Challenge the status quo: we need a new image of success and dads

TEDxBerlin stage

Let me start by making one thing clear: I’m a big fan of equality and equal opportunities. People, no matter their gender, race, (sexual) preferences, religion or whatever trait makes them distinguishable from another person, have a right to live, love and be happy. Period.

Now, this would make a very short blog post, and not more than a statement of the to me obvious. And, I can already reveal, this will be not a short blog post. Today, I saw a talk at TEDxBerlin which triggered this post. The talk was about mothers and work-life balance – to reduce it to the most simple explanation. Now, this talk was based on extensive research, and the speaker did her work very well. Only, she based it on false propositions. Basically, and again reducing this respected work to its simplest incarnation, the message was that it is unfair that women have to give up their career when a couple becomes parents, and that this should change.

Of course, the research behind this talk, good research, shows that this is indeed a problem. A problem we need to change. But one of the solutions, more or less jokingly, offered, was that men should do the dishes more often. This, to speak with another TEDxBerlin speaker of today, is bullshit. It is exactly ‘solutions’ like this that are part of the problem of unequal opportunity. Men should not do the dishes more often, couples (whether opposite-sex or same-sex couples, that doesn’t really matter) should figure out together how to deal in the best way with the new situation. How can both parents share fairly the joys of gratifying work and parenting? That is the question that matters. Surely, finances play a role, and in societies where men earn more for the same work than women do, it might turn out that men go to work, and women stay at home. But, that is a different problem, which also should be addressed: the problem of gender-based unequal pay. Mind you, I don’t have a problem with unequal pay, when it’s talent-based. Someone who does the job better than another person, should earn more. Simple. Because the job is better done. Not because that person is a man. But, I digress. Back to the families.

There is a deeper issue at play here. And that is the issue of the image of living a fruitful life that we have painted in the capitalist cultures. This image holds that to lead a fruitful and successful life, you need to be well educated, have a good paying job, and a career that brings you ever closer to the job of CEO. With this image of successful and fruitful lives, also comes the prerequisite that you spend more hours in the office, than you do at home. This image of successful and fruitful lives is what is the real problem.

First of all, we have confused ourselves. Long ago, before we knew as much about efficiency, productivity and successful and fruitful lives as we do now, we conjured up some metrics about what success and productivity looked like in capitalist societies. Because we didn’t know what we know now, we took the things we could then see and measure as indicators: money and working hours. Then, we forgot about why we took these indicators, and they became the goal and the epitome of success and fruitfulness. So, when women rightly wanted more equality in the workplace, this is what they focused on. That, in turn, was translated back to the house: the one staying at home caring for a child, and not earning the money and spending many hours in the office, was the one who gave something up, who was not successful, who was not living a fruitful life. To quote an earlier paragraph of this long blog post: that is bullshit. Unfortunately, it is bullshit too many of us believe is true.

If there’s one thing I learned of being a parent, real success is combining earning enough money, with doing things that intellectually challenge you, and caring for your child, helping her or him through the phases of her or his young life as much as you can, being witness to all the wonderful phases they go through from the day they are born, while also being the best wife/husband/partner for your husband/wife/partner you can be. A child has the right, and need, to spend an equally large amount with either of her or his parents. Them both together is even better. And you, parents, have the right and need to spend as much time with your child as you can, while also doing other things you love with the people you love, and have a job that allows you to feel you live a fruitful life.

Let’s stop pretending that it’s a punishment to spend time with your child(ren). It isn’t. And you know it. Sure, you want to be more than a parent, and that’s okay. No, it’s more than okay. It iacs as it should be. But before you talk about the unfairness of women having to give up their career again, think of these two things: first, there are an increasing number of men who do exactly that. And secondly, far more importantly, those who don’t give up their career, but keeping working so many hours to earn more money are the ones who lose the most: they get to spend less time with their kids.

3 thoughts on “Challenge the status quo: we need a new image of success and dads

  1. My! This talk must have really annoyed you.

    I did not hear the talk but I wonder if the issue at stake was the lack of choice. I.e., that the problem is not so much whether the woman wins or looses by staying with the kids but that, in many (most?) societies, it is assumed that the woman will give up her career ambitions (and, by the same token, that the man will give up parenting).

    Whether we like it or not, there are still double standards in society when it comes to balancing careers and parenthood. When a woman changes a work commitment because of childcare problems (e.g., school is closed or child is ill), this is usually met with some annoyance (e.g., is this person committed to her job and/or able to do her job properly?). But if it is man, the news is more likely to be met with some sympathy or even a bit of admiration (e.g., he must be a very caring father). Now, these reactions may be very subtle, never voiced and maybe not even acknowledged by the person in question – but they are there and reveal a lack of choice.

    Like you, I feel privileged to spend time with my children, go to their school performances and cuddle them when they are ill. But I also value my career, and I would be upset if I had had to give it up after I had children. In this day and age, and in a modern country like the UK, I still know first hand about women being passed up for promotions or even getting a job because their line managers worry about their eventual commitment or their availability to the job vs. parenting. And that, I think, is a loss for everybody.

    • Hi Ana, yes, indeed, I felt increasingly uncomfortable during the talk. But that is not because of the lack of choice. It was not about that. I really despise the lack of equality of choice. And headlines such as you refer to have been printed in the UK recently. But the talk was more about women wanting men to give them the opportunities men had, without changing or addressing the real issues. It’s like putting a band aid on a wound when your kids falls off his bike, and has broken his arm. It’s a good way to stop the bleeding, but you don’t fix the broken bone. I would like both moms and dads to have the same opportunities when they become parent, to be part of their child’s life, and have a nice career. But to do so, we need to step away from the image that being good at your work means being present for many hours. It’s an outdated metric. We also have to stop perpetuating the image of a dad who doesn’t do any housework. Really, dads doing more dishes is only perpetuating the problem. It’s exactly attitudes like this, that when dads do more of the housework and child caring, they are frowned upon. A phrase like that basically says: there’s nothing wrong with our stereotypes of what families should look like, the man just has to do a bit more of the housework to alleviate a bit of the pressure on the mom. I’m very sorry, but that’s nonsense. That pressure should be equally carried by both of them from the start. Just as career opportunities should be shared equal. And for that to happen, it means that we must look at real output and productivity, not hours spent in the office, to assess whether someone is good enough in a job to deserve promotions. The issue is really bigger than those dishes.

      Thank you for reading and replying, Ana!

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