Thursday, January 27, 2011

Parenting While Male: 74 Fathers Talk about Playground Discrimination

You’ve probably heard the phrase “driving while black,” which refers to a perception that black drivers are more likely to be stopped by cops. This was whispered in the African-American community for years before it broke out into the wider cultural conversation and was gradually validated by empirical studies.

Similarly, stay-at-home dads have whispered for years about feeling unfairly targeted for "parenting while male," and recently their concerns have started to get mainstream attention. In last week's Wall Street Journal, Free-Range Kids author Lenore Skenazy explored what happens when “when almost any man who has anything to do with a child can find himself suspected of being a creep.”

I spotted the column in a tweet from the redoubtable DadLabs. I replied: “I was once asked to leave a playground by a grandmother. I wonder how many guys have had that experience?” DadLabs tweeted back: “Most? Or faced playdate discrimination of one kind or another? #dadsnotpervs.”

This little twitter exchange echoes less-public discussion I’ve heard many times at gatherings of fathers: that they are often made to feel like outsiders at parks, playgrounds, and situations where most of the other parents are moms or grandmoms—and that their participation in playgroups or classes is sometimes rejected.

Atrocity stories circulate, but how widespread are actual "parenting while male" experiences, really? To start to get the answer, on Monday I created this survey, which as of this morning had been taken by 74 guys—60 percent of whom spend 31 or more hours a week taking care of a child. Here are the results so far:

  • Three men—4.5% of the participants who answered this question—said that they had been asked to leave a playground by a caregiver.
  • Twenty-four percent said that they had been refused entry to a gathering of parents and children.

  • Fifty-five percent said that their parenting skills had been criticized or corrected in a public setting.
  • Fifty-eight percent of participants felt that this criticism or exclusion occurred on the grounds that they are male.
  • Twenty-eight percent of participants reported that they had experienced these incidents on five or more occasions.

At the end of the survey, I asked how experiences of criticism or exclusion shaped their attitudes and behavior. Many reported feeling hurt or resentful, but then getting over it and moving forward with their lives:
"At first I was a little indignant. As someone who was forced into being the primary caregiver role, my confidence was already shot from losing my job, and so to have other mothers correcting me or looking at me crossways was an extra gut-punch. At some point, though, I realized being a full-time father was my role and that's what my wife and kids needed more so than a paycheck. Once I reached this mindset, what other mothers thought of me didn't matter any more. I just did the best I could, and tried to be as charming as possible. In a way, it turned the tables because most of these mothers had insecurities of their own in their role, and to come across a dad who seemed to be handling full-time parenting just fine, I think made them feel threatened.”

“In our neighborhood, people occasionally offering my wife and I unsequestered (and unwanted) advise [sic] pertaining to parenting. It generally annoys or perplexes me, but I don't believe that it has changed my behavior or attitudes, except to wonder about cultural differences to parenting and advise giving.”
However, a majority reported permanent changes in their day-to-day behavior and feelings as caregivers:
“I am very reluctant to put myself out there to groups of moms with their kids. I often let my sons go and play with kids at the park and I will stand on the periphery as the other moms talk. I often feel excluded and thus am more reserved.”

“It certainly made me feel excluded, possibly looked-down-upon. The strange thing was that each time such criticism or behavior was couched in such a way that it excused itself. 'Of course, it's better for the children for a mother to do these things' was one comment I remember, delivered with a short, self-conscious, judgmental laugh. As though it were self-evident that I wasn't the best choice to take care of my daughters.”

“I currently tend to be more on guard, and intervene between my child and another child in a public setting. This is due to twice where an unknown parent in a public playground setting has confronted me as a parent on my child's play being unsafe or rough.”

“I avoided events/organized activities that were dominated by stay at home moms.”

