From Heather Boushey, The New Breadwinners, in The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything, Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.
From Heather Boushey, The New Breadwinners, in The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything, Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.
With Mother's Day approaching, I realized that I never posted a book review for One Big Happy Family. Yes, it's another anthology of essays about families, this one with the twist that all of the families are nontraditional in some way -- the subtitle is "18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love." I'll admit that when they emailed me to ask if I wanted a review copy, my first thought was "Househusbandry makes the cut? I'm not hopelessly uncool and traditional?"
Anthologies are always somewhat of a mixed bag, and this one -- with the members chosen for their breaking the norrm in some way -- is probably more of one than most. Some of the voices were ones I've read before -- Dan Savage reports on his son's mommy, and how he copes with her erratic communications, Dawn Friedman writes about Penny, Madison, and open adoption, Amy and Marc Vachon make their usual pitch for Equally Shared Parenting. Some were new to me. Overall, I enjoyed most of the essays, although a lot of them were a shade too didactic for my taste.
That said, the one essay that I truly disliked is the one by Neil Pollack, which is the one that I think is supposed to be about "househusbandry." For one thing, Pollack explicitly says he's not a househusband and his wife isn't a housewife -- they both work from home, and neither of them seems to do much housework. And they both come across as incredibly passive aggressive and annoying. If Marc and Amy make sharing things down the middle seem impossibly perfect and easy, Pollack makes it seem like chewing broken glass would be far preferable. I think the last time I read an essay by Pollack that was causing a shitstorm on the blogosphere, the conclusion was that it was supposed to be satire. I truly hope this essay was satire, although it wasn't funny. Because if it's just true, it's sad.
Today's New York Times had an article on unemployed financial-industry men who are spending more time with their kids. It's all too typical of the Times' coverage of parenting, in that the reporter seems to have noticed a pattern among her neighbors and decided that it was a trend. Far more interesting than the article is that pretty much every comment posted on the article said:
And seriously, it's time to retire the "Mr. Mom" references. It's just lazy copyediting.
In skimming today's Washington Post, I saw a short blurb that says that women's careers are responsible for one-third of corporate relocations, up from 15 percent in 1993. The study that it's based on appears to be only available for a hefty fee, so I don't know how reliable the data are, but if it's real, that's a fascinating trend.
In reading Pamela Stone's book on Opting Out?, I was struck by how often a choice to be the "trailing spouse" in a relocation was the first (unintentional) step down a path that led to women leaving the workforce. They assumed that their skills were strong enough that they'd have no trouble finding another job, and that was generally true, but often it wasn't quite as good a job, or they just didn't have the leverage in the new job to insist on the flexibility they wanted. Or the relocation put stress on their family, and they wanted to take time to help the kids adjust...
The big question I'd want to know is what the breakdown of relocations by gender is among married couples -- my guess is the 32 percent figure includes relocating singles. If there's really a big growth in the number of men willing to be a trailing spouse, that's a bigger indicator of gender equality than the frequently cited stat that 1/3 of wives earn more than their husbands.
The Washington Post today had a front-page story on a recent poll that found that 60 percent of working mothers said that part-time work would be the ideal situation for them. This is an increase of 12 percent since 1997.
It's hard to know what to make of this finding since, as the newspaper article points out, only about 1/4 of working mothers work part-time, and that hasn't increased in the past decade. The question asked was "considering everything, what would be the ideal situation for you, working full-time, working-part time, or not working at all outside the home?" It's hard to know how people interpreted that -- if people thought about a hypothetical part-time job that paid as much (per hour) as a full-time job, with benefits and interesting work, or if they thought the part-time jobs that are actually out there. Who wouldn't want the "have your cake and eat it too" version of part-time work?*
I know I've said that at some point I'd like to cut back to part-time (probably 3/5 or 4/5 time) work. I'd like to spend more time with the boys, and I'd like to have more time to do all the other things (reading, blogging, cooking, hanging out on the lake) that I never have enough time to do. And I could even do it at my job without it being a major career-limiting move -- Rachel Schumacher, who is quoted in the article about her part-time job, works for my organization.
So why don't I? Money is the most obvious reason. I took a paycut when I took this job, and while we're doing ok, it would be hard to cut our budget by another 20 percent. T could presumably get a job that would fill the gap, but it would be tricky to align our hours. This will likely be more manageable when the boys are both in school, and I suspect that we're headed in that direction (although it will in part depend on how much the market value of T's professional skills have degraded with his time out of the workforce).
But I also suspect that I'm driven enough that I'd have trouble cutting back on my work commitments. Take next week for an example. T has someplace else he needs to be for 2 days-- we've known about this for months, and I've planned to take them off from work to hang out with the boys. But Monday I learned about a meeting on an issue area that I've been trying to get into for the past year. And of course it's scheduled for one of the days that I'm supposed to be off. My boss literally didn't say a word, but I knew I should be there. So I scrambled, and have lined up some childcare for that morning. I have a feeling that I'd wind up working at least some of the time as often as not on my days off.
