Disclaimer: This post covers a topic that may be controversial to some people. The ideas expressed are shear generalizations about gender roles, both past and present, rather than absolutes. I understand every family is unique in not only their approach to earning income, but raising their family. The purpose of this post is to highlight the wonderful role of fatherhood. Please keep an open mind as you read along.
There’s a lot of buzz going around right now about how hard moms have it. Whether you are a homeschooling mom or you slug it out in a corporate job 60 hours a week, motherhood can be physically, emotionally and psychologically draining. The exhaustion, the tantrums, the constant cleaning, the carting around to various activities. I think every mom wonders if only I had more help or if only we had more income life as a parent would be easier.
I am all about supporting my fellow moms. As a MSAHM (mostly stay-at-home mom), our house is a fairly traditional home where my husband works long hours and I take care of the kids and “the household.” And I emphasize the household because that piece encompasses a lot of random responsibilities!
As our family is growing, I often wonder about gender roles 50 years ago and how moms must have felt about their duties in an era where they didn’t have a lot of choices. And I wonder how moms survived without reading social media articles about how other moms were struggling too or where they found information about budgeting, cooking, disciplining and how to get stains out of clothes.
These ideas about what mothers struggled with years ago turned on a light switch in my head about how gender roles have evolved so rapidly.
About a year ago, my husband and I were talking about our roles as parents. I’m pretty sure it started because I was complaining about how much I hate doing dishes and I wish he would help out more (as most conversations do). After agreeably finishing the dishes, we had a candid conversation about how fatherhood looks very different than it did 50 years ago. Because 50 years ago the dad wouldn’t be standing in the kitchen arguing about dishes. He would be sitting on the sofa with a scotch reading the newspaper while mom cleaned up the kitchen by herself.
The conversation continued on and I vividly remember my husband saying, “Well, according to my older peers at work, fathers have it so much harder these days.” At the time I felt very offended and insecure. It was as if he was saying, you don’t have it so bad; stop complaining.
But the more I thought about it, as hard as it is to admit, he’s right.
In the 1950s, gender roles were clearly defined. Fathers were the breadwinners whose sole responsibility was earning money for the family. Maybe they cut the grass or took out the trash, but for the most part, they probably just earned a check and came home to relax. Mothers on the other hand, took on almost all other responsibilities. Should I name them? Child rearing, dishes, cleaning, organizing, bills, driving, scheduling appointments, hiring/firing household workers, making family decisions/plans…
They probably didn’t have the option to ask their husband to finish the dishes because they were tired or their ankles were swollen. They performed their job as if it was a paid job and there was no one else to replace them.
In today’s society, the majority of working dads come home from stressful jobs to enter a different, yet equally stressful situation. They walk into our most stressful part of the day — the witching hour — the point of the day where you hand over the baby and say, “Here you go” or “Your turn for bath tonight.”
When we just had one child, my husband would go upstairs and leisurely change his clothes before joining us for whatever bedtime activity we were doing. Now with two kids, he can barely take his shoes off before he trips over the toys and walks into a bathroom full of screaming girls. He has no down time after his long day.
He is forced to immediately shift gears from corporate work to domestic work.
And while he has the choice between helping with bedtime routines or taking time to himself, he chooses to help. He chooses to do the dishes. He chooses to ask me how my day was even if he doesn’t want to hear the real answer. He chooses to help because we are a team and he knows that the faster we can get our kids to bed and finish the chores, the faster we can relax and reconnect.
This is why I’m grateful for modern dads despite all of the buzz about how living into today’s society is so hard. Yes, we have our own set of challenges with social media and extreme political views, but I would rather have those challenges and have a spouse that shares some responsibilities with me.
One of our fellow contributors wrote about her personal journey with parent gender roles in her home. It seems that most families are taking on a more blended responsibility approach rather than a cut and dry list. While I think it is very important to have a candid conversation about what each parent is willing to do, it is equally important to show gratitude to one another.
History can only teach us what is possible. It doesn’t have to define who we are as male and female. At the end of long day (or night), I think showing appreciation and empathy for one another can only bring us closer to each other as parents and as a society. I’m grateful to live in an era where my voice is heard. Even if I feel bitter and resentful that I’m dog tired and stressed out, I know that my spouse is probably as equally tired and stressed out.