Who’s Lucky: Choices about Primary Parenting

by: Jodi Koslow Martin

An alternate title for this entry is ” What’s Taking So Flipping Long?”  Let me explain.

In 2012, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an article in The Atlantic titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” This article sparked a great deal of debate and dialogue among professional women and was certainly a point of discussion for the founding authors of this blog. Recently, Ms. Slaughter’s spouse, Andrew Moravcsik, added his own entry into the same periodical, which was titled “Why I Put My Wife’s Career First.” As you can guess from the title, it was a personal reflection of the choices that the two-career couple made with respect to the ever elusive balancing act of raising kids and having a meaningful careers.

As you can imagine, this article elicited some strong responses from the women in our group, especially from me. My reaction was this…of course there’s a lead parent! Sometimes, there’s even only one parent. We’ve all known this. It seems as if it’s taking a really long time to finally realize it’s OK if it’s a male lead parent. Like a really long time. And, apparently, it takes a Princeton professor to say, “It’s okay, guys, you’re going to have to give up some things but this, this bond with the kids, ya’ know, you should really try it out.”

This hit home.  My spouse, Mike, recently reduced his schedule at work from full-time to 30 hours a week (nothing too drastic). We’ve made a decision to lessen our income for him to be home with our four-year-old daughter more and to take on more of the household duties. While this was a joint decision, it is worth noting that it was initially his idea. He works in the morning, takes our daughter to pre-school at 12:30, and he’s home when she’s done at 3.

Despite the intentionality of this situation and the collaborative nature of our decision as parents and partners, I find myself thinking I’m lucky. Yes, I am blessed to have enough resources, privilege, and social/cultural capital in life that we can make this choice. Certainly true. But, my feelings of good fortune go beyond our circumstances. Truthfully, I find that I feel lucky to have a spouse willing to do this and I don’t want it to be “lucky.” I want it to be a more widespread and legitimate choice that is considered by many others. If there happens to be two parents involved in a child’s life, shouldn’t there be a joint decision by those parents on how the child is raised, without any judgement from society on the parents’ decision? However, this article indicates that we’re not there yet.

Now, there are glimmers of hope. For example, my spouse recently had a conversation with the 90-year-old widow who owns the company for which he works. The owner said, “I hear you are stepping back a bit.” Curious and cautious at the motivation for this comment, my spouse engaged in the conversation and confirmed the change in his schedule. In response, the company owner offered support for his decision and stated that my spouse is doing exactly what he should be doing as a person and as a parent. His 90 years have taught him that life happens quickly, children grow up fast, and money comes and goes. This type of sentiment has been echoed time and again from other men both inside and outside his company who have been affirming about this change. (As an aside, my father-in-law has been the only one who doesn’t quite understand this decision.) Yet, despite this steady stream of support and the fact that my spouse doesn’t really spend much time thinking about what others think of him, he has been hesitant to be forthcoming about this new work schedule with people. It’s just not really discussed.

My spouse is not the only one in this scenario who has grappled with the implications of this change. Initially, I thought it would make me sad that I’m not the one home more with my daughter. When Mike told me about the conversation with his company owner, I thought I’d wish that I was the one who got to work less. Not so. Not one bit. Nope. I don’t need to be the one in the pick-up line at pre-school. I don’t want to be. I truly believe that my daughter will learn more if her dad is the one getting her and will open her up to a more  equitable model of parenthood. Case in point: she recently told me she wants to be a mom when she grows up. “Oh yeah,” I asked, “What do moms do?” She said they talk on their phones while pushing  strollers and that moms have offices. I’m the only image of mom she knows. No need for me to point out there are “moms” and “working moms.” No one would make distinction for dads. It is high time that this is the norm and not the exception.

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