Monday, June 16, 2008

Changing Perceptions Through Parenting

When I was little, mothers used to chuckle when I asked for recipes with the stated intent of giving them to my father. My teachers would look at me oddly when I told them my dad would be able to chaperone field trips or would be coming to some school event. And when I saw that there was a town-sponsored breakfast at the firehouse on Mother's Day, I thought it was sweet but wondered why. It only occurred to me later that most mothers do much more than the primary cooking, and that this town breakfast was an easy way to give mothers the morning off. My perceptions have been radically altered by my parenting. My father was and is the cook; my father was the one to vacuum; my father was the one who sang me to sleep and read me stories and who would most often come to school functions. His job was flexible, and my mother's was 9 to 5. He wanted a neat house, and my mother didn't place as much emphasis on it. He liked cooking -and grocery shopping- whereas my mother disliked both.

My mother was an active parent as well; and she definitely did her share of chores like laundry and cleaning of the bathroom. But the division of labor was much more equitable than in many of my friends' houses. In the average household, the ratio of division of labor is 2 to 1, no matter what the working situation is. In an average household with a stay-at-home mother, child-rearing takes up 15 hours a week of her time and 2 of his. In the average household with two wage-earners, her hours go down to 11; his go up to 3. And according to the New York Times, that ratio has not changed in the past 90 years. Women going into the work force has radically changed the face of American corporations, but it has done little to influence the views of what should be happening inside the home. Which is why this new conscious decision on the part of some parents to go for equal parenting, or shared care as it is also called, the New York Times is reporting is a giant step forward. It is not enough to know intellectually the way things ought to be; actually being a part of the process, being raised in that environment, having shared parenting and shared chores be the normative standard of behavior from the time a child is born, is the process that will make this change be a natural part of life and not a conscious effort to enact progress.

Children who are raised not only being told that women are equal to men but actually see their fathers make dinner and clean boo-boos and scrub floors, see their mothers taking out the trash and doing the yard work; and then seeing mothers make dinner and clean boo-boos and scrub floors while their fathers take out the trash and do the yard work will help erase the idea of gender-divided labor before it is even written upon the child's psyche. And that will make for a far more equitable society.


John said...

I agree with you in that looking at equal parenting will help move it more into society. But I'll ask this question... We are hardwired as men or women. What effect does it have in our needs to be equal parents?

petpluto said...

I would wonder how exactly we are hardwired as men or as women. I can pretty confidently claim that cooking and cleaning isn't something women inherently enjoy more than men, or that women are hardwired to do those things to the 2-1 ratio that is the norm today.

There are differences between the sexes; and some of them are genetic/biological. But a lot of them are dependent upon how we are conditioned. Up until the 1950s, blue was still considered the color appropriate for girls and pink was for boys. But now it is the opposite, and girls are "automatically" attracted to pink. That's socialization at work. And because of that, I think that the idea we have set forth that raising children is "women's work" is also mostly a conditioned situation.

One of the first things that needs serious examination on EVERY level is this hardwiring: where is it true, where does it fall down, where has it been found historically inaccurate, and how much do we place on hardwiring because we are too complacent or lazy or just plain uneasy with the idea that there is less of a difference between the sexes than we had previously imagined.