difference.” Families with shared SAHParenting or where both parents have careers have more gender sameness. Where both parents are SAHPs, they seem more traditionally female, and where both parents have careers, the characteristics of the parenting style may be more male.
- The emotional pull of staying home. “the most commonly cited reason for not taking more paternity leave, after finances, was mother’s preference.” Many women find intense satisfaction from parenting. Stay at home dads (in the article) in fact find the same thing. Once they have a taste for staying home, they long for it as much as their wives. Part of this issue is probably also (not cited in article though) that women want to set the standards within the home (see next comment). Mormon implications: Well, I don’t think there are many Mormon SAHDs, although there are some. But I do think Mormon dads understand the pull of home more than those who are less family focused.
- Women’s standards for the home vs. men’s. “How many dads cut their children’s nails? I know she’s going to do it and so I don’t bother. We have to overcome that if we truly want to share responsibility.” This goes to the heart of different standards. Women feel that their children’s and home’s appearance is a reflection on them, that society holds them accountable for these, but even SAHDs don’t have that sense of being scrutinized. Mormon implications: There are many GC talks about this. And personally, I think the key is for men to up their game a little bit, and for women to lower their standards a little bit. We have to meet in the middle on this one. And while both parents should take pride in their family and home, neither should feel so pressured by outside perceptions that they can’t simply enjoy their family.
- Societal rewards. “I get complimented on how much I help at home, Cecilia gets no such gratitude.” When men “parent” they seem to get extra points for being a human being. Women, OTOH, are often judged harshly (or judge themselves harshly) if their home or children don’t meet high standards. Mormon implications: Women should not judge other women for choices that differ from their own. And the one thing that gets my goat is when a man refers to “babysitting” his own kids. You are not babysitting. You are parenting.
- Gender sameness. “Some, however, worry that as men and women both work and both stay home with kids, a gender identity crisis looms. “Manhood is being squeezed” by the sameness.” I have to admit that emasculated men don’t sound that attractive to me. I’d (on the whole) rather have a man who is a SAHD do the job in a male way than a female way or to female standards. And I’m not keen on a man wearing a fake breast to pretend he is breast-feeding. Parenting is already desexualizing enough. Mormon implications: Personally I think Mormon men are divided: those who view their roles in a mostly traditional light (feeling high responsibility for providing financially, but low for sharing domestic responsibility) and those with an equal parenting viewpoint (pragmatically pitching in to do whatever is needed and supportive of untraditional choices their wife makes). In my experience, the younger generation fit the second category more, and anyone whose wife has a career also tends to fit into that category. I suppose the key is that each couple needs to make it work for them. But the pitfalls of the first scenario are worth mentioning: female reliance on a man when factors may be unpredictable (recession, mid-life crisis / infidelity, death or disablement of the working spouse). The key IMO is for women to retain options (education, skills, experience, etc.) to be fully self-reliant in the event it is needed.
So, what do you think about equal parenting? Is it feasible? Is it desirable? What should equality in parenting look like? Are Mormons more or less equal than non-Mormons in your opinion? Discuss.