Re­lax. Dad’s got this.

The so­lu­tion to work­ing moms’ woes? Let fathers step up, says Anne-Marie Slaugh­ter.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Twit­ter: @Slaugh­terAM Anne-Marie Slaugh­ter is pres­i­dent and CEO of New Amer­ica. Her book “Un­fin­ished Busi­ness: Women, Men, Work, Fam­ily” will be pub­lished by Ran­dom House in Septem­ber.

Work­ing moth­ers to­day are the tar­gets of an en­tire in­dus­try of books, mag­a­zines and ad­vice col­umns on how to bal­ance work and fam­ily, com­plete with com­pet­ing stud­ies as to whether cou­ples in which hus­bands help more with house­work have more or less sex. For­get the rar­i­fied world of the chief ex­ec­u­tives who need to travel fre­quently and make them­selves avail­able con­stantly for clients or crises; a far larger group of women sim­ply want to ad­vance in their ca­reers at a steady pace — at least keep­ing up with the men in their of­fices— with­out feel­ing over­whelmed by du­el­ing de­mands at home.

But all that coun­sel only goes so far: Even when their hus­bands fully share the house­work and child care, it doesn’t help re­duce the stress that so many women say re­sults from the equiv­a­lent of two full-time jobs. The big­gest prob­lem is that Mom re­mains “the des­ig­nated wor­rier” in most house­holds, as Ju­dith Shule­vitz wrote on Mother’s Day. “Moth­ers draft the to-do lists while fathers pick and choose among the items.” The psy­cho­log­i­cal toll of al­ways be­ing re­spon­si­ble can knock a woman “part­way or clean off a ca­reer path.”

There’s a sim­ple fix for that anx­i­ety, though: Don’t just ask men to do more work at home. Put them in charge.

Call it the fem­i­nism of em­pow­ered dads.

“Want to open the board­room doors for women? En­cour­age— heck, praise— dads who stay home with their chil­dren.” The man who made that ap­peal in 2013 is Conor Wil­liams, an early-ed­u­ca­tion ex­pert at New Amer­ica who spent sev­eral years as the pri­mary care­taker for his young son and daugh­ter. That al­lowed his wife to run projects for a non­profit in prepa­ra­tion for busi­ness school, thereby tak­ing the first step on that path to the board­room.

Fe­male lead­ers have as­cended thanks to this model. Bloomberg News’s Carol Hy­mowitz re­searched the 18 fe­male chief ex­ec­u­tives of For­tune 500 com­pa­nies in 2012 and found that al­most half had or once had full-time pri­mary-care­giver hus­bands. Oth­ers had hus­bands whose flex­i­ble ca­reers al­lowed them to an­chor the home front— the kind of jobs still known in many quar­ters as “mommy track” ca­reer paths. These women had fig­ured out, Hy­mowitz con­cluded, “what ev­ery man with a cor­ner of­fice has long known: To make it to the top, you need a wife. If that wife hap­pens to be a hus­band, and in­creas­ingly it is, so be it.”

My hus­band is a distin­guished pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional af­fairs but is also the lead par­ent — the one who can ad­just his work sched­ule to be avail­able for teach­ers’ con­fer­ences, home­work projects or mu­sic lessons. This hap­pens to be a par­tic­u­larly up­per-mid­dle-class prob­lem, with par­tic­u­larly up­per-mid­dle-class so­lu­tions, and we are for­tu­nate enough to be able to pay for a full-time (and in­dis­pens­able) house­keeper. But still, I could not do what I do with­out Andy tak­ing the lead on what hap­pens at home.