* Well, fathers apparently. Only 12 percent of fathers said that part-time work would be the ideal situation for them. But, interestingly, 16 percent said that not working outside the home at all would be the ideal situation for them. That's lower than the figure for mothers (29 percent), but I think it's fascinating that fathers were more likely to chose "not working" than "part-time work" and mothers were more likely to choose "part-time work" than "not working." Does that mean that there's more interest among men in "reverse traditional families" than in "equally shared parenting"? Or that more dads still think that staying home is a permanent vacation?
Not in the print edition, but online, the Prospect has added a response by Linda Hirshman. While she is, as usual, gratuitously obnoxious toward anyone she disagrees with, she does make a point that I think is on target:
"even if by some miracle male employers could be persuaded to enact the reforms discussed, without a real change in women's attitudes about the family most of the effect would be to make it easier for women to continue to bear their excessive share of an unjust household. And allow the women to think they chose it!"
In their discussion of a recent conference on Rethinking Gender Egalitarianism, Laura at 11d and Harry at Crooked Timber responded to a similar point made at the conference -- that things like paid parental leave are an obstacle to gender egalitarianism, because they are disproportionately taken by mothers rather than fathers. Laura and Harry argue that parenting is not a "shit job" (as Hirshman clearly believes), but rather a source of great fulfillment for many people and that if barriers are removed, men will voluntarily take on more domestic responsibilities and joys.
I don't think parenting is a shit job, or one that makes your brain rot. But I also think that it's almost certainly true that absent a massive societal shift or highly prescriptive government policy, family friendly policies probably would increase the gender gap. Because, as Rhona Mahoney explains, every choice you make changes the hand that you have when you make the next set of decisions. And unless we get to the point that working fewer hours or taking time off from work has zero career cost (which seems unlikely anytime soon), it's always going to make sense for the person who has already stepped off the fast track to be the one to accommodate the other's career. And because of both biology (pregnancy and breastfeeding) and gender ideology, the one taking that first step off is far more likely to be a woman.
Mahoney also makes the interesting suggestion that this is a tipping point phenomenon; e.g that if SAHDs were more common, more men would make that choice. And on that note, I have to point out the Colbert report piece on SAHDs. (And a look behind the scenes.)
Via Miriam at Everyday Mom, I read this NYTimes article about "breadwinner moms." Dunleavey's not talking about single mothers who support their families, but about the women in what I call "reverse traditional families" -- married couple families where the wife works outside the home and the husband is the unpaid primary caregiver.
I agree with Dunleavey that there's a lot of "renegotiating expectations" in reverse traditional families. We have a set of societal defaults about what women should do and we have a set of societal defaults about what stay-at-home parents should do, and when there's a stay-at-home parent who is not a woman, many of these expectations collide and everything's up for grabs -- as Dunleavey says, from who does the laundry to who manages the money. I'd add from who chaperones the field trip to who is on duty when the child starts puking at 2 am.
But I part from Dunleavey when she says "When I say uncomfortable, I’m trying to be polite. The women I know in these shoes are seething — with uncertainty, resentment, anxiety and frustration." I'm sure not seething.
We've been doing this for nearly 6 years, and I'm not going to tell you that there aren't ups and downs. There are days I'm jealous of him for getting to play with the kids and there are days he's jealous of me for getting to escape to a nice quiet office. When I was trying to change jobs, it would have been nice to have the security of another income. Sometimes when he spends a lot of time on his hobbies, I think it would be nice if he mopped the floor instead. I burn quietly when the preschool teacher effusively tells me how nice it is to see me for a change. But none of these really bug us for more than about a minute at a time. Maybe someday we'll make a different choice. But this is working for us.
If one of the frustrating parts of being in a reverse traditional family is that there are no guidelines, one of the good things is also that there are no guidelines. So you can make it up as you go along and do things the way that work for you. Last week, I was jealous at the thought that T would get to bring cupcakes to D's class for his birthday, and I wouldn't. So I arranged to work from home, and we both brought the cupcakes.
Here are some links that readers have recently sent me:
And don't forget to send your comments on the FMLA.
Congrats to Brian at RebelDad for his new gig as a regular guestblogger in the Post blog On Balance. I'm a bit jealous of his exposure (# of comments I got for my post on labor force participation statistics: 1; # of comments Leslie Morgan Steiner got for her post on the same topic: 187), but also somewhat glad that I'm not the target of some of the nutcases who comment there.
"What makes at-home dads interesting is not that they walk their kids to school or go to the playground or do laundry or whatever. It's that they are refusing to play by the outdated gender roles. Parents should have a wide range of choices about how they balance work and home, and one of the largest obstacles to this free choice is the idea that there are certain things men simply don't do (and that women, therefore, must do). At-home dads help shatter this idea, which helps not only SAHDs, but also go-to-work women (who face less of a "second shift" at home), go-to-work dads (who have additional freedom to ask for flexibility) and at-home moms (whose choice is validated by an expanded -- and more diverse -- peer group)."
