I have recently read a few pieces on working mothers, and the debate as to whether a woman can thrive as both a professional and as a mother. This debate has been going on for decades, but has been fanned a bit higher by this article in the Atlantic, as well as the news that the new CEO of Yahoo is also six months pregnant, raising fears that she will not be able to adequately raise the fortunes of that flailing internet site.
Frankly, if she could get all the trolls and haters off of the Yahoo comments boards, that would be a tremendous feat unto itself.
Now, I’m not going to weigh in the topic of professional women who are also mothers. I do not believe that my point of view on that subject is particularly insightful, and neither do I have any interest in putting myself into the crossfire of this debate. I would rather blog about less charged issues, like theology, or race.
But I do want to point out a strange inconsistency, that I never have read a piece similarly focused on men, something entitled, “Why Men Can’t Have It All“. It seems strange to me that although males also fulfill the role of professionals and parents as women do, there is almost no debate as to whether they are able to balance these two roles adequately. I have given it some thought, and have deducted that there can only be a few possible explanations for this:
1. It’s that no one has ever written about it before.
Well, then call me the first. I think this is actually something of a plausible explanation for the dearth of discussion on the topic, the possibility that no man has ever bothered to ask the question of balance between roles. After all, there are many questions that men never bother to ask or think about – am I right, ladies???
But no. I don’t really believe this is the reason that I have never read any content on this topic. If it were a flameworthy issue, then some blogger somewhere would have brought it up, guaranteed.
2. It’s that men are more able to balance their roles as professionals and parents than women.
Puhahaha. That’s rich. Look at your average male during March Madness or whatever sports season they are into, and tell me that they are masters of balance. Look at your average male video game player (console or PC, take your pick), and tell me that they are able to juggle roles of weighty importance. Check out video of soccer hooligans in Europe or government officials in South Korea throwing punches and flour at each other on the chamber floor, and tell me that men are better able at measured thinking and balanced mentalities.
Nope, that ain’t it either.
3. It’s that no one expects men to be as involved in parenting as women.
The reason that women struggle over the question of being both a mother and a professional is because they have such a high view of both. For women, being a good mother and a capable professional are both roles that require incredible amounts of commitment and sacrifice, so much so that it becomes nearly impossible for the average women to fulfill both roles adequately. And hence, intense debate results.
The reason no one ever asks the same question of men is because we don’t expect very much out of fathers. If a man is somewhat engaged with his children, and makes some attempt to be present and active in their lives, he is considered a good father. And fortunately, a somewhat active participation in a child’s life still allows a man enough time and energy to fully devote themselves to another calling, that of their professional lives. THIS is why men are better able to balance these two roles – not because of the enhanced abilities of men, but because the role of father is culturally diminished and relatively lightweight. A man can throw himself into his career, and dabble in fatherhood, and still win the approval of all.
Perfect example of this: go to Costco, and look for a parent taking care of multiple children. If you see a woman towing three children along while grabbing cases of bottled water, you don’t give her a second look (except out of pity) because that’s normal, and expected. It’s expected that a women will take care of three children while grocery shopping. But if you see a single man taking care of three children at Costco, doing the exact same thing as a mother, you will find old people clucking in approval and married women looking on in envy. Because they have seen a rare thing: a man taking care of children! Bravo, sir, bravo.
Now at this point, you might expect me to attack this mentality from the point of view that it is a negative double standard, and is unfair to women. I think that is fairly obvious. But as a male, that’s not really how I look at this issue.
Honestly, I think this double standard is unfair to men.
You see, when someone tells you or implies that you can’t do something well, that’s not a cause for celebration. Men should not feel emancipated because everyone believes they are only mildly competent as caregivers. Bro, that’s an insult. That means that people assume you can’t do a good job, that you aren’t as capable or committed or loving and patient as your spouse. Now I’m not saying that all dads are cut out to be stay-at-home fathers, because many are not. But at the very least, we should not assume that men are by their very nature domestic dolts. Such an assumption diminishes the importance of fatherhood, and ridicules the abilities of fathers.
People make often light of this perception, writing movies and sitcoms about how incompetent fathers are at home, like Daddy Day Care or whatever. I recently saw a commercial during the Olympics that featured three grown men who struggled to give a baby a bottle. This is intended to be funny, but many don’t realize that this is actually destructive because many men begin to buy into this mentality or stereotype without thought, and assume that they are not good caregivers, that not much is expected from them as fathers, that they are bumbling fools when it comes to family. We lower our expectations of ourselves as fathers. We tell ourselves, “Sure, we can be good CEO’s, but we’re not cut out to be fathers.”
Now, tell me how that is any different or less insulting than telling a women the opposite: “Sure, you’re a good mother, but you’re not cut out to be a CEO.”
Man, I WISH someone would write articles questioning whether men could have it all, whether we could be top in our profession as well as good fathers, because that would mean that we are finally taking fatherhood seriously, and seeing it as a role that requires such commitment that there is a very real chance that it cannot be balanced with professional ambition. I wish men would fill online forums with their anguished attempts at living both callings, because that would mean that we are giving fatherhood the time and attention that it deserves, and are no longer selling ourselves short as fathers. God knows that there are so many communities where fatherhood needs to be taken far more seriously, not less!
But fat chance. Most of America has bought into the stereotype of the incompetent father, and have settled for the idea that a good father is one who doesn’t get in the way. Not me though. I plan to struggle with my professional career and my role as a father for decades, because both take so much of my time and energy and love. Because believe it or not, sometimes struggle doesn’t indicate that something is wrong, but that something is right.