People talk a lot about being a parent, and the joys of children, seeing them grow up and whatnot. What people don’t realise is that I have been preparing myself my whole life to be a professional dad joker. I would like to make clear that 49% of my parent activities will be dedicated to that. I’m not saying that I will not dedicate myself fully to the other 51%. I’m saying I’ll work hard on the “normal” dad part, and that I’ll also work hard on matching up my dad joke game so the balance is right.
Anyway, this is not a post about children, or parenthood or pregnancy. Is about being a male parent in a world that is mostly set up so men are better off.
In recent conversations about children with the woman I plan to have children with we talked about life balance, professional plans and how we’ll deal with it all. This conversation didn’t start from thin air – I was wondering what to do with my professional life and the topic of making humans came up as a potentially big point to consider. At some point I said that I’m sure my future employer would be open to the idea of me working from home a day a week so she could have time to work. Her answer to that was a lovingly yet sharp “Well, we’ll have to work on that because I don’t want to be the only one to have my career affected once we have children”.
Whoa, whoa, WHOA. What is that crazy talk? Me, the man, the provider, the family superhero, the guy that spent all his life working on being the best on what I do will have to discuss a compromise with my employer and jeopardise my career so you can carry on with your career? Who does that? I’m already willing to have the awkward conversation with my boss so I can have a full day working from home and you want more? Look around you! Women normally take 3, 6 or 12 months of work to take care of newborns. That’s what they DO. And now you want me to do that too?
This conversation happened a month ago, and many variations of the arguments above went through my head. Top that with the excuse that I was raised in the context of South America, with strong male biases and with women that are largely raised to be full time moms and dependent on their husband, and a small storm has brewed in my head about the topic. In the end, more and more I see it’s all bull crap and I feel extremely silly about it all.
Try and put yourself in the female perspective here. Does it mean that women’s efforts to have a good career are less valuable than men’s? That they are the only ones that have to put the career aside and miss potential new opportunities and promotions? That the hard work that they put into bringing money into the household and feeling respected and valued by the work they do is less as important than the effort men go through?
Rationally, there are maybe only 2 weeks (actually even less, maybe a month if you really want to stretch it) where the female body is weakened by the process of giving birth, on which males usually take leave to support the initial setting up anyway. But other than that, there is nothing, physiological or physical, that requires me to be the one to be at work while she stays at home. In my case, my partner actually makes more money than me and has more recognition in her work field than I do in mine. We both have opportunities to work part time or remotely. And we can both compromise similar amounts to help raising a child.
What gets on my nerves is that I use the word “compromise” all the time when it comes to re-arranging my professional life to have more time with my children. I’ve been trying to edit this post to not use it, but in the end, it is how my mind still thinks of the situation, and that’s telling. It’s my children, my partner and my family, for heaven’s sake. I shouldn’t be feeling like there’s any loss here. Working less and finding alternative ways to allow me to spend more time with my family is a good thing. And still, why does my brain keep thinking it’s a problem?
Is stepping down from the full-time provider role that problematic for my masculinity? Will I be regarded as less of a man? What does that even mean anyway? Are my kids going to see me as less of a father? And, most importantly, will my penis shrink in size?
This whole thought is so uncomfortable because I come to it as a male and I was trained to think that fathers to a large extent do the “operational” stuff when it comes to children (bring the money in, drive them school, discipline, coach the sports team, protect them from stray bears, do the irresponsible things that are likely to get them injured) while the mother is the one that have the responsibility to raise them and deal with the things that keep them alive (feed, clean, comfort, help with homework, sew them up when the dad hurts them). [Note: I know this is an exaggeration to an extent. But in the motherland of Brazil this is not a distant reality either.] Anything other than this stereotype conflicts with years of children’s books, cartoons and Hollywood movies, and henceforth must not be truth. But in my experience with grown ups, the day to day small stuff is what makes you connect with people, and I can’t see how that would be different with your own children. Being an outside of 9-5pm and weekends dad is what men usually do, depriving themselves from amazing experiences with their little ones.
I have two major opinions about the topic. Here they are.
Opinion #1: I may have it easier when it comes to finding a job opportunity anyway
When I’m looking for a job, should I mention that I plan to review my work schedule once I have children, I believe I probably would have a disadvantage against other male candidates. I have the option to tell my interviewers, and I don’t because I’m scared that it would affect my chances (yay me!). Why would I?
Women don’t have that option. (I’ll refrain to get into any of the other billion problems when it comes to gender bias on hiring here, so let’s stay with just this one for now and remember that this is a small part of a bigger problem.)
Also, if I am that afraid it would affect my chances, I’m probably biased when in the role of the interviewer. Isn’t it being able to grow a beard just great? (No offence to the dudes out there that have difficulty in that department.)
Opinion #2: It doesn’t matter as long as everyone is happy
The whole division of labour thing between women and men in a family is gigantic topic for me to even try to dip my toes into here. But when it comes to children, if you’re arguing someone is the one that do this thing because of the role they are supposed to play and therefore you won’t do it, you’re an idiot. It’s your family. It’s your children. The more time and the more you dedicate yourself to them the better for your partner, your children and you.
Each one will have their life situation, and I’m sure it isn’t up to anyone to judge that. But you either:
- Decide one of you will stay home and the other one goes to work to bring the money in. The two conditions that I think are okay is that first, the woman is not the one that has to stay at home by default. Maybe, for a variety of reasons, everyone is better off is she is the one that gets to go to work everyday. Second, there shouldn’t be any resentment. The whole “I spent the whole day at work, you just stayed at home with the kids and did nothing” is outright wrong. I’ll assume here I don’t have to elaborate further on the whys, but if this is what it is, each one do what they do for the good of the family and no one should be making each other feel guilty about that.
- Both compromise, cut down their hours at work and balance their time working and taking care of the kids equally. Again, things like “I gave up on a huge opportunity for this so you better be appreciative” is no help, and remember you’re doing this together for whatever reason you believe this is the best setup.
- Or you’ll end up somewhere between the situation above.
Whatever is that you think is best, you should be prepared to re-think it along the way too. This is not an annoying distant aunt that will go away in a month and you’ll just have to keep up with a few days more, or an obnoxious colleague you don’t like dealing with. It’s your family. You will live with them everyday. The happiness and professional satisfaction of your wife/girlfriend should be just as important as yours because, you know, it’s your freaking FAMILY and it’s not just about you or your ego. You shouldn’t assume everyone is happy doing what they do just because that’s how people have been doing it since forever.
I still don’t know what to do. I mean, I know I want to balance my working hours so my partner can also have the space to keep developing her career and so I get to spend time with my children. I just don’t know how to feel comfortable about that yet. But whatever comes, I know I’ll pour my heart to it. I’m not a dad yet, but I’m pretty sure this whole family thing supposed to be about love. And, because of that, I know it’s worth pushing through any discomfort I might have about what I think I’m supposed to be as a man, as silly as it can be.