By Emma Weisberg
This image of a father and son wearing “Big Kid” and “Little Kid” T-shirts perfectly encapsulates both articles’ discussions on the division and labor of parenting. Sometimes when a man assumes the role of “breadwinner,” while his wife stays at home with the children, he will act as a “helper”—a parent only used when he is “needed,” meaning only used when he is asked to do something. In those situations, men may do a little of the daily childcare work, but they mostly use their time at home to establish meaningful connections with their children. So “men tend to participate more in the ‘fun’ aspects of child care, aspects of domestic labor that suit their tastes and interests, and highly visible, or public, fathering activities,” such as reading bedtime stories or playing sports, while “women continue to do the more quotidian, labor-intensive tasks, such as meal preparation and bathing” (Rehel, 112). These men are picking and choosing the tasks that they want to do, which gives them an inaccurate depiction of parenting which is often very strenuous yet overlooked.
In Townsend’s article, “Marriage, Work, and Fatherhood in Men’s Lives,” he discusses his interviewee Roy, who takes pride in assuming the role of the playful and fun parent. Roy mentions how his wife will schedule individual time for him and his kids: “So each time I do something I take a different child with me…I get that one-on-one with my kids” (257). He also brings up the spontaneous day and night trips he plans for his family, adding: “Agewise, I’m probably considered an adult, but you talk to my kids and I’m probably the biggest kid around” (257). But, as Townsend points out, with one parent acting as a kid, the other parent holds onto an unequal amount of strain and unacknowledged responsibility: “gendered division of labor in parenting not only distributes work and fun differentially between fathers and mothers, it also distributes who gets taken for granted, and who gets the credit” (257). So, while Roy gets to be the “Big Kid,” his wife Sarah almost has to act as his mother as well. It’s up her to schedule his one-on-one time; it’s up to her to factor in family schedules before any trips…it’s all up to her.
So how do we break from this unequal division of parenting? Rehel’s, “When Dad Stays Home Too: Paternity Leave, Gender, and Parenting,” offers up a new solution, explaining how men who take time off from work right after the birth of their child are more successful at equal co-parenting. As Rehel states, “when parents share parenting tasks from the beginning, men develop greater confidence and skill in their own parenting, leading to greater father involvement” (114). This research reinforces the idea that parenting is not biological, but rather a set of skills only learned from hands-on practice between a parent and his/her child. And once a parent learns the necessary skills involved, he/she can feel more at ease to serve as a greater role in his/her child’s life. I’m sure some fathers take on the “Big Kid” role in their households because of their insecurity at parenting, feeling incompetent at daily childcare skills. But if early on men discovered that they are capable of being hands-on parents, they could build a healthier co-parenting relationship with their partners.