The more things change the more they are the same. Or are they? There are many references to the Millennials in various aspects of social behavior but how are young couples faring with regard to child care and shared household responsibilities? What is happening at home with changes brought by women in the workplace?
One thing new is the reliance on the internet for information about child development and advice about child rearing supposedly based on that information. Grandmother is no longer the source of valued guidance – and often geographically removed as well. A generation raised on Google turns to Google as well as various websites and social media as the voices of authority.
Perhaps the idea that it takes a village has been reenacted in a new way through internet exchanges and the widespread dissemination of new research leading to new prescriptions for child-rearing. The result is a homogeneity of ideas about the “right” way to handle various aspects of development. A second result is confusion and anxiety because of the changing prescriptions for the “right” way growing out of whatever appears to be the latest research or “expert” opinion.
Parents are invested in finding the “right” way, more so than in past times. One reason may be because of the large numbers of mothers in the workplace, out of the home and reliant upon fathers and “nannies”, baby sitters, or daycare for child care. Parents worry about children being deprived in some way by a mother’s absence leading to an explosion of various kinds of group experiences for very young children.
There are mixed results for the goal of fathers sharing child-care and household responsibilities. Younger fathers are more amenable to the idea of shared responsibilities but the practice may vary from the goal. It is obvious that fathers are more involved with their children much to everyone’s benefit. One sees more fathers in the park, often running while even young children keep up on their scooters. They can also be seen running while pushing a baby carriage. Many new ideas about how to parent.
Sharing in doing the dishes or washing the floor may be another matter. The ideal has been 50/50 – rarely realized. What sometimes happens is a compromise enabling each partner to do what feels like a fair share. On the other hand, many women report that they still carry the full load of children and household while working full time out of the home.
Some fathers feel excluded in various ways because of mothers’ behavior. Women may not realize that despite the changes in their lives they still have an investment in being primary in child care and some household chores. Fathers have expressed the feeling of having been told by their wives that they were not doing things the right way – meaning mothers’ way. Fathers do things differently, which is to the child’s benefit.
While women to a great extent have freed themselves from an ordained role of the past, emotionally and culturally they are invested in caring for their children. Motherhood has been politicized to the extent that anything seeming to point to a child’s need for a mother’s care, particularly in the first years of life is taken – and often is intended – to keep women at home and out of the workplace.
Women who value their work opportunities feel threatened and guilty by attempts based on research to point to mothers’ absence as the cause of various problems in children. But the fact is that children need nurturing care, especially in the first years of life. It is the politicization of the issue that has prevented a serious attempt to mandate on the national level adequate paid maternity leave and quality day care.
That many women no longer devote full time to child care is new. Their feelings about this and the attitude of others is old.