“Makes me instantly defensive, so after the first incident or two, even if the comments weren't made because I was male, I probably assumed the worst and reacted as if they were.”
Some participants did not did not hear outright comments, but modified their behavior based on ambient fears about men on playgrounds:
“I was playing t-ball with my son and a couple of other toddlers on the playground and my own wife (who arrived after I'd been there for an hour or so) pointed out that I should be careful about touching the other kids when helping them hit the ball. That surprised me, as it hadn't previously occurred to me that anybody would think it was an issue. Now I am much more self-conscious about it and try to remember to ask parents' permission in similar situations. Which is annoying.”
“I don't think I've ever been excluded from a play situation as a dad. I have had odd experiences - the mist [sic] salient here us that I've had young children who were strangers to me approach me at the playground and climb into my lab. That made me distinctly uncomfortable - I actually went and found the mom and told her about it, both to give her a heads up as to what her kid was doing with men she didn't know and also to protect myself.”
It’s important to emphasize that a minority of respondents did not report any kind of overt discriminatory behavior:
“After 14 years of being a father, 11 of them as primary caregiver, I have never been asked to leave a setting nor been criticized. While I may have been ignored by the moms a few times, that is not the norm.”

“I have never felt excluded from a playground or other public setting, nor a playgroup. All group activities related to my childrens [sic] school and peer group have been supportive of involved fathers. I have received a couple of comments about parenting choices - one was probably not without reason (I was distracting my toddler with a bottle of eyedrops and got ‘It's medicine, not a toy.’) but I found the delivery and attitude to be rude. I have never felt that the comments were made with an ‘incompetent dad’ attitude, but were specific to the action that was being criticized.”
A few respondents felt that the discrimination had a basis in reality:
“No change - I understand that women may not feel comfortable with a 'random guy' at the playgroup. It sucks, but I wasn't doing anything wrong so I didn't feel like changing. Plus, it's a little hard changing being a guy.”

“Nobody wants unattached, creepy dudes hanging around playgrounds.”
For others, discrimination provoked them to try to build a community of fathers:
“I've never been explicitly excluded because I was a male. Criticism based on my gender only prompted me to write about being a SAHD and to make connections and build community with other like-minded parents.”

“I am very confident in the way that I parent, so I was not affected by nannies questioning my skills. Men are specifically excluded from the local mothers' group, so it wasn't personal. I did work with a friend to start a dads' group in our city.”
There was another type of response: some dads used the experience as a way to understand the experiences of others. As one guy put it, “It made me sympathetic for the bias that others feel from white men.” Nearly all of the respondents identified themselves as “white” (obviously a limitation of this survey; I plan to do something later that casts a wider net) and so I think it’s fair to say that in many cases these men were experiencing social discrimination for the first time in their lives.

I have many thoughts about the context and how to interpret these results, but first I'd like to have a discussion. Please share your reactions, thoughts, and experiences in the comments, and invite others to join the conversation through your own blogs and social media.


chicago pop said...

Very interesting survey. All in all, I think these results show a fairly strong tolerance for the presence of male caregivers in public settings.

I suspected the cases of outright discrimination would be low, and that appears to be the case. Which is good. The case of playground expulsion appears to be extreme and rare.

The second measure -- refusal of entry to an event -- at 24% is a more worrisome, and may indicate the setting in which most existing discrimination really does occur, i.e., not necessarily public spaces that are by nature difficult to regulate, but closed and self-selected groups. This makes perfect sense.

The measures of criticism on the grounds of being a male I am a little less confident of, simply because moms criticize each other all the time and it is probably very difficult to tease out the motivation behind such criticisms as exclusively "because I'm male" or "because I'm doing something that would incur criticism even if I were female." Young moms get this from older moms a lot.

The number of fathers who felt a need to change their behavior by avoiding certain situations or becoming more reserved, etc. is discouraging. Here again, though, this may have more to do with male primary caregivers not having developed a culture of confidence and a network of social support to help put this stuff in perspective and give male caregivers the confidence to enter into these situations and deal with inevitable frictions. But that's why we write, to let these fathers know that what they're doing is OK, it's real, and that everyone needs to get used to it, including other men, but also the world of mothers.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

"The measures of criticism on the grounds of being a male I am a little less confident of, simply because moms criticize each other all the time and it is probably very difficult to tease out the motivation behind such criticisms..."

Yes, absolutely. In some ways the root of the problem is the much-noted, oft-debated, overly hyped, hyper-competitive, pressure-cooker culture of motherhood. From that perspective, men are just collateral damage in the so-called mommy wars--they're really shooting at each other and we just happen to be standing there.

However, I think in some ways it is much bigger than that. The simultaneous persistence of female paranoia about men as predators and male paranoia about women as judges, which both persist against most evidence, reflects a churning uncertainty about what it is we're supposed to be doing and how we stand in relation to each other.