I'm not sure that's quite right. I think that reverse traditional families (my term for families where moms work and dads are at home) very much challenge gender ideologies. But we don't challenge the "ideal worker" model -- the idea that employers are entitled to employees who are largely unencumbered by family responsibilities, who don't have to run out the door in the middle of the day when the daycare calls because a child is sick, who can stay late without hesitation.
My husband has been staying home for over 5 years now. At this point, I'm tired of stories about stay at home dads that basically treat them as dancing bears. I'm much more impressed by stories about other things -- finances, transportation, whatever, that take stay-at-home dads for granted.
"When I’m taking care of Liko, I don’t feel like I’m “fathering” him. In my mind – and this is just the thought I was raised with, not the one I want to have – a father goes to work and comes home in the evening. "Fathering" is playing ball, patting on the back, putting food on the table. An honorable role."
"A mother, meanwhile, is home changing diapers and cleaning baby food off the floor and kissing skinned knees. That's also honorable and often honored. That’s what I do. So I feel like by staying home with him, I’m “mothering” Liko. I’m a mom, or at least, that’s my role. In many respects, a man out in the middle of the afternoon with his toddler, who is known to neighbors and neighborhood shop clerks and waitresses as a “Mr. Mom,” is a man in drag, and queer in the most political sense of the term. Why shouldn’t I be proud to be a Mr. Mom?"
I commented that I worry that this definition implies that working mothers aren't real mothers, and there's been some interesting back and forth on Jeremy's blog.
But maybe Jeremy's right in some ways. I write here a fair amount about what I call "reverse traditional families" -- families with working mothers and at-home fathers. One of the strains on women in these families is that we rarely give ourselves mothering credit for being breadwinners. We often beat ourselves up for the things that we don't do, without giving ourselves corresponding brownie points for the things we do. Maybe we should stop worrying about whether we're good enough mothers, and decide that we're damned good fathers.
I can't remember if I posted here about the "daddies and donuts" event at D's preschool last month. This was a chance to have a snack and do a craft with the kids, at the relatively working-parent friendly hour of 9 am (vs. the 11 am time for "family snack" and most other events to which parents are invited). When I got the flyer, I asked T if he thought in this context, "daddy" meant "male parent" (e.g. him) or "the parent who never gets to do things at preschool" (e.g. me). [The flyer did say that if a father couldn't come, a mother or "other Very Important Person" could attend.] Ultimately, since I was taking off a day the week before to go on a field trip with the class (to the Planetarium), I decided not to fight T for the chance to go. As it turns out, the "craft" was that the kids decorated paper ties.
On another note, RebelDad is having an online chat with Leslie Morgan Steiner at WashingtonPost.com tomorrow (Thursday) at 1 pm. If you can't be online at the time, you can submit questions in advance and read the transcript later. I got Steiner's book out of the library -- look for a review in the next week or two.
This week, the new issue of Parenting magazine showed up at our door, addressed to my husband. Our best guess is that the subscription is a gift from T's parents, replacing the Money magazine that they've given us for several years. T's reaction is somewhat mixed. On the one hand, as RebelDad has been complaining for ages, Parenting clearly doesn't see fathers as a real part of their audience -- the subtitle is "what really matters to moms". On the other hand, it's kind of nice to have his parents acknowledge that parenting is the biggest piece of what he's doing with his life right now, and he takes it seriously.
The funny thing is that I think I'm going to continue the Money subscription. The first year we got it, it helped me catch a major mistake in our taxes that would have cost us several thousand dollars. It hasn't saved us anything like that since, but it's generally interesting and reminds me to think about things that I'd otherwise avoid.
Money is also consistently progressive on family issues. The current issue includes an article on how a same-sex couple can best protect each other and their young daughter, given that Maryland doesn't recognize their civil union. In the February issue, a feature on Fix Our Mix helped one of the featured families "save enough so that Mom or Dad can stay home with the kids." (I see that I pointed out a similar article last year.) In an article on spouses who travel separately, the authors acknowleged that "very few couples earn equal paychecks" and went on to say:
"Frankly, that shouldn't matter. If one spouse is the sole or majority earner, does that mean he or she should be able to dine on steak and caviar with the gang while the other orders takeout with a friend? Of course not."
What I'm most impressed about is the matter of fact tone in which these issues are discussed.
I also wanted to point out Business Week's new Working Parents blog, which I also found via RebelDad. They're still getting their blogging legs, and the posts are somewhat uneven, but I'm encouraged that they're giving it a try. The most recent post is about one of the writers' battles with their insurance company over her son's medical bills. One thing that I hadn't thought about until I read it was that one of the advantages of employer-based health insurance is that it offers some means of leverage in claims disputes.
