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.