Unequal Standards: Involved Fathers

In the wake of the Sheryl Sandberg’s provocative book Lean In, urging women to speak up against workplace inequality, the social consciousness of women’s inequality is rising in general. Amid debate over Sandberg’s standing on the subject and other matters of social unrest, an unlikely subject caught my eye for this week’s post. Last week it was brought to my attention that men have little to no leg to stand on when it comes to child rearing in our society’s eyes. When it comes to being an involved father, life doesn’t seem to throw any kind of bone.

In the current social climate, men have absolutely no room to be a father, contrary to studies that prove children in homes of invested fathers develop better that those without. Social disapproval is only the peak of the iceberg in terms of the issues fathers face when they become more involved in their family’s lives. When employers themselves are reluctant to acknowledged parental responsibilities as a legitimate need to take time off time when full-time domesticity seems out of the question, what will it take for the United States and the world to let down their prejudices?

Men first find an issue with the social value in child rearing. As it stands, being a parent is socially nether valued, meaningful or productive. Female breadwinning and male homemaking doesn’t seem acceptable even when they make sound economic sense. Finally, men currently feel demoralized to play second fiddle and be househusband.

As the supports for homemaking mothers erode, supports for equal and primary fathers have not emerged to offset the growing imbalance between children’s needs and families’ resources. This has led to families depending on paid help, relatives, and already overburdened wives. This in-turn leads to mothers giving up more and men looking like heroes in whatever they did.

With all of the social implications implied above, many fathers may feel reluctant to take that step into more influential roles, but heed not, for there are benefits to behold galore. For starters, beyond an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, kids actually do perform better. Next, fathers have expressed added significance and pride from their children, many claiming that their “investment” paid off. As one father put it, “as work opportunities have stalled in this age of stagnant economic growth, parenting has offered men another avenue for developing self-esteem.”

In addition to the benefits men feel, their spouses also feel the effects. Mothers have experienced decreased stress from the shared responsibility of raising children when their husbands contribute. In addition, women are often free to pursue to their career wants and needs so that she feels further accomplishment, plus a reduced economic burden. Rather than feeling discontent or overworked, wives of equally contributing fathers have felt a stronger connection to their children and spouses, which could mean the difference after the birds have left the nest and what’s left is your significant other.

Overall, men who have decided to remain active in their children’s lives find an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and purpose. By providing an example for them, fathers can become role models of sharing roles rather than assuming stereotypes. Their children learn a flexible approach to building their own lives and behaviors, whether it is growing self-reliance in girls or empathy in boys. Finally, creating households with a strengthened resolve for an egalitarian lifestyle is furthers the hope that others, including their kids, will follow the father’s suit.

When it comes down to it, the men’s movement toward domestic equality depends on their availability to overcome the obstacles to change and their desire to resist the social pressures to conform. While it’s easy to follow the social norms of our society, it’s significantly more beneficial to be an active participant’s in your children’s lives. So what are you going to be, a sheep who follows the heard, or a wolf who’ll follow the beat of his own drum, and fiercely protect his pack?
Reference: Kathleen Gerson’s ‘Dilemmas of Involved Fatherhood’ (Sorry I’m traveling, link to come)

3 thoughts on “Unequal Standards: Involved Fathers

  1. Reblogged this on It's all kids stuff. and commented:
    Interesting take on how the fathers are trapped in their roles. They face “social disapproval” when stepping outside of the breadwinner/homemaker model and choose to be more involved in the family’s life. They may face pressure, but it’s beneficial for them to also be a part of their child’s life- It’s a shame how much society is structured on the breadwinner/homemaker model- either both parents work, or the mother stays home and the father goes to work. This stigmatization of fathers not being able to take care of their children needs to stop; because it’s not only hurtful to the child, but to the parent. Again, we need to change our conception of the “typical family” and accept all types of families without judgement, because judging is just doing more harm than good.

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  2. “Female breadwinning and male homemaking doesn’t seem acceptable even when they make sound economic sense” this sentence was the most powerful thing to me in your post! It is so true and so frustrating in today’s society. Why can’t we switch things up and especially if they make the most sense?

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  3. What I love about this post is that it highlights the ways that toxic masculinity and narrowly defined gender roles are bad for BOTH men and women. So often people recoil from feminism because they think it means the end of men – the reality is that most men would benefit from moving away from the rigid stereotypes of men as stoic breadwinners who need/want only limited connections with family. I really appreciate the focus on how both men and families benefit from involved fatherhood. Thanks for posting!

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