I agree with your first point as well: "All in all, I think these results show a fairly strong tolerance for the presence of male caregivers in public settings." It's not as though we're being ejected from playgrounds en masse.

And yet I think it’s a mistake to dismiss the evidence gathered in this survey. It demonstrates that discrimination does exist and it does have a negative impact on men’s emotional health as well as our collective social life. There are even hints in some of these answers that it can hurt children. As one dad wrote, “It has led to disappointment and the difficult discussion with my child about why there are so few fathers around and why mothers don't speak much to me.”

Chip said...

Interesting. Back when I was a stay-at-home dad (my baby turns 20 this week!) and then a very involved dad, I ran into some attitudes that were strange to me. A couple of stay-at-home moms who lived in our apartment building did agree to play dates with my daughter and their kids, but they just couldn't believe that a dad could take care of a baby/toddler, were sure that it was damaging the kid, etc. Also, one of the moms was very isolated, with very energetic twin boys, and I felt like she needed to be able to confide in someone but I didn't feel comfortable being that someone, and she clearly didn't either.

I think the most hostile situation I was in was an event for toddlers at the local nature center, once a week for an hour or two, for about 8 weeks. I was the only dad at this weekday event, and I really did feel shunned, actively, by the moms, who were all fine with each other. It was a strange and saddening experience for me.

After thinking long and hard about these experiences, and also having other experiences with moms and their kids that were not at all problematic, for me it seemed to come down to something within those particular moms. Maybe their identity was so tied up with being a female mom stereotype that being with a guy who was doing that same thing was extremely uncomfortable or threatening for them? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that these kinds of reactions are closely tied up with traditional gender expectations. Sad to see it still persists today.

I will say that I don't think I ever experienced the sense that I was a predator, but that paranoia was a lot less pronounced 15-20 years ago.

Poppa Larger said...

I definitely think some of the findings in this survey are well-worth investigating deeper, esp. around how others on a playground react to fathers in the social mix. As others have alluded to, there's a level of paranoia around the specter of the male sexual predator that gets inflamed by the news media when, in statistical reality, the odds of something like a playground abduction (by a non-family member) is minute (compared with, say, the odds of a relative molesting/abusing a child in their own care).

That said, I would question, both in methodology and analysis, to what extent perceptions of discrimination can really be laid at the feet of specific gender discrimination. Or, from another angle, whether mothers would report very much differences in a few key categories (for example, being "corrected" by a stranger. If anything, I'd hypothesize that the % would be even higher amongst mothers).

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

"That said, I would question, both in methodology and analysis, to what extent perceptions of discrimination can really be laid at the feet of specific gender discrimination...."

Chicago Pop noted this as well, and I think it's an interesting, open question. But this is a survey of fathers' perceptions--it's not a scientific study that attempts to assess how accurate those perceptions are or how their experiences might match those of mothers. Even taken on its own terms, however, some of these items clearly reveal forms of gender discrimination (e.g., exclusion from playgroups, which is usually explicit).

In some ways I think the much more interesting question is how the content of public criticism differs when directed against mothers or fathers. I suspect criticism directed against fathers is often shaped by the need to police gender roles; against mothers, to establish dominance & social hierarchies.

Lenore said...

Very happy to be having this conversation. What dismayed me in the response to my original Wall Street Journal piece was how many folks blamed "feminists" for this seemingly growing suspicion of men around kids. As a feminist myself, I don't blame women, I blame the usual suspects when it comes to fanning fear in our culture: The media (fear sells on TV) the baby safety industrial complex (fear sells a lot of unnecessary products!) and the increasing litigiousness that makes us all look at each other as potential adversaries. Anyway, thanks for doing this survey and for all the comments. So interesting! -- Lenore "Free-Range Kids" Skenazy

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Egads, Lenore, I couldn't even read the comments beyond the first dozen (and thanks again for your column, BTW).

My position is that it is dead wrong to blame "feminism" for covert hostility to men on playgrounds. I've never seen a study of this, but the overwhelming sense I get from my personal life is that feminist women are vastly more welcoming of men in caregiving situations than non- or anti-feminist women. And overall, public policies advocated for by the feminist movement have facilitated, not discouraged, men's involvement in childcare--I don't see very many anti-feminist conservatives advocating for paid paternity leave, for example.

veterandad said...

