My boyfriend has been told he’s going to be “such a great dad” after doing such difficult tasks as standing well near a child. Meanwhile, I started babysitting other kids when I was 11, and I can’t tell you the last time someone used that as a qualifier for my potential to be “such a great mom.” These types of parenting double standards are so common we often don’t think twice about them.
Parenting roles and responsibilities are, in fact, evolving. According to a 2015 Pew study, in 46 percent of two-parent households, both parents work full-time. That number is up from 31 percent in 1970. The number of two-parent households with dads who work full-time and stay-at-home moms has decreased to 26 percent (it was 46 percent in 1970); however, this is still significantly more common than the six percent of (heterosexual) households in which the mother works full-time and the father either works part-time or stays at home.
Despite these actual shifts in parenting roles, perceptions about parents’ responsibilities are still often rooted in sexist stereotypes. These assumptions about gender roles are harmful to everyone regardless of gender. Also, they often don’t reflect reality, as shows in the study above. If we want to work toward become a more equal society, both in perception and reality, here are 7 parenting double standards we need to stop perpetuating.
(Note: These double standards are all very cis- and heteronormative, as most stereotypes regarding gender roles tend to be. So, there are the first few strikes against them right off of the bat: Every parent that exists is not straight, cis, and married. In fact, one study suggests gay parents are better than straight parents. Take that, heteronormativity.)
1. Expectations on Wanting Children
Stereotypically, men are asked if they want kids and women are asked when they want kids. By this mentality, parenthood is a responsibility women are assumed to want and one men have the option to opt out of.
Overall, a desire to have kids is still the norm, regardless of gender. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, more than nine in 10 adults want to have kids, plan to have kids, or wish they’d had kids. Five percent of adults don’t want to have kids. Chances are good that five percent is not solely comprised of men. And statistically-speaking, it’s impossible for every American male to fall into that category. Yet the assumption still remains that men want to have kids less often than women do.
However, in a series of surveys conducted by Match.com, male respondents were more likely to say they wanted to have children. Among respondents in the 21-to-34 age group, 51 percent of men and 46 percent of women said they want kids. Just one example of societal perceptions about parenting not being caught up to societal realities.
2. The Idea That "Biological Clocks" Only Affect Women
The notion of the ticking biological clock is often associated with women. However, men also have a biological clock. Some studies even suggest that certain genetic conditions in offspring might be more closely linked to the father’s age than the mother’s.
"Biological clocks" haven’t always been linked to fertility. The Washington Post cites the first known media reference to a woman’s biological clock in 1978. Prior to that, a person’s "biological clock" primarily referred to rhythms like sleeping patterns. The piece in 1978 came as a response to the increase of women in the workforce and the more widespread availability of birth control. The title of the piece was The Clock is Ticking for the Career Woman. Essentially, the idea of the female biological clock was introduced to "warn" women who had postponed childbirth to focus on their careers.
Yes, there are biological differences in fertility among genders (i.e. having a set number of eggs versus sperm being made every 90 days). However, that “set number of eggs” is roughly a million. "Biological clocks" are more a reflection on gender role stereotypes than biological differences.
3. Assumptions About Who Will Be the Primary Caregiver
To recap the initial Pew study mentioned above: in almost half of two-parent households, both parents hold full-time jobs. While the study cites significantly more stay-at-home moms than stay-at-home dads, parenting roles are converging.
A 2011 Pew study on parenting roles found gaps in how mothers and father spend their time is shrinking. They’re still pretty wide, but they are headed in a more egalitarian direction. Mothers spend roughly 60 percent of their time on household work or childcare each week. Father spend about 31 percent of their time doing the same. Those numbers have changed significantly since 1965, when mothers spent 85 percent of their week on housework and childcare. Hours fathers spend on childcare more than doubled from five percent of time in 1965 to almost 13 percent in 2011.
However, societal expectations have yet to catch up to reality. The same Pew study found the majority of people (84 percent) think the ideal situation is for a mother to be working either part-time or not at all. So, despite actual numbers, the public would prefer mothers spend most of their time at home.
4. Questions About “Managing” Work/Life Balance
The pressure to "have it all" is stereotypically higher for women. Look at any red carpet event with a female celebrity who recently had a baby, and count the number of times she’s asked how she "manages to be a mom and have a job." That expectation is just not as high for new fathers.
The United States is still far behind when it comes to paid parental leave for either parent. In a survey of 41 major countries, the US is the only nation that didn’t mandate paid parental leave. Out of the 193 countries in the United Nations, only a handful don’t laws that require paid parental leave: the United States is one of them.
Balancing a career and a family is a reality for both parents when parental leave isn’t a given. However, the societal onus often falls on the mother to manage it.
5. Referring to Dads “Babysitting” Their Own Children
Recently, Matt Damon joked that Ben Affleck is "Mr. Mom-ing it" as the primary caregiver while Jennifer Garner, Affleck’s co-parent, is working. It’s so crazy how we don’t have word for men who have kids, and we have to resort to adding a masculine title to an obviously female role! (A dad. The word you are looking for is "dad." "Mr. Mom" is just a dad.)
This blog on Huffington Post puts into words the frustration of disassociating men from a caregiving role through gendered rhetoric: “Calling a dad a ‘babysitter’ serves to devalue the role that fathers play in their children’s lives, which is just as important as the role mothers can play.”
There is also the double standard that having a husband who pitches in around the house is "lucky" and not as assumed dividing of responsibilities.
6. Mothers Being Scrutinized Where Fathers are Praised
A bumbling dad who doesn’t know what to feed a baby is the plot of at least five different family sitcoms. However, movies like Bad Moms, where women reject gender roles, are seen as anomalies instead of dramatized reflections on changing parental roles.
One mom, Constance Hall, noticed how double standards are even present when changing a diaper. While at restaurant, Hall found there wasn’t a changing table in a bathroom. So, she resorted to changing her child’s diaper in the grass away from the table. (The restaurant was outside in a park.) She was then scolded by another patron who preferred she not change a diaper in public. The following weekend, a similar situation occurred: Hall’s child needed a diaper change, and it needed to be done outside the grass. This time, her husband changed the diaper outside and was met with coos from passersby who commented on what a "good dad" he is. Here’s what Hall had to say in her Facebook post about the difference in how she and her husband were received for doing the same thing:
“I didn't think much of it because I am used to it. I am used to being scrutinized for jobs that my husband is praised for. I am used to picking the kids up from school to judgmental looks about being late, while Bill is used to a red f-ing carpet and a 12 piece band praising him for his heroic appearance at school pick up. That's the way we as a society are, we place so much pressure on women to be perfect and selfless while putting low parenting expectations on men.”
7. Being a Good Dad is Novel, Being a Good Mom is Expected
Knowing the ins and outs of motherhood is thought to be hardwired into a woman’s psyche in a way that fatherhood isn’t expected in men. As one writer for Momtastic puts it, “As a woman and a mother, I’m here to tell you that there is zero knowledge about parenting that women are just born with. Parenting is a skill you learn with time and trial.”
The author goes on to say how cooing over dads spending time with their kids perpetuates the stereotype that “it’s out of the ordinary for a man to be caring for his child.” She cites viral videos where a dad is doing normal parent things as creating a dichotomy in what’s expected fathers versus mothers.