This Father’s Day, get him what he really wants: paid paternity leave
Recently at the supermarket with my daughter, I bought a box of cereal that looked pretty healthy. When I brought it home, I found myself bothered less by the realization that it was actually borderline dessert, and more by something else on the box: the words “Mom’s Best.”
I get the marketing wisdom: mothers do the grocery shopping. Those who carry the purses control the purse-strings; a variety of sources say women control 73-85 percent of household budgets. And so, those “mom-approved” labels on parenting products seem ubiquitous — from strollers to diapers to books. Since Kix cereal debuted its slogan “Kid tested, mother approved” in 1978, the so-called mom market has become saturated with such pitching.
But the thing that mothers approve of most is a dad who pushes that stroller, changes that diaper and reads that book. And while mothers continue to do a larger share of parenting, fathers are more involved than ever. Still when we talk about parenting, it’s a mom’s world.
We exclude dads from the parenting conversation on all levels. This isn’t just an issue about who we’re targeting with advertising, but about a change that needs to happen in order for parents nationwide to find some support and sanity. We remain the only industrialized country without paid leave to help balance responsibilities at work and at home. (And though the cost of infant day care is rising faster than college tuition in 31 states, forget about the hope of state-supported childcare.) Our family leave policy is on par with Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Surinam. Many of us groan about the challenge of being modern-day mothers, instead of annexing a nation of similarly overwhelmed dads.
Our work/life crisis has been branded a lavender-tinted motherhood issue, and rarely challenged as such, even as fathers are spending almost triple the time caring for children as they did the year “The Feminine Mystique” was published. A recent Pew Research Center survey asked parents about their stress around juggling work and family life: the result revealed an “insignificant” difference in the level of stress experienced by fathers and mothers.
Yet when politicians or businesses introduce policies that will help all members of a family, it’s still seen as a women’s initiative. Consider the FAMILY Act, the first attempt to update our family leave policy in two decades. The bill offers paid leave to workers of both genders to care for family members, using a Social Security-style plan.
But the bill has racked up few supporters since Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced it in the Senate in December. When I spoke with Gillibrand last week, she said that lack of support was due to the absence of mothers on Capitol Hill. When I asked her if we should be more actively including fathers in the effort to change our dismal system, she shot back a salty, “Good luck with that.”
Beyond advertising and public policy, our cultural attitudes toward parenthood have yet to reflect the growing role of fathers. Men run tech companies without anyone asking about their nanny set-up. They don’t need to be told to lean in. Such legacy attitudes continue to penalize women — not just personally, but politically. Making parenting a mere women’s issue at work and in Washington fails to reflect our gains at home, and hardly supports systemic change in our culture or our policies.
All parents are overwhelmed, to borrow a word from the latest book seeking to liberate harried moms. The rest of the world understands that this is a labor force issue, a wellness issue, and an economic issue — each gender-blind.
In order to start considering solutions to our parenting trap, we’re going to need all parents in the conversation, because we’re all engaged in the same struggle. This Father’s Day, it’s time to view dads as more than just the dude swilling brews behind the barbecue. We need to work together to make it so, by valuing all members of the family, in the name of real family values.
PHOTOS: Steve Caniglia holds his six-month-old son, Boden, in San Francisco, California February 19, 2014. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
California Army National Guard helicopter pilot David Duran hugs his daughter Luz after surprising her on Valentine’s Day at Gates Elementary School in Los Angeles, California February 14, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni