Giving men the chance for parenting joy

I am insisting that if we women truly want equal partners in the home, then we can’t ask our husbands to be “equal” on our terms. They get equal say, even if we disagree. And indeed, if we can discover the joys and satisfactions of professional success, why shouldn’t men be able to enjoy the rewards and satisfactions of parenting and homemaking? For years, mothers have gotten that special rush when a child reaches for his mommy and says no one else will do; do we really think a father doesn’t get the same wonderful sense of being needed and valued when a child insists on his daddy?

via The Immense Value of Giving Men More Control of Household Tasks – Anne-Marie Slaughter – The Atlantic.

This article focused on a now widely discredited New York Magazine story on feminists giving up on work to enjoy the bliss of being a housewife.  I won’t get into that, but the story led to some nice articles surrounding it, with this included.  Things have definitely changed just since I started this blog three years ago.  Men get included in the conversation, even if near the bottom and still not totally in the mainstream.

Needless to say, after all my paternity leave, and my shorter working hours, I do get that rush from being equally bonded with my kids.  And I wouldn’t trade it for the world, even if it comes with all the grind as well.

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the unspoken rationale for America’s crappy social safety net

On the contrary, much of the unspoken rationale for America’s crappy social safety net—with work-based healthcare and no day care and so on—is the continuing image of the 1950s family as an ur-standard. You don’t need day care because mom’s at home; you don’t need government healthcare because all the daddies work. Articles like Drexler’s, which erase the past, paradoxically keep those antiquated gender roles around. The “traditional” family is always something we’ve just left behind, always something we’re just adjusting to. The truth, though, is that these changes are of long standing, and the adjustments we need to make have little to do with the ambivalent feelings of male millennials, and a whole lot to do with policy changes that are long, long past their time.

via Hey, the Gender-Role Revolution Started Way Before the Millennial Generation – Noah Berlatsky – The Atlantic.’

It’s tough in the US because the society hasn’t moved en masse but here and there, region by region, class by class. How do you judge how people perceive a massive social shift?  In Sweden, they instituted nation-wide rules in the 60s and 70s and everyone shifted accordingly, even if it’s slow going.

In praise of the dude teaching at my son’s preschool

I turned to close the preschool gate the other day and looked back to see what my three-year-old son was up to.

And this is what I saw: his teacher in a laughing jog, leading a pack of toddlers in a full sprint. A few weeks ago I saw this teacher sliding on the ice (safely) with the kids. And somewhere in there, I came to pick up my son to find the same teacher lost in a mountain of pillows, laughing kids all around piling on.

Good teacher, huh? Oh, yeah, one other thing. The teacher’s name is Sven (not really, but he is a guy).

There have been three male teachers at the preschool in the past 18 months, and all three were great, even if not so energetic as Sven.

The last thing I want to do is say that my son needs Sven because he is a man, because only men would skate on the ice or race through the yard or wrestle in a mountain of pillows. That’s ridiculous. It’s probably a function of youth as much as anything else.

However, most of the other teachers – even the young ones – do not slide on the ice or race through the yard or wrestle in a mountain of pillows. Sven does.

We live in Sweden, and before you think this is some paean to socialism and progressive Scandinavian values, it’s not. Sweden is pretty bad at recruiting male preschool teachers, at least compared to neighbors Norway and Denmark.

And this isn’t about male role models either. Well, it is, though not so much. See, I was home with my son paternity leave for more than half of his life before he started preschool. He knows lots of dads. His grandpa baby sits him when we are home in California. He doesn’t need guys.

But it’s nice.

And it’s good for society. I push paternity leave pretty hard because I think it’s important for mom, dad and baby. But challenging gender roles should not stop at the preschool door, and it should not just be about getting my daughter to see princesses in a different way or letting my son wear pink mittens.

This is from a Gloria Steinham interview in 1995:

 The way we get divided into our false notions of masculine and feminine is what we see as children. And, if, as children, whether we’re boys or girls, we’re raised mainly by women, then we deeply believe that only women can be loving, nurturing, flexible, patient, compassionate, all those things one needs to be to raise little children, and that men cannot do that, which is a libel on men. Of course men can do that. On the other end of it, they mainly see men in the world outside the home, or being assertive, aggressive, so they come to believe that women can’t be assertive, achieving, aggressive, intellectual. And that’s how we get our humanity? We’re deprived of our full humanity

This won’t change easily, I know, but it should change (and here is an excellent report for deep reading on how to make it change.  The report includes the best ever description I’ve read of why boys and girls and not driven by their sex, but by their gender roles:

Gender and sex are closely linked, in so far as one’s biological sex will determine which gender role (male or female) society will expect one to play (Dejonckheere, 2001).

Oh, and about the whole sexual predator thing, that overarching fear seems to be missing here in Sweden when it comes to guy teachers. I couldn’t tell you if the crime rates are lower here, or whether Swedes have more or less missed the crazy, anxious panic that American parents have been whipped into the past couple decades.

