Rehel and Townsend

Alex Apkin:

Rehel and Townsend research fathers taking paternity leave from work, and the roles that parents take on after the child is born. In the Rehel reading multiple fathers are mentioned to further develop the effects of taking an extended leave of absence from work versus those that do not take this longer leave. Mark one of the fathers in this study references his feeling that he was unneeded at home. Mark believes that his wife can handle the duties alone, and while this was probably true, I think this is because of the wife’s desire and idea that she had to prove to her husband she was capable of doing everything on her own. Since she is a mother society holds that she should be able to handle the responsibilities of the child on her own. She therefore felt this pressure from society and probably felt a strong need to prove herself as not only a capable mother, but also a parent that needed no assistance. This also in her mind would take pressure off of her partner and allowed him to return to work. This comes up with the mothers that took all of the leave available for both partners. These mothers wanted to prove themselves in the same way and take pressure off the husband. Once Mark left her to do everything, this dynamic was set into place. Leslie later in the reading says, “Oh yes we have a support system. It’s called I do everything and Mark does nothing.” The men who do not take long away from work believe it to be unnecessary and they are lost as to what purpose they would serve in the home. However the men in the study that took the extended leave felt very fulfilled by the interactions he experienced in the home with his family. In these daily interactions these fathers learned much more about how to parent and raise their child and became a larger part of the child’s life. When the father stays at home longer the relationship seems to be smoother with his wife too since a better understanding of more equal roles is established and a greater continuity is likely developed between the couple.

More recently the number of men taking leave has increased and as Rehel mentions this leads to the normalization of this action, and so more men feel comfortable with taking a leave because it’s the norm. I’m not sure that we can quickly jump to this conclusion and assume that these men are simply following the pack. While generally people will follow the societal norms, they also do what they think is best and what they want. It feels like the study is falling into the same trap it is setting out to fight. Rehel believes men are only going home because it is the norm, but in reality maybe they just want to spend time with their newborn and enjoy being an active parent, as she speaks to with multiple examples. The Rehel reading shows the influence of economics and policy of the father’s decision surrounding taking time off of work. Yet it is still hard to find how much of this decision is based on pressure from the boss and co-workers, and pressure from the spouse and society to return to work. We see that when men get the opportunity to go home for an extended period of time they generally take it, but only in the perfect scenario where they do not risk their job, lose money or respect from society.

Rehel mentions the inexperience of the father who has grown up without babysitting or learning to take care of children for the most part because it was never expected for them to learn. This is a huge part of the problem with society. Since men never have the expectation the woman must handle more and then the cycle continues and it is given that women know more about raising children. If men were encouraged to babysit and interact with toddlers more regularly our expectations would be higher.

The Townsend reading begins with the fathers attempting to justify the necessity for the mother to stay home and for him to go out and make money for the family. They argue that this is their choice and is right, they want to do it, and that it is natural. When one of the father’s named Paul stated he would not want his wife to work even if the increase in income allowed them more opportunities, this showed the extent to which some men will go to show they are the man of the family and it shows the strong belief that it is right for the mother to stay home. Then Townsend speaks about the division of labor between the two parents. There is one parent that is considered the default parent. This is essentially the parent that has more responsibilities to care for the child and must be on top of everything. It seems wrong to have one parent become one that is relied on too heavily and therefore strained more as well. The biggest takeaway came as Townsend talked about the division of labor for the parents and the two roles that they play. The father is typically fun and spontaneous while the mom is strict, serious, and worries more. This means more stress for the mother and less appreciation for her too. This is a hugely unfair delegation of roles in the family, and yet is still the expectation from society.

The image below displays a poster for The Pacifier a movie that tells the story of a Navy Seal who must watch over and protect a family, essentially becoming a full time babysitter. This comedy shows a macho man forced to show his softer side as a man taking care of five children. The movie shows the stereotypical tough male father figure and then shows him surprisingly capable of being a strong yet kind father figure to the children.



7 thoughts on “Rehel and Townsend

  1. Gina Pol

    I agree with you that culture and societal pressures are influencing a lot of the decisions that parents are making. I think when you become a parent, especially when having your first child, you are under the radar of a lot of friends or family. You will wonder how will people judge you if you do one thing as oppose to another.

    In Rehel’s study, there were some men who felt it was unnecessary to take leave because of the assumption that there would not be many responsibilities when they took leave. Men often assumed that taking leave would be free time, but they did not know that there was much more to it. Obviously, these men’s decision not to take leave put a lot of pressure on women because they always had to prove that they were able to handle motherhood.

  2. Olivia Rabbitt

    I find it very interesting that even when talking about gendered parental roles, we cannot help but be “surprised” when a “stereotypical man” proves himself capable of the same time of constant, close, and all-encompassing care we expect from every female. Other movies love to play on this idea – Daddy Daycare for one – and the viewer is always expected to be shocked that a man could change a diaper or “babysit” (rather than just take care of) his own children. This role of fathers as incapable parents until the child is old enough to be a little person creates an unfortunate norm which denies men the chance to truly experience parenting.

  3. Your analysis of the Rehel reading really got me thinking about causes of divorce in heterosexual couples. I don’t find it surprising that the one sided system that Mark and Leslie have in raising their children would cause tension in any sort of relationship. It’s interesting to contrast with one of the examples of relationship problems presented in Daddy and Papa. Their excuse for separation was that they put too much emphasis on raising their child rather and not putting enough into their own relationship. I wonder if there isn’t pressure on gay men to be more intensely parental to make up for there not being a woman in the relationship–to be able to prove their ability to actually take care of their children.

    Patrick Gallagher Landes

  4. Sophie Furman

    I agree I think it’s hard to judge everything that fathers do as being “stand offish,” when mothers don’t really give any of the control away and rather do everything themselves. While men should be growing up babysitting and practicing just like a lot of mothers do, I think it’s important that women learn that their husbands are doing more than they think they’re capable of. Just because they aren’t given the title of having a “motherly instinct” doesn’t mean they’re incapable of learning how to do the same tasks, and react the same way when a baby is acting up etc.

  5. Your image and discussion of The Pacifier made me think of the movie Cheaper By The Dozen, in which Steve Martin is the father of twelve and the husband of a woman very busy and often traveling for her job. This movie is a comedy and Steve Martin takes all the help he can get, because initially he struggles to manage all of the household duties and responsibilities. Ultimately, the father decides to quit his dream job (one of the main conflicts in the movie) and focus his energy on his family. Like similarly-themed movies, this movie’s trajectory is very much one of a father who has difficulty taking care of his children but over time is able to overcome his fears and learn to prioritize his family.

    Sophie Sharps

  6. Bianca Scofield

    I know that you mention, that Mark’s wife is probably able to parent and take care of everything on her own, but I was wondering how true that statement is. I know that there are single mothers anywhere, but I don’t think a single parent on this planet would say being a parent on their own was EASY. Parenting is hard enough with two people, being on your own is even harder. This is why I find it extremely important that society does not belittle the work of mothers and put more pressure on the father to be present as much as humanly possibly.

  7. Karen Cardona,
    I really like the example you displayed of Mark and his wife, this idea that fathers tend to think that the mother has a “motherly instinct” and for that she must have all the answers. The mother then becomes almost an actress to try to prove that she knows exactly what she is doing. This is extremely problematic, if mothers begin to think like this, once they make a mistake they will blame themselves for not being a bad mother. On the other hand when the male makes a mistake it is seen as something “cute” because he is “at least trying” …. ridiculous

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