Interesting article... it is nice to know others out there have felt the same way. I was a decorated military officer before I took the full time care giver spot and it really got under my skin for several years when I was second guessed and nearly shunned due to being a stay at home dad. Given advice from cashiers and every passer by about how to raise my kids, as if I didn't have a clue. Some things I guess take time to change, but the term outcast fits well.

Nphyxx said...

I'm not even a primary caregiver, but I used to do freelance work and had a very flexible schedule so I'd take my son out during the day. I definitely felt the stigma. Still do get weird looks occasionally even at the grocery store, like it's weird for a man to be shopping with his kid. We live in a sick, sad world.

Statgirl Tells The Truth said...

Very interesting. It also gives credence to the idea that only mommies know how to parent. This idea keeps women from accepting help and getting it. The ladies at getting to 50/50 are adamant that we stop picking on Dads as being substandard parents.The idea that they are dangerous is even more damaging to a free and equal society where children benefit from the presence of both of their parents.

Babysmartees said...

This is great stuff, absolutely great! Our local Moms group had to vote on whether or not my husband could join, then they decided that he could, but could not attend Moms night out (But he could play with all their kids, watch them nurse, listen to their pms woes - all the good moms group chatter. And because he is an awesome dad he still brought our son to every single activity on the calendar.

Jack said...

I have had similar experiences at the parks and had mothers yell at me for trying to use the men's room when their boys were inside.

Matarij said...

Great Post. It is nice to see a conversation about this by men. My point would be that yes - men are regarded with suspicion by women when they are around children and this is because most abusers are men. What I have always advocated for is men - the decent, kind, good husbands, boyfriends, sons, brothers - to stand up and be counted about abuse against women and children. So instead of just women regarding men as predators, men too could also recognise the men who abuse, not least in the criminal justice system. In short advocate for abuse to be taken as seriously as the feminists do - and then no pedophile would dare go anywhere near a playground because it is utterly unacceptable to do so; similarly rape would also because utterly unacceptable on any level. So decent guys everywhere, please support women when you can.

Ari said...

I am the full time stay at home provider, so I wish they had a more than 80 hour a week time given category..hahaha. But my favorite is when I go to the grocery store and everyone says "oh look daddy has his girls for the day." They never know just what to say when I correct them, stating that I do this every day and I love it. Guess being 6'3 220 lbs doesn't exactly sell the best nurturing argument for them.

Nathan Greenberg said...

You've got an incredible trove of information and experiences here. It is events like those you describe which led me to begin I look forward to picking up your book in the near future!

Thomas Matlack said...

Great article. I don't see overt discrimination as much as the implicit kind. You know like the racism that never gets talked about. I am reminded of the scene in Little Children when the mom's are talking behind the dad's back, treating him like a piece of raw meat. I guess that isn't all bad of course since guys have been doing that forever.

Here is a good piece with a wide variety of dad's talking about the moment that made them the dads they are today, including many stay at home dads talking about this phenomenon:


Kel said...

I wonder-- what difference would the weekend make? Are men more accepted on playgrounds and at activities with young children on days when they're "supposed to be home from work" anyway?

Unknown said...

I guess since i live in a community where males don't take their children to the park and don't usually chaperone their children while at school, I never had these issues. I usually get alot of encouragement, praise, and offers of help.

When at the playground, I am the one that teaches my children the old school games. Usually other children come out and ask to play and I ask them to take me to their parents to ask permission. I never had a parent tell me no.

I will say that I won't let a child play with us who doesn't ask permission. I do that for safety reasons in case someone falls and gets hurt

Homemaker Man said...

Since my daughter started pre-school, I've been given a bit of a cold shoulder. Heard play dates being made around me while being excluded from the conversations.

That said, I get it. Men are creepy. I'm just trying to put my head down and stay nice and eventually, I'll break the ice.

Beta Dad said...

This is a great conversation, and I wish I had more to add to it. But I think I just realized something: because I have toddler twins, when we're in group or public settings, I just can't pay very close attention to what's happening on the grownup side of the social scene. I'm too busy trying to keep track of the kids. And the interactions I have with parents are almost all kid-based and superficial.