On that note, I do want to point out that Annika's donations page is now up and running. It's through the Children's Organ Transplant Association (COTA), which makes contributions tax-deductible, and assures that they'll be spent on medical expenses. (See this post for background.)
Today's book is Bringing Home the Bacon: Making Marriage Work When She Makes More Money, by Harriet Pappenheim and Ginny Graves. It was on display at Powells when I visited over Thanksgiving, and the cover literally made me swivel my head as I walked by. As soon as I got home, I hunted down the book and requested it from the library.
I've been taking an excellent free course at Barnes and Noble online on Thinking Like An Editor and it's helped me understand why this book was appealing to an editor. Improving your marriage is one of the perennial hot-selling book topics, and this book is aimed at a clearly defined and large group of women (1/3 of married women earn more than their husbands) that hasn't been addressed before. The authors' credentials are impressive -- a therapist and a journalist. On the book jacket, they promise to address such important questions as "why working women still do more housework than their husbands -- even when their husbands stay home" and "how couples can navigate financial decisionmaking when the breadwinner's reins rest firmly in the wife's hands." They promise to answer them based on Pappenheim's professional experience and interviews with 100 couples.
Unfortunately, all this didn't actual make for a very good book. As it turns out, 100 interviews is a challenging number to write a book about. It's not enough to say anything statistically valid about overall trends, but too many for individuals to stand out from the mass. All the Susans and Bills and Daves blurred together, so you never got a clear picture of any one couple across the topics covered in each chapter (sex, money, housework, etc.) Pappenheim and Graves never really answered the gripping questions that they posed. And the advice they offer is so generic as to be useless. (Their top recommendation for how to make marriage work when she earns more is "Make mutual respect priority Number one." As opposed to every other marriage, where mutual respect isn't important?)
Overall, I think the problem is that they discovered that marriages where the women earn more than their husbands don't necessarily have that much in common. As I could have told them, a lot depends on whether it's voluntarily chosen. In other words, is the husband a SAHD, a low-earning artist, or umemployed? Some of the generalizations they reached for totally missed the mark for me (fatigue and lack of time may interfere with our sex life, but not lack of respect), while others seemed right on target:
"Women's hunger for options, for leeway, for relief from the relentless grind, were recurrent themes in our interviews. Perhaps when women pine for a male provider, what they're really craving is greater latitude in a life that's come to feel too restrictive. What's clear is that when a career becomes just another kind of trap, limiting our options, dictating the course of our lives, many of us become disenchanted and start trying to find a way out... It's possible (maybe even probable) that male breadwinners feel the same way about being trapped in the daily grind, but unless they are very wealthy, it never occurs to the majority of them that they have an option to stop working... They certainly don't seriously feel that they are entitled to be taken care of by their wives. But many women, consciously or unconsciously, feel entitled to being taken care of by their men."
RebelDad asked today if anyone could find the Census data that journalists are using to say that there were 147,000 SAHDs in 2004, up from 98,000 in 2003. Of course, I took that as a challenge, and dug it up. It's this table, cell I7.
However, the part of this table that caught my attention was rows 27-38, which have income data for different types of married couple families with children under 15. This is the first hard data I've seen on the subject. I have seen lots of conjectures, including Stephanie Coontz's statement (in Marriage) that the only two segments of the population in which male breadwinner families predominate are the bottom 25 percent of the income distribution and the top 5 percent, and Nathan Newman's provocative suggestion that SAHMs are "luxury goods."
So what do the data say? First, that married two-parent families are overall fairly well off -- over 40% have incomes over $75,000 a year, and only 7.3% are poor. Second, at the level of detail the Census provides, such families with SAHMs
are generally worse off have lower cash incomes than average -- only about 31% have incomes over $75,000, and 12.2% are poor.
The income categories most likely to have a SAHM are those with annual family incomes between $10,000 and $25,000. The women in these households are likely to have low potential earnings, and between child care costs and the phaseout of some tax breaks, it probably doesn't pay very much for them to work. I would also guess that many of them are from cultures that highly value at-home mothering. At the other end of the spectrum, married couple families with incomes over $100,000 are slightly more likely than those with incomes between $75,000 and $100,000 to have a SAHM.
Turning to the families with SAHDs, I was surprised to see that they
were generally worse off had lower cash incomes than families with SAHMs. Less than 22% have family incomes above $75,000, and 15.6% were poor. This presumably reflects the overall lower earnings of women compared to men. But I would have guessed that the influence of selection would have pushed the average family incomes up.
Revised 10-20-2005 to reflect Parke's suggestion.
Today was D's first day of preschool for the year. He's going to the same school as for the past two years, with mostly the same group of kids, so it was pretty much a non-event for him. I went in late so I could help take him to school, but 5 minutes after we got there, the teachers were lining them up to head out to the playground and he was off without a backward glance. I was misty-eyed anyway, looking at the little kids in the two-year-old class, and being boggled at how big D is compared to them, and trying to wrap my head around the idea that he'll be in kindergarden next year.
