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Friday, 4 January 2008

Role of Men

What really angers me about debates around fertility and having children is how the role of men is often overlooked.

Hysterical newspaper articles focus on the sterotype of the 'selfish' woman, too busy to have children.

But so often, when a woman is struggling around the decision to have a child or not, it is related to the decisions that men make.

A member of my Facebook group on this issue pointed out that she resents the fact that if she was a career minded man who had a child with a woman, she could count on her female partner taking at least half the responsiblitity for helping to raise the child. But as a heterosexual woman, she can't depend on the man in her life to take this responsiblity if they had a child.

And the reality is, despite advances by the feminist movement throughout the years, the role of women as the ones who take the majority of responsiblity for raising children hasn't changed.

One the days it's my turn to pick up my kid from nursery, it's mainly other women picking their kids up - although a significant percentage of parents like me and my partner do seem to be sharing the task equally. Alot of these women are working parents who do live with a male partner or husband. They are getting the kids up, getting them dressed, take them to nursery, do a full day's work, pick the kid up, get them home, fed, bathed, put to bed.

And then, more often than not, the male partner comes in after this has done.

I knew someone who had a high powered career with a male partner in an equally high powered job. When she returned from maternity leave, she found herself on the receiving end of snide comments about how she always had to leave at 5pm sharp to pick up her child from nursery. And everytime her child was sick, it was she who took time off to care for him. So not only was her working day made more stressful by the fact she couldn't just leave the house child-free or come home to a child who was fed, bathed, etc - she also was facing discrimination at work.

The complicating factor in all this is that women do collude in their own discrimination and don't demand/ask for men to do their equal share as well - for example, my friend wouldn't consider that her partner would be able to share in the nursery pick-up as his place of work was much further from the nurse. When her child was off sick, she wanted to be the one to care for him.

So when we are trying to decide whether to have children or not - we know that it is them who are going to be shouldering most of the burden of child-care, they know that it is women with young children who are the most discriminated against in work. And for those of us who do want our partners to share equally in the raising of their own children, we know it is really difficult to find men who are really going to do this!

There is another issue revolving around men in this decision - which is the 'kidult' syndrome which affects so many men in their mid 30's - but this will have to be another blog post!


Flowerpot said...

I think also that you don't now how your partner is going to react until you have children. By which time it's a bit late!

Sage said...

I agree with everything. I've written at length about this dilemma in my own life. And flowerpot has a good point too. I mainly any reasonably good relationship can handle the negotiations necessary to make sure it's all 50/50. But it does take the worker (typically the mum) to enforce the division relentlessly - itself an extra chore.

Kaycie said...

My children are older now, and I don't work anymore, but I remember those day care days. I think I was lucky; my husband almost always dropped off and picked up the kids for me unless he had an early or late commitment, which wasn't often.

I think my idea of discrimination in the workplace is probably a bit skewed. I live in a very family friendly environment, and I worked for employers who didn't expect long hours at a desk.

The kind of discrimination I saw most was of the sexual ilk, rather than related to child rearing. However, I was an HR manager, so dealing with discrimination complaints was my responsibility. My view might be different if I had another type of job.

As my husband's career continued to grow and he became more successful, it became more and more difficult to maintain a balance in our family life. I stopped working a few years back. I don't miss it at all, but I never did feel that my identity or worth were tied to my profession. I was also raised in a traditional household, so perhaps that shaped my idea of the role of women.

I find your blog interesting and I wonder what you'll think of my comments here. Having had things both ways, I wouldn't change a thing.

Jana said...

