This discussion isn’t anything new. We moms discuss all this and more: Some women battle with working mom guilt. Others have to weigh whether to sacrifice potential career growth in lieu of being more available for our kids. And more of us struggle to balance motherhood and careers and having it all (as Taiia My Brown Baby writes).
But this isn’t a discussion on staying at home versus working, or who exactly is “raising our kids” when we go back to work, or whether or not we could truly balance motherhood and careers, or even whether we’re really missing out on our kids’ childhoods to begin with.
Instead, I want to talk about the double standard: Why don’t we ask these same questions of dads?
The decision to go back to work or stay at home often falls on the mother’s shoulders, but in this era where women work just as much as men, we still expect men to continue working while women are the ones to decide whether they need to go back to work or stay at home.
Maybe there’s some sort of biological, evolutionary explanation to this. Maybe women are the more nurturing of the gender and therefore would feel more inclined to consider staying at home. Maybe it’s as simple as that.
But whenever I hear moms bemoaning other moms for missing out on their kids’ childhood or pitying working moms because someone else is raising their kids, I wonder about their husbands and think, “Does that mean then that your husbands are missing out on your kids’ childhood?” We don’t tsk tsk when dads work and only see their kids a few hours of the day just as working moms do, yet we create this guilt trap on moms and place the decision on ourselves when maybe we need to start including dads in this equation.
There’s no doubt that someone has to work. Rare is the situation where both parents can avoid working for a few years. Perhaps the next closest arrangement is where both parents work from home and take turns in caring for the kids, as a former coworker of mine did. But more often than not, at least one parent brings in an income.
But why do we assume dads will continue to work regardless of having children or not? Why don’t dads debate whether they should take a sabbatical for a few years, or choose the path of homemaker while mom brings in the bucks? Maybe we’re still too fresh from the generations where dads work and moms stay home. Or maybe it really is that biological makeup that defines genders and drives women to want to be with their kids more so than men.
Nonetheless, we need to do a better job about balancing these expectations nowadays. When moms make a decision to go back to work or not, that discussion needs to include dads too. Maybe we need to discuss how both parents feel about going back to work, and which situation works best for both mom and dad instead of making this a “mom and career” issue.
Thankfully no one has yet to tsk tsk me about my decision to work or wonder how on earth I could be missing out on my toddler’s childhood (hint: I’m not). I’m pretty sure no one has ever wondered the same question of my husband. I actually thought about this topic mostly from reading mom boards, and how easily we pity working moms for missing out on said childhood or burden ourselves with the decision to work or not, as we are the only ones who should be weighing our options. Maybe that’s why we hardly hear about “working dad guilt.”
Before we feel bad for moms missing out on their kids’ childhood, let’s consider whether we would feel just as bad for dads as well.
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