Suzanne at Mother in Chief wrote an post last week about the pressure she's feeling to send her daughter to preschool, as most of her playgroup friends are going. I'm sure her daughter will be fine either way. We freely admit that preschool is as much about giving T a bit of a break from D's constant desire to be entertained as it is because we think it's useful for D.
Preschool has also helped T break into the social world of SAHMs and their children, which really wasn't happening before. They were happy to have their kids play with D at the playground, but no one was inviting them to playdates. I think women are just very reluctant to invite a "strange" man into their house, or to accept an invitation from one. And T was more focused on playing with D than with schmoozing up the moms, which made the social connections even harder. Since D started preschool, he's invited to many more parties and playdates.
I wanted to highlight something that Chip wrote in his comment on yesterday's post: "I think part of parenting is making hard choices, realizing you can't have it all." This remark would have been commonplace if he had said "part of mothering," but it's still surprisingly rare for anyone to say it about being a father as well.
Even people who should really know better fall into the trap of assuming that men can and do have it all. In the introduction to The Second Shift, Arlie Hochschild writes about envying the "smooth choicelessness" of men with stay-at-home wives, who were able to work undistracted by child care responsibilities or guilt. In Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, Sylvia Ann Hewlett says that she heard from professional men who spoke of their distress at having essentially missed their kids' childhood for work, but then blithely dismisses their pain with "well, at least they procreated and can get to know their grandchildren."
Even I fell into this trap. I used to sit on the metro, and mutter to myself that I bet there wasn't a single working father with a stay-at-home wife caring for their children who was beating himself up for working a whole 40 hours a week. And then I realized that if that was true, it was their loss.
If fathers think they can "have it all", it's only because they've accepted a limited definition of what that "all" could be, that doesn't include even the possibility of the intense relationship that women are taught to expect as their birthright as mothers. If that's the price, I'll pass on "smooth choicelessness."
Last week, Cynical Mom wrote about a conversation she once had with the wife of a SAHD. In response to a comment about how cool their arrangement was, the wife responded:
"Yeah well it's great, except when I get home the house is still a mess. What is he doing all day that he can't clean up a little?"
She's right that the "what is he doing all day" line is pretty disrespectful of at-home parents and the work that's involved in keeping everyone alive and sane. At the same time, I commented that housekeeping standards are probably the single biggest subject of controversy on the email list that I'm on for working wives of SAHDs.
There's a fair amount of resentment about (some) SAHDs who don't clean and feel like their day is over when the mom comes home, so that she comes home from a day at work and is immediately juggling needy kids and trying to get dinner made, the house cleaned, etc. We realize that they need a break after a day of at-home (or on the run) parenting, but when's our break?
Via RebelDad, I read these interviews with Full Time Father Mike Paranzino, who's quoted as saying: "I signed on to do the kids — not to do the house." Ok, that's one thing if you've got the money to afford a housecleaner (and many upper-income families do hire housecleaners whether or not they have a stay-at-home parent -- of either gender). And I have no problem with lowering your standards as long as the Department of Health doesn't need to get involved. But, in most families, someone's got to do the chores that keep the family running.
On his blog, Paranzino writes: "Bottom line: our focus should be on our children, not the dust under our beds." I agree with that totally. But food to eat, clean dishes to eat it on, and clean clothes don't come out of thin air. The difference between being a parent and being a nanny is that you don't get to say "that's not in my job description."
I don't think the reason housework is such a sore topic among reverse traditional families is that all SAHDs are slugs or slobs -- that's far from the truth. I think it's a subject of controversy because two basic cultural assumptions -- that housework is the responsibility of the SAH parent, and that housework is the women's responsibility -- conflict. So there's no default position about who does what, and everything is up for negotiation.
And no, I'm not writing this because I'm trying to get my husband to do more. Our house is actually cleaner than it's been for months. After the maggot incident, I think both of us realized that we needed to make more of an effort than we had been. And, having put a lot of energy into cleaning, we're both more motivated to maintain it rather than have that work be wasted.
Oh, and guess what? D loves to vacuum with the little dustbuster. I knew there was a reason we had kids.
The owner of the MAWDAH email list (moms at work/dads at home) received an announcement about an academic conference this fall on "21st century motherhood: change."
They're looking for papers to be presented for panels on:
Abstracts due by May 15.
I'm tempted to try to pull something together on the MAWDAH arrangement, what I call Reverse Traditional Families.
I'm not an academic, so I'm not quite sure what goes into an abstract for a paper you haven't yet written. If any readers have advice, I'd appreciate it. And, perhaps more importantly, am I crazy for thinking that this kind of conference might be fun? I'd have to pay my own way/use vacation time to attend.
