I didn’t like the movie Parenthood when I was a kid. I didn’t get it. When I got older, not only did I get the jokes, but I fell in love with the way it showcased how there was no easy way to parent. Everyone has issues. I also really loved a scene where Steve Martin delivers this line:
That’s the difference between women and men. Women have choices, men have responsibilities.
I think my favorite thing about the scene is how his wife’s response showed him a little bit of how crazy that is. Women have responsibilities, they’ve just been traditionally different from men’s responsibilities. But this isn’t so much about women right now. It’s about a traditionally women’s choice
There remains a lingering perception that women have the choice to work or not. I think that my favorite thing about this “choice” is how unrealistic it is and yet many covet it. I don’t know any women with this choice. They either must work to help support their families are can’t because of the cost of child care. That’s not choice. I have known women who have said they would choose to stay at home if they could but who then couldn’t handle maternity leave without feeling like they were going crazy. I’ve also known women who wouldn’t choose to stay at home, even if they could.
I used to know men who said that they worked “so hard” to see if they could give their wives the “choice” to stay at home if they wanted to. Do any of us really want it to be that way? For it to be a woman’s choice that a man’s hard work supplies her? Wouldn’t we rather spend time together then one being at work all day while the other is alone dealing with what happens at home? To me, it sounds incredibly lonely, and that’s mostly because of the men that I’ve known who attempt this. They work long extra hours at jobs that they hate in the hopes to push upon their wives a choice that most of them had told me they didn’t want anyway.
But if we’re going to talk about it as a choice, why is it only perceived as a choice for women? Why can’t we be the ones give the choice to someone else sometimes? Men are getting increasingly involved in the lives of their children and the numbers of women who are breadwinners is growing (at 37% now). So why can’t their husbands “opt out” or choose not to work? There isn’t really a great answer for that. I believe the answer mostly comes down to social expectations and the possible feelings of emasculation on the part of the men and disinterest on the part of the women (It has been theorized, though I haven’t seen evidence, that women who make more than their husbands are less interested in them after a while). But there are husbands who do stay home and their numbers are growing too.
Of the 2 million at home dads, only 21% say that it’s to specifically to care for their children, but that’s still four times higher than in 1989. The rest are disabled or have some sort of illness that prevents them from working, and I think it’s rounded off by men who are unemployed. These men are forced into the same life decisions the women mentioned above have. Potential income and the cost of child care work together to make this a “choice” for those who are fortunate enough to have it. This isn’t a choice that needs to be based on gender. It needs to be based on the needs of the family unit. Choices can be given to both parents and we shouldn’t assume that one gender or the other is better suited to it. I’ve known enough bad mothers and nurturing fathers to know that women do not have a monopoly on the ability to care for children.
What’s your impression of an at home dad? Do you think men are getting the choice to opt out nowadays from higher earning women? Would you opt out if it were financially viable?
Join me again for more on gender issues! You can follow me here, @createparity, Google+ or like me on Facebook! Each medium contains this site’s content but some of the articles that get shared will vary