Are we saps for being SAHPs?
Podcasts have become a big part of the rhythm of my week as a stay at home parent. My day to day chores, folding laundry, cooking and then cleaning the kitchen, running errands and grocery shopping are accompanied by the guys at the Grantland NFL Podcast, Caustic Soda (this week is the first part of their Pregnancy and Childbirth episode,) The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe (co-hosted by our fearless leader Rebecca Watson) and many others, (Hi… I’m Lou, and I’m addicted to Serial.) One of the newer podcasts that I’m really enjoying is Slate’s parenting podcast Mom and Dad are Fighting. Hosted by Allison Benedikt and Dan Kois, the podcast has covered lots of ground in it’s first year of existence from whether your kids should play football, to how to handle holidays to “Should I even be a Parent?”. It’s a great listen. Go Binge!
A couple of weeks ago, in an otherwise fun episode entitled “The Your Own Personal Fantasyland Edition”, in an off the cuff lightning round style reaction segment, Dan Kois revealed that he harbored a “secret disdain” for stay at home parents. And boy did the angry emails roll in. I’m not an angry email type, but I did take note and eagerly anticipated the reaction. As a media junkie, I know that the reaction to a gaffe is often much more indicative of a person’s character than the gaffe itself. We often say things we regret in off the cuff moments, things that we either walk back, clarify, or double down on when confronted. How would Dan react?
This week was that reaction. in “The Disdaingate Edition”, as well as an essay on the subject from Dan, “Envy, Disrespect, Thankfulness and Resentment” and I must say I am both pleased and unsurprised with the quality of their response. These folks don’t seem like assholes and they don’t disappoint. The episode features an deep dive into why Dan feels the way he does about us SAHP’s, a look at the statistics on SAHP’s with Pew Research’s Gretchen Livingston (some fascinating numbers there that I want to muck around with myself) , as well as an extensive interview with a listener, Elise, who is a stay at home Mom from Arlington, Virginia, about her own reasons for being a SAHP. All in all it was a great relief to see and hear someone address criticism of their controversial remarks and beliefs with maturity and charity. It makes one wonder why some notable figures in the Atheist Movement can’t seem to do so…
I’ll append my own reaction to Dan’s “disdain” here.
I’ve been a stay at home parent for almost 10 years now. And before that I was a househusband as I finished my photography degree and tried to figure out what to do with it. By the time we decided to spawn it was a natural transition for me to take over the childcare duties whilst The Girl continued her career with Giant Global MegaCorporation. Like Elise, my earning potential has never been very high and that is unlikely to ever really change, any contribution I could make to the family financially would have been quickly eclipsed by the cost of day care, even in a really affordable city like Cincinnati. Now, with the Grommet in full day kindergarten I’m entering the second phase of SAHP-hood, which I believe is often derided as the “bon bon eating” phase. I suppose I could re-enter the workforce, but even working as a photographer would require some expensive retraining at this juncture (I learned most of my photography skills in the wee morning hours of the digital photography revolution. I can print from color film… that’s still useful… right?).
But even though I’m not a net positive financially, we have found our arrangement so much easier than the alternative. With a SAHP, we always have a parent on call for sick kids or emergencies. Our house is amazingly clean considering how wonderfully and messily creative the Hellions can be. The Sisyphean task of laundry is enough of a challenge as it stands, I can’t imagine when many of our household chores would be done if both of us worked. Plus we avoid in latch key kid issues, I’m always home when the kids get off the bus, ready to help with afternoon snacks and get everyone started on homework rather than Minecraft. And of course when the school year is over I go back on full time duty, whether chaperoning the gang to the pool, dropping off at YMCA camp, or just being there to bandage skinned knees and settle disputes.
There are a couple of differences that are part of being a SAHD rather than a SAHM. Whilst the media narrative of bumbling buffoonish Mr. Mom’s is both unfair and sometimes personally distressing, there is a kernel of truth to it. We live in a culture that has for most of our lifetime has relegated much of the unpaid work of housekeeping to women. And since we also live in a culture that can be highly sexist, women’s work is not only undervalued, it carries a stigma. Moms teach their daughters to sew while Dads teach their sons to do household repairs with big heavy manly tools. We could fix that gap through education, but in my lifetime we didn’t seem all that interested. Boys took Shop (and drafting for some reason) and Girls took Home Economics. I so wish I had taken Home Ec. Shop is a horrid and somewhat dangerous place for an undiagnosed ADHD victim with dyscalculia (also untreated). And Home Economics would have provided me with the skills I need today. That’s actually another reason our situation works really well, as my wife and I don’t conform to those out dated expectations. All the power tools belong to The Girl. All the cooking equipment belongs to The Boy (me). I’m actually looking into taking sewing lessons so I can do a little more work in the clothing upkeep category of household chores.
In his essay, Dan notes how SAHP’s do a lot of the unpaid work in our communities, be it the PTA or at church or other community volunteer opportunities. And while this is true, the reality is often that these are areas dominated by SAHM’s and can look a little intimidating to us SAHD’s. After years of play groups and preschool groups dominated by Moms (who are often unreasonably suspicious of Dads as I wrote about here), I must admit to a little trepidation when entering that arena. I’m dipping my toes in the shallow end, helping with the Peanut’s X-mas performance and hoping to get my foot in the door to get more involved there, but it isn’t a realm that men have been socialized for, as well as being one of the places where women have traditionally exercised a lot of social power denied them in other parts of society. It all adds up to an extra hurdle for a SAHD if one wants to do something beyond watching TV and playing Borderlands 2.
I guess that’s the long way of saying that any resentment or disdain that SAHM’s feel they receive from society is doubled for SAHD’s who are not only doing “womens work”, they are shirking their “manly duties”. Men are supposed to be providers, not receivers of support. So we get it from both sides.
I’m glad that Mom and Dad are Fighting took on this issue with aplomb, professionalism and humor. And I really look forward to hearing more of their excellent podcast in the future, especially now that I know how they react when the chips are down.