Ampersand at Alas, A Blog, writes approvingly today about a "primary caretaker" standard for child custody, instead of the nebulous "best interests of the child" standard that is currently used. As he explains: "The idea is that in child custody cases in which one parent clearly was the child’s primary caretaker (measured by such things as who made doctor appointments for the kid, who took the kid clothes-shopping, who drove the kid to soccer practice, etc), that parent should have a presumption of custody."
There are clearly problems with the "best interests" standard, at least as currently implemented. Ampersand's post is inspired by an article by Jack Stratton, which is mostly about why abusive fathers should never have custody of their children, even if the abuse was directed at the mom rather than the kids. Stratton argues that the presumption in the courts this days is so strongly in favor of joint custody and visitation rights that men convicted of assaulting, or even murdering, their wives are generally allowed visits with their children.
But I also have some concerns about the "primary caretaker" standard. If there was a well-established standard that the primary caretaker would always get custody, I think it might discourage women from negotiating for a more even share of parenting duties. I could see mothers feeling that they had to make sure they did at least 60 or 70 percent of the caregiving, just in case. (I say 60 or 70 percent since it seems that men generally get more credit for the parenting that they do, because society's expectations are so low.)
A more extreme case is that of reverse traditional families. I'm on an email list of women who are the wage earners in families where their husbands are the primary caretakers. The topic of how this arrangement would be viewed by the courts in the case of a custody dispute has come up more than once.
It's a matter of great fear for some members that if they were divorced they'd lose custody. They would have loved to have been able to be the at-home parent, but their husbands didn't have careers that made that possible. If the primary caretaker standard was well-established, some of these women might opt to put the kids in daycare, pushing their husbands to get any job, rather than jeopardize future custody. And this is among the already small population that is currently willing to consider reverse traditional arrangements.
The bottom line is that I don't think we're ever going to come up with a nice clean rule that makes sense in all cases. Families are just too complicated and messy. There are always going to be exceptions. While I know judges don't always make the best decisions, I don't think we're really going to improve matters much by trying to replace nebulous standards and human judgement with simple rules.
(For the record, absent a psychotic break or something, I think my husband, who is the primary caregiver, would deserve primary custody if we divorced. Kain ein horeh.)
The sentence of Posner's that Fred objects to is "Women who want to have children, as most do, must expect to devote more time to child care that men do."
Fred correctly points out that except for pregnancy itself and breastfeeding, there is nothing a woman can do that a man can't. Posner has taken an unwarranted leap from the division of labor in the world as it is to talking about the way things "must" be.
Reverse-traditional families -- those where the wife is the primary bread earner and the husband is the primary caretaker -- exemplify Fred's point. My husband can change a diaper, read a story, and care for a sick child as well as I can, and there are some things that he can clearly do better than me (making up songs on the fly is one of his special talents).
I spend the vast majority of my non-work hours with my children (squeezing in blogging and domestic chores in the few hours between when they go to bed and when I crash myself). I work pretty much a standard 9-5:30 schedule, and at this point in my life, am generally not interested in jobs that would require 60 or 80 hour weeks on a regular basis. And this is true of all but two or three of the other women I know (online and in person) in reverse traditional families.
Joan Williams argued in a Washington Post op-ed a while back that this is part of a general trend. When mothers stay home, their husbands typically work longer hours and are less involved with childrearing. (The causality in this statement is unclear -- you could argue with equal plausiblity that women with spouses who work crazy hours are more likely to feel that their children need an at-home parent, that sole earners need to work more hours in order to maintain a standard of living, or that traditional families believe that child care is a woman's responsiblity.)
However, Williams claims that:
"employed mothers typically are less willing to consign all child care to the stay-at-home spouse. So children in families with stay-at-home fathers may well receive more parental attention than children in households with stay-at-home mothers."
So, while it's certainly true that mothers can delegate enough childrearing responsibilities to spouses, other family members, or paid help in order to free up 80 hours a week for work, it's also clearly true that there are very few mothers who are willing to do so. We could debate from here until the next century whether the reasons that women and men make different choices in this regard -- on average -- is biological or cultural and still not come to a resolution, but I honestly don't think it matters.
I do think parents who work these kinds of hours -- both men and women -- are missing out on something. What they achieve instead may or may not be worth it; I'll always support the right of both women and men to make that choice for themselves. (FYI, for a fictional look at this issue, the protagonist of Life, which I discussed here, is a research scientist with a SAHD spouse; she works very long hours, and her family life suffers, but she makes a major discovery.)
An important empirical question for this discussion is whether the choice between professional achievement and having a life is inherent in the nature of some kinds of work, or is primarily a result of the way we as a society have structured these jobs. There's been some great discussion of these issues over at GeekyMom and Mother in Chief; I'm not sure I have much to add. There are almost certainly cases of both -- I don't think you could be White House Chief of Staff and not expect to spend 100 hours a week working, but I don't see why on a case where there's already 30 different people working on it, you can't sometimes have two lawyers working 40 hours each instead of one working 80.
