Sunday, November 12, 2006

Whose Hide?

Friday night, the news program 20/20 aired a segment about working mothers, and what employers and the government should be doing to help them, and, by extension, Society. The anchorwoman, Elizabeth Vargas, even went so far as to out herself as having taken maternity leave. This was her first story back. Her co-anchor marveled on-air at what full hands she had with an infant, a 3-year-old, and "this job."

I must applaud 20/20 for taking on the issue, and for suggesting that government may have a role in supporting "the family." Alas, "the family" was barely mentioned in this story. Even the co-anchor, when introducing the story and welcoming Vargas back, failed to mention whether or not he also had kids at home along with "this job," and hence, "full hands." Instead, he gave her the old, "Gosh, Hun, I just don't know how you do it."

Here's the question that wasn't asked: Where are the dads? Why didn't anyone talk about the dads? How is it that even now, when some companies offer paid paternity leave, that men are still not universally expected to share the general sacrifice that running a family requires? How can it be that in 2006, affordable childcare and flextime are still talked about as women's issues?

Raising families and running households require sacrifice. The question I constantly bat around is whose hide the sacrifice is coming out of. In an ideal family, the kids would remain in a circle of unbroken love and attention for eternity. Their little hides would never be scathed. But it's not a perfect world. We parents require rest, time off, replenishment, sleep, the occasional shower. Also most of us still need to earn a living. As parents, we are faced with constant demands for sacrifices, small and large. There are only three places where sacrifices come from in a nuclear family:

1. Mom (or Dad)
2. Dad (or the other mom)
3. The Kids

(Okay, there are also the dog, the house, the finances, friends, personal hygiene, but those are secondary and beyond the scope of this post.)

In the 20/20 scenario, it appears the sacrifices of running a family are coming out of mom and the kids. Maybe this is case for those women. I know it is true for many, many, many women. But this is just not the case all the time, in real life. So many dads step up to the job, and so many moms demand it.

So I would like to hear from you about how the dad in your family sacrifices. What comes out of his hide instead of yours or the children's? Put the story out there. The world needs to hear it.


Di said...

Will post more later in response to your thought-provoking post....but for now, welcome back! I've been checking back and was more than a little worried about you. Hope you are feeling well!

Anonymous said...

I saw it too! It was very interesting but your are righ tit didn't really talk about the dads! I can tell you that my hubby is a great dad and husband. He has gone above and beyond my initial expectations. Before we had kids I didn't actually "get" how much work it was gonna be! But he has stepped up to the plate. We talk a lot about how were are feeling about our situation, what is our stress level, are we feeling discouraged always seems like either one of us has the energy to go th eextra mile when the other one doesn't. He has spent enough time with kids on his own to know that because I am home with them all the time, he will sort of take over at night...or send me out with friends and doesn't bat an eye at me getting a babysitter a day or two a week to get stuff done on my own...and to set up date nights. He has a lot of pressure to be the breadwinner and owning your own company is a major stress too! So I try and validate him because he is working hard and balancing a lot!!! I am very lucky to have him!

Jane said...

Hail, Susie. As you know, but some of your readers don't, my husband stepped off the career ladder for awhile to take primary care of our firstborn for the first 2 years of her life. It made $$ sense for the unit that if only one of us worked, at that time it needed to be me. Once we hit our goal, we switched and I had a second baby. Haven't worked since. I could (and do) complain about how I am in charge of EVERYTHING and have to take the lead on EVERYTHING at home. But the truth is that if asked, he would (slowly) do almost anything without batting an eye, and that's cool.

Now I'm seriously considering going back to school for a Masters that would lead to a PhD if all went well. I had dinner w/ a couple of pals last night and they both said: "You are so lucky your husband is supportive of that." It honestly never occurred to me that I was especially lucky. After all, this should eventually lead to me winning some more bread for the family. But apparently there are lots of women who would not be as supported in their schemes.

My schemes are supported. He is flexible with his role in the family. Plus, he's sexy as hell.

Something is going to have to give when I'm in school. Guess what? We'll take turns giving--my husband, me, the kids. That's what family is all about. One of the reasons I am thinking of a career in academia is that it is cyclical. It works w/ the kids, and it works w/ my own energy cycles. But I would love the flexibility to apply what I'm doing in an industry setting. Some company is going to need to work the family-friendly angle in order to get me (and women like me) into their workforce. I would love it if that flexibility in hours/location/seasonality were to become available while I'm in school. Yes, that would be very nice indeed.

Anonymous said...

Jane, You have a great set up, It has always been inspirational and refreshing to learn about great guys out there like your husband, & Susies ( we are all lucky)I feel like my husband is very similar...I sometimes think he would do such a better job than I would at staying home and making it all go so smooth, when I am out of town, he does a great job with the house and the kids...but if we want heat in our house he must keep his day job:)

Jane said...

Those darn heating bills...

susie said...

I'm alive and mostly okay, just suffering from a virus and some quotidian crap around here. Great to hear from you all.

susie said...

About the "supportive" issue...In my family, my mom had to fight like hell to get mere scraps of schooling or other self-improvement. Her husband threw fits and otherwise blocked her at every turn. They had spent many years training each other to expect that her life would revolve totally around him. It's hard for family members to accept change, especially if, as Jane pointed out, everyone is going to have to sacrifice a little bit.

What's so great about all of the sharing I read about above is that no one gets locked into their roles, and shape-shifting can be less painful when it needs to happen.

My marriage got much better (for me, anyway!) when Matt took over the house and kids and social life when I was sick. For months, he did almost everything. This made me feel that he finally got it - what it feels like to be In Charge, and what it really does to a person to be home with the kids all day and have no outside identity. Plus, I felt after that I could trust him completely. I was convinced of his utter competence. As I've regained health, we've kept some of these crisis-time habits.

This is aided by the fact that he works from home, does laundry, and always remembers when it's picture day at preschool.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susie - this is such an important topic - we've talked about aspects of it before. Alexi works part-time in order to get more time with the kids and me, and is a very involved father when he isn't at work. It is amazing though how many comments I get about being "lucky" that he's so involved...I will be the first to say what a wonderful husband I have and what a great father he is but my expectation is for the boys to have a father who pulls his weight emotionally.

Glad to see you post again - I was worried when I hadn't seen one in awhile.

Too bad I missed the episode on TV - my cashier at Madison Market told me about it and that it made him mad too.


susie said...

Right on for that dad at Madison Market speaking up! I have believed for a long time that we expect too litle of dads in our culture. Part of balancing our exectations is making them realistic. We can't expect our partners to parent like us, for example, or process their emotions like us. But we can totally expect them to share the sacrifice. I say we MUST expect it.