In honor of Father's Day this weekend, there is a slew of articles about modern fatherhood, most notably the the cover story of the New York Times Magazine coming out this Sunday about "equal parenting." Lisa Belkin, who has covered the life and work beat for the styles section for a decade now, interviews several couples who "work equal hours, spend equal time with their children, take equal responsibility for their home." Belkin continues, "Neither would be the keeper of the mental to-do lists," but these couples are definitely keepers of physical to-do lists. Jessica DeGroot, who is the founder of an organization called ThirdPath which attempts to negotiate the work/life balance, keeps an extremely detailed scheduled outlining the shared familial tasks. "[Jeff] Lutzner's (DeGroot's husband's) schedule is blue, DeGroot's is pink, child care from nearby grandparents is purple and time at school is gray." And while equality is certainly a goal for most parental relationships, I got a whiff of micromanaging about Belkin's article.
It seemed like the mothers and fathers featured in the article kept serious tallies of their chores and work and daily functions. While this certainly prevented bitterness from spouses (usually the wives) who felt they were doing the lion's share of the work, it seems like it could inspire an entirely new kind of discontent based on a life bereft of flexibility. Ironic, especially since the couples all negotiated their job situations in order to make their home time absolutely equal. Of course, it is a noble thing these couples are doing, and every marriage and childhood situation is one based on a series of discussions and compromises.
It doesn't help that American society makes it more difficult for men to stay at home, as Michelle Goodman points out in ABC News. Paternity leave, if granted at all, is typically one week. For a woman who had a C-section, "which meant she needed help doing everything from lifting the baby to her breast, to finding the time to brush her own teeth," a week is paltry indeed.
Belkin has a separate article about men who stay at home in today's Times, but this piece focuses on men who opt out while their wives continue working. According to Belkin, men often have a tougher time going back to work, as employers are even less sympathetic to holes in their resumes. What most women, and men, don't realize, says Belkin, is that you are most powerful when you are willing to leave. "But women were simply leaving rather than using their leverage to ask for the moon - a sharply decreased workload or increased salary or guarantee of a job upon return - on the chance they might get it. In recent years, women have negotiated more, a trend not lost on men." That seems to be the takeaway from all of these pieces: while your workplace might seem unfriendly to your procreation needs, there is often room for haggling, if you're just willing to put it out there.