As the lead parent in his family, Bill Romans couldn’t agree more. “There is no training on how to be a parent. You just figure it out as you go along,” he said, as we discussed his experience as primary caregiver.
Bill and his wife, Sue Barsamian, shared child care duties when their two daughters were babies. Sue worked for various technology companies in increasingly larger and more demanding roles, leaving her with limited flexibility. Bill’s career as a strategic consultant meant he had more control of his time.
“Becoming the lead parent wasn’t part of the plan. It was a natural evolution of what was happening in our careers and in our family life,” Bill shared, “but I was surprised by the level of resistance to me in my role as primary caregiver.”
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Teachers, school nurses, and the other mothers wondered where Sue was, often assuming Bill was just “babysitting.” He recounted a day that was hard to forget: “I remember I was on the sidelines of my daughter’s soccer game. I was the only father amongst a group of moms. One of them asked where my wife was. I told them she was in India on business and the moms all said, ‘Your wife certainly travels a lot. That’s just so sad for the girls.’ The implication of her comment was that my daughters weren’t getting the best caregiving since their mom wasn’t the primary parent. Frankly, it was insulting.”
Bill’s new hero is Andrew Moravcsik, husband of “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” and Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family author Anne-Marie Slaughter. Andrew wrote his own article for The Atlantic entitled “Why I Put My Wife’s Career First.” When he was interviewed by CNN, Andrew said, “We have values in this country where we don’t feel that a man who takes those child care responsibilities and becomes the lead parent has the same legitimate standing in society that a woman does and until we change those values not many people will take advantage even of the opportunities we make possible.”175
Bill said, “In my experience, women prefer to believe that we men aren’t equipped to do this job of being primary parent. And, men don’t want to do the hard work of caregiving so they perpetuate the myth they aren’t capable and that children really need their mother. But I firmly believe it isn’t about gender; it’s about who has the capacity and time and interest to take the leadership role in caring for the children.”
Josh Levs likes to say, “Dads do it differently,” and he’s right. But he and Bill and Andrew are forgetting a key issue: Women have held the power in the home for years. Parenting has been the one thing where we women have been encouraged to excel. When we’re told we’re incompetent in the workplace, when we’re castigated for not achieving our professional potential, at least we can be experts in parenting. It’s hard to give that power up.
The truth is, we don’t have a choice. Our work-first culture is based on the ideal worker model that demands us to be all-in, all-of-the-time, while our current economy means the vast majority of households need two incomes to survive. We women are too stretched by our many obligations to continue to hold dominion over the home. We need to get to 50/50 and the only way to do that is to let go of control and let fathers in. Trust me; it’s a win for everyone.
Parenting has been the one thing where we women have been encouraged to excel. When we’re told we’re incompetent in the workplace, when we’re castigated for not achieving our professional potential, at least we can be experts in parenting. It’s hard to give that power up.
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