Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bridging the Fathering Gap

 Belinda Luscombe wrote this TIME article titled "The Fathering Gap: Pitfalls of Modern Fatherhood." There's a lot going on in this article. Luscombe looks at the ways that fatherhood has changed in the face of modernity, feminism, and cultural shifts.

Her discussion hinges, as the title suggests, around the "fathering gap," which is the widening gap of the time spent with children between fathers in intact families (who tend to be richer, more educated and--sadly--whiter) and fathers living apart from their children (who tend to be poorer, less educated, and more likely to be from a minority group).

Obviously, this is detrimental to the children and fathers that spend so much time apart.

Interestingly, the fathers on the other end of the spectrum are also facing some challenges:
"That daddy time has to come from somewhere, and one of the features of the fathering gap is that men now express more concern about work-life balance than women do. In 2008, 60% of men reported experiencing work-life conflict, compared with fewer than 50% of women"
And those men who are concerned about their work-life balance are facing some obstacles in the workplace:
"men have found it more difficult to be taken seriously as parents. Workplaces expect them to be even more career-focused when they become dads."
So, there's a whole group of men who are facing the same challenges that women faced when they first entered the workforce (and continue to face today). And, honestly, I think that's a good thing. These are fights that are going to have to be had. In order to be productive, fulfilled members of the working world and quality parents, men and women are going to have to carve out lifestyles that allow for flexibility in those roles.

But back to the other side of the "gap":

"One third of fathers who live apart from their kids say they communicate with their kids less than once a month, according to Pew. A full 27% of them say they haven't seen their offspring in more than a year."
 A year! Nearly one-third of fathers who are apart from their children have not seen them in a year or more. Now, there are clearly a host of complicated factors that contribute to statistics like these. And there's a lot of blame that gets thrown around to account for absent fathers (blame for the fathers, blame for the mothers, blame for the justice system, blame for the community). Regardless of who or what is at fault, the broadening "fathering gap" is grim and it seems like it will have a profound impact on the culture of parenting in the future.

Many people mimic the gender roles they learned in childhood once they become adults. What does that mean for the children on either side of this divide? The article cites a study showing 27% of fathers with minor children live apart from at least some of their children. That's millions of kids who do not have fathers around to provide active models for parenthood.

At the same time, there are millions of kids who are going to be influenced by the men's fight for work/life balance the same way the children of my generation and the one before were influenced by women's struggles for these roles (a fight that has had a lot to do with producing men who are willing to make the same fight for themselves now).

So if poor kids disproportionately do not have fathers to model their own ideas of parenthood from, and a disproportionate number of kids from more affluent families see their own fathers and those of their peers taking a more equally shared stance in parenting, what will the fathering gap look like in ten years?

And the thing that I fear is that this difference in parenting will translate into just one  more contributing factor to the growing income disparity in America. Imagine that you are one of those children with a father who lives out of the house--maybe even one who is more involved in his child's life than those we just talked about. Even so, you definitely weren't seeing any models of equally shared parenting in your household.

But what if the fight for transformed work environments by the wealthier men and women who are modeling a more shared version of parenting is successful? What if the professions they inhabit begin to transform: more part-time and flex hours, on-site daycare, etc. Aren't you, hypothetical child, going to be less prepared to fit into this world? Aren't you going to be more comfortable in a career that fits the more traditional parenting model that you grew up thinking was acceptable (or worse, the parenting model you saw yourself--a mostly-absent father and a mother who does all the care giving)?

And it's going to be harder and harder for that model to work. Already two-income households have become the norm to maintain many standard qualities of life. Though parenting style is a small component in the development of inequality when compared to things like racism and poor education, I do worry how this gap will both follow and influence the broader income disparity as a whole.

No comments:

Post a Comment