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Sharing the Mother Load

Psychologist, William James, said: “If you want a quality [including equality in marriage], act as if you already had it.”

Men and women hold assumptions about masculine and feminine ideals, including as parents, and those assumptions translate into the ways they respond to one another. As men and women marry and/or become parents, they tend to adopt more traditional gender roles with each transition, even among the most egalitarian couples. And as these roles become clearly defined, many men accept the cultural script that mothers have innate understanding, knowledge and skills for raising children. Accepting this myth means they may subsequently become more distant from the day-to-day parenting role and therefore the parent/child relationship making mom the default parent.

Likewise, "What has happened is that middle-class families now follow the norm of “intensive parenting,” which dictates that parenting should be child-centered, guided by expert advice and costly in terms of time, money and emotional investment in order to produce the most successful child possible.... This pressure to parent intensively does not fall equally on middle-class mothers and fathers, however. Because motherhood remains an idealized role, it is mothers who experience the greatest pressure to meet these unrealistic parenting standards. Mothers who feel intense pressure to invest heavily in their children may also be reluctant to give up control over parenting. What ends up happening is that fathers spend less time in sole charge of their children. Research on parenting time shows that women are in sole charge of their children for nearly one-third of their time whereas men only for about 8 percent of their time. Thus, even fathers who are highly involved co-parents may experience parenting primarily in the company of children’s mothers and more rarely on their own."

The effect is a detached father and a resentful mother, neither of which benefits their mental health, the child or the marriage. Moms and dads need to engage in thoughtful conversation about how their gender expectations shape their reactions to situations. Fathers can get involved by getting their hands dirty. Practice builds confidence and connection. And fatherhood benefits a child's future in unique and powerful ways.

Read more: Mothers need to view the role of parenting as a dual role, instead of their primary role, where fathers are less able, or of secondary importance. So approach this in a way that reinforces what you want. "Hey honey. I have realized that I've been taking away your opportunity to bond with our daughter and get comfortable with fatherhood. Starting tomorrow, I'd like to do it differently. Let's come up with a schedule that balances meeting Baby's needs with our work responsibilities and our personal needs- a team approach. That way we can both get to know her more and help each other out as new parents."


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