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Dads don't "Babysit" when mom is away. Or do they?

I don’t travel much for my job as a freelance advertising copywriter. But occasionally I have to take a quick overnight trip. I will never forget the time I was sitting on a plane en route to New York when my colleague seated next to me (he was 15 or so years older than me, in his defense) asked, “So, is Alastair babysitting while you’re gone?”

Babysitting. My own husband. Our children’s father for God’s sake. Babysitting?? Would someone ever ask a dad on a business trip if his wife was “babysitting”?

True that in our particular case it’s especially inaccurate: my husband is a mostly stay-at-home dad. But even if he weren’t, a comment like this feels weirdly out of touch with today’s economic and gender role realities where, more often that not, both parents work, and where dads are much more likely to be heavily involved in all things domestic. (And, brief disclaimer, in light of recent current events: I’m not suggesting that stay-at-home moms don’t work their asses off. For the purposes of this post, “work” is shorthand for working a paying job.)

So when I first read the recent New York Times article  “When Mom Travels for Work” — about the ways moms plan ahead and prep their husbands to take over for them when they go away — it seemed similarly, weirdly out of touch. Like a story that might have been written in the 80s. (Remember “Mr. Mom” or “Three Men and a Baby”? Men cooking? Taking care of kids?  HilAARious!)

Here’s the example they give of a working mom about to hit the road:

“Michele L. Jackson, a lawyer in Indiana who travels for her international adoption work, said she leaves files back home for each of her children with information on their activities and their medical records. She said she also texts instructions from the road, adding that she is “sure to include some sweetness” for her husband in the note “so he doesn’t feel like an employee”

The article does concede that sometimes dads actually do know what they’re doing. But not as often.

“While working fathers who go away on business may use some of the same tactics, mothers are often the ones laying out their children’s skating outfits and freezing extra dinners before they leave town.”

I’d say that dads in two-working-parent families are, in general, much more involved in their kids’ lives and in day-to-day household tasks than this article seems to imply. Certainly it’s the case among most of our friends.

But then I reflected on it a little more. I thought about my other friends, colleagues and acquaintances. I thought about other essays and articles I’ve read.

And the fact is, I think that in general working moms still do bear more of the brunt of parenting and household chores than working dads. In most cases (though certainly not all) they are still the family meal planners and cooks. They’re still the #1 emergency contact on their kids’ records. Still the ones who take the kids shopping for new clothes, get them hair cuts and take them to doctor appointments,  sign them up for activities, plan the birthday parties, buy the presents for other kids’ parties, and make the baked goods for fundraisers. I could go on.

(Men, meanwhile, still tend to do more of the yard, car and household repair-related tasks. Also important stuff, don’t get me wrong….)

Division of labor is absolutely necessary, and every family finds the right set-up for their own situation. (In our household, I am chef, checkbook keeper, and wardrobe mistress for the girls. Alastair is master of dishes, laundry and yard work.)

But I think more often than not the division is somewhat uneven. Although men are much, much more likely to be equal or almost equal parents and homemakers with their working wives these days, in families where both parents work, women still tend to have a greater share of responsibility for children, home and hearth, for better or for worse.

So maybe that Times piece isn’t completely out of touch after all.

What do you think? Am I making too big a generalization?

And how about the next big question: Why? Is it because women are inherently more nurturing, and feel a more primal bond with their kids (and vice versa)? Or do we take it upon ourselves? Do our male partners have something to do with it, or societal expectations at large? Is it because women feel guilty for choosing or not being able to work outside the home? (Oy, I could write a whole other post about all this!)

In the meantime, discuss! (And be nice.)

 

DOUBLE TIME, my memoir of parenting twins and battling depression (among other things) is available for pre-order! Order before May 8, and I’ll send you a bookmark and free signed bookplate. Click for details.

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Image: MGM Studios

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