Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Roles and responsibilities

I get along pretty well by taking things one day at time. But then I'm not too hung up about being a good father at this stage. Let's face it, the bar's not set that high yet for fathers of young children. Some score points just for sticking around. Most get nods of approval for remembering to bring the kid's snack along to the park. I'm committed to being fully engaged right from the start, which I hope one day will be the norm, but it's not yet.

Traditionally, a man's responsibilities have started later. The father was responsible for preparing the speaking, thinking child (usually boy)to succeed and even thrive in the outside world - the public sphere. And men are still quite hung up about this burden of responsibility. But what men didn't realize or care to think about was that preparation for the outside world begins long before a child's first words. I remember Chloe's first days in daycare and the reassurance and self-confidence she needed to interact with a room full of children.

Whereas men have the luxury of exploring their new roles as fathers with a sense of awe and curiosity, a mother is burdened with the weight of generations of expectations right from the moment her child breathes its first breath. Mothers are "supposed" to know what they're doing. Its supposed to come "naturally." Their mothers and mother-in-laws did it - with more kids and with fathers who didn't get parental leave.

I think we need to remind mothers today that the times have changed in a lot of ways. Yes, "they" did it (and went through a lot of grief in the process, I'm sure, although memory is beautifully selective). But they also had more support. Families lived closer together. Raising young children was a responsibility shared by mothers, sisters, grandmothers. A mother of a new baby benefited from the wisdom and experience of the other mothers that surrounded her.

But what was isn't anymore, which is why men take parental leave, and why women need more of that kind of support at home. Society has adjusted to changing circumstances. And if it hadn't, it's my belief that our birthrate would have fallen off a cliff by now. As it stands, it's actually starting to improve.

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