The only times I have felt awkward because of my gender is on the few occasions when I've been able to concentrate on adult-oriented chatter. And then, I haven't felt like I was being evaluated as a possible child predator, but rather that my interest in the mom was being interpreted as sexual. That's a little bit sad, but it doesn't bother me much, since I'm not at the playground to socialize with other adults. As long as moms don't think that my kids are tainted by having a man as their main caregiver, I don't really care what they think of me. Of course, all that is just how I feel personally. For the good of society and the increasing varieties of families, I wish men and women could hang out together without the interference of that tension and suspicion.

Anonymous said...

WOW o.O Thank you so much for this post and the conversations that have followed in the comments. It was an issue that never even crossed my mind. I will definitely be watching the playground with new eyes! I don't THINK I've ever behaved in a condescending or discriminatory way toward the dads, and other male care givers, at the playground, but I will certainly be more mindful and watchful of my own behavior in those interactions. I am guilty of making certain assumptions when I see men at the playground: I assume they are probably going to be more hands on and interactive in the childrens' play. Because that's what I've seen in the area we live in- the male care-takers are often organizing games that involve every kid on the playground, or standing in the middle of the play equipment encouraging practically any kid they see who is attempting a new challenge. My daughter seems to be making these assumptions, too, because I regularly find myself approaching various adult males to make sure that it's okay with them if she's tagging along at the end of their line of kids. I think those assumptions speak to how positive our experiences have been, but any assumption needs to be questioned, and I suppose I need to start considering that a fair number of these guys are just as burned out on the young child managing and care as I am, despite appearances to the contrary in some cases. This is wonderful, I love when I am pointed to one of my own blind spots, thank you!
(PS was directed here from blue milk, but will be adding it to my RSS)

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

I thought I would share highlights of the reactions to this piece I've spotted in the blogosphere:

Lisa Belkin wrote about it in her New York Times blog: (jump into that discussion, if inclined; lots of people read Belkin's blog)

Matt Coburn has a thoughtful response at the Good Men Project:

But the best is this response from the Australian feminist blogger Blue Milk, who is an old friend of Daddy Dialectic:

Hydrocarbonaholic said...

It's a double standard/double bind. Not doing enough with your child: you're irresponsible and shirking. "Too present," and you're a threat.

Don Unger, author of "Men Can: The Changing Image & Reality of Fatherhood in America."

KC said...

My peeve is that a fair number of the moms around here are uncomfortable talking to an "unattached" male who is, say, at the park with his kids. Wedding ring or not on my hand, they think I may be hitting on them any time I open my mouth.

Reminds me of fundamentalist Islam nonsense.

UncommonJohn said...

I have a couple of thoughts. One is that any parent who does things that are viewed as a little outside the norm - like a stay-home dad - are going to get questioned or criticized at times. That's also true for mothers who nurse in public or nurse kids until they are 3 or 4, people who try to teach their babies to read, mothers of young kids who travel a lot and work long hours and any number of other practices besides guys looking after their kids on a full-time basis.

Second, I wish the survey had also asked: how many times has someone treated you like a hero because you were looking after your kids? How many guys have said to you - I wish I could do what you are doing?

I had those experiences numerous times when I was a stay-home dad back in the late eighties and nineties. I was never sure if the "I wish I could do what you're doing" comments were totally sincere. But I think they were at least meant to be supportive. I appreciated that.

I was never invited to playgroups either, but I didn't care. I suspect I was at least as uncomfortable being in a monolithic group of moms as they would have been uncomfortable with me. I used to wonder if women would think I was coming on to them by talking to them. It was a social situation that none of us really knew how to deal with. But even so, when I went to the local resource centre with my kids, no mother ever acted discriminatory with me. Mostly we'd just nod and then ignore each other.

jss said...

Jeremy, As usual your writing provokes a lot of thought. I remember being a playground mom years ago, but I don't remember witnessing discrimination against dads. I'm sure it happened - these men attest to it. But, my own feelings about seeing dads at the playground was shear happiness! I only wish there'd been more of them, to role model for my own sons that not only women do this kind of involved parenting. Not that my husband didn't parent, but he was the primary breadwinner and I was the one who curtailed my career to be at home with the kids, which was difficult for me in many ways. If only there were more diversity on the playground, more opportunities for men and women to share childcare equally and to switch off being primary caregivers. What a great, rich world it would be for our children (and ourselves)! Thanks, men, for doing what you are doing. You are the pioneers!

