Should dads lay off baby care?

One hates to be cynical, but I often cringe when I see an article that begins with the words: “Psychologists have found…” Usually, they have found something that wasn’t lost. Or else they find something that works for some people, but not for others, or for some people some of the time, but not at other times. That’s not a discovery; that’s the breadth and scope of human experience.

“Men should concentrate on playing with their children and leave the care to women” the London Telegraph heading announces.

It’s enough to raise the ire of feminists and traditionalist moms alike. It does not resonate with my own experience, nor with the experience of countless families that I know.

Psychologists have found that couples have a stronger, more supportive relationship when the father spends more time playing with their child and less time feeding or bathing them.

That sounds more like male “I’d rather watch the game, Honey” wishful-thinking than science. The study involved couples from a variety of educational and socio-economic backgrounds, but there were only 112 couples, which doesn’t sound like a terribly large sample. Also, neither religious nor cultural affiliation were mentioned as factors, both of which had the potential to affect the results. It’s a bit pointless to talk about ‘traditional’ roles when you’re not saying whose tradition it’s based on.

The findings suggest that traditional roles work best and that a man who insists on helping with the baby care actually undermines his wife's efforts.

I have never felt undermined, only grateful, when my husband changed diapers, supervised bath-time, or spoon-fed Baby her pureed fruit.

For us (as for many Late-Boomer, Gen X or younger parents), baby care was an entirely new adventure; we had to learn together “from scratch”. We were geographically removed from our extended families and had to rely on information from the health care system, friends, magazines, and long-distance calls to parents and older siblings. Without even discussing it, the only jobs we agreed would be entirely gender-based were breastfeeding (hers) and wage-earning (his). Because I was home full-time, naturally a greater percentage of daily care was done by me, but there was never a sense that it was Mum’s job to wipe bottoms, and Dad’s to play peek-a-boo.

Study co-author Professor Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan of Ohio State University says:

The results fit into her other work, which has found that mothers can act as "gatekeepers" to their children, either fostering or restricting how much fathers are involved in caring.

"There might be some ambivalence on the part of mothers in allowing fathers to participate in day-to-day child care"...

Good grief. Show me a Mum who’s ambivalent about “allowing” Dad to take over the toddler’s evening bath so she can put her feet up for a few minutes. Frankly, I’ve never met one.

Professor Schoppe-Sullivan said the study was "disappointing for people who believe mothers and fathers should share equally in the care of their children" -- including herself, from the sound of things -- but it "shows that there is not just one way to share parenting duties."

"I don't think this means that for every family, a father being involved in caregiving is a bad thing," she said.

"But it is not the recipe for all couples

"You can certainly have a solid co-parenting relationship without sharing caregiving responsibilities equally."

In other words, shared caregiving works for some couples, but not necessarily for others, and there are many ways for a family to be happy.

No need to shout “Eureka!” here.


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