Fatherhood

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.

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5 thoughts on “Fatherhood

  1. Sophie Furman

    It was also interesting because in the article a couple fathers said that no matter how much they were paid on their leave they still wouldn’t take more than a week because they didn’t want to be away from the office that long. Though I think a part of it has to do with the fact that society would praise a father for going back to work so quickly, I think another part of it is that they can’t handle being home with the baby and mom 24/7 and work is almost a way of them escaping. When at work you know what you’re doing most of the time, you’re in that profession because you’re confident in it, a new time parent is most likely not confident and 100% sure of everything their doing. In Kimmels Guyland we talked a lot about how boys are raised to think that failing is one of the worst things they could do, so taking chances and making mistakes while raising their children is probably something that scares them tremendously.

  2. Zoe Halpert

    I found it interesting when Rahel said that not only do new fathers typically remain in the workforce, but also some even become more involved in their careers. I suppose this makes sense though, because they must live up to the role of breadwinner. They probably spend less time parenting when they are working because they think they are filling their role by financially caring for the child. Even when given the option, many fathers choose not to take paternity leave. Fathers might think they aren’t needed at home, and that their wives are more capable. In some cases, their wives encouraged this attitude. As Emma said, there is a lot of stigma associated with being a stay-at-home dad; they are concerned what others will think, and they are worried what would happen to their careers if they are out of work for too long. Some policies however can mobilize fathers to leave work. Then they don’t have to worry about stigma or it being detrimental to their careers, because it becomes the norm.

  3. Gina Pol

    I agree with you that the ideas of motherhood and fatherhood are deeply rooted into our society. Rehel discusses the economics theory that emphasizes more power to the individual who provides the financial resources. It is engrained into society that paid labor is so much more superior to unpaid labor that the work of mothers becomes almost invisible. Since unpaid labor is so inferior in comparison to the paid labor, most of the work that mothers do are not as valuable as the work that the partner who earns income does. I think until the idea of a father as breadwinner and mother as caregiver is eliminated, there will continue to be this division of labor among couples with children.

  4. I also enjoyed reading Rehel’s article and I found it reaffirming to hear that fathers are taking paternal leave and that those who do discover they are equally as qualified and responsible to take care of their child(ren). However, one thing that really frustrated me was the lack of discussion on what comes after paternity leave. Rehel focuses on the fact that fathers who take paternal leave understand the difficult tasks mothers perform and have more sympathy. Mothers need more than sympathy, they need to be lifted of the burden and expectation that they should be the one taking care of the kids! Rehel briefly touched on the idea that paternal leave means that fathers can develop the same skills and sense of responsibility, but when they go back to work, then what? I would have loved to Rehel to address this rather than assuming that these few weeks of fathers at home change the course of action from then on.

    Sophie Sharps

  5. Bianca Scofield

    I really liked your point that mother’s are expected to have “instinct” and this is why they are better at caring and parenting their children, when really mothers are better parents because they are more present and have more practice with parenting than husbands who do not take paternity leaves and go directly back to work after their baby is born. How can you become a better parent without having the practice? Parenting is not something that comes naturally in my opinion, it is something that comes with practice. If you are not there to practice, then you will never get better at being a father.

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