Yet this is not a role that the hus­bands of work­ing women have been ea­ger, so far, to grab for them­selves en masse. Shule­vitz points to bi­ol­ogy, ar­gu­ing that women are just evo­lu­tion­ar­ily con­di­tioned to worry more about their chil­dren. But the ev­i­dence from the an­i­mal king­dom and from neu­ro­science is equiv­o­cal at best. And “bi­ol­ogy” is what his­tor­i­cally con­fined women to roles as wives and moth­ers rather than lawyers and neu­ro­sur­geons. Same-sex cou­ples also chal­lenge our pre­con­cep­tions of “nat­u­ral” roles. Bi­ol­ogy is mu­ta­ble; the more we know about the plas­tic­ity of brains, the more we re­al­ize the ex­tent to which nur­ture ac­tu­ally shapes na­ture.

For men to take charge, how­ever, women have to be will­ing to step aside, de­spite all the cul­tural ex­pec­ta­tions that we’ll run the home front no mat­ter what. Andy and I have, af­ter some de­bate, come to an un­der­stand­ing that if he’s the lead par­ent, he gets to call the shots about sched­ules, how things are or­ga­nized (I can never find any­thing in our kitchen), the pun­ish­ments to mete out when the kids break the rules and myr­iad other par­ent­ing de­ci­sions. I don’t like it. But he says that if I want to change it, I can stop trav­el­ing as much as I do and fo­cus less on run­ning things in my of­fice. Oth­er­wise, he’s not about to be mi­cro­man­aged.

For many women, no mat­ter how stressed they are, this is a hard step. When I speak to women’s groups, I de­scribe the fol­low­ing sce­nario. You walk into your of­fice, and your boss says: “I am bi­o­log­i­cally bet­ter at this, but I think you can do this job if I mi­cro­man­age you enough, leav­ing you long lists of what needs to be done and call­ing in ev­ery hour or two to make sure you are ac­tu­ally do­ing what you are sup­posed to be.” Part­way through, rip­ples of laugh­ter be­gin to spread through the au­di­ence; the women rec­og­nize that I am de­scrib­ing how most of us treat our hus­bands. Some heads nod, but in the ques­tion-and-an­swer pe­riod, some­one will al­ways raise her hand and say that her hus­band re­ally can’t do it. He can’t mul­ti­task. He’ll for­get which child has to be where, when. He’ll just or­der pizza for din­ner.

Maybe. But we don’t know un­til we try. Men run of­fices with many mov­ing parts; they over­see mil­i­tary camps and bases that pro­vide food, health care and other ser­vices for thou­sands of sol­diers; they pro­duce movies and com­plex en­ter­tain­ment spec­ta­cles. When I was grow­ing up, many women never imag­ined that their hus­bands could cook; now men com­pare stoves the way they com­pare cars. They­may have dif­fer­ent ways of par­ent­ing and or­ga­niz­ing a house­hold, but women should be the last peo­ple to say that dif­fer­ent is wrong.

Men seem ready. We know from a Pew­study on mod­ern par­ent­hood in 2013 and a study by the Fam­i­lies and Work In­sti­tute a year later on “the new male mys­tique” that men and women now feel roughly the same level of work-fam­ily stress when they have chil­dren athome. Nearly the same per­cent­age — 52 per­cent of moth­ers and 48 per­cent of fathers, ac­cord­ing to the Pew sur­vey — said that “they would pre­fer to be home­with their chil­dren but they­have to work

For men to take charge, women have to be will­ing to step aside, de­spite cul­tural ex­pec­ta­tions.

be­cause they need the in­come.” Would men re­sist be­com­ing lead par­ents if it meant their wives could bring in more money and they could spend more time with their chil­dren?

We don’t re­ally know. Men aren’t broughtup to seek roles be­yond bread­win­ning, much less act on those de­sires. Once, we didn’t re­ally know what women wanted, ei­ther; in the early days of the women’s move­ment, many peo­ple in­sisted that women did not ac­tu­ally as­pire to be pro­fes­sion­als — that they were happy at home and “didn’t want to wear the pants in the fam­ily.”

