When comparing stereotypes regarding maternal and paternal parenting styles, the daddy method comes off as a lot more fun. At least by reputation, moms are stern taskmasters and dads are the ones letting the kids wear dinosaur costumes to the supermarket and generally not sweating the small stuff. Popular perceptions like these certainly don't represent all families, but they have enough sway that they're reflected back to us in movies from "Mr. Mom" to "Spanglish," as well as untold commercials for various household items.
In an editorial Thursday in the Morning News, contributing writer Jessica Francis Kane does the perception one better, arguing that the laissez-faire-dad approach should get more play not just because it's more fun but because it'll help moms achieve better balance between work and family. The piece asserts that most dads want more parenting responsibilities, but keep running up against "moms who won't share."
Kane writes that she knows many moms who wish they got more parenting and household help from their partners. "In many cases I think it is the fault of the women themselves. They want their husbands to share equally in all childcare responsibilities, but they also want to be the one, always, the children run to for comfort. I can attest: It is very strange to be a mother in a public setting and have your daughter fall, scrape her knee, and cry for daddy. People turn to look. They really do."
She also paints a picture of moms who doubt their partners' competence and channel frustrated professional ambition into parental micromanagement: "A lot of the mothers I know profess to wanting more help from their husbands in the work of childcare, but then dictate to those husbands exactly what, when, and how things should be done," she writes. "This kind of mother wants help, but she wants to be in control more. She's the CEO of the family, at least for these waiting years while she's the CEO of nothing else."
But, Kane writes, it's that ambition that winds up sabotaging moms' independence: "The woman who ultimately wants to mix work and mothering would do better to delegate sooner. Otherwise it's all too easy for the father to slip into the part of poor, bumbling Dad, who can't even pack the diaper bag."
At the end of the piece, Kane announces the solution to the working-mom conundrum: "In the current mommy wars, it seems to me that women are overlooking an obvious route to realizing their working and mothering goals: giving dads a freer rein. If they forget a diaper now and then, won't the lighter load be worth it?"
On its face, Kane's advice isn't bad (I'm sure there are plenty of families that might benefit from a better balance of parental responsibilities), and it isn't necessarily new (my sainted grandmother has been known to give similar advice). But as a solution to the overhyped mommy wars, I'm a little skeptical of this mommy-blaming approach. Not that there aren't moms who need to learn to delegate. But Kane's advice seems to apply to at-home moms whose partners are around a lot. What about moms whose partners are doing the best they can and the family could still use more help, or even moms who don't have partners to delegate to? It's motivating to focus on the aspects of work/life balance that individuals can control, but the factor most likely to make a difference to parents of all stripes isn't one most families have much say in: employer support for working parents. The "daddy-driven, devil-may-care attitude," as Kane calls it, sounds good, but longer paid maternity and paternity leave, on-site daycare and more flexible hours sound even better.