Bibliophile said...

My mother was never very nurturing in my family when I and my younger sister were growing up. I always went to my father for any comfort as a child, even before he became a stay at home father when my sister was born. This was in the 80's when "Mr. Mom" was the catchphrase for SAHDs.

My father cooked, cleaned and took my sister and I to school and play dates. He never really fussed or worried about it and was often busing around the neighborhood kids as well.

Parenting can be daunting for women too, especially young ones. I started raising my step daughter when I was 19 and was sidelined on the PTA, never asked in the classroom to volunteer despite putting my name on every form that came home and the recipient to a lot of unwelcome and ignorant advice. I would recommend ignoring the other parents and focusing on whats best for the child. After all, that's the only reason we stay at home parents do it, isn't it? said...


I'm glad that it has been noted time and agin that this survey has no objective scientific capacity. It's the opinions of a bunch of guys. Guys like me who took it.

I'm starting my 20th year as a SAHD and I will tell you that attitudes have shifted, and for the better. But there is a catch here that is being ignored. All of this only applies to a class of White folk. In Southern Brooklyn I run into very different aptitudes depending on ethnic origin.

My wife is of chinese ancestry and the chinese community has no idea what to make of me. I'm known to many of them through my mother-in-law. The idea that I, or my wife, would stay home with the kids when there is a grandparent available just doesn't make sense. They keep wondering where *my* mother is and why she isn't raising my kids.

We should keep in mind that different ethnic groups in the US will have different traditions on how children should be raised. A stay-at-home-dad only makes sense in a western nuclear family. In any sort of extended multigenerational family the term losses it's meaning.

Lauren Wayne said...

This is so interesting. I'm a woman, but my partner and I share the care of our son, and I know I've been irked at how many activities and groups are specifically mommy-and-me rather than open to either parent, and I know my husband has found this irritating as well.

That said, we've both seen plenty of fathers alone with kids in the places we frequent, so I would think attitudes toward this will only get better as it becomes more common and therefore accepted. (I hope?)

Crin said...

I just took the survey! Sorry to be so late about it. As primary care giver to our daughter (and loving husband to a pregnant wife), I've lost a lot of my blog time that I used to have.

What I've found is that there are many women who are very wary of male PCGs (for myriad reasons). Many can eventually be converted, but usually it's because of another woman who trusts me can inculcate me into their clique.

This can be tiresome, and it takes me months of exposure to such cliques before I can be invited out to a post playgroup lunch, much less a playdate at someone's house (though it has happened!)

I've found the best thing for me is to surround ourselves with fathers and mothers who already don't have such preconceptions.

Anonymous said...

My husband is a large African American man, a gentle giant, if you will. When we got to parks and playgroups children FLOCK to him and many want him to pick them up and get hugs. He only hugs children we know, with their parents permission, but I worry that one day he will experience a negative incident like the ones described by other commenters.

Red Jenny said...

In theory, I would expect feminists who repudiate ironclad gender roles to be much more accepting of the idea that a male could have a legitimate reason to be around his or other children. In practice, I've seen feminists persecute fathers and male teachers and feminists who stood up for them. Obviously Feminism itself is not the culprit.

Anonymous said...

i think i was reading about that at NYT this month

Jill said...

Mmm intersting- great discussion.

I also wonder how Americanocentric (?) this is.

We live over in Australia where the typical male stereotype is pretty traditionally strong. For me society is just polarising further and we will see more extreme reactions in some cases but far more tolerance in others.

At school with our daughters the drop off is often characterised with 'tradies' who can be more flexible with work start and finish times and dads who are in the middle of a career change (partner breadwinning) but also those who are just taking time out to allow a partner to develop their career potential.

It really is fascinating.
I would like to see more comments from beyond the American viewpoint- any takers...

We have recently been posting on ways to involve everyday play with an educational context. I hope to add more daddy day posts that are essential for development in my opinion.

Please feel free to drop in for an Australian slant to kids and progress!


Sadie said...