Nope, here men don’t become preschool teachers just because men don’t become preschool teachers.  But I’m sure glad the dude running my son’s class chose differently.

Daddyland does not fade in February when Sweden gets sick

I finished my ”real” parental leave about 17 months ago now, which makes me melancholy to even express out loud. I still work part-time, and I take lots of parental leave days – all those long winter and summer breaks, all those long spring weekends up in the country – but I am far into the typical Swedish working parent path.

Note: this is the library, not our house

But it still pays off, those 18 months home with the kids.  They still echo through our daily life, and I hope they always will, even when the whole family gets sick for a week with a high fever then interminable ache and illness, like happened two weeks ago.  No, especially when the whole family gets sick for a week (or when your never-sick daughter gets four separate illnesses in a month – February is rough in Sweden).

It is wonderful as a dad to be able to stay home and care for two sick kids and a sick wife and still get my work done (I could get paid to stay home with the kids but I find the process so bureaucratic that I would rather work – plus I kept thinking that they would get better the next day … they didn’t.) It is wonderful that after the apartment descended into chaos for three days, that it actually got cleaner the last three days, as I turned back into the midday tidying machine. It is wonderful that my wife and I can share household burdens, that we can switch kids and switch doctor trips and switch swim class pickup.

In very basic ways, I still feel like I am on parental leave. My priorities are unaltered, and I spend as much time with my children each day as I do at work. Like always, I know this is the reality of American moms, and I know more and more American dads are staying at home.  But I am a working dad.  And I still feel like this.  And this still seems like the way forward into the digital age – with everyone home at least sometime instead of no one home anytime.

Sweden is not the United States, part 342

Sweden is not the United States, part 342

I was out last week with a friend, and he went into a convenience store to buy a subway ticket. And there I was, faced with this magazine rack.

Notice the Pappa Magazine in the top right. I wrote about Pappa last month, and even though I noticed its minor buzz online, I never thought it would actually get such major play on newsstands.

How far away do you think the first glossy “Daddy” magazine is in the US? 20, 30 years?

Signs that gender equality got off track sometime about 1980

This is a book that my parents read to me when I was a kid.  Now on a visit, I am reading it to my kid.

You read the first half about a dad out with his son, and then you flip it over and read about a mom out with her daughter.  They meet in the living room in the middle.

And you know what strikes me, besides the cool gimmick?  That the Dad is equal to the Mom.  Not just in having half a book, but in the tone and substance of the book.  He comforts his son when he gets hurt, helps him deal with fears and just in general was competent to deal with the average weekend outing.

And the mom?  She is basically the same, not scared of lions at the zoo and that sort of thing.

If a book like this came out today, I would praise it for being so forward thinking on gender stereotypes.

Then I just read a post at Dadding, the fatherhood blog at Babble, on LEGO advertising and how the toys used to be for boys and girls but somehow became only for boys.

And I think about how in Sweden the girls toys are getting pinker and girlier, without even any of the middle ground that American girls get (clothes and attitudes are still different there, yes).

Some pretty sad backsliding.

Returning to Daddyland as Sweden falls dark

I’m back in Daddyland.  Well, I never left my real Daddyland, that world of the preschool drop off and pick up, of the part-time work, of the increasing commitment at work, of paternity leave fading into the rear view mirror of my tricked out stroller (Ahh, I wish…).

This day to day Daddyland is also a place of five week winter breaks, ten week summer vacation and four weeks more of winter holiday coming up (we were thrifty with our parental leave days and they are good until the kids are 8).  It is a place of six-hour work days, lots of time in the sand box, and the joy of a cottage in the country with a yard filled with strawberries, wild strawberries, raspberries, cherries, gooseberries and apples, not to mention the blueberries covering the forest floor.

But now I am back in this virtual Daddyland, to go with my real Daddyland.  I’ve been busy writing a book proposal, which I will post parts of, and have gone all political on masculinity, fatherhood, Occupy Wall Street, journalism and democracy and the yawning economic and social horror of the U.S., a place I want to move back to someday but only if my kids have a future beyond fast food and debt.

Yes, I am still addicted to socialism, except now that I’m back at work at my techie day job, I’ve also got these techie, business phrases for it now – how my time in the sandbox made me more innovative, more creative – exactly the skills we need in the already-here, turning out scary digital age.

But I’m also tired of just writing all day at work and writing all evening at home.  So maybe I’ll actually post more photos, links, music.  And I’ve still got those kids, with every day built around them (we have been crafting a lot lately … yes, crafting, and I am not a crafter, though I may give Martha Stewart a run for her money after this winter is over).

Then there is the challenge, ripe for justified moaning, of living in shy, sweet, reserved, sort of awkward Sweden through the brutal winter dark.

Oh, and I’m on Twitter now too.  And you can “subscribe” to me on Facebook.

Now if only my daughter will stay asleep long enough for me to finally post this …