For today's book review, I'm looking at two guides for stay-at-home dads. One is The Stay-at-Home Dad Handbook, a new book by Peter Baylies, the founder of the At-Home Dad Network; the other is Stay-at-Home Dads: The Essential Guide to Creating a New Family by Libby Gill, which came out a few years ago.
Although the two books cover similar overall territory (making connections with other at-home parents, housekeeping, suriving on one income), there's an interesting difference between their tones. Gill is somewhat breathless about the trend of at-home fathers, writing things like: "But they're also pioneers, exploring the frontiers of a family option that's always been there but is now catching on like wildfire." Her book is aimed at both at-home-dads and their wives, and focuses a lot on the decision to have a father as a full-time parent. Baylies is much more matter of fact about whole thing; he assumes that his readers have already decided to be stay-at-home dads, and simply offers advice to make the journey smoother. Gill argues that most families with an at-home parent make that choice because they think they can do a better job than a paid child care provider; Baylies assumes that they do it because it's rewarding, even fun.
The most useful part of Gill's book was the lists of questions for husbands and wives to discuss. In addition to being married to an at-home-dad, she's a career coach, and it shows. She does a good job of identifying some of the hidden minefields that can show up for what she calls "SAHD/WM" families (the "WM" is for "working mother") and I like to call "reverse traditional" families, especially with regard to money issues, but also about differences in parenting styles.
My favorite part of Baylies' book is the multitude of real at-home-dads whose story and advice he shares. Whereas Gill's examples always seem to be made-up composites, Baylies' book feels like he's invited you over for lunch with some friends, and everyone's chatting about their experiences. A good bit of the advice that he offers could just as easily go in a book for stay-at-home mothers -- but how many fathers would feel comfortable reading it? My one quibble is that many of his examples seem more suited to parents of older children than those caring for infants and toddlers.
Both books go through a standard calculation arguing how the second income often gets so consumed by taxes, child care, and other related expenses that it hardly increases the resources available to the family. I always find these short-sighted, in that they only look at a point in time, not at the impacts on future earning potential, retirement benefits, etc.
One interesting aspect of the discussion of how to save money in the Baylies book is the inclusion of the money that can be saved by doing major home maintenance, repairs, and improvement yourself. This reminded me of a point that Jennifer made to me after reading The Two-Income Trap. She wrote:
"I was very struck while reading this book about how changes in the economy make a guy's work around the house more important than ever. When you're sending half your income to the mortgage, suddenly keeping those gutters cleared and recaulking the tub becomes a big deal. The average American family now keeps two cars instead of one, and we keep them longer than ever before: now the husband who can tinker on the car is a very valuable asset. But when he doesn't get dinner on the table? No big deal because eating out is almost as cheap as eating at home, and overall a small part of the budget anyway. Can't mend those torn jeans? Just go get another pair at Old Navy. And when's the last time anyone's work clothes got ironed anyway?
Put it all together and the one remaining big cost that is associated with
traditional mom's work is child care. So I'm thinking my husband -- who's
great with kids, who does his own wiring/plastering/carpentry on our house,
who can fix the family car -- is an economic juggernaut!!! "
As described yesterday, I searched all over the internet to try to substantiate the claim that the number of stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) has increased by 15 percent in less than 10 years.
And finally, I found it: Table SHP-1: Parents and Children in Stay-At-Home Parent Family Groups: 1994 to Present. In fact, this table reports that the number of stay-at-home mothers increased by over 19 percent between 1994 and 2003, from 4.5 million to 5.4 million.
I hope that some of you are saying "but..." right now. Doesn't 5.4 million sound awfully low? For perspective, there were over 93 million women between the ages of 16 and 65. How can this be right? The catch is that Census is using a very narrow definition of what constitutes a stay-at-home parent: you have to be a married parent of a child under 15, out of the labor force for an entire year, say that the reason you're not working is to care for "home and family" and your spouse has to be in the labor force for the entire year. RebelDad did an excellent job least year of explaining the drawbacks of this definition, so I won't repeat them.
Even though this definition isn't perfect, this is the first longitudinal data I've seen on the number of stay-at-home dads (SAHDs), applying the same definition to a consistent data series over time. They found 98,000 SAHDs (using this narrow definition) in 2003, down from a high of 106,00 in 2002, but up from just 49,000 in 1996. However, because the number of SAHDs is relatively, there's a lot of "noise" in the figures -- I asked the Census bureau, and they said that the drop from 2002 to 2003 isn't statistically significant. One way that statisticians deal with this kind of noise is to pool the findings from several years. So I compared the average number of SAHDs for 1994-1996 to the average number for 2001-2003, which suggests a whopping 50.8 percent increase. Just comparing 1994 to 2003
produces a 28.9 percent increase, also quite impressive.
