Do mothers still want to rule the roost?

"I, too, have been guilty of maternal chauvinism"

By Salon Staff

Published June 16, 2000 7:25PM (EDT)

The mama lion at the gate BY CATHY YOUNG (06/12/00)

I, too, have been guilty of maternal chauvinism. My husband, a highly competent professional person, is a hands-on parent who has been a full partner in raising our two sons, aged four and one; yet I still sometimes catch myself assuming that he really can't handle a crying baby in the middle of the night. It has taken a lot of willpower to give him his fair share of the kids, but the reward has been more free time (sleep!) for me and closer relationships between Dad and sons. The only parenting issues he couldn't handle were pregnancy, giving birth and breastfeeding! Hospital workers, caregivers at day care, and the media also assume that only moms can REALLY care for their children, and thereby contribute to the problem. It's infuriating. By the way, as most parents know, babies' first word is usually Da-da, NOT Ma-ma. The Oxygen people could learn something from that ...

-- Karen Kasper

There's another aspect to gatekeeping which is less talked-about, but which may lie closer to the real feelings behind the petty objections: Women fear that, through inattention, lowered risk aversion or poor judgement (Should a 3-year-old be left unsupervised in the bath? Should a 9-year-old be allowed to climb a rock pile?) Dad will actually kill the child. In 1994, a 28-year-old father in Albany, NY, forgot that he was supposed to drop his baby off at day care on his way to work. Instead, he drove to work, parked the car and left the baby, forgotten, in the car under the summer sun, all day. The baby died. This news story sent a frisson down the spines of a lot of mothers I know. Justifiably or not, many of them recognized their husbands in the man who dismissed his infant child from his mind as easily as a spare umbrella. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the U.S., "preventable injury" is the leading cause of death for all children between the ages of one to 19. On some level, parents seem to recognize this risk. Even seemingly nitpicking criticism ultimately harks back to it: "He never makes the children take a sweater with them when they go out at night; he plays too roughly with the baby." In some couples the father is the more cautious parent, but often it's Mom who, spurred by (probably) unconscious motivation, controls the parent-child relationship in order to keep the child safe.

-- Ellen Hoch

Despite all the hype about the importance of fathers it is not clear to me that men have some absolutely crucial contribution to make to child rearing. Rather than fantasizing about egalitarian parenting, mothers would serve themselves better by demanding proper recognition as the primary parent.

-- Kyle Bozeman

This is a fantastic and necessary article. Cathy Young errs only in her observation that conservatives do not care about the maternal chauvinism issue because they believe that motherhood will always separate men and women and that women should be primary caregivers. Conservatives have been at the forefront of the movement calling for greater involvement of fathers in children's lives, and more social respect for the institution of fatherhood. It was center-right circles that highlighted the devastating plague of fatherlessness now haunting much of American society, with its long-term social effects of greater youth violence and teen pregnancy. Sociological and psychological research suggests that fathers contribute to the psychological development of children in ways that mothers can not (and vice versa). That is why children benefit from two-parent households. Conservatives do, of course, argue that the left was wrong to believe that women "could have it all." Tradeoffs always occur, as much as "working mothers" (and fathers) wish to avoid facing that fact. One -- or both -- areas of life inevitably suffers. We also particularly object to the social stigmatization of mothers who do decide to stay home with their children. Such women are viewed by current American culture as either oppressed or idiots who couldn't make it in the working world. Just the term "working mother" is a sly insult -- as if stay-at-home mothers did not work. In fact, raising children is the most difficult -- and most socially important -- work there is. The U.S. would only benefit from this realization.

-- Bryant Trick

Ah, so you've uncovered one of the dirtiest secrets of women who want it all!! How many times have I told a friend that my husband was "useless" at washing a dish or scrubbing a floor? How many times have I watched as my husband comforted our beloved son, simply waiting until David was handed back to me for "real" comforting? (I must have thought that because I was nursing, it made me uniquely qualified to soothe David's mood.) It seems that co-parenting acknowledges two things: One, that maternal and paternal roles are equally valuable. Two, that these roles do not have to be identical to one another. Children, though, are smart enough to realize this at a very young age, thank heavens. I intend to e-mail this article to all of my female friends. And I will be waiting for my husband's return from home tonight with this article in hand, and a sincere apology. Co-parenting is so much more enriching than one-sided parenting. I look forward to many more years of it.

-- Alison Ziskind

Salon Staff

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