Men who pre­fer to do more at home still con­front an out­dated im­age of mas­culin­ity — from women and from other men. “Most def­i­ni­tions of mas­culin­ity,” Conor Wil­liams writes, “can ac­com­mo­date shirts soaked with sweat, blood, or am­bigu­ous grime . . . but not ap­ple­sauce.” He de­scribes the “emas­cu­lat­ing ridicule” he and his fel­low dads of­ten face from women at the play­ground. But he sees him­self as “some­one whose ver­sion of mas­culin­ity in­cludes shoul­der­ing the bulk of our fam­ily’s child­care.” With good rea­son, he also sees him­self as a true fem­i­nist.

Men like Wil­liams are se­cure enough in their mas­culin­ity to chal­lenge stereo­types. It is the bread­win­ning wives, whether sole or co-bread win­ners, who are of­ten more un­com­fort­able than their hus­bands. A lot of suc­cess­ful women are still slightly em­bar­rassed to have a stay-at-home spouse, as Vivia Chen noted in Time mag­a­zine in 2013. High-rank­ing part­ners in big law firms whose hus­bands have pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity for the kids will say that their spouses also do some vaguely ex­plained work on the side, Chen re­ports. And in all the women’s lead­er­ship con­fer­ences I have at­tended, I have never once heard a panel on the es­sen­tial role of a lead-par­ent spouse in mak­ing it to the top.

Liam Robb O’Ha­gan, who’s mar­ried to Equinox chief ex­ec­u­tive Sarah Robb O’Ha­gan and is the pri­mary care­giver for their three kids, is thought­ful on this point as well. “Since I quit paid em­ploy­ment,” he writes, “I’m pretty sure I’ve filled in a few forms us­ing the term ‘un­em­ployed’ in­stead of stay-at-home dad. Which, when I think about it, it is quite strange. It speaks to how much what you do de­fines you as a man.”

Fem­i­nists ofmy gen­er­a­tion and the mil­lions of younger women who were raised to be­lieve they could break ev­ery glass ceil­ing in sight feel the same way: We should be de­fined pri­mar­ily by what we do, which is why de­cid­ing to stay home and give up that com­fort­ing pro­fes­sional iden­tity is so hard. The an­swer, for both women and men, is to make clear that par­ent­ing is just as hard and im­por­tant as an in­come-gen­er­at­ing pro­fes­sion — and to al­low men and women to be in charge equally in what­ever sphere they are in.

That, ul­ti­mately, may re­quire moms to give some­thing up, too. I re­mem­ber the first time one of our sons woke up in the night and called for Daddy in­stead of Mommy. My first re­ac­tion, to put it po­litely, was deep dis­may. I’m his

mother. Kids are sup­posed to call for their moth­ers.

If I’m hon­est, how­ever, the hard­est emo­tion to work through at that mo­ment was less guilt than envy. Even with all the re­wards of my ca­reer, I would still like for our sons to call for me first. As the psy­chi­a­trist An­dras Angyal wrote: “We our­selves want to be needed. We do not only have needs, we are also strongly mo­ti­vated by need­ed­ness.” But some­thing has to give. I am deeply in­volved in my chil­dren’s lives while be­ing able to pur­sue my ca­reer am­bi­tions— on a slower track than if we didn’t have chil­dren, but fast enough for me. That’s enough.

Be­ing in charge means be­ing the in­dis­pens­able one chil­dren rely on and turn to. And it means im­pos­ing your pri­or­i­ties and ar­rang­ing things your way. But if women can­not let go, we can­not ever make it to the top in the same num­bers that men do, much less cre­ate a so­ci­ety that sup­ports all women and men in car­ing roles. We have to share the home in the same way we are de­mand­ing that men share the of­fice. Women and men will have to ac­cept and in­deed value a loos­en­ing of male gen­der roles, just as we have ac­cepted and come to value work­ing women, who once were seen as deeply mas­cu­line.

Real equal­ity, for our part­ners and for us, hangs in the bal­ance. This Fa­ther’s Day, let’s take a hard look at our­selves and our ex­pec­ta­tions, and give it up for Dad.


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