The Wall Street Journal published an article this week about “a new model of at-home fatherhood,” spawned by the rise of stay-at-home dads and inclusiveness of fathers in the day-to-day parenting. While the WSJ wasn’t quite arguing that parenting is all duded up and bro-ed out, it did argue that stay-at-home dads have put a “distinctly masculine stamp on child rearing and home life.”
Yes, there is research to back up the claim that the relatively small amount of stay-at-home dads — who comprise only 3.6 percent of all SAH parents — do rear children differently than the larger sample of stay-at-home mothers (an elite 18 percent of male-female couples). SAHDs allow their children to take more safety risks and also plan more spontaneous trips.
But I just don’t see how those traits are being ascribed as “masculine.” Surely there are mothers who don’t hover over their child’s every move? Surely there are mothers who are spontaneous? The WSJ interviewed fathers who do things like take their kids to the park and on errands to Home Depot (where a toddler “studied different kinds of hammers”) … because moms don’t take their kids to the park and run errands, I guess?
The WSJ focuses on a heteronormative family construction (mom + dad) and then assumed each partner is bringing gendered qualities to their role of parent. I don’t deny that the constructions of masculine and feminine exist as concepts in the grand scheme of things. (Childbirth, of course, is arguably the most feminine of possible pursuits.)But the article presumes that when a woman is the stay-at-home parent or “primary” parent, she is the dominant force for parenting and home life by default and ergo her stamp is “distinctly feminine,” whatever that means.
The reality is that most family structures are a mix of both mom and dad, both “masculine” and “feminine” parenting influences, all the time. I grew up in a traditional family where my dad worked outside of the home and my mom raised five kids. Even though my mother spent several more hours of the day with me and my siblings before and after school than my dad did, I wouldn’t describe her as the more “dominant” parent or a particularly “feminine” parent. She made more of the daily off-the-cuff decisions, sure, but bigger questions — can I go to camp? can I sleep over someone’s house if their parents won’t be home? etc. — were stuff they talked about together. Like most sets of parents, each parent had different buttons that could be pushed and different things they would be strict about. (My mom, for instance, would FLIP OUT LIKE UNHOLY HELL if we said the word “fart” or made fart noises. My dad, however, would start giggling.) I would call them a man and a woman who parented, but not people who parented in a gendered way. Parents are parents, whether they’re a mom and a dad, or two moms, or two dads, or one dad, or one mom, or some other combination.
It’s awesome that dads can stay at home now and raise kids and do chores without having their masculinity be questioned. I’m just afraid that ascribing gendered traits to parenting is not useful for anyone … especially the children.
Contact the author of this post at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.