By Emma Houser
I really enjoyed reading Rehel’s article on paternity leave because it sends a very positive message about the ways in which traditional gendered parenting roles can be addressed. Paternity leave is not a term that we hear often. This definitely has to do with the fact that it isn’t typically something that men in Northern American societies take advantage of. We often assume that after having a baby the mother will take time off from work to stay home and take care of the baby. As this article discusses though, this common practice plays a huge role in the development of this idea about “maternal instinct.” Although this is a phrase most people know and many people believe in, Rehel points out that this “instinct” is really just the result of the time that a mother spends taking care of her baby. As the sole provider for her infant she learns the cues, needs, and patterns in a way that her working husband would not without spending the same number of hours devoted to caring for the child. Rehel suggests that if both parents were to take leave from work and spend time sharing the duties associated with taking care of their child, free from work related duties, then the result would be a much more equal division of labor within the family system.
This sounds like a very enticing and promising option to me, but many families, i.e. fathers, don’t take advantage of the paternity leave option. In Rehel’s interviews with men it became clear that most men who didn’t take advantage of the paternity leave option really had no desire to be involved or believed that there wasn’t a lot for them to do. I think this says a lot about our culture and the systems we have established. We have so firmly rooted ourselves in the belief that men are supposed to provide for their families while women take care of the children and the home, that we scare men away from taking a greater role in childcare duties. As the article discusses, men are afraid to take time off from work because they are worried about what their boss, colleagues, and clients will think about them and their dedication to the job. Historically in our society, this has always been the way parenting has been divided, but as we have seen and discussed, marriage satisfaction is greatly decreased once a child is introduced into the dynamic of the couple. This article discusses the idea that men who take leave have a better understanding of parenting roles and truly respect it as a job. After reading the article this is very plain to see, but most people don’t see this or just refuse to accept it, but I wonder how marriage and parenting would change if paternity leave were more widely accepted and practiced. I can only imagine that it would greatly increase marital satisfaction because it would result in mutual respect and a much more equal division of labor and responsibility within the family.
Townsend’s article on Marriage, work, and fatherhood continued with the idea that the division of labor within families is very gendered and unequal. Throughout the article he really pushes the idea that women really have a lot of control when it comes to the children. He says that they control, arrange, and supervise the interactions between their husbands and their children. While this may be true in some sense, the women really have very little power within the home as a whole. On a basic level, it is very clear that the husbands discussed in this article did not respect their wives work as mothers as a “real job.” The way it is described, men seem to think that they have the real job, one that allows the mother to stay home and care for the children. This seemed very disturbing to me. It completely devalues the work the women do, while also making it seem as if the mother’s hard work is the father’s gift to his children.
As we can see in both of these articles, ideas about parenthood, fatherhood especially, are starting to change but the practices of fathers have made very little progress. Mother’s are still seen as the “default parent” who should, and almost always do, end up doing the majority of the domestic work. Father’s are respected as hard workers who get to come home and play with their children, something many people accept as “marriage building”, but women who spend all day every day doing this work are not given the same respect. In fact, they are taken for granted.