This is a fantastic idea to explore, Beth. It needs some sane and open conversation to talk about this topic! Although it's interesting - at my job, it's the women with children who are routinely let off from work commitments (especially night/weekend ones) while those of us who have chosen to remain child-free end up having to put in a lot of those hours. It's not that I think Moms should have to work crazy hours and somehow squeeze the kids/family in - but I will admit, sometimes I get resentful of always having to be the one to cover while other people get to leave (and yes, I know they are still working for their families, but there is a difference... especially if "family time" includes fun things). It's as though Moms feel punished for their decision to have kids, while non-Moms feel punished for our decision to not have kids. And we don't necessarily get the same benefits that men who put in the long hours do - especially if they have kids (the rationale being that they are sacrificing time away from their families, so they deserve the promotion, etc). All that being said, I'm still glad I am not a wife/mom who works outside the home... those women I see in that situation are permanently exhausted and stressed out! And every one of them seems to struggle with the father doing an equal share of the childrearing responsibilities.


Beth said...

Flowerpot - I totally agree, my partner didn't really want to have a child (he has a grown up son from a previous relationship) so I was prepared for the worst scenario. Instead, he has been pretty good and involved. Likewise, I've had friends whose partners were like 'Yeah, I really want kids, let's do it' and then totally bailed on the actual work involved!

Sage - you are so right, it is usually up to the mum to relentlessly enforce the division and be the 'bad cop' which is annoying.

Kaycie - it's does so depend on the employer and some employers are really enlightened now. I am very interested in your comments and would love to interview you for the book - could probably do it by email.

Jana - what you say is common to issues raised by other child-free people. I personally believe that everyone should be entilted to flexible working - so people can spend time with family, do evening classes, hobbies, activities etc. I think it's really unfortunate that women with kids and without kids get pitted against each other in the workplace. I wish employers would just have policies that allowed everyone the flexi-time they needed!

And everyone, I would love to get more perspectives from all of you - because you all span the different situations - from being childfree, to being a working mom, to being a stay at home mom. I think it's so valuable to show the span of experiences to people who are struggling to decide. I'm still shaping the book idea but I'll post on your own blogs in the near future to ask you personally about the interview/questionnaire.

Kaycie said...

I'd be happy to answer some questions, Beth. It sounds like fun to me.


I would be very interested to read more about the kidult issue you mention here. It is my observation among many of my friends (I am 31 by the way) that while my female friends are aware that this is a crucial time for fertility etc. their male partners are still keen to live their life as they did through their twenties. They are often reluctant to fully commit to their relationship let alone contemplate having kids. Newspaper articles berate 'selfish' women yet often fail to mention the other side of the story: men that are refusing to grow up and follow our biological lead.


Sorry, I meant to add that I would be very interested in participating in your questionnaire. You can email me on: rovingriceyATyahooDOTcoDOTuk
(spam filters replated with @ and . as appropriate)

decided said...

My partner and I share all responsibilities, and we both feel that the other contributes equally – and neither of us is the enforcer. We are flexible so that our contributions depend on our situation – we always like to assess all options and choose the one that makes the most sense to us. For example, when I was working full time and my partner was studying, I shared my money with him, and he did most of the housework. Now that I am studying and he is working, the situation is reversed.

I am 100% sure that if we had both wanted children, we would not have started with any set expectations of who would do what. Like all our other decisions, we would have had many long discussions about how we would share the responsibilities and remain happy and in love. As it is, neither of us has ever been interested in parenting, and we both chose to be childfree years before we met.

In a previous job management were very time-flexible for mothers, less so for fathers, and not at all flexible for those without children. My employer assumed that mothers weren’t interested in careers, fathers were but sometimes had to deal with issues, and that people without children want to aggressively pursue a career instead.

When I realised that they expected me to work later and longer hours than my childed colleagues on a regular basis I knew that it was time for me to leave. I do not feel very negatively towards parents who have work days interrupted by children’s needs, but I thought my workplace should have not shown such obvious discriminations and allowed flexible working arrangements for everyone.

I disagree with purlpower - I don't believe men should automatically be expected to follow women's biological needs. Both people in a relationship need to be flexible and attempt to meet each other's needs.

I am really sorry that this is such a long comment!