One way to get a sense of the limitations of the definition is to compare this series to a similar one that just looks at married couples, and whether one, both or neither is in the labor force. This comparison indicates that in 70 percent of the married couples where only the husband was in the labor force, the wife met the definition of "stay-at-home mother." But in the married couples where only the wife was in the labor force, only about 10 percent of the husbands met the definition of "stay-at-home father."
One reason for the gap is the requirement that only spouses of year-round workers can count as "at-home parents." I'm not certain, but I think that taking maternity leave is considered as being "not in the labor force." If that's the case, my husband wouldn't have counted as being an at home dad last year, because I was on maternity leave for 12 weeks. Adding back in the parents who meet all of the other requirements to be an at home parent would increase the reported number of SAHDs by 60 percent, to 157,000, but the reported number of SAHMs only by 12 percent, to 6 million. I also think men are less likely to say that the reason they're not working is to "care for family and spouse."
File it under "it must be a trend if it's in the New York Times." Today's City section has an odd little article with the headline "Dr. Spock Meet Mr. Mom," which tracks the increased involvement of fathers in hands-on parenting by noting the increase in fathers showing up in pediatrician's offices. Where 15 years ago, a father arriving in the pediatrician's office -- without his wife -- was "startling," today "there are days when more fathers than mothers show up."
The article is about as stereotypical as it gets, complete with a cartoon of a man in an apron, holding a baby in one arm and a toddler with the other hand, with a bucket and mop nearby, and the obligatory references to Kramer vs. Kramer and Mrs. Doubtfire. The one novel comment is the suggestion by one of the doctors that he sees more involved fathers because the parents of his clients are older, and the women less willing to give up their "well-established professional identity." Certainly, older mothers are more likely to be earning enough to allow their partners to step back from paid employment.
The overall tone of the article is definitely "look at this odd little phenomenon." The author (Anemona Hartocollis?) is careful to note "for the record" that the one female physician quoted has four children and a nanny. The parental status of the two male physicans quoted is not mentioned.
Today's book is Kidding Ourselves: Breadwinning, Babies, and Bargaining Power, by Rhona Mahony. This is an absolutely fascinating book, published in 1995, that I don't know anyone else who has ever heard of. I encountered it through a footnote in another book, perhaps The Second Shift.
Kidding Ourselves is almost two books in one. The first two-thirds is an attempt to answer the question of why so many smart ambitious feminist women in egalitarian marriages have kids and all of a sudden find themselves responsible for more than half of the child care and household work. As Naomi Wolf puts it in Misconceptions:
"Our generation did not think we were marrying breadwinners; we thought we were marrying our best friends. But the husbands were pulling rank in a way that best friends don't do."
Mahony's answer is that it's a matter of power, and negotiating positions. And she goes through an interesting list of negotiating strategies that women can use to try to persuade their husbands to do more: Telling them how unhappy the current situation is making, make moral arguments about equality, offer other things in return that will make them happy, nag, threaten to leave. Some of these are more or less effective. Wolf makes similar points, and grimly concludes that men simply aren't going to make real career sacrifices unless forced to, and women aren't going to be able to force them to do it, because their threat to leave isn't serious.
I found Mahony a more optimistic read, even though she also thinks that -- on average -- women are going to lose these negotiations, necause she believes that there are things that women can do to increase their leverage. The key point, however, is that these are mostly choices made long before the children are born -- what career to enter, what spouse to marry.
Mahony argues that as long as women choose careers that don't maximize their earning potential and that give them flexibility, marry men who have more earning potential and less flexibility, and care more for their children as infants, they will always wind up doing more of the child care and housework.
Is it Ms magazine that used to refer to "click" moments? CLICK.
The earning potential part is generally understood. The marriage point is interesting, because it's not just about money. It's that if you want a husband who is intensely involved in child-rearing, you have to marry someone who values it, even if it has a career cost. And career-oriented ambitious women tend to marry equally career-oriented ambitious men.
The child care is a point that I keep making to everyone I know. Child care is not an inherent skill. You can get some ideas of how to do it by reading books or taking classes or talking to other parents, but mostly you learn how to do it by doing it. And you make some mistakes -- forgetting to bring a change of clothes on an outing, bouncing the child too much after a feeding -- but you learn from them. Most fathers spend ridiculously little time on their own with their infants, which puts them behind. And once one parent is "the expert" and the other "the assistant" it becomes far too easy to maintain that role.
The last third of the book, much to my surprise, is a vision of a world in which breadwinning mothers and caregiving fathers are as common as breadwinning fathers and caregiving mothers. Like me (!) Mahony rejects the goal of having all families divide breadwinning and childrearing equally. She writes:
"Not all fathers can do half the child rearing, or want to, or should. Much more to the point, some fathers can do lots more, and want to, and should. People give the incorrect answer [a 50-50 future[, I think, because they can't boost their imaginations over the hump of the present to imagine a future in which there really exists no sexual division of labor. "