Interesting observations. This post made me think of a post on Motherlode last fall:

wherein a dad complained about getting too much positive attention while on outings with his kid.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

@Jill: This should be considered highly "Americanocentric"--it's really a poll of Daddy Dialectic readers, who are heavily concentrated in North America (Canada + US), though obviously we are visited by foreign dignitaries such as yourself. I'm no expert on international perspectives on fatherhood, but when I have looked abroad, I've been struck by two things: one is that the daddy shift (the growth of fatherhood beyond pure breadwinning to include caregiving) cuts across national boundaries; the other is that the daddy shift plays out very differently in different cultural and economic contexts. So here in the US you see rising numbers of stay-at-home dads because of a work culture that pushes caregivers out; in more social democratic environments, fathers are combining work and care in some interesting ways. Recently, I've been interviewing Swedish couples about how they were raised and how that affected their current childcare arrangements, and my main takeaway is that both men and women have a lot of flexibility in both work and care domains, even as traditional gender roles persist (it's amusing to hear these couples criticize fathers for taking "only" two or four weeks of paid leave in Sweden, which is two or four weeks more than 93 percent of American men are capable of taking--our expectations rise with the possibilities).

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

@Sadie: In responses I've seen to this survey, many people have noted that fathers are sometimes over-praised for doing the minimum; it's also of course true that moms struggle with negative interactions (and actually, what I'm about to write is plagiarized from a discussion about the survey with PBS Parents).

Thus these results can be confusing. How do you reconcile these seemingly contradictory trends? It helps, I think, to see these results in context, as a) reflective of serious underlying anxieties that we as a culture feel about gender and sexuality; and b) illustrations of the cultural obstacles both men and women face in sharing parenting responsibilities.

In other words, when we see men praised excessively on one hand and then damned excessively on the other for being visible, participatory parents, we are really seeing two sides of the same coin--we're improvising new roles, and humans feel anxious when we're not sure how we're supposed to behave. Some people will embrace fathers they see as pioneers, sometimes with awkward, fawning praise; others will reject fathers who seem to be transgressing traditional boundaries. Two different but commonplace responses to the same trend.

This process won't end anytime soon. While we go through it together, I think the bottom line is that we must try to be kind to each other, even, perhaps especially, when we are uncomfortable.

Wingnut said...

As a SAHD, I certainly understand several of these situations and how they could occur, but I have to say that I've never had any issues, and have generally received great reactions from both the men and women I encounter around town, even at "mom-centric" events. I do live in a fairly progressive community, which may be part of it.

Sandra Mort said...

People are idiots and they're idiots by choice. It's disgusting. It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to recognize families.

I was in the supermarket recently where a young family was shopping. They had a toddler and preschooler in the cart and an older one romping alongside. I'd by lying if I said I didn't *notice* that the father was a dark skinned Black gentleman with dreadlocks and the father was White and the kids were all of different ethnic backgrounds, but honestly, the part that stood out to ME as odd was the amount of junk food in the shopping cart. (Yeah, I get judgmental, but I promise I didn't comment) Anyway, I said something about them having lovely kids and they didn't react as if I said anything unusual... so maybe they get less flack? Could it be a regional thing? I'm in NY, in case that matters.

As an aside, my husband has worked from home for most of the time our children have been alive. Due to a back injury, he is usually the one to bring them places. He's never commented about being excluded, but he's White. Then again, he's painfully quiet, so maybe he just didn't notice being excluded? I forwarded this to him as well as a White sahd husband to a close Hispanic friend of mine. Maybe they'll have insight.

Anonymous said...

My father was my primary parent for my entire childhood. He is an amazing parent, and I strive to be as good a person as he is. Fathers are invaluable. I hate to think of anyone criticising my father's parenting abilities because he's not a woman. Parenting is not about your sex, it's about modelling successful behaviours and attitudes for your children. A man can do that just as well as a woman.

hungrycaterpillar said...

@UncommonJohn- You mention the number of men who said something along the lines that they wish they could be doing what I was doing; I have gotten that response as well, but there sometimes seems to be a backhandedness to it. It is often said with a sort of ironic tone, a "that must be nice" kind of thing, seeming to imply that I somehow am shirking the breadwinner role I should be carrying out. I have gotten a little of this attitude from both men and women... skepticism about why I might be there, an uncertainty about my fitness as a parent.